Windows to Mac: getting used to new keys, names and locations

Control Panel vs System Preferences Windows Mac

If you or someone you know has taken the plunge and made the switch from Windows to Mac, it can be a little tough to get used to the differences in the beginning. The keys on the keyboard, the names of the settings, the locations for items, and simply what things are called on Mac overall is different than what Windows users are used to.

Having been down this road myself, a handy guide that lays out these differences can be a huge help until you’re used to it all. Here are the things you need to know and get the hang of when switching from Windows to Mac.

Keyboard keys and shortcuts

You’ll notice some “key” differences when you switch from a Windows to a Mac keyboard. And along with those different keys, comes different keyboard shortcuts.

Windows Keyboard

For instance, your ALT key has been replaced with a Command key and your Windows key has been replaced with an Option key. Plus, your Control and Function (Fn) keys are swapped.

Macbook Keyboard

Common keyboard shortcuts

Alt + Tab > Command + Tab: For switching between open apps.

Alt + Tab > Command + ` (tilde key): For switching between windows of the same app. (You’ll still use Control + Tab to move through open browser tabs.)

If you have a trackpad, you can select, press, and hold an app in the Dock to bring up an app’s open windows and use Tab to move to the next app.

Mac Desktop Open Apps SW

Ctrl + A > Command + A: For selecting all.

Ctrl + C and Ctrl + V > Command + C and Command + V: For copying and pasting.

You’ll normally use the Command key as you’re used to your Ctrl key for additional shortcuts like Ctrl + S to save and Ctrl + N for new document will be Command + S and Command + N on your Mac.

Hold the Option key and click to pull up the context menu like with a right-click.

Names of settings and their locations

Windows/File Explorer > Finder: Click Finder in your Dock.

Taskbar > Dock: On the bottom, holds open applications and those you Pin (Keep).

Control Panel > System Preferences: Click Apple icon > System Preferences or System Preferences in your Dock.

System Preferences Mac

Device Manager > System Information: Click Apple icon > About This Mac.

Task Manager > Activity Monitor: With Finder open, click Go > Utilities > Activity Monitor.

Command Prompt > Terminal: With Finder open, click Go > Utilities > Terminal.

My Computer > Computer: Open Finder and click Go > Computer.

Properties > Get Info: Select the item and click File > Get Info or right-click and choose Get Info.

Search > Spotlight: Click the Spotlight (Search) button in the menu bar or use Command + Space.

Spotlight Search for Terminal Mac
Spotlight search on Mac

Shortcut > Alias: Right-click an item and pick Make Alias to create a “shortcut”.

Recycle Bin > Trash: Located in your Dock.

Exit > Quit: To close an app, chose Quit from the app’s menu.


Application windows: On Windows, you have Minimize, Full Screen, and Close buttons on the top right of your application windows. On Mac, you have Close (red), Minimize (yellow), Full Screen (green) on the top left.

Window Buttons on Mac

Applications: On Windows, you have the Start Menu and Gadgets. On Mac, you have your Launchpad (button in the Dock) and Dashboard (swipe up with three fingers on your trackpad and pick Dashboard).

Launchpad and Dock on Mac
Launchpad on Mac

What did we miss?

There are plenty of other differences for Windows users to get used to when they switch to a Mac, but these are some very common ones to bookmark and try to remember in the beginning.

Are you a former Windows user still trying to figure out something like this on your Mac? Or are you a recent convert and want to share some tips of your own? Either way, feel free to comment below!

Remember, sometimes it’s just those simple or subtle differences that become aggravating to figure out!