Making the Switch from OS X to Windows

by Sanjeeva Wijeyesakere

Back in 2007, when Apple announced their switch to Intel based microprocessors, I purchased my first Mac (a 2007 Mac Mini) and transitioned to using OS X as my daily OS. Over the years, I acquired newer Macs, both desktops and laptops and rarely used Windows or PC software. On the rare occasion I needed to run a Windows application, I could load it in a Windows XP virtual machine, thereby negating the need to maintain a dual-boot setup.

However, Microsoft’s release of Windows 8 and the subsequent upgrade to 8.1 seemed intriguing – especially the promise of a single interface for both, traditional PCs and mobile devices. To try the new version of Windows, I setup a dual boot using OS X’s BootCamp utility and started to investigate this new Windows interface. At first, the Windows 8.1 start screen seemed to be an ill thought-out component that brought together the desktop and mobile paradigms in an unholy union. Nevertheless, over time, I began to appreciate the merits of this interface. Once I had customized my system, I found Windows 8.1 to be a rather nice operating system and as such, I have now switched to using Windows 8.1 as my primary OS while using OS X to run the few OS X-only applications I use on a regular basis. An added bonus is that since this new version of Windows is intended to run on traditional PCs and tablets, it is much less resource intensive compared to OS X and overall, the entire system feels more responsive.

I. Customizations to improve system usability

Disclaimer: Please read through this entire article before attempting to install or configure software. Also note that any software installations and system modification you undertake are at your own risk and you should ensure that you have thoroughly read and understood the manufacturer/developer’s instructions and caveats for each software package you install. Furthremore, changing system settings and/or editing the Windows registry incorrectly can render your system unusable. As such, you should also make sure you have backed up ALL your files and data and make sure you have the installation media for your operating system and other software applications you use (just in case anything goes wrong and you need to restore your system to its factory condition).

 

1. Disable the lock screen

The Windows 8/8.1 lock screen makes sense if you use it on a mobile device like a tablet. However, this is unnecessary in a desktop or laptop where you interact with the computer using a keyboard and mouse. To disable the lock screen, simply run the Group Policy Editor (gpedit.msc) and go to Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Control Panel > Personalization.

gpedit

Figure 1: The Windows 8.1 Group Policy Editor

Toggle the option titled 'Do not display the lock screen' to disable the lock screen. Furthermore, a you can re-enable the lock screen using this technique.

 2. Install KatMouse

In OS X, you can use your mouse's scroll wheel to scroll content even if the window displaying that content is not in focus. KatMouse (http://ehiti.de/katmouse) is a small, lightweight utility that adds this functionality to Windows.

3. Enable Natural Scrolling

If you're used to natural scrolling (the default scrolling mode in OS X that mimics scrolling in mobile devices), you can can enable it using the following technique adapted from kevinbecker.org (be very careful when editing the registry since incorrect changes can render Windows unusable):

mouse_hw_id

Figure 2: Obtaining the hardware ID for your mouse

  1. Get the hardware ID for your mouse
    • Open the Control panel and open the settings for your mouse
    • Go to the 'hardware' tab and click on properties (Fig. 2A)
    • In the properties window, go to the 'Details' tab and select the 'Hardware IDs' option to get the hardware ID for your mouse (Fig. 2B)
  2. Make the following changes in the Windows registry (using regedit.exe):
    • Navigate to this key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESYSTEMCurrentControlSetEnumHID
    • Find the registry entry that corresponds to the hardware ID of your mouse (from step 1)
    • Within the 'DeviceParameters' key, change the 'FlipFlopWheel' option to 1
  3. Restart your system
 4. Customize the Start screen

The implementation of the start screen in Windows 8, which replaced the start menu that had been a standard UI feature since Windows 95, has been controversial. However, with Windows 8.1, Microsoft included several options that make the start screen function more seamlessly with the desktop. While you could install a third-party start menu  replacement (such as Classic Shell), you can also customize the native start screen to make it more useful.

If you use Windows 8.1 on a desktop or laptop, you can change the Taskbar and Navigation properties to have Windows take you to the desktop upon login. There is also an option to use your desktop wallpaper as the background for the start screen, which makes the switch to the start screen a less jarring experience.

taskbar_properties

Figure 3: Taskbar and Navigation Properties

 

5. Customize the taskbar and desktop

While I like the new start screen in Windows 8.1, I am not fond of the new semi-transparent taskbar. Fortunately, ClassicShell has an option to disable the transparent taskbar (Figure 4). After installing ClassicShell, you can customize it so that clicking on the windows logo in the taskbar or hitting the windows key on your keyboard take you to the Windows 8.1 Start screen rather than activating ClassicShell's Start Menu.

classic_shell-1

Figure 4: Disabling Taskbar Transparency in ClassicShell

 

win8taskbar-notrans

Figure 5: The Opaque Windows 8.1 Taskbar

Furthermore, ClassicShell also has an option to disable active corners, which disables the ability to accidentally 'grab and move' the desktop to a corner of your screen, thereby resizing all your windows, etc. Enabling this option does not affect your ability to re-size Metro apps while they are being run.

 

II. Using Windows

1. Security

Given the predominant market share of Windows, it isn't unusual that most viruses, trojan horses and other malware are directed against it. However, Windows 8 and 8.1 come with a built in virus/malware guard called Windows Defender, which negates the need to install any other anti-malware programs. Unless you have a compelling need to use a third party security suite, you should enable Windows Defender. Other than this, taking common-sense measures (like not downloading files from unknown sources, disabling unwanted browser plugins and being wary of files sent as attachments) will go a long way towards protecting your system.

For additional security measures, you can also read my article on securing your network.

2. Multimedia

If, like me, you use your computer to consume digital media (music, movies, etc.), there are several cross-platform solutions available. For starters, iTunes is available for both, Windows and OS X and allows you to play movies and TV shows you've purchased through Apple's iTunes music store. Also, iTunes can be used to manage media on your iOS device.

For non-DRM protected music, you can use tools like VLC, which is a lightweight media player that can handle numerous formats, including some RealMedia ones. Furthermore, VLC's cross-platform nature allows you to use a familiar media player across multiple devices (PCs, tablets, phones) and operating systems (Windows, OS X, Android, iOS).

Alternatively, given the ubiquitous nature of internet-accessible devices, you may want to consider a cloud-based hosting service for your music and video files. For example, Google Play Music allows you to upload your entire music collection to their servers and stream your content over the internet to any supported device. Furthermore, movies and TV shows purchased through the Google Play store are available for streaming through the 'Purchases' section in YouTube (you need to log in with your Google ID to access purchased media).

3. Software

Since Windows is the most prevalent desktop operating system, a dearth of software isn't something you're likely to encounter. However, if you are invested in certain OS X-only applications (especially those from independent developers), finding suitable alternatives can be challenging. For example, thus far, I haven't found a good alternative to RapidWeaver, which I use to maintain my personal website. However, I found that nearly all the applications I use on a day-to-day basis (Office, Firefox, Photoshop, YASARA, etc.) have native Windows versions available.