So you’re new to the Mac, where do you start? I will hopefully give you the major building blocks to learn how to do everything you want with your Mac. Don’t worry, it isn’t hard but it may be different. To abate any fears you may have I will share an embarrassing little story to dispel any thoughts that you won’t be able to “get it.” When I bought my first Mac, a 2007 white 13” Macbook, I immediately cracked it open in the parking lot and start clicking on every application. With no internet connection I couldn’t do much so I shut it down and waited until I got home. At home I wanted to go on the internet but had no idea what the web browser was. I re-clicked every application, somehow missing Safari, and thought maybe there wasn’t a web browser. I literally went to the family PC and searched for how to access the internet from a Mac. (I was not so smart back then.) So if you feel clueless just know all will soon be clearer. I would spend a week or two with the stock OS, use this guide and just explore how to do different things with your Mac. I will talk a little about customization here but will have much more in a future post.

Where to start: Apple has a ton of included software that makes it pretty great out of the box, play around with different apps and see what they do. You definitely don’t need to be this thorough but I like to make a document called ‘If I want to do this, than’ and as I figure out how to do things I make notes. E.g.

How To Take A ScreenShot:

  • Press: Cmd + Shift + 4
  • To get a full window press the spacebar to highlight the whole window.
  • Press: Cmd + Shift + 3 for the full screen.

Basic Layout

If you have been a Windows user the layout may be a little odd. You have a “dock” on the bottom and a menu bar on top.

The Dock

The dock displays both “pinned” and open apps. (Pinned apps are ones set to stay in the dock even when you quit them.) Apple has pinned a lot of the stock apps to the dock and you can easily remove them by clicking and dragging them off the dock. This does not delete the app merely removes it from your dock. I will have more on dock customization later on.

The Menu Bar

Mine will look a bit different than yours.

Mine will look a bit different than yours.

The menu bar includes:

  • The Apple symbol. On the very top left side, this is always there. Includes some system features and access to a couple different settings. It also includes “Force Quit” which allows you to quit apps that have frozen.
  • The menu for the app you are currently in. (The default is Finder) Access the settings for the current app.
  • On the right you have utilities. When you download new apps some of them may put a little icon here as well, think of them as shortcuts and mini-apps.

How To Right Click

To only further my embarrassment I will tell you another dark secret. I didn’t know how to ‘right click’ on my Mac for the first year of owning it. So how can you right click on a Mac?

  • Two fingers resting on the trackpad and click.
  • Right click on a Magic Mouse. (Make sure this option is selected in ‘System Preferences’ under the ‘Mouse’ icon.
  • Press ‘control’ on the keyboard and click.

The Difference Between Quitting and Closing An Application

Pressing the red button on the top left of a window closes the window but doesn’t quit the app. To quit applications you can go to the apps name in the menu bar and click ‘Quit’ or you can press ‘command + q’. For those who don’t know the difference closing the window hides it but it is still running and quitting shuts down the app.

Keyboard Symbols

There are some keyboard buttons you should probably be aware of.

  1. Command ⌘ (Cmd)
  2. Option ⌥ (Opt)
  3. Control ⌃
  4. Shift ⇧
  5. Function fn

You may have never used a ‘keyboard shortcut’ in your life but there is still a value in knowing what these symbols are. Plus everyone should know ‘Cmd + c’ is copy and ‘Cmd + v’ is paste.

Going Deeper


The Finder is your Mac’s file directory.

You may notice that mine looks slightly different than yours. On the left side Favourites, Devices, Tags, and Shared. Pretty simple to understand: - Favourites are just pinned folders allowing you to easily find and open them. - Devices are both physical devices that you connect to your computer and virtual disks containing things like applications. If this is confusing the physical devices are things like thumb drives that you plug into your computer and I will go into greater detail about the virtual disks further down in the post. - Tags are a list of tags you have used. (And the default colours Apple includes.) - Shared are other computers on your network you can send and receive files from once you set it up.

Launching Apps


You can find a list of applications installed on your Mac by opening the Finder and selecting ‘Applications’ on the left side menu.

The Dock

Clicking on any app icon on the dock will launch it. (Or re-open it if it’s already open.)

Launch Pad

Launch Pad is a way to open apps which acts likes your iOS home screen. It can be opened a number of different ways including from the dock, a button on your keyboard, and a trackpad gesture. Some people might like it but I never use it.


The little magnifying glass on the right of the menu bar can be used to search for apps and launch them.

