Mac 101: Part One, Meet The Mac

Welcome to part one of Mac 101, a series of articles helping you get to grips with everything you need to know about using a Mac. In due time we’re going to cover pretty much everything you need to know, but naturally this opening piece will focus on the very basics and introduce new users to some of the great applications and features that come pre-installed with a new Mac and OS X Lion.

So without further ado, let’s take a closer look at some of the fundamentals of Mac OS X Lion and become more acquainted with Apple’s unique method of making computing easy for all.

The OS X Lion Desktop

OS X Lion has an undeniably beautiful interface

OS X Lion has an undeniably beautiful interface

When powering on a Mac for the first time, one is given a simple setup screen from which the user is prompted to enter their full name, desired User Name, Apple ID (if you have one) and other such information. As operating systems go, OSX Lion’s setup is incredibly simple and should only take a few moments of your time. This done, let’s take a look at the OS X Lion Desktop.

On Lion’s Desktop, we can see the Dock at the bottom of the screen, while the Menubar resides at the top of the screen. The rest of the space is taken up by the background (or wallpaper), the default of which should look like the screenshot above, though you can change the Desktop Background if you wish.

Dock

The Dock can be home to your most important applications and folders

The Dock can be home to your most important applications and folders

The Mac OS X Dock is a cornerstone of the Apple computing experience and has grown to become one of the most celebrated features of the Mac OS X operating system since its launch in 2001. As standard, several applications are on the Dock already but more can be added or taken away as desired.

The basic principle behind OS X’s Dock is that your most commonly used applications can reside on the Dock for easy access, but it does much more than this basic function. Open applications will also be temporarily placed on the Dock while they are running and one can easily tell if this is the case as there will be a small light glowing beneath the application icon in question. In addition, the Trash is placed on the far-right hand side of the Dock and can be accessed with a click. Hovering your mouse or trackpad pointer over an icon for a moment will bring up its name.

On the far left of the Dock is the Finder icon and, like the Trash, this cannot be moved or removed as it is a key element of OS X and enables one to navigate the OS X file system.

Menubar

The Apple Menu is located on the far left of the Menubar

The Apple Menu is located on the far left of the Menubar

The OS X Menubar is the thin strip of silver sat atop your screen. To the right hand side of the Menubar, one can find small icons which allow easy access to system processes and options such as Bluetooth and Wifi. Further to the right sits Spotlight. Simply typing anything into Spotlight will throw up relevant results from applications, contacts notes or files. It’s a great way to find what you need quickly, whatever the required item is.

holding down the option key while clicking on a Menubar item will often reveal enhanced information or options

To the left of the Menubar sits a small Apple icon and clicking on this will highlight the Apple Menu, itself offering access to the Software Update interface, Dock preferences, the Mac App Store and options for Logout, Shutdown, Sleep and Restart.

Dashboard

You can tweak the Dashboard and add or remove widgets if desired

You can tweak the Dashboard and add or remove widgets if desired

The Dashboard can be accessed by pressing the shortcut key on your Mac’s keyboard (F4) or by using Mission Control or a trackpad gesture to navigate toward it. Dashboard is home to small widgets like Calculator and Weather. More widgets can be added by clicking the + button.

Launchpad

Lion's Launchpad closely resembles the iOS Home Screen

Lion's Launchpad closely resembles the iOS Home Screen

You can already launch applications by clicking on them if they’re in the Dock, navigating toward them with Finder or searching with Spotlight and Launchpad is yet another method for launching apps. Unashamedly lifted from iOS, Launchpad seems to be one of those love-it or hate-it kind of features which polarizes many Mac users.

Mission Control

Mission Control makes a smaller screen seem more expansive

Mission Control makes a smaller screen seem more expansive

Mission Control manages your open windows into several virtual desktops for more easy management and organization. While OS X handles this automatically, you can click and hold an application’s icon if it’s on the Dock and assign a particular space to that app. For more information maximising your Mission Control usage, Joshua Johnson’s article on Making The Most Of Mission Control is well worth a look.

