Not everyone is split into either Windows or macOS camps—for some people, using both of these operating systems is part of their computing experience. If you’re a long-term user of one of these platforms and about to start to get acquainted with the other one too, you might need a little bit of help along the way, and that’s where this guide to using both Windows and macOS comes in.
Neither Windows nor macOS are so distinct from the other that newbies are going to be completely lost, but at the same time, some assistance is probably going to be welcome... and even if you’ve been using both OSes in tandem for some time, we might go over a few tricks and features that you’re not already aware of.
Keeping your files synced across multiple platforms will make life much easier, so pick the service you like the most. While OneDrive has a Mac client and iCloud has a Windows client, we’d recommend going for a third-party option that doesn’t favor Windows or macOS: In our experience, two of the best options here are Google Drive or Dropbox.
You can share files easily between Windows and macOS across a local network. From Windows, right-click on any folder or file in File Explorer, then choose Show more options, Give access to, and Specific people to get started; from macOS, open the System Preferences pane and then click on the Sharing icon to enable the File Sharing option.
Having the same clipboard and clipboard history available on both Windows and macOS can be hugely useful as you jump between operating systems. As you might expect, the functionality isn’t available as a native feature, but you can get it via the excellent 1Clipboard app: It uses Google Drive to sync your clipboard between multiple devices.
Another feature available on both platforms but implemented in slightly different ways is virtual desktops, giving you more space for your open programs and windows. Win+Tab will get you to the right interface on Windows, and Ctrl+Up will do the same on macOS: From the subsequent screens, you can then add, remove and switch to multiple desktops.
Keyboard shortcuts are powerful aids to productivity, but it can be difficult for your fingers to remember which OS they’re currently using. For a lot of common shortcuts, including the cut, copy and paste ones, you can replace the Ctrl key on Windows with the Cmd key on macOS and vice versa—so Ctrl+C becomes Cmd+C, Ctrl+V becomes Cmd+V, and so on.
Another related area: mouse gestures. The right-click is essential in Windows but more difficult to manifest on macOS, for example. You can get both OSes working in a reasonably similar way by going to Bluetooth & devices and then Mouse and Touchpad from Windows Settings, as well as Mouse and Trackpad from macOS System Preferences.
Speaking of shortcuts and gestures, you can use the same keyboard and mouse (or trackpad) to simplify switching between Windows and macOS. This can be done without the addition of any extra hardware too—a program like Synergy will handle everything for you, and it works with up to 15 different devices, as if they were all physically connected.
Your Windows and macOS life will be a lot easier if you use the same programs on each platform, particularly when it comes to web browsers—if you want to be able to sync all your passwords and your browsing history and so on between multiple devices, then you really need to pick a browser that works well across both of these operating systems. Chrome’s an easy pick, but here’s a few other options.
If you’re accessing files from the same external drive from both Windows and macOS, you want to make sure that you’re able to see the file system from both operating systems—which may not be the case if you just accept the default drive format. For compatibility across Windows and macOS, exFAT is the file format you should choose.
Windows is very good when it comes to getting your open programs docked to certain parts of the screen—one browser tab docked to the left and another docked to the right, for example. While macOS is catching up on this functionality, it’s not quite up to speed yet: the excellent Rectangle add-on is one option for getting more Mac window snapping control.
Windows is missing some features macOS has as well, like the ability to instantly preview files with Quick Look, activated in Finder on Macs with a tap on Space. The good news is there’s a utility to plug the gap, called—imaginatively enough—QuickLook. Once it’s installed, as on macOS you can just press Space to open and close the file preview.
Moving between open apps at speed is essential for getting stuff done efficiently, and the keyboard shortcut for this is actually quite similar on both OSes: Alt+Tab for Windows and Cmd+Tab for macOS. To look for apps and indeed anything else, press Win+S on Windows or Cmd+Space on macOS, then start typing out whatever it is that you’re looking for.
Getting at your macOS desktop from Windows or your Windows desktop from macOS isn’t difficult at all, and can save you from having to switch between keyboards and screens. There are numerous tools that will take care of this for you, but perhaps the simplest and most suitable is Chrome Remote Desktop: Just follow the instructions to get it set up.
You might be surprised at just how many apps can run right from the web rather than through a desktop application—from Spotify to Slack to TweetDeck—and if you’re jumping between operating systems on a regular basis, then it makes sense to stick to the online versions of these programs to minimize the risk of any compatibility or syncing errors.
Something you want to avoid when working on multiple computers is duplicate notifications, adding even more distraction to your day. You can manage notification settings through System and Notifications from Windows Settings, and from Notifications & Focus then Notifications in the System Preferences dialog on macOS.