System Preferences

Access all the settings for your Mac. You can also use the options here to customize your Mac, more on that later.


Spotlight is a way to search your Mac for files. Found on the top right of your menu bar or can be accessed by the keyboard shortcut cmd + space. It can be incredibly useful but it takes a bit of time to get in the habit of using it. (I also prefer Alfred, a 3rd party app that is more capable.) Spotlight allows you to search a number of different places at once including: applications, folders, documents, files, web history, dictionary, music and much more.

The Beach Ball

The beach ball, or rainbow pinwheel, is what you see when an app has frozen or your Mac is struggling with something. An annoyance that you may come to hate but it’s not that serious. It also shouldn’t present itself too often, if it does you are probably running too many apps at once. If things are totally frozen you can force quit them by going to your dock, clicking on Finder, then clicking on the Apple symbol in the top left corner of the screen and clicking ‘Force Quit.’ Or if you prefer a keyboard shortcut ‘cmd + opt + esc’ will bring up the menu. (You can also press and hold ‘cmd + opt + shift + esc’ to force quit the current app.)

Mission Control

Want an overall view of everything you are doing? Mission Control shows you all of your open windows. Access it by a button on your keyboard, a hot corner, or trackpad gesture. (Swipe up with 3 fingers.)

Downloading Apps

There are a couple different ways to get software (apps) for your Mac:

Download From The Web

Go to a developers website, or a software hosting site, and download the app. If the app costs money you can usually download a trial and if you decide to buy you can go to the developers site and buy from there. This is my preferred method, even though it is a worse experience than buying from the Mac App Store.

Mac App Store

You may already know that there is a ‘Mac App Store’ similar to the ‘App Store’ on iOS. It’s a wonderful experience, eliminating the need to worry about: - serial numbers - credit card security - malware However, it comes at a price. Apps in the Mac App Store have to be reviewed by Apple before they can be put up for sale, or updated. This can lead to updates being held waiting for approval or apps never getting approved. Mac App Store apps can also have less features than the web version because Apple requires all apps to be ’sandboxed,’ which is not possible for all apps. The Mac App Store also doesn’t allow you to try before you buy, but in some cases developers put a trial version up on their site. However, if you plan on using iCloud, Apples cloud service, only apps from the Mac App Store are allowed to use it.

So Where Should You Get Your Apps From?

It really depends on your needs. Here are the advantages to buying from the Mac App Store:

  • Security
  • You don’t have to enter in credit card data.
  • All apps are malware free.
  • One app won’t be able to mess up your Mac because of sandboxing.
  • Easy To Use
  • No software serial numbers
  • It’s all available in one place
  • You can easily re-download your apps on your other Macs from one place.


  • No demo’s
  • Slower updates
  • Possibly less features than the web version
  • If an app is deleted from the store you may not be able to download it again. (Though you can back them up to an external hard-drive.)
  • Apple takes 30% of everything sold, so developers get less money.

Advantages to buying from the web:

  • Faster updates
  • Possibly more features
  • Developers get more money


  • Keeping track of serial numbers
  • Possible security concerns with entering your credit card into a site your unfamiliar with. (Not a huge deal just make sure the site’s URL starts with ‘https:’)
  • An inferior browsing and buying experience.

It’s really up to you to way the pro’s and con’s but for me I am going to the web every time. (Though I still buy from the Mac App Store. This post was written with Ulysses which I bought on the Mac App Store because it is only sold there.) I would recommend the Mac App Store for my un-technological mom though.

Installing Software

Mac App Store

Just click buy and once downloaded it will be in your applications folder. Super easy.

Downloaded From The Web

Installing software from the web can be a little different than on a Windows PC. When you download an application you will either have the app itself or you will have a ‘.DMG’ file. (Anything downloaded is put in your ‘Downloads’ folder.) If it is an app just drag it into your Applications folder. If it is a .DMG file click on it and it will open in a Finder window, with a message to drag the application to your Applications folder. (There may be some other documentation as well when you open the .DMG file.)

These .DMG files can be thought of like a digital version of a physical disk or external drive. (This is the virtue drive I mentioned above.) You “mount” them to your hard drive and then take the files off of them, when you “eject” the .DMG file it is still on your Mac but no longer an open drive.

Note: Do NOT use or! It used to be a great place to download Mac software but now it includes bloatware and junk you don’t want when you download apps.


