Switching from Windows? Essential Keyboard Tips for Mac Newbies

Akshata Shanbhag 26-01-2016

Moving from a Windows PC to a Mac A Quick Guide to Using a Mac for Windows Users Every Windows user should know the basics of working on a Mac. Here's a quick guide to help Mac newcomers find their way around. Read More  can be a shock for new users. Your favorite shortcuts from Windows don’t work, useful keys such as Home and End are missing from your Mac’s keyboard, and Apple’s ctrl key functions nothing like the one on Windows.


But don’t despair! Your muscle memory just needs time to catch up with the rules of your Mac’s keyboard Everything You Need To Know About Mac OS X Keyboard Shortcuts No matter what operating system or program you're using, keyboard shortcuts are a tool you can use to make things quite a bit easier for yourself. Simply not having to take your hands off the... Read More . It’s a relatively short period of adjustment, and you’ll get there in no time if you remember a few simple differences between the two systems.

So here’s a quick start guide to adjusting to a Mac keyboard layout.


  1. Certain shortcuts may vary depending on the version of Windows and keyboard you’re using.
  2. Only Mac keys and shortcuts are highlighted in bold print in this article.

Control (Windows) = Command (OS X)

The command or cmd key, which you’ll find on either side of the spacebar, is the Mac equivalent of the Control (ctrl) key on Windows. Many of your Windows shortcuts involving the ctrl key work on Mac as well if you use cmd instead of ctrl. For example, the cut-copy-paste shortcuts from Windows — ctrl+x, ctrl+c, ctrl+v — turn into cmd+x, cmd+c, and cmd+v respectively on a Mac.

Go ahead and try some of the other ctrl-based shortcuts from Windows using the cmd key, such as cmd+d instead of ctrl+d for bookmarking a web page.


OS X also has a key named control (ctrl). You’ll find it sandwiched between the fn and option keys to the left of the spacebar. This ctrl key is part of a few keyboard shortcuts that you’ll discover as you continue to use your new Mac. For now, the main thing you need to know about the ctrl key is that you can combine it with a mouse click to open up the context menu, also known as the right-click menu, anywhere on your Mac.


If you wish the ctrl key on your Mac would function like the ctrl key on your Windows machine, we recommend swapping the functions of the cmd and ctrl keys. To do so, first click on the Apple icon at the top left in the menu bar and go to System Preferences > Keyboard.



In the Keyboard tab, look for the Modifier Keys… button and click on it.


In the dialog that comes up, select Command in the dropdown next to Control (^) Key: and select ^ ctrl in the dropdown next to Command Key. Finalize the changes by hitting OK. This swaps the functions of the two keys, so you don’t have to worry about replacing ctrl with cmd while bringing your favorite Windows shortcuts to Mac.



Alt+Tab (Windows) = Command+Tab (OS X)

If you love the alt+tab combo on Windows for application switching, you won’t have too much trouble getting used to Mac’s application switcher keyboard shortcut — cmd+tab. That’s because the OS X cmd key happens to be in the same location as the Windows alt key — just to the left of the spacebar. You won’t even need to memorize the shortcut. Your muscle memory has already done it for you.

Renaming Files With Enter on OS X

What happens when you select a file and hit Enter on Windows? File Explorer opens the file in its default application. Not so on a Mac. Hitting enter when you have a file (or folder) selected allows you to rename it — just like the F2 key does on Windows. To open the file using the keyboard, you’ll have to press cmd+o.


By the way, tapping the spacebar when you have a file selected allows you to fully preview the file without having to open it up in its usual application.


Home/End (Windows) = Command+Arrow Keys (OS X)

The Home and End keys on a PC keyboard are super useful, but they’re missing from many Mac keyboards. You won’t miss them once you get used to their keyboard shortcuts: cmd+left arrow for Home and cmd+right arrow for End. For this pair of shortcuts, use the cmd key to the right of the spacebar for convenience.

Note that ctrl+a and ctrl+e also work as shortcuts for Home and End respectively — but when you’re working with text, this will take you to the end of the paragraph (as opposed to cmd+arrow key which takes you to the end of the line). And by ctrl we mean Mac’s ctrl key, of course.

To get to the very bottom of a selection, hit cmd+down arrow, while cmd+up arrow will take you to the beginning. Combined with shift this can make selecting large sections of text a piece of cake.

