Thinking of making the leap from a Windows PC to the Mac? Already switched from PC to Mac but feeling a little lost and confused? We've answered some of the big questions you may be asking here in this article. If you have any unanswered questions add them in the comments and we'll be sure to add them!

Also read:

A PC users guide to using a Mac

How to transfer files from PC to Mac

PC versus Mac: Which is best

Q. Which version of Mac OS X should I install? Lion, Mountain Lion, Yosemite, El Capitan…?

A. New releases of OS X are made yearly, usually in Autumn. Unlike with Windows, OS X is improved incrementally and complete Windows 8/10-like overhauls of the operating system are rare. Therefore, the latest version of OS X is best for most users and performance/compatibility on older Macs is very good – Yosemite/El Capitan will install on Macs that are five or even more years old, for example. Following the OS X Mavericks release in 2013, each release of OS X has been entirely free of charge and can be downloaded via the App Store.

Q. How do I update my Mac system?

A. The equivalent of Windows Update is found by clicking the Apple menu at the top left of the desktop, clicking App Store, and then clicking the Updates tab. This will update OS X itself, system components like iTunes, and any apps you installed via the App Store. Other apps have their own update routines – usually there’s an option in the Preferences dialog box to automatically check for updates, while apps like Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Cloud install background apps that inform you when updates are available. 

Macs are updated by clicking the Updates icon within the App Store – and this is true even for major operating system updates

Q. How do I install or reinstall Mac OS X?

A. See the section above discussing OS X Recovery. Alternatively, if your Mac is still bootable you can use the Mac App Store to download the latest version of OS X for reinstallation over the existing installation without losing data. Just search for the name of the version of OS X you’re using (that is, Yosemite or El Capitan), and click the Download link alongside it. If you’re running an older version of OS X that lack the App Store you will need to use Software Update instead, which you’ll find it on the Apple menu. 

Alternatively, if your Mac is old enough you can use the installation DVD-ROM that came with the computer – just insert it, then reboot and hold down D before the Apple logo appears. However, since Mac OS X 10.7 Lion in 2011, OS X has only been made available via download – even if you’ve bought a new Mac. It’s also possible to create an installation USB stick

Q. How do I migrate my Windows files to my Mac

We have a more detailed tutorial about this here: Learn how to migrate Windows files to a Mac

Also read: How to set up a new Mac

Here's a poll - tell us at what stage of the PC transition you are at! 

Q. Where do I find the serial or registration number/key required to install Mac OS X?

A. There isn’t one. Apple (mostly) eschews serial numbers across its entire product range and apps install without any such nonsense.

Q. I was told Pages, Keynote, Numbers, iMovie etc were free with a new Mac but they’re not on mine! How do I get them?

A. Just open the App Store, which is in the list of Applications in Finder. You’ll be prompted to install them automatically. 

Q. How do I control what apps start when my Mac boots?

A. The equivalent to the Windows Start menu’s Startup folder is found by opening System Preferences, clicking the Users & Groups icon, selecting your username at the left, and clicking the Login Items tab. Select an item then click the minus button beneath to remove it. Some apps hide away in system folders, however, and pruning them is only for advanced users. 

Which apps start when Mac OS X boots is controlled via the Users & Groups section of System Preferences

Q. How do I encrypt a disk on a Mac?

A. Mac contains built-in disk FileVault encryption that’s similar to Windows’ BitLocker in that it encrypts the entire disk, including user data. To activate FileVault, open System Preferences (it’s in the Applications list of Finder), then click the Security & Privacy icon, and select the FileVault tab. Then click the Turn On FileVault button and follow the instructions. 

Depending on the speed of your Mac’s disk, encryption will take a few hours to complete in the background. Macs are fully usable while encryption is taking place, and you can view a progress bar within System Preferences. Note that if you’ve a MacBook then encryption will only happen when your Mac is connected to the power.

To encrypt a removable disk like a USB disk, open Disk Utility (see above), select the removable disk’s partition in the list at the left of the app window, and select the Erase tab before selecting Mac OS Extended (Journaled, Encrypted) from the Format dropdown list, then click Erase and follow the instructions. As will hopefully be obvious, this will erase whatever is on the disk so backup files temporarily first. The encrypted disk will only be compatible with Macs. 

Q. Can I optimise my Mac’s performance by tweaking BIOS or UEFI settings?

A. Macs use a form of EFI but there’s no optimisation settings or boot-time console/setup screen. Because Apple controls both the operating system and the hardware, Macs are optimised out of the box.  

Q. What’s the Mac equivalent of FDISK for repairing and scanning disks?

A. Macs use a different filesystem technology compared to Windows and it’s simply more resilient, so the likes of unexpected shutdowns are repaired automatically and invisibly. However, two maintenance tasks can be attempted if you run into file or app corruption. Both are accessed via Disk Utility, which is in the Utilities folder of the Applications list.

Select the main Mac OS partition at the left of the Disk Utility window – it’ll be indented beneath the disk’s main entry in the list. Each option discussed below offers Verify and Repair options. The former won’t fix anything but merely produces a diagnostic report.

  • Verify/Repair Permissions: Repairing disk permissions ensures system files have the correct ownership and access permissions, but can also highlight read/write disk errors that might indicate disk failure. Just click Repair Disk Permissions and wait for the task to complete. Note that a handful of minor errors always appear and can usually be ignored – those relating to displaypolicyd, InstalledPrinters.plist and ARDAgent, for example. Note too that OS X El Capitan doesn’t feature a verify/repair permissions option, perhaps because of this tendency to report false positives. 
  • Verify/Repair Disk: This option, found to the right of the Verify/Repair Permissions buttons, attempts to repair underlying file structures and tables. However, some errors simply can’t be repaired while the operating system is up and running, and you’ll be told to repair the disk using Disk Utility while running OS X Recovery, as explained under the heading What’s The Mac Equivalent of Safe Mode?.