Apple introduced Gatekeeper in 2013, designed to make your Mac safer by letting you set restrictions for what apps can and can not be launched. There are 3 settings in System Preferences. Allow apps from:

  • Mac App Store
  • Mac App Store and identified developers
  • Anywhere

The default option is ‘Mac App Store and identified developers.’ It is up to you if you want to change it, I personally allow from ‘Anywhere’ and haven’t had an issue. Unless you’re downloading apps from a pirating site I wouldn’t worry too much about malware and the like.

Ejecting External Drives And ‘.DMG’ Files

Go to Finder and on the left side menu under ‘Devices’ you will see everything mounted to your hard drive be it an external drive or .DMG file and press the eject button. Why do you need to do this? All external drives need to be ejected before unplugging them or else you can corrupt them. (That goes for Windows to.) Everything is ejected when you shut down your Mac as well. Ejecting .DMG files aren’t as important because they should dismount when you shut off your computer but I usually eject them after I have installed the app.

Deleting Files From External Drives

When you delete files from an external drive they aren’t gone yet. You have to also empty the trash or else the files remain on the drive.

Mac OSX Names

The operating system that your Mac is running is called OSX. Each new version has a codename, the current being Mavericks (10.9). Apple has recently changed its naming motif from large cats to places that inspire them in California. So if you are running an older version of OSX you may be running ‘Mountain Lion (10.8)’, ‘Lion (10.7)’, or ‘Snow Leopard (10.6)’

Apple has started to offer its major updates for free so once a year you can go to the Mac App Store and upgrade to the next version. (The new version Yosemite was just announced and will be released in the fall.)


Update: Everything in this section is true right now but it will not be when the next version of OSX (Yosemite) is released. They just announced that you will be able to browse your files in the cloud using iCloud Drive and prices will be significantly cheaper. So iCloud may not be what you are looking for now but probably will be in the fall.

I will preface this by saying I am not a fan of most aspects of iCloud, however it does have its uses. iCloud is Apple’s cloud service for syncing and storing files. The problem is it isn’t very good for anything but syncing files between Apple devices. What I would use iCloud for:

  • Syncing Data Between Apps

What I wouldn’t use iCloud for:

  • Storing files

Storing files in iCloud makes them hard to organize, back up, and open in different apps. It may be perfect for you but I am not a fan.

What To Sync With iCloud

I have checked off almost every option here. It is very nice to have your Reminders, notes, calendar, pictures, and Safari tabs synced between devices. One thing I wouldn’t sync is the ‘Keychain.’ Frankly I find it to be insecure, allowing anyone who has access to your Mac to log into sites using your credentials. (I recommend 1Password ($49.99) instead.)

Even if you don’t have any other Apple devices iCloud sync can be very useful. It can act as a back-up for your contacts, calendar, reminders, notes, and more. So if your Mac is stolen when you buy a new one and log into iCloud it will pull down the info from the apps your specified.

What Would I Recommend For Cloud Storage/Syncing?

Your best option depends on what you want devices you want to sync to, be it iOS, Android, Windows, etc. For Android and Windows you just need to make sure each OS has an app made by the cloud storage company of your choice. Unfortunately Dropbox is your best option for syncing to iOS. (Dropbox is awesome but a questionable hire makes me wary to recommend them.) If syncing with iOS (iPhone/iPad) is your goal most apps that offer 3rd party syncing are using Dropbox.

Here are a few services I tried and liked:

  • Box is a good all around service.
  • is good if you need security.
  • Google Drive offers a ton of space for the cheapest price.
  • Bitcasa is a pretty interesting service.

Look at your needs and what is right for you there are a ton of cloud storage services out there.

Quickly Switch Between Apps

Press cmd + tab to quickly cycle through apps. Very useful and I find that many people just don’t know about it.

Quickly Switch Between The Current Apps Windows

If you have multiple windows open from the same app you can use 'cmd + ~' to cycle through them. (The button above the tab button.)

Do I Need Anti-Virus/Anti-Malware

Disclaimer: If your Mac is a company computer listen to what your IT person says. I am just some random from the internet, your IT person intimately knows what your business requires.

Short answer: No, well maybe. Contrary to a popular myth the Mac definitely has viruses/malware but the simple fact is that nothing can protect your Mac better than your finger. What do I mean? Unless you’re downloading illegal torrents, going to pirating or shady sales sites, or opening every attachment you receive without thinking, your odds of getting any viruses/malware are slim. If you still feel you need some sort of anti-virus/malware protection check out some of the free options on the web. I would highly recommend you don’t turn on things like active monitoring, which actively monitors your system, it just uses up so much system resources making your computer slow for no tangible benefit. (I use Sophos but I don’t keep it running all the time, I fire it up once a month to check for any issues.) I hope a salesman didn’t try and sell you some saying it would protect your Mac, if they did try and take it back.