Alt (Windows) = Option (OS X)

One key that you’d better get fast acquainted with is the option key. It’s the Mac counterpart of the altGr key on Windows and it adds the ability to type special characters, symbols, and diacritical marks How To: Easy Keyboard Shortcuts For Accent Marks on Letters [Mac] Read More .

Not all Windows shortcuts involving alt can be ported to your Mac by replacing alt with option. You’ll have to learn option key shortcuts on a case by case basis.

What’s special about the option key is that it gives you access to some great hidden options 20 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do with the Mac Option Key The Command steals the limelight on your Mac's keyboard, but it’s the Option key that is the real hero. Read More that you wouldn’t otherwise find in a menu. For example, when you open the File menu from, say, a Word document and then hold down the option key, you’ll see a new option — Save As… — appear in the menu. Release the option key and that option’s gone.

This is super handy for doing things like accessing the hidden Mac library How To Access The OS X Library Folder & Why It's Handy Most OS X Library folders are best left alone, but it's useful to know your way in and around the User Library. Read More .

Alt+F4 (Windows) = Command+W (OS X)

Hitting cmd+w is to OS X what alt+F4 is to a PC — the hotkey to close an application window. This is one shortcut that you’re likely to use often, so we suggest that you memorize it.

If you want to quit the entire application, you’ll need to hit cmd+q instead of cmd+w.

Force Quit Applications

The ctrl+alt+del combo on Windows is like a cure-all when it comes system glitches. That’s because it brings up the task manager, which allows you to forcibly close malfunctioning applications. On a Mac, you can bring up the task manager with this keypress combo: cmd+option+esc.


OS X does in fact have a Task Manager equivalent which allows you to monitor CPU, memory and network usage What Is Activity Monitor? The Mac Equivalent of Task Manager Learn all about Activity Monitor on your Mac and how to use it to check detailed information about your system. Read More (among other things) called Activity Monitor.

Print Screen (Windows) = Command+Shift+3

Pressing Print Screen, or Win+Print Screen in some cases, on Windows saves a snapshot of the current screen as a file. To get the same thing done on a Mac, you’ll have to use cmd+shift+3, which saves what you’re looking at as a .PNG file on your desktop. There’s a lot more to taking screenshots on OS X, so check out our handy OS X screenshot guide How to Take Screenshots on Mac: Tips, Tools, and Tricks to Know Need to take a screenshot on your mac? Here are the best shortcuts, tips, and apps for macOS screenshots. Read More for the full low-down.

To add a custom shortcut for printing the screen, first open System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts > Screen Shots and look for Save picture of screen as a file. Click on the shortcut next to it and type in a convenient, easy-to-remember shortcut of your own.


Backspace (Windows) = Delete (OS X)

The delete key on a Mac functions like the Backspace key on a PC. What’s important is that it’s in the same location as the Backspace key, which makes it one less transition to worry about.

So where’s the Mac equivalent of the PC’s Del key, which erases the character that appears right after the cursor in editable text? There isn’t one, but there is a keyboard shortcut that replicates the Del key’s function: fn+delete.

If you’re used to deleting files on Windows by selecting them and pressing the Del key, you’ll have to get used to pressing cmd+delete.

Keyboard Shortcuts Made Easy

Thanks to your newbie status, the Mac keyboard might feel alien to you right now, but we promise you that it’s just for the first few weeks or so. Then you’ll be all set to create more custom keyboard shortcuts How To Create A Keyboard Shortcut For Any Mac Menu Item Is there no keyboard shortcut for something you do regularly? That’s annoying, but here’s the good news: on your Mac you can add one easily, without the need for extra software. Read More , remap the function keys How to Remap Your Mac's Function Keys and Do Anything You Want Here's how to remap your Mac keyboard to boost the function keys, which can do so much more with some customization. Read More , automate your Mac Automate Your Mac From Morning to Night With These Apps & Tips [Mac OS X] If you're spending most of your day working at your Mac, you should try to automate as many tasks as possible. Without knowing a single word of code, we Mac non-developers can practically automate any... Read More , and maybe even experiment with contextual menus Go Beyond Keyboard Shortcuts by Using Contextual Menus On Your Mac Using assigned keyboard shortcuts is all well and good, but advanced Mac users know about the power of contextual menus when getting things done in OS X. Read More .

