Minimise makes the screen "go away" but it's still there in the background, just not visible, in terms of whatever you were doing bring it back and it's wherever you left it. Same as windows.
Similar to Windows, but with one big difference, Close closes the screen, eg it goes away and whatever you were working on in terms of screen, is toast.
The big difference though is that the application continues running, unlike windows where close actually stops the program.
Hitting the "Close" button (Red button/X) will close that entire window. In some cases, the application may close if it's the only active window.
Minimize takes the current window and puts it into the dock, and by going down to the dock and clicking that window/icon, the entire window returns in the same state as when it was minimized (identical to how minimize works on Windows).
Think of it like this: You're sitting at a desk and you have a mini whiteboard in your hand. Closing the window is equivalent to erasing everything on the whiteboard; everything that was visible is gone and the only way to get the content back is to redraw it with the marker. Minimizing on the other hand, is like taking the whiteboard and putting it under your desk; The whiteboard is out of view but when you reach down to pick it up again, everything you had on the whiteboard is still there.
Keep in mind though that some applications (like Maps) will close the entire program when you click the X if there is only one open window, but some apps (like Messages) will stay open even if you close all active windows.
Excellent. Thanks for the explanations, guys. One quick follow-up question: is there any way to make Mission Control reveal minimized applications? As is, it appears to only reveal those applications that are currently on the desktop. I realize I can always Command-Tab through all my open apps, but sometimes I prefer the Mission Control approach. Thanks again.
Dud you know that all running apps have a little blue dot below their icon in the dock?
Ps there is an excellent book by David Pogue called something like "the missing manual" which is aimed at people moving from Windows. Rather than teach you computer basics, it assume you know how to do stuff on windows and tells you how to accomplish the same task on mac.
It saved me tearing my hair out a few times when I moved across.
Yeah, heaps of people hate that but Apple aren't doing anything about it.
Until then, you might want to try going to System Preferences/Trackpad/More Gestures and turning on App Exposé. It is almost like a mission control just for the specific application that you are in. It also shows minimised apps.
I know it's not what you want, but it's viable until Apple 'fixes' it.