Getting the Best Features on both Mac and Windows / by Anran Li

"Mac or PC?" Too often, people are compelled to make an obstinate stance on this topic. Truth is, there are a lot of great things to be said about either OS, and we should work with the highlights and shortcomings of each both. To me, the most important features of an OS are the ones that boost productivity. For example, Snapping on Windows and Spaces on Mac OS are two of the most beloved features by users of the respective systems. In fact, these features have their Windows/Mac equivalent via 3rd party developers. In this post, I will introduce three applications that breathe new life into an otherwise too familiar operating system. These applications are just the tip of the iceberg - I hope readers will do their research on how to set up their own cross-system workflow.

A word of caution: installing too many tweaks at once can slow down or cause problems for your computer, so I recommend installing only the ones you will be using often. In addition, this post doesn't cover options for Linux users. (Sorry - but I guess if you are using Linux, then you are probably tech-savvy enough to manage on your own!)

That being said, here are the features that I love most, and how to get it on Windows or Mac: 

Image from apple.com

Spaces / Mission Control

Spaces, (AKA Mission Control on OSX 10.7+) is a OSX feature that allows for a user to have additional virtual displays. Using a keyboard shortcut or mouse/trackpad gesture, the display shows a previoiusly hidden desktop. Programs can be dragged to a different . Users can set up four-finger swiping to switch between displays.

How to get it on Windows

Dexpot is a free program that can manage virtual desktops like Spaces for Mac. It even includes an overview feature that predates Mission Control. However, because it has many options and settings, it can be difficult to set up at first. Here is a walkthrough of the settings dialogue, and how to make Dexpot work like Mission Control.

  •  General: the "Number of Desktops" and whether Dexpot should "Start with Windows""
  • Appearance: Change mode to "Program Icon" and you might want to turn off the System Menu entry- Components: I would hide the Desktop Manager components, and take a look at Desktop Preview, Dextab, and Full-Screen (which are tabs at the top)
  • Controls: Change how you want to Switch Desktops. If you are using Trackpad++, I'm pleased to announce that I emailed the developer and he said he would look into a method to allow four-finger swiping to match a custom key (allowing four-finger swiping). If you are using a non-Apple trackpad, you can following the instructions  here to enable four-finger swiping.
  • Switching Desktops: defaults seem to work fine
  • Plugins and Extras: Here is where it gets interesting! To enable the panning animation that is default to Spaces, you can use the "Dexcube" plugin (it's built-in, so you don't have to download it or anything).
  1. Check the box to enable it
  2. Click on "Configure," and set the Effect to "Wall" and the Zoom to "Maximal." You can enable "Multithreading" to make the transitions smoother.
  3. If you are using a high-dpi screen or high dpi settings (i.e. your text size is not set to 100%), you will need to go to the Dexcube plugin .exe file located in
    C:\Program Files (x86)\Dexpot\plugins      for 64-bit Windows and
    C:\Program Files\Dexpot\plugins      for 32-bit Windows

    Right-click on "Dexcube.exe" and check the box for "Disable display scaling on high DPI settings" Dexcube takes a screenshot of your desktop when creating the transition effects, and this setting will make sure it scales properly.

 Image from alfredapp.com

Image from alfredapp.com

Alfred / Quicksilver

While this isn't a built-in Mac tool, it is definitely worth mentioning. If you use any of these tools, then you must be pretty tech-savvy, so I won't explain much further. (Link to Alfred) If you don't use them, I wouldn't worry about it too much. Basically, they help you open programs and do tasks faster, such as Google Search or create new folders, etc. You can even create your own scripts to do things such as block social networking sites for two hours or clean out the downloads folder.

Windows Equivalent

Window's 8's built-in search feature isn't too bad, but I still prefer the snappiness of Alfred (I am sharing my friend's Super-User account, and I can't remember how I used computers before meeting Alfred. While there are a number of alternatives, I prefer Launchy because it is well-documented and is easy on the eyes. You can download a number of skins to match your version of Windows. You might want to customize the Catalog to "Include Directories" for files you want to open often, but make sure it isn't checked for the Quick Launch and both Start Menu folders. Also, make sure you change the depth settings (how many sub-folders you want Launchy to search. I recommend no more than 5, since the scanning will take too long. BTW, here is a modern Windows 8-based theme for Launchy.

Image from xcentric.com

Aerosnap

Snapping was introduced with Windows 7 as part of its "Aero" themed visuals to distinguish it from Vista and XP. It basically allows you to manage multiple windows easily and neatly by "snapping" application windows. If you drag a window to the top of the screen, it will make that application maximize. To the left and right, the window will fill up half of the screen in the respective side. This allows you to multitask with great fluidity.

How to get it on Mac

There are a number of tools, but BetterSnapTool is the one I have been using for the longest time. It is available on the Mac App Store as well as on the developer's website (there are some other pretty nifty tools on his website).

There are still a number of features I haven't covered. In the future, I hope to share more of my workflow to help others work seamlessly between Windows and Mac, including:

how to use one mouse to go between operating systems and computers
how to sync your Desktop across Mac and Windows with Dropbox
how to read NTFS (Windows), HFS+ (Mac), and ExFAT (Both) on Windows and OSX

In the meanwhile, you can do your own research. The key is not giving up!