Help Desk

Information Technology

Switching from Windows to macOS

So, you're switching from Windows over to a Mac! While the two operating systems may seem wildly different, they're not actually as different as you may think. This article will provide you with a rundown on the basic features of macOS, along with some information that may be useful for setting up your Mac. If you want a very brief guide on switching between Windows and Mac, Apple has an easy-to-understand guide available here.

In this article, you will learn about:


Navigating around macOS

Navigating around macOS is very similar to navigating around in Windows, except for a few notable differences.

Using your trackpad
  • On a Macbook trackpad, moving your finger around will move the cursor in the direction your finger moves.
  • To 'left-click', press down anywhere on the trackpad using one finger.
  • To 'right-click', press down using two fingers positioned close to each other (kind of like a narrow peace sign).
  • If you want to scroll (like using the scroll wheel on a mouse) position your fingers in a peace sign-like shape (just like you did for right-clicking) and swipe up and down to scroll. 
  • To zoom in and out (usually on webpages), make a pinching gesture with your pointer finger and thumb on the trackpad, moving your fingers apart will zoom in, and moving them closer together to zoom out.
Using your keyboard
  • One of the first differences you will notice when looking at the keyboard on a Macbook (as compared to a windows laptop) is the bottom four keys to the left of your spacebar are in different orders, and that there is now a ⌘Command key instead of a windows key. The command key functions very differently from the windows key, which is important to understand.
  • The rule of thumb for keyboard shortcuts on Mac is that a shortcut is almost always going to involve ⌘Command. On Windows, where there are keyboard shortcuts using Control + a key, the macOS equivalent will almost always be ⌘Command + a key. For example, copying and pasting on Mac is ⌘Command + C and ⌘Command + V whereas it would be Control + C and Control + V on a Windows computer.
  • The closest thing to pressing the Windows key on macOS is Spotlight, which is accessed by either pressing ⌘Command + Space or by pressing the symbol that looks like a magnifying glass at the top right of your screen. Spotlight can be used to type in an app you want to open, start a web search, or locate a file. You can even do calculations or look up words in the dictionary using spotlight... It's pretty useful!
  •  Depending on the type of MacBook you have, you will either have a row of function keys as your top row of keys, or they will all be replaced (with the exception of the power button and escape key) by a thin, touch-responsive screen called the Touch Bar. 
    • If you are on a Mac equipped with function keys, most function keys will have a printed symbol on them along with their respective function key. The function keys are in most cases used to change volume, change the brightness of your screen, change the brightness of your keyboard backlight, pause, play, fast forward through music, and much more. If you need to use the function keys as actual function keys, press fn + a function key.
    • If you are on a Mac equipped with a Touch Bar, everything will be accessed through the symbols on the touch bar. For example, if you want to change the volume on your Macbook, you would press the speaker icon, which brings up a volume slider that allows you to adjust your volume; ditto for changing your brightness. You can also click the arrow to the left of the brightness adjustment to expand the menu to allow you to pause and play music, change screen and keyboard brightness, and open different views of applications. Depending on the app that you are using, the touch bar may also change to provide you with tools specific to that application. If you need to access the function keys, press fn and the touch bar will display all of the different function keys, and you can just click them and they will function normally.
The Menu Bar


MacOS Menu Bar

At the top of your screen is a Menu bar. The menu bar is useful while using applications, or for changing settings quickly. Going from Left to Right on the Menu bar:

  • On the very left of the menu bar is an  Apple logo. This allows you to change system preferences, Force Quit applications that aren't responding, and turn off, restart, or log out of your Mac
  • Just to the right of the  is the menu for your currently selected application. When you're using an application, the menu items specific to that application will be displayed here. If you have any trouble finding a setting for an application, there's always a 'Help' menu that allows you to search for and select a menu option. It will even show you where that menu item is normally located!
  • On the right of the menu bar are easily accessible system preferences, these are:
    • Battery: If you need to see how charged your battery is. If you click on the battery option, it will show you what applications are using the most energy for your computer. This makes it incredibly useful to find out what's currently draining your battery.
    • WiFi: The WiFi menu will show you what network you're currently connected to, and will allow you to select networks that are currently available to your computer.
    • Spotlight: This is an alternative way to access Spotlight if you don't want to use the keyboard shortcut.
    • System Preferences: A customizable drop-down menu showing a compact view of a bunch of commonly accessed preferences including Bluetooth, sound, and brightness preferences.
    • Time and Date: Clicking on this will temporarily pull up notifications and widgets along the right side of your screen.
The Dock


MacOS Dock

At the bottom of your screen is the Dock which is where all of your applications go. 

  • The dock will show your pinned applications on the left, as well as currently open applications on the right.
  • Clicking on a pinned application will launch it, and clicking on an already launched application will bring it to the front of your view. Right-clicking on launched applications will give you the option to select what window you want to go to and will also give you the option to quit out of an application.
  • In order to pin an application (make it stay permanently on the dock) right-click on the application and select Options > Keep in Dock. You can also right-click on pinned applications and select Options > Remove from Dock to remove them.
  • Separating the pinned applications and currently open applications is a vertical line. 
    • Clicking and dragging this vertical line will change the size of the dock to fit your preferences
    • Right-clicking on this line will bring up a few options
      • Turn Hiding On/Off: Off is similar to how Windows is by default, where the dock is always at the bottom of your screen. Turning Hiding On means that the dock will disappear until you drag your mouse to the bottom of the screen, which will bring the dock up.
      • Turn Magnification On/Off: Off is similar to how Windows is by default. Turning magnification on will make it so that the applications closest to your cursor become larger, making it easier to find applications
      • Position on screen allows you to change where the dock resides: on the bottom of your screen like on windows, or on the left or right side of your screen


A quicker (but more advanced) way to navigate


One way to navigate incredibly quickly between applications is using ⌘Command + Tab, this will allow you to cycle through all of your currently open applications. Releasing ⌘Command + Tab will bring up the currently selected application. Pressing ⌘Command + Shift + Tab will bring you in the opposite direction. To quickly quit out of applications, use ⌘Command + Tab, and while still holding ⌘Command, release the Tab key and press Q to quit out of the selected application.

