Transitioning to Windows

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If you're currently on Mac OS X, but want to spend some or all of your time in Windows to see what the majority of our user base is using, this document should help make that transition a better experience for you.

Want to be on the platform where most of our users are? You can do this without giving up what you're using right now, and with the possibility of making the transition partially or fully to Windows.

Note that if you're a developer, it's going to be a challenge because of the lack of tools and good terminals. It's a bigger topic, and includes stuff that we won't attempt to cover here. If you're in any other role, switching fully or partially shouldn't be (too) painful.

Here are some helpful hints to make your transition smooth and successful.

Getting started

  • Keep your MacBook. There's really nothing out there right now that has the same build quality, and you're going to be annoyed enough with other Windows differences to add a switch of hardware (keyboards and trackpads are generally awful) on top of that.
  • Accept the fact that you'll have to switch back to OS X for certain things, at least for a while.
  • Get a license for Windows 7.
  • Make sure you have set up Firefox Sync. Print out your sync key since you're going to be in another OS on the same computer when you need it. :)
  • Use Mac OS X Lion, it has a much better Boot Camp wizard that doesn't require physical media like a CD/DVD, but instead creates a bootable USB drive from an ISO file for installation.
  • Leave enough space on the Windows partition to actually get real work done. I believe Boot Camp defaults to 20GB, which will leave you with too little space to work when everything is set up. Set off at least 40-50GB, ideally more if you can (but I know smaller SSDs are common and a bit cramped these days).

Applications & tools

  • Switch as many of your tools to online tools as possible. Some common alternatives:
    • Google Calendar (or Thunderbird + Lightning) for calendars
    • Web-based email, one option is to use Gmail for bugmail — this is also important since Gmail tends to be slower on Firefox and cause memory leaks, excessive GC, etc
      • If you want client-side email, you should really use Thunderbird. :) File bugs and help improve it if you find stuff that's weird or buggy.
    • Evernote for cross-platform scrapbooking
    • Etherpad!
    • IRCloud for IRC
    • Mindmeister for mind mapping
    • Mockingbird or Balsamiq for mock-ups/wireframes
      • has 40-some-odd licenses for Balsamiq for use in designing open source Mozilla products. Feel free to contact him if you would like one.
    • Pandora/Rdio or even iTunes Match / Google Music for your music (not available in all countries)
  • cmder is a much better terminal than the built in cmd.exe.
  • Use Dropbox to sync your files between Mac and Windows — this can also solve basic file backup in a decent way
  • A license for Photoshop on Windows if you're so afflicted :P
  • Use cygwin if you miss your shell prompt; using mintty instead of the default cygwin terminal is highly recommended (install via cygwin's setup program)
  • AutoHotkey provides excellent global keyboard shortcuts
  • There are several great text editors for Windows
    • SublimeText — like TextMate, but for Windows and Mac. $60.
    • Atom - like SublimeText, but free and open source. 😄
    • Notepad++ is free and open source.
    • PSPad freeware
  • Get a good screenshot utility, you'll need it if you want to capture Aero Glass effects, the built-in screenshot mechanism doesn't. A good, free alternative is Shotty.

Fix the annoying things

Once you're in Windows, there are a couple of things you can do to make the experience better immediately:

  • Ensure that you have the Boot Camp drivers and tools installed, and that Windows Aero Glass is enabled (the transparent windows). If they're not, look for someone to help you install the drivers and fix it.
  • Make sure your Mac is set up to boot into Windows by default, so you don't end up booting Mac accidentally when you restart.
  • Use SharpKeys to remap the Apple keys to Ctrl, so Apple-C/V/X and T do the expected thing. Reboot after writing them to the registry. Recommended: Map both "Apple" keys to "Left Ctrl", map "Caps Lock" to "Left Windows" (you may need it sometimes).
  • Install Firefox, Aurora, Beta and Nightly, with Sync in all profiles.
  • Install latest Internet Explorer, Chrome, Chrome Canary, Opera, Opera Next for comparisons.
  • If you want the "natural" scroll direction from Lion on Windows, open regedit.exe and search for "FlipFlopWheel". Double-click the property, and set it to "1". Be aware that you may have multiple devices, apply it to all of them to make sure. (Ed: I had about 15 of these entries). Then reboot for the changes to have effect.
  • If Windows just looks the wrong "color" to you, here's how you can get things to feel more natural Use Your Mac Color Profile on Windows
  • If Windows fonts look wrong to you, tune them. Click on the Start menu, type "cleartype" into the searchbox, and hit enter. That will launch the Windows ClearType tuner app. However, Windows chooses to render fonts very differently than Mac does, as explained here.