Going Cross-Platform
(A Macintosh User's Quick Guide to Windows, or
A Windows User's Quick Guide to Macintosh)

(c) Bill Pellowe, 1999 (see terms of use)

"Stupid computer. I put my floppy disk in a minute ago, and it still hasn't shown up on the screen!"
-- a Mac user on a Windows machine for the first time

"Macs are dumb. Why do I need a paper clip to get the floppy disk out?"
-- a Windows user, commenting on Macs

This page is a good place to start if you are computer-literate on one system yet a newcomer to the other.

Document Windows

This is one of the most confusing things for cross-platform users the first few times they venture onto "the other side", because the familiar locations produce opposite results. Below you can see the top section ("title bar") of a Netscape 4.0 window in Windows (top) and Macintosh (bottom).
picture: compare the window bars This handy comparison should help orient you to avoid making mistakes.

Note, too, that in Windows, if you "close" the sole remaining window, you will quit the program, but in Macintosh, this does not quit the program.

The Macintosh picture is from System 8.1; earlier versions will look a bit different.

MacMacintosh: Double-clicking a title bar will cause it to collapse up -- it's like closing a window shade. Double-click again to open it -- like pulling down a window shade.
WindowsWindows: Double-clicking a title bar will expand the window to full-size or contract to a smaller size.

Going between programs

Macintosh: If you have several programs open, you can go from one to the next by using the menu you'll see after clicking the icon in the top right of the screen.
WindowsWindows: If you have several programs open, you can go from one to the next by clicking the buttons on the start bar, usually at the bottom of your computer screen.


"Right click" on a Windows machine is often the same as "control click" on a Macintosh (in other words, hold down the control key [lower left corner of the keyboard] and click).

command (command) and CTRL (Control)

Mac's "command" key is the same as Windows' "control" key.
MacMacintosh: Because of its position on the keyboard and its name, Windows users will believe that the Mac's "Control" key is the same as the Windows "CTRL" key. It's not. On a Mac, it's called the "command key" -- it is next to the space bar, and it has this symbol on it: command
WindowsWindows: It's called the control key, and it says "CTRL" on it.

Despite the difference in terms, using these keys is generally the same. On Windows, hold CTRL, hit the A key, and you select all. On Macintosh, hold command, hit the A key, and you select all.

In this handy reference chart, the "plus" sign simply means that you hit the letter key while holding down the other key. So, looking at the very first Macintosh example, it means you hold the command key and then you push "A".



does this:

command + A 


select all

command + C


copy the selected text or image

command + V



command + X


cut ("delete the selected text or picture but also copy it so I can paste it later")

command + Z


undo ("whatever I just changed, change it back")

command + O


open ("open a document in the current program")

command + W


close ("close this document window")

command + P


print ("print this document")

command + F


find (if you're in a program, then it means "search this document for a particular word" but if you're not, it means "search this computer for a particular file")

command + Q


quit ("quit this program")
Note that this is not always true in Windows...it depends on the software and the Windows version.

How does a person remember all these? Well, every time you open a menu, it gives you reminders. Macs will display a command C alongside the word "Copy". Likewise, Windows will display a CTRL C.

ALT key
WindowsWindows: In a typical menu bar (see below), you'll notice that particular letters are underlined.
If you hold the ALT key down and press the key for that particular letter, the menu will open up. For example, if you are in Netscape, and you hold the ALT key down and push the E key, the Edit menu will open up. You will then notice that some words in the Edit menu also has letters underlined. For example, "Preferences" has an "e" underlined. If you hold down the ALT key and push the E key, you can then change your Netscape preferences. This general principle (ALT + underlined letter) works in all Windows software.
MacMacintosh: Nothing similar exists in Macintosh. (The "alt" or "option" key serves a different funtion, mainly for quick access to alternative characters such as accented "e" and so on.) To access the menus, you have to use your mouse to click on them.
So what? What good is the Windows approach anyway? A Mac users' question. My answer: Say you're in Netscape, and you want to change your preferences. If you're on a Windows machine, you hold ALT and quickly tap "E" two times. In Mac, you have to reach for your mouse and go through the menus. ALT + E + E is much faster.

Control Panels
WindowsWindows: The control panels are located in a folder inside "My Computer". Alternatively, you can click on things to access the controls directly. For example, right click on your desktop, choose "Properties", and you can change various aspects of your screen (size, color levels, icon sizes).
MacMacintosh: The control panels are located in the Apple Menu Bar. Click the and select "Control Panels".

Floppy Disks

MacMacintosh: You put in a floppy disk and it appears as an icon on the desktop. Access it by double-clicking the icon. You remove the floppy disk by dragging it to the trash can. (Even though the Mac interface is highly intuitive, this has to be the least intuitive way to eject a disk...) If you turn off your computer while the floppy disk is in, the floppy disk will eject. When saving a document or opening a document, you have to select "Desktop" and then you'll be able to select the floppy disk.
WindowsWindows: You put in a floppy disk, and you access it by clicking on "My Computer". You'll then see that the floppy is (typically) in the A Drive; double click that. You remove the floppy disk by pushing a button next to where you put the disk in. If you turn off your computer while the floppy disk is in, it will stay there. The next time you start the computer, the floppy disk will prevent the computer from booting up.

MacMacs can read Windows disks. You can format a disk for Windows on a Macintosh. This means that you'll be able to use the same disk on both a Windows machine and a Macintosh.You do this by following these steps (and note that an image-based tutorial for Japanese systems is available):

  1. Check to ensure that your disk does not contain any valuable files, because this process will completely erase your floppy disk.
  2. Click the disk once to highlight it
  3. Choose "Erase disk" from the "Special" menu.
  4. The popup dialog box has a "format" section. Click the pull-down menu and choose "DOS".
  5. Click "OK".

Note, though, that when you use a Windows disk in a Macintosh, some file names may be truncated. Therefore, you can use these disks to transfer information between platforms, but don't expect Internet pages stored on a Windows disk to work perfectly on a Macintosh (because images may not show up and links to other pages on the same disk may not work).
Windows Windows machines can not format disks for Macintosh. Windows machines cannot read Mac disks (unless the disk has been formatted for Windows already).

Document Information
Going Cross-Platform (A Macintosh User's Quick Guide to Windows, or A Windows User's Quick Guide to Macintosh) is (c) Bill Pellowe, 1999. The brand names "Netscape", "Windows" and "Macintosh" and associated images (c) the respective corporations.
Terms of use: By contacting the author at billp@gol.com, instructors and presenters will receive permission to use this page in their classes, workshops or presentations. Permission will also be granted to print this page in order to distribute photocopies, as long as the page remains intact (with author name and copyright information). To reprint or distribute in newsletters or other mediums, please contact the author at billp@gol.com.
Citation: Pellowe, B. (1999) "Going Cross-Platform [A Macintosh User's Quick Guide to Windows, or A Windows User's Quick Guide to Macintosh]". Online. Available: http://www2.gol.com/users/billp/course/cross.html.