person using macbook pro on white table

Notes for Windows user using a Mac Part 1

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OK here are the crazy list of things that my three “Just in from Windows” friends, Mark, John and Dave are having. Hopefully both are loving that M1 MacBooks (yes, I’m jealous, trying to hold out for the next generation coming this year, but I don’t know!).

So here are notes from the many phone calls and chats I’ve had. The Mac is really different from Windows. I know, I spend a lot of time remember how Windows works when I crank up my gaming machine and backup Windows Surface.

So here are some quick initial notes in the a continuing series. I’m just going to jot them down every time I get a call.

Buying a MacBook

Ok the first thing is deciding which of the models and what to get. Right now for the average user, the MacBook Air sure looks like a great buy. It is the same processor as the MacBook Pro yet is a bit cheaper. The main thing that you give up is two USB C ports. For most folks that isn’t going to make much of a difference.

Also if you are an Education user, that is you are a student or educator in High School or College, you can get on the Higher Education Site and get a little more off. Or the other place to go is the Appleinsider Price Guides, they often have coupons. Here are the considerations:

  1. These are sealed systems more like an iPhone than a configurable Windows machine. The main choice is whether you want a machine with 7 GPU slices or 8 cores for graphics, it makes little difference, but you can save $50-100 by doing a build that starts with the very cheapest MacBook Air and that adds the things below, you are getting maybe 15% lower graphics performance, but that should matter too much for a typical user.
  2. So the first criteria are to get enough internal disk. I’d say that 512GB (so one up from the 256GB base) is probably the decent minimum.
  3. Then if you are ever going to do photos and videos, you might consider the 16GB version. The 8GB system does however have really great performance for ordinary tasks.
  4. Take all the savings above and swallow hard and buy AppleCare. If you are lucky enough to get an extended warranty with your Amex card, do that too. If you play your cards right, you will get two years (and maybe three years) of care. Apple really does a great job supporting their devices. We have computers that are 12 years old that are still running fine.
  5. Finally, spend the $30 and get a transparent case. These are things of beauty, but it only takes one drop to dent them and that’s a shame. I also normally run with a $10 keyboard cover so that stuff doesn’t get into the keyboard and jam it. There are lots, but look at the reviews closely the Mosiso is a good example of one for the MacBook Pro, they have version for the Air as well.
  6. Get a nice 43″ television to be your monitor. In these COVID days having a nice home office matters and getting a good display makes a big different. Right now CES 2021 is happening, so models are changing over, but we’ve had great success with the Samsung Q60T which often goes on sale for $430. It is a 4K screen and really bright and nice.

That being said, what are the reasons to be a MacBook Pro, the main one is that it has four USB C ports on both sides and let’s face it the Pro is a cool name. Otherwise, the Air is lighter and 95% of the machine of the MacBook Pro.

What’s all this then about Apple ID vs the computer account? And keychain?

Ok this is pretty confusing and Windows machines have the same problem. For legacy reasons, every MacOS has two sets of accounts. The first is your local account, called the “Computer Account”. This is your login and you have to set a separate password for it. (And please stuff that password into 1Password or somewhere).

This is used when the machine is not logged onto the Internet and when you first start up. It encrypts the hard disk as well so no one can access it. You have to pick a user name and a password for this and *these are not* related to the Apple ID which you also have to create.

So some things to know:

  1. When you create you Computer Account, you pick a name and isn’t an email. So for instance Rich for me or DongleHead it really doesn’t matter but you have to remember it.
  2. Now pick a password which is completely different from your iCloud password. Really, you don’t want to ever duplicate passwords. And please don’t pick abcd1234 use a password generator.
  3. Apple has a keychain that will remember this kind of stuff and you can use it in Safari and it syncs across all your devices. I do use it because it is secure and a backup to 1Password, so please use it.
  4. One confusing thing about running both is there are now two password managers. so you will often see dialogs on your phone that give you a choice as they merge the passwords for both and show them to you.
  5. Finally, they don’t actually synchronize, so when you change a password you need to make sure both are changed. It’s a bit of a pain, so for most folks, I’d say just use the native Keychain if you are only in the Apple world. If you have Android and others, then take the pain and use 1Password with Keychain as backup.
  6. Finally, finally, keychain is designed to be hidden, so unlike 1Password, you can’t browse the passwords in it easily. With Safari, it will just offer them automatically. If you really need to see them then start Keychain Access but I really don’t recommend it as it is very techy.

