Main image
22nd January

Some differences between Windows and MAc OS X can be dangerous…

written by Mark Wheadon

Having just moved my world from Windows (XP and Vista) to Mac OS X, I thought I’d share some of the differences I’ve come across which can cause irritation or even data loss for the unwary.

A source of frustration

Not dangerous, but irritating until you figure it out: when an application is not the foreground app (i.e. mouse and keyboard input isn’t going there at the moment and the application’s menu bar is not at the top of the screen), then clicking on the application’s window will make it the foreground app, but the mouse click is not forwarded to the application.

So for example: with Windows, clicking on a link in web browser will follow that link, regardless of whether the application is the foreground app. With Mac OS X, if some other application is currently the foreground app then your first click will just select the web browser as the new foreground app — it will take a further mouse click to actually follow the link. So with Mac OS X you often have to click twice.

More dangerous

Dragging a folder to somewhere that already contains a folder of the same name results in very different behaviour. If you’re used to Windows then you may lose data.

Say I have a new Franz Ferdinand CD ripped and ready for my music collection. The music is in a folder named after the album, which is itself in a folder named after the artist.

With Windows, I can drag the new ‘Franz Ferdinand” folder from my ripping area to my music area and it will say

I say yes and it’s job done. The new Franz Ferdinand folder’s contents will be merged with the existing Franz Ferdinand folder’s contents in my music collection.

With Mac OS X, the OS says

Note the difference: ”Franz Ferdinand” is being replaced. So if I click on replace then all my previous albums by that artist are gone — not at all what I intended!

Another subtlety

There are others, I’m sure, but another dangerous difference in file manipulation when you’re used to the way Windows does it is this:

Drag a folder from one file-store window to another and then change your mind and hit delete (cmd+backspace in Mac OS X).

Under Windows, the destination window is now in the foreground, so you end up deleting the destination copy.

Under Mac OS X, the destination folder is highlighted (hint: it’s highlighted in grey not blue — that’s the subliminal cue), but it’s still the source finder window that’s the foreground app, so you end up deleting the source rather than the destination copy.

As with much of the Mac OS X vs Windows behaviour, the Mac OS way is usually better thought out, but that doesn’t stop it from being dangerously different if you’re used to the way Windows does things. Here’s hoping that this article will save some people some grief.


  1. SC

    Very helpful.

  2. xSmurf

    Ctrl-D on OS X duplicates a file. On Windows is simply deletes… no warning ! It’s especially dangerous on network shares where the Trash Bin isn’t supported and the file will get deleted on the spot!

Leave a Reply