This question is one of the most frequently asked by our friends and clients, and with good reason. Since the "dark ages" of the Macintosh, much of the hesitation of making the Switch is due to the uncertainty of compatibility.
Thankfully a lot has changed since the mid-90s, and I think you'll be surprised at how few applications you'll need to buy for the Mac. I'll outline the applications that most people end up purchasing in order to continue using the same files from the PC. I'll also list applications that come free on the Mac.
You might consider purchasing these:
- Microsoft Office: Mac 2011 - These applications are almost identical to Office in Windows. Most of the keyboard shortcuts are even the same. If you're using it for home or schooling purposes, you can purchase the Home and Student version for $149, and you can install it on up to three Macs.
- iWork '09 - If you're ready to take the full plunge into the Apple world, iWork serves as an excellent alternative to Office. It can also open and save to Office files, however for more advanced documents, the conversion can be spotty. Tip: if you purchase it through the App Store on your Mac, it's only $60.
- Quicken or QuickBooks for Mac - Before making this purchase, there are some differences between the Mac and PC version. Depending on your needs, you might prefer switching to an alternative by Acclivity, or even running Windows on your Mac via Parallels and keeping your current software.
Now that list wasn't too bad, was it? For other tasks like email, Internet browsing and pictures, here's a list of Windows programs that have free alternatives on the Mac, and are what make the Mac "so easy to use".
- Internet Explorer: Safari (or Firefox or Chrome)
- Outlook: Mail, iCal, and Address Book. (These three applications will cover most features of Outlook.)
- iTunes: iTunes :)
- Adobe Photoshop Elements: iPhoto
- Windows Movie Maker: iMovie
- Solitaire: Sorry, no free alternative! You'll either have to purchase Solitair in the App Store, or use the free Chess game that comes with every Mac.
If you have specific needs that weren't outlined above, feel free to leave them in the comments. For some specific industries that require Windows-only software, you can always run a virtualization application like Parallels. Virtualization has come a long way since its inception, running Windows on your Mac is easier than ever.
What other applications did you need to purchase before making the Switch?