Do I need Mac Office or should I use Gsuite or Apple’s Office?

Ok a great first question for most users is what should I do with the normal stuff like word documents and PowerPoint. I’m going to be a bit controversial and say that I normally just use Google Suite for everything. Of course I do have Mac Office (thank you Microsoft Alumni Association with the subscription to Office365), but I find:

  1. Compatibility with existing Office document types is very good although I normally immediately convert the Microsoft formats to Google formats because I do a lot of collaborative document work.
  2. Google Suite is free which is kinda nice although it doesn’t work well if not connected to the Internet. As an aside, you can load Google Chrome and use it in offline mode if you want (but see the section on browsing).
  3. Finally, the Apple products are Ok, but I find that Keynote while great really doesn’t play well with PowerPoint documents. And if you are going to create pretty documents, you might as well use Canva which is far prettier.

Net, net, unlike a Windows machine, if you are willing to put up with a learning curve, Google Workplace (I think they call it now), does give you the cross platform work anywhere on iOS, Android, Windows, Mac (and even Linux).

What browser should I use Safari or Chrome or Firefox?

Turns out I actually use all three, but if you are going all Apple with iPhone and MacBook, then using Safari makes sense. Most folks don’t need lots of plugins and so forth and it is very fast. Plus the tabs are shared with iOS and it is more private. See below:

  1. Safari. This is what I use most often because I use the tabs and things as a “to do” list. All tabs are shared between Mac and iPhone by clicking on the Tab Overview icon on the far upper right. You will see all the tabs open across all your devices and you can even close them and open on different machines.
  2. The real limitation of Safari actually has more to do with Ad Blocking. MacOS has some great new protections, but I find that the best thing to do is to use NordVPN for more privacy and then to load an Adblocker. I’ve tried a bunch and I’ve found that Ghostery Lite seems to work really well.
  3. macOS Big Sur finally let’s you share extensions across all Safari installation, but I find a great list to be 1Password, Ghostery Lite, Grammarly (spell and grammar checking), Night Eye (does dark mode for Safari), Honey (finds discounts), Piper and Vimari.

When I use Chrome?

Well the big knock against Chrome is that it is slow and big which are definitely true, but I do use it for very specific reasons:

  1. First of all make sure to turn off all of Google’s tracking and there is a lot of it.
  2. But the big thing for Chrome is that the extension database is huge. Safari for security reason locks out a lot and it has such a small market share that many folks are not supporting it.
  3. So here are the special purpose things I do with Chrome. First is Google Docs offline mode. I actually haven’t used this with the pandemic, but if you turn on offline mode (it can only be on for one Google account), then it caches documents and you can edit on the plane.
  4. The second is that certain plugins like Scrum for Trello work there or Fakespot which actually inserts review checking into Amazon purchasing which is really nice. So think of it as my specialty browser

What then about Firefox?

Well, I do have that one, but I don’t think most people needed it. The main reason is that there are sometimes bugs in Safari and Chrome and Firefox is worth a shot at fixing.

Which cloud drive should I use iCloud, Dropbox or Google? And what about Backups?

Every since Dropbox dropped (no pun intended) their free plan to allow just three devices to sync, I’ve been moving away from it. Right now the best free program is Google Drive with 2GB free and if you have an Google Workplace plan, then 30GB.

This is one place where you have to decide how far into the Apple ecosystem you want to go. But right now Apple One at $30/month for a “family” is a pretty great plan. You get a 2TB shared drive, Apple Music (that costs $25 alone) and then Apple News+ and Fitness+ (I use both way more than I would have thought). One great thing is that is allows up to six people in a family to share all this stuff, so it works out to $6/person/month.

The biggest reason to get this though is that your Documents and Desktop are automatically backed up to iCloud. This is secure in that it is end-to-end encrypted so Apple can’t see the information and very automatic.

Finally in the Windows world, you have to spend a lot of energy on backups and Apple does have Time Machine that allows backup of MacBooks to a file server. I actually don’t use backups anymore mainly because of iCloud automatic sync. As long as you keep your vital information in a Google Drive (for cross platform stuff that needs to appear in Windows or Android or IOS) and you have iCloud for everything else it seems to work fine.

