The Switcher Diaries: A Switcher’s Guide To Windows 8.1

The Switcher Diaries: A Switcher’s Guide To Windows 8.1

As a Mac user, it can be jarring switching back to Windows. Even just for a day, or in my case, a week. Here are all the problems I’ve run into so far, and ways to fix them to make your life as a switcher easier.

I’m Luke Hopewell, and this week I’m switching from a MacBook Air to a Surface Pro 3. All this week, we’re putting the Surface Pro 3 through its paces. From mobile computing, tablet tasks and full on desktop replacement tests: Gizmodo is powered by the Surface all week. Got something you want us to test? Let us know in the comments!
Disclosure: Microsoft is an advertiser on Gizmodo, but has no editorial influence on this series (though Microsoft PR did send over a Surface Pro 3 dock once they saw what we were doing!)

Image Editing: Say Goodbye To Preview

Image editing forms a large part of what I do every day to run Gizmodo, and when I remembered that ditching my Mac would mean ditching Preview (Apple’s built in basic image editor), I freaked.

Sure, I have a Photoshop Creative Cloud license, but it’s tough to transfer for just a week. So what is there to do?

Well, as foolish as it sounds, Microsoft Paint is actually better than it has ever been in Windows 8.1. It may not go as far as replacing Preview, but it can get a quick and dirty job done if all you want is an image resized.

If that’s still not enough, you can always install GIMP: a free image editing program. Sure, some of its controls and menus are a little confusing, but this is all about unlearning the habits you picked up inside Apple’s walled garden and learning new ones.

Make Your Peripherals Matter

It’s a fair bet that if you have a Mac and use it in an office setting, you have an Apple keyboard, Magic Mouse or Trackpad. That’s a bit of an issue when you want to move over to Windows and still use these peripherals. Mostly because Windows replaces the Command key on your Apple Keyboard with a Windows key, and scratches its head when you try to use a single button mouse input The mouse and trackpad are especially useless on Windows, unless you have the driver for them.

Normally, you only get these drivers by running Windows on your Mac via Boot Camp Assistant, but with Magic Utilities, you can get them working without all that nonsense. Head here to download it and make your peripherals usable again.


The Dock is a central part of any Mac experience. Flick your mouse to any side of your screen and open an app you left there. Handy! It takes a bit of retraining, but the Windows Taskbar can be almost as handy.

You can set it to auto-hide just like your OS X Dock does, and you can leave shortcuts to your favourite apps down there too. It can sit at any position on your screen: on the left or right hand sides or along the top or bottom. Sure, it looks different and doesn’t glide like you’re used to, but with a bit of tweaking you can use it just as well.


I rely on Spotlight every day. It’s a feature on Mac OS X that searches your whole machine, like your local Google engine for the desktop. If you’re trying to get the same experience on your Windows machine with the Metro/Modern UI panels, you’re going to end up pulling your hair out.
Thankfully in Windows 8.1, you can bypass the experience entirely with a new search shortcut. Just hit Windows + S and you get a pop-up panel that lets you find anything you want in a jiffy.

The Cloud

Your documents in iCloud are as good as gone when you switch to Windows (unless you moved them into iCloud Drive before you switched), but you have to ask yourself: what were they doing there in the first place? This one’s a bit of a longer game but you should probably be using something platform-agnostic if there’s even the remote possibility of switching in the future.

Try something like Google Drive, Evernote, Scrivener, or even Office 365 which actually is platform-agnostic these days thanks to new cross-platform apps.

Get Your Essentials

Our friends over at Lifehacker Australia compile an annual list of the essential software for just about every platform. It’s called Lifehacker Pack, and it’s especially helpful if you’re getting started with Windows and need to know what the best apps are. Get on it.

Patience Above All

The main thing you’ll need to get through any switching experience is patience. I’ve wanted to toss my Surface out of a window a few times this week, but I’ve persevered, and it’s now very usable. It’s all about unlearning old habits.