Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

T e c h n o f i l e
Macs are like PCs in most operations

July 1, 2007

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2007, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2007, The Post-Standard

   Now that Macs are gaining popularity, Apple finally has a chance to dispel a long-standing myth that Macs are different and therefore hard to use.
   There's no argument that Macs are different, but the difference is not in how you work with them -- the Mac interface was the basis for the Windows interface many years ago, after all -- but in how Macs deal with security and such things as viruses and spyware.
   Macs are more resistant to security lapses than Windows PCs (they're actually Unix computers, and Unix was designed for safety) and they are not affected by all the bad stuff that invades Windows PCs. They shrug off Windows viruses, worms, trojan horses, spyware and zombie invaders.
   So they're different under the skin, more or less. In the way you use them, they're very much like Windows PCs. The differences that DO show up can be put in two categories -- keyboard assignments and minor window operations.
   Mac history buffs might point out that the Mac predates Windows, so the difference between their keyboards occurred because Microsoft made its own changes when it invented Windows. But no matter: The two keyboards are almost the same.
   Macs have three main keys that aren't on a PC keyboard. They're Command (widely used), Option (not used much) and Help (as far as I know, never used -- and it's not even on Mac laptop keyboards). Secondary keys on all Mac keyboards that are sometimes found on PCs are Eject (to pop out a CD or DVD), Mute (to silence the audio), and a pair of Volume Up and Volume Down keys.
   Macs have a few keyboard tricks, just as PCs have. Control-Option-Command-Eject shuts down a Mac, for example. Option-Mute opens the Sound Preferences, and Control-Eject opens a shutdown dialog. Command-Delete, a key combination some Mac users might already know about, sends any selected file or folder to the trash, and Option-Command-Esc opens a task manager.
   Macs don't have a Windows key, which I discussed last week (at www.technofileonline.com/texts/tec062407.html), but they do have a Control key, just as PCs keyboards do.
   But the Control key doesn't do much on Macs. Windows uses Control for dozens of important functions -- combined with "S," it saves; with "C" it copies; with "X" it deletes, and so on -- but Macs substitute the Command key for those same operations.
   This might help make it easy for a Windows user to switch to a Mac, but I've found that most Windows users (and, indeed, most Mac users) are oblivious to keyboard shortcuts. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but I do think keyboard methods save time.
   It's in non-keyboard operations that Macs are most like Windows. Clicking the Close button closes a window, just as on PCs, and dragging from the top of a window moves it. You can't resize a Mac window by dragging the edges, but you can resize it, as in Windows, by dragging the bottom right corner.