Solving Ten Common Frustrations of the Mac Switcher

I love my Macs, but I know they can be a little frustrating for the uninitiated, particularly those who come to the platform from Windows with absolutely no experience on the Mac. My goal with this blog entry is to help ease the transition a bit by addressing some of the frustrations that I’ve seen Mac neophytes rant about. I should say that 99% of the Mac converts I’ve seen can use their computer as-is, out of the box. The stuff I’m talking about here are the devils lurking in the details; the little things that can drive people nuts.

Solving the Frustrations

1. I love the Mac, but this single-button mouse thing has to go.

I’m right there with you. Fortunately, you can ditch your Mac mouse in favor of the two-button variety found in Windowsland. Any USB-based, multi-button mouse will work just fine under Mac OS X (and heck, even under earlier versions). You don’t even need to install any extra software (though that maybe useful in order to extend your mouse’s capabilities). And yes, even your scroll wheel will work.

I use a Microsoft IntelliMouse Optical Mouse. Runs about $25 nowadays; I recommend buying it, and then downloading the drivers from Microsoft’s Mac site. Or you could wait until Apple comes out with its rumored multi-button mouse.

2. How do I say “Mac OS X”?

Technically, the proper way to say it is “Mac OS Ten”, since this is the tenth version of the Macintosh operating system. In truth though, lots of people — including confirmed Mac addicts like me — also refer to it as “X”, as in, “Mac OS X”. That said you may draw the ire of Fanatical True Believers if you call it “X” instead of “Ten”. Just tell ëem you’re a switcher, and they’ll stop hyperventilating.

3. How can I tell what version I’m using?

Go to the “Apple” menu in the upper-lefthand corner of your screen and choose “About This Mac” A screen will pop up, and beneath the text “Mac OS X” you’ll see the version number. There are several different flavors that have been released over the years, and they’re tracked by version number, as well as a feline nickname.

  • Mac OS 10.0 — Puma (a.k.a. The Version That Sucked)
  • Mac OS 10.1 — Cheetah
  • Mac OS 10.2 — Jaguar
  • Mac OS 10.3 — Panther
  • Mac OS 10.4 — Tiger

The different incarnations are cosmetically very similar, but there can be significant differences between them, so if you’re asking for help, always be sure to mention which version you’re using.

4. People keep talking about this strange and near-mystical thing called the “Command” key. Where the heck is it?

Look for the key with an “Apple” on it on your keyboard; this is the command key. Clicking this key while hitting your mouse button on a file (like say, a Word document) will bring up a “contextual menu” for that item. It’s like right-clicking in Windows. Of course, if you followed my advice in Step 1, you don’t need to worry about command-clicking (or at least, not as much).

5. How the heck do I make the CD drive eject?

This drives people bunkers. Normally, to eject a CD or DVD from a Mac, you drag it to the trash. Weird, but it works. But how do you eject the CD tray if there’s no CD in it? On a Windows machine you’d just hit the eject button, but we Mac folks think … differently. So instead of hitting a button on the computer, you use your keyboard.

Look on your keyboard, near the number keypad. See the symbol that looks like a triangle with a line under it? Press that, and the CD drive will eject.

Alternatively, you may not have an eject key (perhaps you’re using a Windows keybaord). In that case, you can use F12 as your eject key, but if you’re using Mac OS X Tiger, this gives rise to a new problem: by default the “F12” button is assigned to the new “Dashboard” widgets utility. In order to use F12 as your eject button, you need to re-assign Dashboard to another key.
To do this, go to the “Apple” in the upper-lefthand corner, choose “System Preferences”, and when the window appears displaying all the control panels for Mac OS X, find and double click on the one for Expose/Dashboard. From this screen, you can then switch the default Dashboard key to something else (I use F8 on my old iBook, which like your keyboard uses F12 as its eject button).

Once changed, if you hit “F12” and hold it for two seconds, your CD will eject.

6. Where’s the backspace key? And why does the delete key keep getting doing … that?

Umm. Yeah, that’s a tough one. Here’s the deal. Macs don’t have a backspace key. Instead, it’s got a delete key that acts like the backspace key does under Windows (that is, it deletes everything to the left of the flashing cursor). All is not lost, however. If you want to delete text to the right of the cursor, then look for a the other “delete” key on the your Mac’s keyboard; it’ll say “delete” and have a small box with an “x” in it, and its usually located in the same place you’d find said key on a normal Windows keyboard.

I freely admit it’s screwed up. It makes about as much sense as a single-button mouse, but hey, it’s this sort of thing that makes the Mac so darn endearing.

7. The “genie effect” was sure nifty … for the first minute I used my Mac. Now it’s just annoying and slows down my machine. How do I get rid of it?

Go to the Apple Menu, and select “System Preferences”. A window pops up with a bunch of icons for the various components of your Mac. Double click on “Dock” and the “Minimize Using” drop down menu to “Scale Effect”. This is much faster than the Genie Effect, and far less annoying.

8. Ok, that’s much better. But I hate having the dock on the bottom — I want it on the left or the right … and I want the damn thing to disappear when I’m not using it.

No problem — you can control all of that through the same menu you used in #7.

9. Ack! I moved my mouse to the corner of the screen, and weird stuff started happening! All the windows flew away or re-organized into tiny versions of themselves. Help!

Relax. This is a feature new to Mac OS 10.3 called “Expose” that lets you quickly organize or hide windows. To turn it off, go to “System Preferences” and choose “Expose”. Then set all of the “Active Screen Corners” to the “-” setting. Note that by default, Expose is turned off on new Macs; I mentioned it hear because it freaked out my Windows-loving wife when she was using my iBook.

10. I’ve got a problem. A big problem. I don’t know how to solve it, and the unwashed heathens around me all use Windows. How do I turn this expensive paperweight back into a working computer?

Fear not, O Convert to the Light Side, for there is much help to be found on the Web. Specifically, you need to go to If they can’t solve your problem, it’s doubtful anyone can. When posting there, be sure to mention what sort of Mac you’re got (PowerMac, iBook, etc.), what version of Mac OS X you’re using, and any other vital statistics you can give them. The more you give, the better folks can help you.

Need More Help?

Have a frustration that’s not listed here? Let me know by sending an e-mail to or filling out our online “feedback” form. If there’s enough interest, I’ll do another of these columns.