The Mac equivalent of FDISK is the Disk Utility, which can repair errors and otherwise administer all kinds of disks

Q. What’s the Mac equivalent of Safe Mode?

A. Macs OS X offers a Safe Mode – just hold down Shift just before the Apple logo appears when booting – and it’s similar to Windows’ Safe Mode in that it’ll not load potentially problematic system extensions or hardware drivers. However, OS X Recovery should be used if you need to repair things, and can be accessed by holding down Cmd+R while booting. This offers the ability to access Disk Utility, restore a Time Machine backup (see below), or even install Mac OS from scratch by downloading the files direct from Apple – no DVD required! 

Q. How do I find hardware drivers?

A. You very likely won’t need them. Just plug in the hardware and use it – USB sticks and memory cards will be found under the Devices heading of Finder. However, there are perhaps two exceptions. Graphics drivers are installed with each OS X update but for cutting-edge gaming performance only if your Mac feature Nvidia graphics you can install new drivers manually. If your Mac uses Intel or AMD graphics then you cannot manually update the drivers because Intel and AMD don’t make them available to end users. The other exception is printer drivers, that you might need to download from the manufacturer’s website. However, many drivers are built in to OS X for popular models. To check if a printer is installed, open System Preferences and click the Printers & Scanners heading. If the printer doesn’t appear in the list, click the Plus icon at the bottom left and follow the instructions. 

Drivers usually aren’t required for Mac OS X although the exception can be for printers for which a driver isn’t included within OS X itself

Q. How do I scan documents or photographs on my Mac?

A. The equivalent of Windows‌ Photo Gallery or Windows Fax and Scan is found in System Preferences – click the Printers & Scanners heading, then select the scanner or multifunction device in the list at the left and click the Scan tab, and then the Open Scanner button. 

Q. Can I protect my Mac with a BIOS password?

A. FileVault is certainly the best form of protection for your data, as discussed above. However, it’s still possible for somebody with physical access to your Mac to wipe it via a boot disk. The solution is to set a Firmware Password, which password-protects booting in a manner other than via the usual user login. 

Boot into OS X Recovery, as described under the heading What’s the Mac equivalent of Safe Mode?, then click Utilities > Firmware Password Utility. Follow the instructions. Be extremely careful! If you forget this password then only an Apple genius can unlock your computer. This is perhaps why this feature is optional and hidden. 

Important note: At the time of writing there’s a bug with OS X Recovery whereby it selects a US keyboard layout for British English Macs. This means some keyboard symbols are in the wrong places – you might think you’re typing 1234£ as a password, for example, but you’ll actually be typing 1234#. To avoid this, always check the language settings on the menu bar at the top right of the screen, or only use passwords involving letters and numbers. 

A boot-time password can be added to protect Macs from booting via USB memory stick, or similar

Q. Where do I get Mac equivalents for Windows apps like Microsoft Office?

A. Mac versions of most popular apps are available. Just hit Google. For example, login to your Office 365 subscription and you’ll find a download link for Microsoft Office 2016. Adobe Creative Cloud is available for Mac. Dropbox is available for Mac and, of course, iTunes comes built-into OS X. There’s a Mac version of TrueCrypt, although because the project was abandoned a number of years ago you’ll need to hack it slightly to make it work on modern releases of OS X. 

Q. How do I get files off my Windows-formatted USB stick or memory card?

A. Just insert it into your Mac. Macs can understand the FAT format used on most USB sticks, memory cards and external hard drives. If the stick, card or disk is NTFS-formatted you’ll only be able to read files and not write new ones. If you frequently need read/write access to NTFS-formatted disk, third-party apps like Tuxera NTFS for Mac or Paragon NTFS for Mac can help. 

Q. How do I backup my Mac?

A. The Mac equivalent of the Windows Backup and Restore app is Time Machine. Just attach a USB disk drive and an option should appear offering to make use of it. If you don’t see this open System Preferences, then click the Time Machine icon and move the OFF/ON switch to ON. You can also use a Time Capsule, which works over Wi-Fi avoiding the need for a direct connection. Time Machine and Time Capsule are fully automated and work in the background

Mac OS X backup is handled via Time Machine or Time Capsule, and can be controlled via the Time Machine component of System Preferences

Q. How do I dual-boot Windows or Linux on my Mac?

A. The BootCamp installation wizard lets you install Windows 8/10 on Macs, and you’ll find it in the Utilities folder of the Applications list (note that Windows 7 is no longer officially supported). Just follow the instructions. Installing Linux is not officially supported but can be achieved via apps like rEFIt

Q. What antivirus/antimalware software should I install on my Mac?

A. Macs feature built-in antivirus and antimalware background apps, making apps like Windows Defender unnecessary. Your Mac will automatically block browser plugins if a zero-day exploit is found, for example, or even remove known malware without the user being aware. However, you might choose to augment this with your choice of antivirus app and several examples are free in the App Store. They typically scan on demand, rather than sit in the background monitoring for infections or scanning periodically. Be aware that they also report and remove Windows viruses that might be infecting your files or emails. A sadly increasing problem on Macs is adware, and the free Adware Medic app can search for and remove examples. 

Although malware and adware aren’t huge issues for Mac users it’s still possible to get apps like Adware Medic to scan your system

Also read:

How do I transfer photos from PC to a Mac?

Why Macs are better than PCs

Mac keyboard short cuts you need to know