Changing settings and preferences


MacOS System Preferences

If you need to change any system-wide settings or preferences on your Mac, they will be available in the application System Preferences. Some settings you may want to change to your liking are

  • General settings: if you want to customize the look of your computer, such as choosing light or dark mode, you can do that under general settings.
  • Desktop and Screen Saver: if you want to change your desktop background or screen saver, that can be done here.
  • Trackpad settings: if you want to change what gestures you use on your trackpad, or if you just want to change your trackpad sensitivity, you can do that here.
  • Keyboard settings: if you want to change any settings related to your keyboard, in particular if you want to add any international keyboards, you can do that in the keyboard settings
  • Sound settings: if you need to change your input to a different microphone, or change your sound output to different speakers or headphones, you can do that using sound settings. While macOS will usually auto-detect a change in audio devices, if something isn't working right it can usually be remedied in this menu.
  • Battery settings: change how your mac prioritizes energy saving, you can also change how long it takes for your display to turn off here
  • Monitor settings: Changing settings for the built-in monitor on your Macbook isn't necessary, however, if you have an external monitor, these settings can be incredibly useful for making sure that your Mac's internal display works seamlessly with any other monitors you may have.

Browsing through files

Where Windows has File Explorer, macOS has Finder. Finder is an incredibly useful tool for storing and organizing files. 

MacOS Finder

The Default Finder Folders
  • The Downloads folder is where any downloads from the internet will end up
  • The Desktop folder is where all of your files dragged onto your desktop will end up. Dragging files in Finder into the Desktop folder will also place them on the Desktop.
  • The Documents folder is generally where all of your documents will be saved while using applications, unless you specify otherwise.
  • The Applications folder is where all of the installed Applications will end up, if you're looking for where to launch an application, it's probably in there.
Organizing Files
  • In Finder, files can be dragged around by hovering your cursor over a file, pressing down, and moving your cursor without releasing your finger. You can stop dragging a file by releasing your finger. If you want to move a file into another folder, drag it over the folder (which will become highlighted in blue) and then release. If you want to place a file in a folder within a folder, drag your file over the folder, but don't release. After a second, you will enter into the folder while still dragging the original file.
  • Files in Finder can be sorted in various ways, such as Name, File size, Kind of file, Date Added, etc.
  • You can open up a new Finder window by pressing ⌘Command+N You can drag files between different windows and it is one of the easiest ways to move files into different folders. 
  • If you want to create a folder in Finder, press ⌘Command+Shift+N, then type in the name of the folder and press enter.
  • If you want to edit the name of a file or folder, just press Enter and you can type the desired name of your file
  • If you want to delete a file, right-click on it and select 'Move to Trash'. The farthest right application on your Dock is 'Trash' where all of the files you've 'deleted' go. When you want to permanently delete those files, open up 'Trash' and select the 'Empty' button.

 MacOS Trash Folder



MacOS Airdrop

If you want to quickly share files between Apple devices (between multiple Macs or between Macs and iPhones/iPads) you can use Airdrop. The Airdrop icon looks like a series of concentric circles and is located on the sidebar along with your Downloads, Desktop, Documents, and other folders. Opening the Airdrop window will show you a list of nearby Apple devices, and dragging a file or folder over their name/icon will initiate a file transfer and prompt them to either accept or deny the file transfer. If someone is transferring a file to you, you can decide whether or not you want to accept or deny the file transfer in the Airdrop window. At the bottom of the page, you can also select who you are visible to, nobody, your contacts, or everyone. If someone is having trouble finding you on Airdrop, it is most likely that you have a setting other than 'everyone' selected in this dropdown.


  • Use Launchpad to view all your apps by clicking Launchpad in the Dock or pinching with your thumb and three fingers on the trackpad.
  • Rename files by clicking once to select the file, then press Return and type a new name. Press return when done.
  • Preview files without opening by selecting the file and pressing Space
  • Double-clicking zip files will automatically unzip them on macOS, no need to click "extract" like on Windows.
  • Activity Monitor replaces Task Manager for quitting unresponsive tasks.
  • Cmd+Shift+4 replaces Snipping Tool for taking screenshots.
  • Double-clicking the top header of a window will maximize it without going to full-screen mode.
  • Automatically keep your system up to date by going to System Preferences > Software Update and clicking "Automatically keep my Mac up to date."


Keyboard Shortcuts

Generally, the Command Key replaces the Control key, but the Control key still exists on macOS. Full keyboard shortcuts are listed here.

Cut Command-X
Copy Command-C
Paste Command-Y
Undo Command-Z
Print Command-P
Close Window Command-W
Switch Apps Command-Tab
Quit App Command-Q
Find Files (Spotlight) Command-Space
Force Quit App Command-Option-Esc
Screenshot Command-Shift-4

Additional Resources

What's it called on my Mac?

Mac keyboard shortcuts

Supported Operating Systems

Setting up a macOS computer at Reed

Welcome to macOS

If you are having any trouble figuring your new Macbook out, feel free to contact the Help Desk, and we would be more than happy to help you figure out your problem. The internet is also your friend, and a quick search of "How to do X on Mac" will usually yield an easy-to-understand solution to your problem.