Where the heck are my Applications? And where is the Hard Disk? How do I install?

One of the things that is confusing about the Mac is that it the way you install is by dragging things to the Applications folder and it is hard to figure out where it is. Ok, the big things here are that it is so silly and simple to find. Go to Finder and look on the sidebar for Applications. For most Windows users, it seems incredible that you don’t need an installer, you just drag the icon from the downloaded file to that folder and it works.

The next question is well how do I figure out what applications and where is the C: drive we are so used to seeing. Well, with Big Sur, they have continued migrating to more of a iOS model for files. That means that:

  1. You never needs to see all those system files, they are still there and on your desktop in the upper right will be a hard drive and you can open it up at Root, but that isn’t super useful.
  2. If you want to find applications, I find the easiest way is just to use Spotlight and type the name, rather than navigate through menus. This is very different from Windows where you see a spray of shortcuts all over the desktop. As an aside, if you hold the Command-Space, you get Spotlight right away (same as Ctrl-S on Windows).
  3. So if you want to see all the applications, start Finder and got to the Applications shortcut and you can scroll through them.

As an side one tip on installation, while most of the time when you download, it will put a DMG or a ZIP file down. You want to make sure to double click on both of these to make it work. That will give you a window and in it you will see the icon of the application. Don’t just drag the ZIP or DMG file in Applications. That is not going to work. Technically you are dragging in a folder that is named .app but that .app is hidden from you.

Perhaps the strangest thing for a Windows user is to click the Hard Drive and see only four folders there: Applications, Library, System and Users. It is also read only. That’s a hint that Apple doesn’t want a mess of user junk at the top level, it all goes in Users/YourLogin now, so if you want to see the top of where you should put things, there. But most of the time you shouldn’t start at the top, just add the key folders into the Sidebar.

Where do I put all my documents, in Documents

Well, Mac default is very minimalistic. They are trying to move to an Application centric model where each application just opens things up, but the Windows way is that you place things in different areas (eg its file centric).

So for most Windows users, the easiest thing to do is:

  1. Only put things into your “home” folder. This is not a strong concept with Windows, but on MacOS, you normally don’t have permissions to put anything into the root drive. This is for security and also prevents you from deleting the entire system (guilty as charged on many Windows machines where I’ve cleaned things up by removing DLLs that the system needs, argh!)
  2. So the easiest thing to do is to go to Finder and then click on Preferences Sidebar and then click Movies, Music, Pictures, and there should be an icon that looks like Home with your user name. So when you do a download, it defaults to Downloads, but now you can drag them to the right place.
  3. Also as an aside, you can also see what files iCloud is backing up in the next set, os there is Desktop and Documents, there is also an explicit iCloud Drive if you want to force something but don’t want it in documents (like a video you want to share).

This leads to a best of both worlds most of the time you won’t want the full folder view and most of the time Applications will put them in the right place, but this partial view just lets you see files that you “should” want to change.

Mouse weirdness and right clicking and natural scrolling

Ok I forgot a very basic thing, the mouse on an Apple machine works different. The first is that it scrolls in the opposite direction, this makes sense to IOS, so scroll up moves the window up. The Windows system works exactly the opposite.

The second is that Steve Jobs hated the multi button mouse, so the default has usually been the “right click” is done holding the Option key down. You an fix both in System Preferences and then look for Mouse to add the right click and also the scrolling.

Finally, the best mouse for the Mac is definitely the Magic Mouse 2. That’s because there is actually a touch pad on top, so while you are there, you can learn all the gestures that can run on top of your mouse, light two fingers and drag right. Pretty cool stuff.

Dealing with the Dock

Another thing different about the Mac vs Windows is how the bottoms most “Dock” works. First of all, there are many fewer thing son it. I actually like to there and then on the little vertical bar, you can write click and Turn Hiding On, so it disappears.

Then if you want move things around, then click and hold and drag the icon to where you want it.

Finally if you want new icons, everything that is running is there and you can right click and choose “Keep in Dock” or “Start at login”. Truthfully, I almost never use this since I use Command-Space and type what I want because I’m a keyboard geek 🙂

Changing my wallpaper

Ok another sort of strange thing, but say you want the Mandalorian as your desktop wallpaper. How do you do it, well the simple way is to:

  1. Right click on the desktop and you will see “Change Desktop Background). You are going to get all kinds of defaults, but you won’t see the things that you just downloaded.
  2. So you need to click on the Plus icon below and then add Downloads to your list and then you can see everything that Safair downloaded.
  3. Also as an aside, Mac Photos are also all available so if you have photos there you can have anything that you like.

