Mac 101: Part 2, Organizing OS X

Having discussed the very basics and some of the apps which come bundled with OS X Lion in part one of Mac 101, let’s now delve in a little deeper with the aim of getting a better idea of how to properly tweak and organise the latest and arguably greatest of Apple’s OS X. We’re going to get to grips with how one navigates the OS X file system using Finder, in addition to minor tweaks like setting up a custom background, or wallpaper.

Relatively speaking, this early part of Mac 101 will still cater toward the inexperienced Mac user but, with luck, even experienced users of Apple computers will learn something new!

Navigating The OS X File System

Rather than skirting around the issue, let’s start off this second part of Mac 101 by tackling the one aspect of computing which many computer users struggle to come to grips with fully: Correctly organizing, managing and searching the file system.

Without wanting to get too bogged down in the finer details, Mac OS X is based on a system of computing called Unix and thus, like Linux which is also based on Unix, OS X enjoys a very robust and secure file system which will behave in a predictable manner. All you need to do is learn the the basic rules behind the OS X file system and you’ll find it forever easy to travel around any properly organized Mac’s hard drive to find whatever you need.

Finder

Lion's Finder is your window into the Mac OS X filesystem

Lion's Finder is your window into the Mac OS X filesystem

We’ve already alluded to the Finder, so it’s about time we discussed what it actually is. Put simply, Finder is the application that one uses to navigate through OS X, and owing to its status as a very important core application, it can neither be deleted nor removed from the Dock and always has the small light beneath its icon to denote that the application is running.

To access the OS X file system, click on Finder’s icon and you should see a window very similar to the one shown above. First, make sure to notice the ‘All Files’ tab on the left hand pane, clicking on this will bring up, quite literally, all the files you have created, modified or downloaded recently.

Below ‘All Files’ you should see relevant folders for keeping Documents, Pictures, Music, Downloads and Movies within. For convenience, you may add other folders into or out of the left hand side pane.

It is important to refrain from any attempts to rename or delete OS X’s default folders, such as Documents and Downloads and so forth, as it can cause potential instability issues if they are successfully removed.

Clicking on the Applications pane will present OS X’s Applications folder and it is here where your applications actually reside, rather than the Dock or Launchpad, which are merely shortcuts.

No need to 'uninstall' with OS X Lion, just deleting will suffice

No need to 'uninstall' with OS X Lion, just deleting will suffice

To add an application to the Dock for quick launching, simply click on an application’s icon once and drag it into the Dock. To delete the application, one must merely drag it into the Trash, also located on the Dock, or right click and select ‘Move To Trash’ – though beware that it is unwise to delete OS X’s default applications like iCal and Mail as re-installing them can prove to be a serious hassle.

While it may seem pedantic, getting into the habit of always storing your movie files in Lion’s Movies folder, documents in the corresponding Documents folder and so forth, will go some way to ensure that your files are easily found.

Spotlight

Spotlight is perhaps the quickest way to find what you want

Spotlight is perhaps the quickest way to find what you want

As mentioned in part one, Spotlight is located in the top right corner of your screen, sat atop the Menubar and accessible by either clicking on the Spotlight icon or hitting the keyboard combination of Command and Spacebar at once. Once one has brought up the Spotlight search prompt in this manner, beginning to type will bring up instant results.

For example, if I type ‘App’ (without quotes) into Spotlight, OS X presents results which include the Mac App Store and the Applications folder, in addition to several folders and documents concerned with my writing for AppStorm and elsewhere. Spotlight also finds some assorted songs with ‘App’ in the titles and there’s a whole host of files which are intelligently listed in order of what OS X thinks you’re looking for.

There are several alternatives to Spotlight and some, like Alfred, are beloved by many of us here at Mac.AppStorm, but Spotlight nonetheless remains a compelling OS X feature and one which is well worth you spending some time getting to know.

Personalizing OS X Lion

We can change many aspects of OS X Lion's appearance with System Preferences

We can change many aspects of OS X Lion's appearance with System Preferences

I think that most Mac users would agree that OS X Lion looks pretty great right out of the box, but that said, it can be nice to make some small changes in order to make it suit your own tastes more fully. With this in mind, let’s take a look at some tweaks that we can make in order to customize Lion’s appearance. All of the following tweaks can be made in Lion’s System Preferences, found in the Applications folder.

Colour Scheme

If blue is really not your colour, then why not try gold, or graphite, or...

If blue is really not your colour, then why not try gold, or graphite, or...

Within System Preferences, clicking on the ‘General’ preference pane will bring up choices for Appearance and Highlight color, in addition to options for changing the behaviour of the scroll bars. These can all be altered without worry, so feel free to experiment and find a look you like.

Dock

Lion's Dock can be moved to the left or right if desired

Lion's Dock can be moved to the left or right if desired

While the default placement of Lion’s Dock is on the bottom of your Mac’s screen, it can be easily changed to reside on the left or right side of the screen, vertically. Simply click the ‘Dock’ preference pane within System Preferences to get started making changes.

In addition, one can set the Dock to auto-hide, turn on Dock Magnification and adjust the size of the Dock, plus some other smaller tweaks like the type of animation which Lion uses when opening apps.

Background

Lion comes with a good selection of alternative wallpapers, or you can just use a picture of your own

Lion comes with a good selection of alternative wallpapers, or you can just use a picture of your own

There are several ways to change your Desktop background, or wallpaper. A right click (or option click) anywhere on the Desktop should provide a prompt which directs one to the Desktop & Screen Saver preference pane, or alternatively it can be navigated to via the System Preferences panel. From here, a series of alternative OS X wallpapers can be chosen, or if desired, a folder can be added and any pictures from that folder can be used. Each Desktop background in Lion can be changed, so feel free to customise heavily!

There are many great websites where one can find backgrounds on the Internet, but one of the better resources is Simple Desktops

Launch Apps On Login

Take control of what Lion allows to open on login

Take control of what Lion allows to open on login

Almost all OS X Lion applications are well-behaved and give you the option of whether you’d like them to launch automatically on switching on your Mac, but it’s still useful to know how to control this behavior, if only so that you can get rid of any pesky self-starting apps, should they appear.

To gain control over which applications launch when Lion itself loads, head over to Users & Groups (within System Preferences) and then the preference pane titled ‘Login Items’. From here, one can use the – button to remove an application or hit the + button and then navigate to an app you’d like to be launched.

Conclusion

That’s it for part two of our OS X Lion themed Mac 101. I hope that some new Mac users have gained additional knowledge of how the OS X file system works and that you’ve also had the chance to successfully tweak Lion to look just how you’d like it to.

In the next Mac 101 we’re going to delve right into the Apple ecosystem and all that it entails, including setting up an Apple ID and using that ID to purchase apps from the Mac App Store, music from iTunes, iCloud and more.


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