Switching to Windows

Around 2015, I started to realize that I was no longer part of Apple’s target audience. I’ve since found that Windows, and the devices available on the Windows side, from gaming laptops to convertibles to custom-built PCs, are just a better match for my requirements.

At this point, I have only one piece of Apple hardware still in active use: a 17-inch MacBook Pro1 that runs Coda and EagleFiler.

Since a lot of people seem to be making the switch now, maybe it’s helpful to talk about some things I’m doing to make Windows more amenable to my Mac habits. Here’s what I do when I set up a new Windows PC.

Things to Install

QuickLook

QuickLook is one thing I genuinely miss on Windows. Fortunately, there’s a great open-source alternative available on GitHub. It even has a plugin system, which makes it possible to preview even more obscure file formats - STLs, for example.

PowerToys

On Macs, I always launch apps using Spotlight’s Cmd-Space shortcut. On Windows, you can just hit the Windows key to open the Start menu, and type the app’s name to launch it, but if you prefer the lightweight OS X-style Spotlight UI, PowerToys makes it available on Windows. It also does a bunch of other really cool stuff, like providing a global color picker, and adding an image resizer and a bulk file renamer to the Explorer’s context menu.

FileMarker.NET Pro

I often made use of the ability to tag files in OS X, and Windows lacks a similar feature, but FileMarker.NET Pro2 solves that problem.

PeaZIP

Windows does support file compression natively, but I prefer PeaZip. As far as I can tell, 7-zip is more widely recommended amongst Windows users, but what do they know? PeaZip has a very clean UI, and nice green icons, so it’s very obviously the better choice.

WinDirStat

One of the first things I install on any Mac I use, because I’ll always need it sooner or later, is OmniDiskSweeper. There’s no OmniDiskSweeper on Windows, but there is WinDirStat, which does the same thing, with the added benefit of having Pac-Man.

An alternative to WinDirStat is WizTree. Its main advantage is that it is insanely fast. It analyzes my whole disk in a few seconds.

AutoHotKey

I was a little worried about not having AppleScript, but nowadays, it really doesn’t work all that well on Macs, either, and when I found AutoHotKey, all was well.

Other Stuff

I’m now using Edraw Max instead of OmniGraffle, but I’m not entirely satisfied with it. I’m using PDF Compressor Pro as an alternative to shrinking PDFs with Preview on the Mac. Also, I use WSL2 for Unix-y goodness, and Chocolatey instead of Homebrew.

I also usually install MSI Afterburner to customize the graphic card fan curve, and the official GPU drivers from Nvidia or AMD, instead of relying on whatever Windows auto-installs.

Finally, Windows has built-in screen sharing, but only if you have a Pro license. You can upgrade your license if your computer didn’t come with a Pro license.

Settings I Change

Here are some of the settings I change on all Windows PCs I use.

Make the Start Menu Full-Screen

When I hit the start menu, it’s because I want to launch an application. I don’t need to see the rest of the desktop. So why is the Start menu by default only occupying a small portion of the screen, and wasting the remaining space? I switch my Start menu to full-screen. It looks good, and it gives Windows a nice little home screen.3

Windows Full-Screen Start Menu

Turn Off Wallpaper Sync

By default, if you log in with the same account on multiple PCs, Microsoft will sync some settings between these devices. That’s nice. One of these settings is the wallpaper. That’s not nice. I turn it off in the Accounts settings.

Set Up Clipboard Sharing and Multi-Clipboard

In the Clipboard settings, I turn on «Save multiple items in the clipboard to use later.» It’s super annoying to forget to turn it on, because when you need it, it’s too late. Why isn’t this just turned on by default? Also, I turn on «Sync across devices,» so I can copy on one device, and paste on another. I also set up the Smartphone app, so I can copy on my Android phone, and paste on Windows - great for things like two-factor authentication codes.

Make the Cursor Black

Black with a white outline is the correct color for the mouse pointer. Most of the stuff on most people’s screens is white. It makes no sense to have a white mouse pointer.

Fortunately, it’s easy to change the default Windows cursor to the correct color in the Mouse pointer settings. Unfortunately, even when changed to black, the misshapen Windows mouse pointer’s stem still doesn’t align with its point.

Add the Trash to the Start Menu, and Remove It from the Desktop

Since Windows’ window management works much better than what OS X’s does, and guides users towards tiling their windows, the desktop on Windows is almost always covered by windows. So I just add the Trash can (or, as these peculiar Windows users like to wrongly call it, «Recycle bin») to the Start menu, and then remove it from the Desktop altogether. This can be done in the Theme settings by clicking on «Desktop Icon Settings.»

Stuff to Remember

Here are some additional things to keep in mind when switching from a Mac to Windows.

Screenshots

Hit Win-Shift-S instead of Cmd-Shift-4. «S» does kind of make a little more sense for «screenshot» than «4», I think. You might want to install the Snip & Sketch tool if it isn’t installed by default, and turn on its notifications, so that after creating a screenshot, you get a popup of the screenshot you just took. Click on the popup to edit the screenshot.

Screen Recordings

You can make screen recordings using the Xbox Dashboard by hitting Win-G.

Launching Apps

Instead of Shift-Space, just hit Win, and start typing the name of the app you want to launch.

Further Reading

I like this list from Scott Hanselman.


  1. Also known as the best MacBook Pro. ↩︎

  2. I can’t help myself, I still always read that as «FileMaker Pro.» ↩︎

  3. Windows 8 was the best version of Windows. And that’s just a fact. ↩︎

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