3 Unintuitive Mac Shortcuts I Had To Learn After Switching From Windows

“There should be an international organisation regulating keyboard shortcuts,” I proclaimed to my colleagues loudly at lunch.

Well what I really meant to say is that I am still having a lot of difficulty switching between keyboard shortcuts on Windows and Mac. But a statement like “there should be an international organisation regulating keyboard shortcuts” makes for a more dramatic opener with my colleagues during lunch break.

Here’s some background: I’ve just started my first UX job as a UX researcher in a small design firm. Prior to this job, I’ve lived my life mostly in the world of Windows. And my fingers have been trained in the language of Windows shortcuts. Expectedly, a job in the design industry means I was issued with a Mac laptop instead of a Windows, and I was thus officially initiated into the world of Apple. (I still use a Windows computer for my personal use though.)

For the most part, things are not that different and I can navigate myself around my Macbook pretty well. Things I don’t know how to do, I can easily google or ask a colleague. But the one thing that niggles me all the time about the Mac world, as an adventurer from the Windows planet, is keyboard shortcuts.

Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash

Keyboard shortcuts are muscle memory. It’s programmed into my brain and fingers. They also make life more convenient. And not being able to use keyboard shortcuts I’m used to is rather like being forced to walk when I’m used to running. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s pretty annoying.

Most of the differences in keyboard shortcuts can be managed by mentally replacing the Ctrl key on Windows with the Cmd key on Mac. But there are some shortcuts that are significantly different on the two systems, that cannot be intuitively learnt by a convert, and require some amount of googling. This is a documentation of some of those shortcuts.


1. Change language input

This is perhaps not as relatable if you work in a monolingual environment. But because I often switch languages to communicate with different people, I find myself having to change the language input a lot.

On Windows you can change your language input by pressing Win + Spacebar. On my Macbook, my fingers instinctively press Cmd + Spacebar which calls up the spotlight instead. I love the spotlight function, but I also appreciate the change language shortcut on Windows for making my life more convenient. The next most intuitive method was to click on the menu bar at the top to change the language.

Workaround: I’ve since found out how to set a keyboard shortcut on mac to change the language input. Cmd + Spacebar works too but you would need to configure that.


2. Minimise all windows

I’m the kind of person that has everything on her desktop. And I find myself frequently minimising all windows frequently to gain quick access to my desktop.

On Windows, I do this through the show desktop shortcut Win + D or the minimise all windows shortcut Win + M.

On Mac, Cmd + M minimises the active window, which can be a bit disorienting at times when I tap those keys without thinking.

Workaround: With the help of Google, I’ve learnt new keyboard shortcuts on Mac to achieve the same effect. Cmd + F3 and Fn + F11 both push all windows back to show the desktop.


3. Deleting by word

Windows users should probably be familiar with how Ctrl + Backspace deletes word by word instead of character by character. Since I have to do a lot of report writing, I use this a lot to delete things faster. With my logic of replacing the control key with the command key, I instinctively tap Cmd + Delete which is an unfortunate exception to my self-created rule and deletes the whole line instead of just one word.

Similarly, I use Ctrl + Left/Right to move quickly by word instead of character throughout my documents. And replacing it with Cmd + Left/Right moves my text cursor to the start or end of the line instead.

Workaround: Opt + Delete and Opt + Left/Right are the keyboard shortcuts I’m looking for here.


“MacBook Pro turned on on brown wooden table” by Alexa Mazzarello on Unsplash

Parting thoughts

These all seem like super small details. But it is the small, persistent annoyances that make bad UX. To be considerate of the user and make such small annoying parts of the experience disappear is what elevates good UX. And it’s somewhat a habit now as a researcher to always be aware of these small annoyances and to make sure these are paid attention to in the design process.

The differences between Mac and Windows reflect what these companies feel make for better UX. A divergence from the other company’s established way of doing something signals an opinion that another method is better. This is the wonderful thing about competition, it encourages improvement and drives the search for the best way of doing something.

But I can’t help but wonder if this makes for an undesirable fragmented user experience. The differences between Mac and Windows don’t stop at keyboard shortcuts, and for the user trapped between both platforms (I’m sure I’m not the only one out there), it can be a rather schizophrenic experience to keep switching between both worlds.

I carelessly suggested that we create an international organisation for keyboard shortcuts and make shortcuts universal across platforms. That’s my knee jerk reaction to my fragmented experience. But I know, regulation is a didactic and rigid solution to this that would probably stifle the creativity and innovation this industry is supposed to produce.

Currently, the onus is on the user, to create his or her own workarounds. But my hope is that we can move towards a future where creators of different worlds take into account other alternate worlds in their design process, and co-create a more unified universe for the user who straddles multiple platforms.