This is Part 3 of my series on my transition from a Windows environment to a Mac. This week I talk about some of the basic differences between the two.

Here are the first two parts of the series:

When I got my Mac, it never occurred to me that I would have to learn a new language. Frankly, I thought I already knew the language. Mac is based on Unix, BSD to be precise, and I speak fluent geek, so how different could it be?

The only answer is both “very” and “not much.” Some things are extremely different in the way that they’re done but not so different in how they look. If you’re in front of a Windows machine, there’s a button on your CD tray that opens and closes it. On the Mac, you drag the image of the CD that appears on your desktop to the trash. While this can be a great way to express displeasure with the CD contents without doing anything harmful, it’s also kind of odd if you’ve never done it.

Finder is your friend

Finder became one of my new words. As a Windows user, I was in the habit of putting an Explorer icon on the desktop because it seemed that I had a regular need to go to the file system for things. In the Mac world, Finder is always running. To get there, you just click the desktop. Or you can click the Finder icon on the dock.

In the Windows world, there is a task bar, generally located on the bottom of the screen. Significant One has his set to auto-hide, but it’s there. In Mac world, you have a Dock at the bottom of your screen that looks like a very shiny table surface. On the right are icons for your hard drive and any CD you’ve mounted. The Dock is just as flexible as the task bar, and quite possibly more so.

In System Preferences (which shows up as an icon shortcut on the Dock) you can select Dock and set it up to suit yourself. For instance, I thought that the default size was too large so I made it smaller. I left the icon animations alone as I wanted to find out if I liked the bouncing effect when an icon is clicked (I do) and did not turn on the “hide” feature as I find that I use the dock quite a lot.

The Desktop seems very clean to me. In Windows, it was not uncommon to have icons scattered all over for frequently used applications. In OS X it’s easy to go to the Apple Menu at the far-left corner of application window and go to “Recent Items.” If it is something you use frequently, it’s likely to be there.

System Preferences is also the place where you can set the look and feel of your desktop. Set your wallpaper and screen saver, the preferences for the mouse, energy settings, internet settings and more. It’s similar to the Control Panel in Windows.

Finder can display for any folder selected in one of four views. The familiar list and icon views are available but there is also a thumbnail view that is similar to iTunes album art display. It’s literally shuffling through thumbnails of icons in a way similar to flipping pages in a book. And it can display in a three-tiered configuration. The senior folder in the hierarchy is in the first pane and subsequent folders are displayed in the neighboring frames.

There’s also an “Action” button that provides quick links similar to a context menu. I find this pretty handy. A Searchlight search-bar and Quick Look buttons complete the Finder tool bar

On the left pane are the icons for all of the locations where things can be found. The default is my home folder, but I can get to any drive mounted on the computer as well as auxiliary folders.

A new way to work

When I want to launch an application from the Dock, I single-click the icon and it launches. The hardest habit for me to break has been double clicking those icons. You know that the application has been clicked because the icon begins to bounce on the dock. When the splash screen for the application appears, the icon quits bouncing. I initially thought that would be seriously annoying but have discovered that it helps me to see what I am doing. Given my lousy eyesight, this is a plus!

I can drop shortcuts on my desktop just as I have done with Windows in the past. I haven’t bothered to do so because I find using the Finder so easy. That could change in time, I suppose, but so far, it’s working for me.

While it’s occasionally frustrating to discover that the old way to do something isn’t the same for the Mac as it was for Windows, I find that the answers are generally pretty easy to discover. I’m hoping that someone is gracious enough to remind me of that the next time I’m pulling my hair out over one thing or another!

Next week we will explore the Dock and pre-loaded applications. Stay tuned!