So what should I do with my Photos as Google Photos changes

Well, alot of folks on Windows use Google Photos particularly if they have an Android phones, but Google is discontinuing free photos forever which is too bad. You have a bunch of choices here, but the natural thing to do is to go whole hog, get the iCloud 2TB plan and just upload all your photos in Apple Photo Library.

That’s a big change, but there are three reasons for it:

  1. Pricingwise it is identical to Google Drive now. The biggest reason for staying with Google Drive is Android compatibility. The other option is Amazon Photos if you are already an Amazon prime member, but there is more copying.
  2. If you do this then every photo you take on your phone syncs automatically just like it did with Google Drive.
  3. And Mac Photos is a nice library well integrated into MacOS

Net, net the choices now are to pay for Google Drive and not change anything or bite the bullet and move to iCloud if you are going all Apple, or Amazon Photos with the added complexity but it cheaper than either of the other two options.

Getting the right resolutions on an external monitor.

With Windows, you get to play with resolutions and pixels to your hearts content. With apple this is hidden (which is good for regular humans).

So when you plug in your new HDMI monitor, it should really just work and does mostly. If the resolution looks wrong, go to System Preferences/Dispaly and then in the Resolution section click on Scaled and you will see a bunch of buttons and go from larger text to More space and click to what you want. For instance on most big 4K displays, I change the default to More Space which.

Closing the laptop with an external monitor

The short answer is that with most monitors, if you close the laptop and an external is connected, it will stay on. But with the TouchId I normally don’t close it, because when the system wants it, its inconvenient to have to open it again.

You can also set it to “Extend the display”. The default is mirroring which is pretty useless, but in that same Display entry, click on Arrangement and turn off Mirror Display. That point you can drag and drop the arrangement. I normally put the little white menu bar on the external monitor. That is how it knows which is home.

How to work with a large monitor

Well, the tools that the Mac gives are not that great for it. I normally end up buying Divvy which is a tool that lets you throw different screens into tiles, this gets rid of all the overlapping windows problems. You basically select a window and then type a keyboard sequence like Ctrl-Option-CMD-1 and then it throws it into the right place

Connecting to a NAS or Windows Machine

Well this should be pretty automatic. Go to Finder, if you have a Synology or similar NAS, then look in the Network section and there it should be. When you click on it, it will ask the for the user name on that device and not the password for Synology.com (which is pretty confusing). Then you can see the files there.

Finally if you want to see files on other Windows PCs, hopefully they will be listed in the network section and you click. This uses Bonjour to broadcast these messages and most modern Windows and Network Attached Storage does this. If it does not then go to Finder and choose Go/Connect Server and then you have to type in the Server Name which is way more painful.

Finally if you want files on your Mac to be visible, go to System Preferences/Sharting and click on File Sharing. The default is just to share a single Public folders, but you can open this up to say your entire home directory by clicking on the plus icon and selecting that folder. You will need to know the Computer Account name and password to do this and you probably want to restrict permissions quite a bit, so maybe only System Administrators as this is a big security hole.

I want to VLC and not QuickTime in opening files

Ok this comes up quite a bit and macOS doe not make it easy, but you can change the binding between files and apps like this:

  1. Look in Finder for the file you want to change
  2. Right click on it and choose Get Info
  3. In the middle of this pane you will see Open With and change it to the Application you want. Note that when application load, they declare what file extensions they can handle, so if you don’t see your app, it didn’t correctly register. So you have to choose other and browser to the file location in /Applications. One difference between the Mac and Windows is that Macs keeps all the user executables in /Applications while Windows of course lets you spray them everywhere.
  4. Ok this will change it just for that file, but if you click on the button below called Change All then it is global change for all files of type.

The biggest reason for doing this is QuickTime Player does not do a great job with many filetypes, so using VLC is a good alternative.

Unflakey USB Hubs

You get what you pay for, so these $30 USB C hubs are just that, pretty cheap and flaky. For the most reliability, stick with the expensive Apple dongles. Or better yet spring the $200 for the CalDigit or OWC dock. These work way better.

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