Did you move from a Windows PC to a Mac? How did the transition go? Any favourite shortcuts, or ones you miss?

Image Credit: Hand tearing red paper by David Franklin via Shutterstock, Walt Stoneburner via Compfight cc

Related topics: Keyboard, Keyboard Shortcuts, OS X El Capitan, Screen Capture.

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  1. Ashish
    October 4, 2019 at 5:39 pm

    This was a much needed article after switching to mac from windows OS. After using windows for so many years, I was missing all the shortcuts and kept going back to my windows laptop. I was so frustrated that I didn't even know how do I delete a file... :)
    I was looking for every shortcut that's mentioned here and I probably wouldn't be able to write this comment if I didn't know how to use 'delete(windows OS)' key in Mac.. :)

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      October 8, 2019 at 4:13 am

      Good to know the article helped!

  2. Col_Panek
    February 2, 2016 at 1:07 am

    Keep the keyboard and PC, put Linux on it instead.

    • osxman
      March 12, 2016 at 11:50 pm

      yes and your battery will drain in hour..

  3. LagunaMike
    February 1, 2016 at 11:21 pm

    One caveat--when you map the keyboard, you must be connected directly to the computer. Don't try to use a USB hub, or you will wonder why you are unable to complete what seem like simple directions.

  4. Anonymous
    February 1, 2016 at 12:23 pm

    You can actually press command+b for bold, freshmango90? Mac is so OP!
    P.S., Windows Rocks, mac is NOT a kiddie pool! Please do not insult Mac like that! Ever again!

  5. NewMacUser
    January 27, 2016 at 12:54 pm

    I really appreciate this article. I switched to a Mac after using windows since it first came out. I love the reliability of the Mac. It's been hard to get use to the location of the command key, my fingers keep reaching for the windows control key and I do miss the home, end and delete key. I don't want to remap keys since it would be hard to use my daughters MacBook... These shortcuts will help. Thanks again.

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      January 27, 2016 at 1:36 pm

      That's great to hear! If you're planning to use Mac on a fairly regular basis, at one point (very soon!) you'll notice that you no longer have to pay attention when you're pressing the command key and you'll wonder when you got used to it :) It's what happened to me.

      Now when I go back to Windows, I end up hitting alt+s instead of ctrl+s or alt+c instead of ctrl+c, because the cmd key on OS X and the alt key on Windows are in similar locations.

  6. nolongerapple
    January 27, 2016 at 4:28 am

    Mac OS X is so frustrating to use that I sold my Macbook and bought a Surfacebook.

  7. freshmango90
    January 27, 2016 at 3:10 am

    Let's talk about more advanced keyboard shortcuts, such as logo+D to go to desktop or logo+E to open file explorer?

    Or even split screen using logo+left ot logo+right?

    Also, being used to one-touch shortcuts such as home and end is one of the many reasons why I won't go to mac, especially when it comes to typing in word - ctrl+B to bold, ctrl+home to... you know what, too many changes to switch over! I'm a keyboard shortcut freak that will go crazy if I use mac.

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      January 27, 2016 at 3:32 am

      I get it. Things can be super frustrating when you was the touchpad gestures that drove me crazy. There are too many changes to deal with if you're a Windows keyboard shortcut freak, but there's also the option to customize/remap the keyboard layout if you ever end up to switching for whatever reason :)

      • freshmango90
        January 27, 2016 at 12:43 pm

        It's nice to know that there's an option to "customize/remap the keyboard layout," but ain't nobody got time for that!

        Nonetheless, this was a very much needed article for some, this is pretty straightforward.

  8. Windows Rocks
    January 27, 2016 at 1:35 am

    Why would you want to go back into the little Mac kiddie pool when you've already sailed the seas of Windows?

    • Dan
      January 27, 2016 at 9:14 am

      Because the seas of windows (lowercase w intended) are infested with malware sharks? Because finding, installing and updating the drivers for non-mac hardware is a real pain in the proverbial bottom? Because a Mac computer simply works? And to stay on topic, because one can simply remap the keyboard almost identically to the windows one by using the DoubleCommand app? I used to be a religious windows supporter until I tried OS X. I never looked back ever since!

  9. grouch
    January 26, 2016 at 9:46 pm

    Once you learn the keyboard and touchpad, you'll never go back!