I’m not a typical Windows or Mac user. While most people choose one operating system and stick with it, I use both Windows 11 and macOS on a regular basis and go back and forth on a daily basis depending on my workflow. And it’s easier to do than you probably think.
I have a fast Windows 11 desktop with three 27″ 4K displays and I use it for all of my research-intensive work that benefits from multiple monitors. But for writing simple texts and for personal tasks, I use a MacBook Pro 14 M1 Pro simply because I like it so much. It’s not macOS that draws me to the machine, it’s the battery life, the cool yet fast controls, the excellent keyboard and touchpad, and the fantastic HDR display. To stay sane, I’ve come up with a few tricks and techniques to make the constant switching bearable. Here’s what I learned.
Adapt to your keyboards
One of the most immediate differences you’ll notice when switching back and forth between a Mac and a Windows computer has to do with keyboard layouts. And the biggest difference is the buttons that activate different functions.
On a Windows 11 keyboard you will find Ctrl, Alt, Fn, And Windows Keys that can be combined with various other keys to perform specific tasks. I’m talking about things like Ctrl-C Copy, Ctrl-V insert, Ctrl-Z undo and so on. These become part of muscle memory the more you use Windows, and the same keys don’t exist on a Mac keyboard.
Instead you will find control, PossibilityAnd command Key. Not only do they not map directly to Windows keyboards, but they also perform other functions. And for ordinary Mac users, those keys are burned into muscle memory.
You have two choices. First, you can train your brain and easily remember which keys work on which platform. Apple provides a handy guide to the key differences. For example the Mac command Keyboard shortcuts work similar to Windows ctrl button, with shortcuts for things like copy and paste. Yes, Command-Z And Command-Y are undo and redo respectively. And Macs Possibility Button corresponds to that of Windows Old Key that can be used to create special characters, for example.
At the same time, there are differences related to both the operating systems and the buttons themselves. On Windows, press the Windows key and an arrow button let you split windows in different ways. It doesn’t work that way on a Mac. And in macOS, some menus have hidden items that are revealed when you use Possibility Button. Windows does not have the same.
The other option is to use different keymapping applications to try and get the Mac keyboard to work with Windows and vice versa. I personally find them fidgety and not worth the effort. Instead, I’ve just memorized the right keyboard shortcuts for what I need to do and adjust them as I move back and forth. It’s kind of like taking my car on one trip and my wife’s car on another. Yes, some things work the same, but there are many differences in their controls. I’ve just learned to adapt depending on what car I’m driving.
Some of the best keyboards also come with layouts for Mac and Windows. For example, the recently released Asus ROG Azoth lets you switch between a Windows and Mac layout with a single button, making it easier to transition between computers.
Use common applications
The next trick that is likely to make a worthwhile change in your computing practice is to use cross-platform applications. This can be annoying if you heavily favor some Mac or Windows exclusive apps.
The first major change that might be particularly painful for Mac fans is browser choice. Safari has evolved into a world-class browser in the latest versions of macOS. It’s fast, secure, and intuitive, and offers most of the features of competing browsers. But it only runs on macOS, which means that if you stick with Safari on your Mac, you’ll be using a completely different browser in Windows.
The immediate problem I ran into with this approach, which is what I tried first, was syncing. Passwords, bookmarks, history, form data, etc. have all been isolated between the two platforms. That was way too inefficient.
So I use Edge on both my Windows machines and my MacBook. That way my default tabs are the same, my passwords and other info is available on all my computers, and I can review my search history across platforms. It’s a seamless browsing experience when I switch from one platform to another. The same could be done with other cross-platform browsers; I just prefer Edge.
My next choice was cloud storage and I chose Microsoft OneDrive. It seems to be the solution that offers the most similar experience across platforms, and it works well with Microsoft’s Office suite. Again, there are probably other cloud storage solutions that might work just as well, including Apple’s iCloud, which installs on Windows, but I’ve found OneDrive to be the most seamless experience for my workflow.
I also use Microsoft Office apps, Microsoft OneNote, Microsoft To Do Task Manager, and Microsoft Skype, all of which work equally well on macOS and Windows. The apps aren’t all the same across platforms, notably the Outlook email app which is quite different on the Mac, but they’re similar enough that it’s an easy tweak. And again, there are many other options, but these are the ones that have worked best for me.
The key point is to choose apps and services that exist on both platforms and sync everything where it makes sense. That way, you can maintain the same efficiency no matter what machine you’re using, and apart from differences between operating systems, most of your computers will remain familiar.
Accept the differences
The elephant in the room is macOS versus Windows 11. They’re very different beasts, with things like Windows administration, split-screen setup, file management, and more being very different between the two.
We have a guide on how to make macOS look more like Windows, and if you search you can probably find guides for the opposite customization as well. You can go that route, but I personally find the two so similar that I just learned and accepted the important differences.
Overall, the concepts are the same, only the mechanics by which many things are done are different. And I’ll admit that I don’t use as many macOS features as I did with Windows 11. For example, I don’t use the split-screen feature on the MacBook that often because it’s my single-task machine where I use it extensively in Windows.
The biggest difference for me is in the file management. The Windows 11 file manager and macOS Finder are very different, and file management itself follows different rules. If there’s one thing that trips you up more than anything, it’s managing files. So take some time to familiarize yourself with how each platform handles files. If you’re starting out with one platform or another, we’ve got a roundup of Windows 11 tips, as well as some of the top macOS tricks.
Still, it’s possible and not that painful
Even with the differences between MacOS and Windows 11, the switch is not too difficult for me. Most of the time it’s pretty seamless. I sometimes stumble over the keyboard shortcuts, especially when I remember that the Mac keyboard doesn’t have one Extinguish button, only a backspe key. And sometimes I forget how to move whole words or lines back and forth. But the more I use the two, the more habit the differences become and the easier it is to move between them.
It’s easy enough to switch between Windows and macOS on separate computers, but you can do it on a single computer too. Be sure to read our guide to dual booting Windows and Mac if you want to switch between them on the same computer.