I have only had 1 virus on my Mac and guess where it came from? A friend plugged a thumb drive with torrented movies into my computer.

Weird Stuff Is Happening When I Use My Trackpad Or Mouse

Apple has quite a few actions associated with different gestures for both the trackpad and mouse. While they can be very useful, random actions being triggered by accident are not, so you can turn them on/off in System Preferences in the ‘Mouse’ sub-section.


I would hold off on customizing your Mac too much in the first couple weeks to see what the stock version is like. Once you start customizing you can really make a make fit your needs. I would be endlessly frustrated without doing some of these things.

The Dock

The dock is at the bottom of your screen just taking up space even when you aren’t using it. Go to System Preferences and click on ‘Dock’. There are a couple things you can do to make the dock less intrusive:

  • Hide the dock. (My personal choice, this hides the dock until you move the mouse to the bottom of the screen.
  • Make the dock smaller. You can make your dock smaller so you can always see it but it doesn’t take up much space.
  • If you have poor eyesight you can turn on magnify which magnifies the dock as you mouse over it.
  • You can also set where you want to see the dock be it the bottom, left or ride side of the screen.

Indicator Lights

If you look at your dock and are unsure which apps are open you can check ‘Show indicator lights for open applications’ in the same menu. It puts a little light under the icons for apps that are currently running.

Arranging Windows

You may notice that when you press the maximize button (top left) it doesn’t fill the screen, it makes the app as big as it needs to be. You also have to manually re-size applications by dragging the sides. To easily change window sizes, and orientations, download Better Touch Tool. (Free) It allows you to drag windows to the sides of the monitor to automatically re-size them to pre-determined sizes. For example, dragging a window to the top of my screen makes it fill the whole monitor, dragging it to either side makes it fill that half of the screen.

Hot Corners

Hot corners allow you to launch actions by moving your mouse to the corner of the screen. (I really like this feature but some people hate it.) In System Preferences go to ‘Desktop & Screen Saver’ than click the ‘Screen Saver’ button and on the bottom right you will see a button for ‘Hot Corners…’. This allows you to set things like ‘put display to sleep,’ ‘Mission Control,’ ‘Application Windows’ and more to open when you move the mouse to the assigned corner. I wouldn’t recommend using the top left corner for ‘put display to sleep’ because it’s easy to move to far when going to close a window.

Note: If you are unwieldily with a mouse or trackpad you may want to leave these off.

Change Default Finder Folder

By default the Finder shows you ‘All My Files’ first which I find to be totally useless. How do you change this?

  1. Go to Finder
  2. Click the word ‘Finder’ on the top left of the menu bar.
  3. Click ‘Preferences’
  4. Under ‘New Finder windows show:’ choose the folder you want from drop down menu.

If You Don’t Know How To Do Something, Just Search The Web

How did I learn all of this stuff? I searched the web for it. Go to your preferred search engine, mine is DuckDuckGo, and just type how to do what you want to do and you will usually get the answer.

Bonus: Back-Ups

You should be backing up your computer often. Hard-drives fail, your Mac could be destroyed, or a virus could delete your hard-drive. I don’t mean to scare you but I am trying to instil that back-ups are incredibly important. At the very least buy an external drive and back your Mac up to it often. Apple includes a great application called Time Machine that you can use for this. The more places your data is backed up the better and remember to keep back-ups in different locations. If your house burns down, having 3 back-up drives in your closet won’t help you. You can also use cloud services as a back-up but don’t put all of your trust in them. Things can go wrong for them too.

If you want easy, automatic back-ups you should look into Apple’s Time Machine. Not to be confused with the software Time Machine this is a router with a hard drive in it that your Mac can send wireless back-ups to.

3rd Party Apps Mentioned:

1Password ($49.99)

Better Touch Tool (Free)

Final Notes

I hope you enjoy using your Mac. Explore and learn, if something isn’t working like you want it to there is probably a solution. If you are having any difficulties search the web or ask the people at /r/mac. If you have any serious issues take your Mac into an Apple Store and they will treat you right. (Or you can call the help line if you don’t live near one.) These are just the basics I will expand on this later with a post about making a Mac yours. Have fun, I think you will enjoy it.

If you have any questions you can tweet them at me: @aestusblog