Lion’s Most Commonly Used Applications

Let’s move beyond the very basics and take a look at some of Lion’s bundled apps. While many of the applications are located on Lion’s Dock, some aren’t and these can be accessed via Launchpad or Searching Spotlight. In addition, the Applications folder itself can be found by clicking on the blue Finder icon to the left of the Dock and then selecting ‘Applications’ from the left hand sidebar.

Safari

Safari Extensions Gallery has plenty of add-ons for customising your browsing experience

Safari Extensions Gallery has plenty of add-ons for customising your browsing experience

OS X Lion’s own web browser is suitably slick, secure and stable. With features such as the Reading List, Reader and a beautifully implemented full-screen mode, Safari is more than capable of acting as your primary web browser. In addition, the Safari Extensions Gallery houses add-ons like Click-to-Flash, Ad-Block and Facebook Cleaner to ensure a flawless web browsing experience.

Mail

OS X Lion’s Mail is functional, easy to use and allows multiple email accounts to be configured. While one is free to use another email client such as Thunderbird or the excellent Postbox, Lion’s Mail has the benefit of deep integration into the operating system.

iChat

iChat isn’t the most flexible chat client available for Mac, but what it does do, it does very well. Like Mail, iChat has support for multiple accounts from various services and also has extra features such as cool backgrounds and support for Screen Sharing so that you can troubleshoot your family member’s Mac if you’re so inclined.

iTunes

iTunes is your portal into the Apple ecosystem

iTunes is your portal into the Apple ecosystem

Even if you’ve never used a Mac before, you’re probably familiar with iTunes on some level. Though occasionally derided as sluggish and bloated, there’s really no software which can hope to compete with everything iTunes offers as it’s so much more than mere music player. Think of iTunes as your portal into the Apple world, where iOS apps, books, movies and music can all be purchased.

TextEdit

Here at Mac.AppStorm we love text editors and word processors, but a very good one comes already bundled in Mac OS X, TextEdit. TextEdit somehow seems to combine both the minimalism of a good bare-bones writing application and some more full features which one would expect from a word processing suite.

the TextEdit icon contains the text from Apple’s ‘Here’s To The Crazy Ones’ advertising campaign in miniature form

iCal

iCal is Apple’s calendar application. With the ability to sync with CalDAV, Yahoo, Google and iCloud, iCal should be all the calendar you’ll ever need.

Address Book

OS X Lion brought a new overhauled Address Book into being and it’s plugged deep into OS X itself so that you can begin typing a contact’s name into Spotlight and the contact should appear.

System Preferences

Use System Preferences to tweak OS X to your liking

Use System Preferences to tweak OS X to your liking

System Preferences allows the tweaking of many key elements of Mac OS X. Launching System Preferences will bring up the System Preferences pane, as shown above and from here one can choose to change anything from the default colour scheme of Lion to whether Bluetooth is enabled by default. We’re going to delve more fully into System Preferences in the next article.

App Store

The Mac App Store is chocked full of great software - much of it free!

The Mac App Store is chocked full of great software - much of it free!

The Mac App Store is a great way of discovering new apps which are often given away for free or sold at a very competitive rate. When installing apps from the App Store, they are automatically added to your Applications folder and Launchpad for easy access and as each app is updated via the App Store interface, it’s easy to keep your software up to date. In addition to the usual options of launching the App Store application with Spotlight, Dock or Launchpad, one can also access the store via the Apple Menu located on the left hand side of the Menubar

Conclusion

Hopefully this article will serve as an introduction to Mac OS X Lion computing for those who have recently purchased their first Apple computer. If you’re an existing Mac user with some experience of OS X, you may feel that we’ve barely scratched the surface of what OS X Lion is capable of – and you’d be right! That’s why we’re going to follow up with a series of articles which should cover everything you need to know about Mac OS X Lion.

In following iterations of Mac 101, we’re going to get to grips with navigating the Mac OS X filesystem, learn to set up iTunes, Facetime and Mail accounts, in addition to making some basic system tweaks such as changing the Desktop background to help personalize Mac OS X a little.


  • Chris

    If you added Image Capture and the Terminal to the Most Commonly Used Applications section, I would be perfectly fine!

  • Erik

    Very nice intro for new users. I was hoping to be able to save this as a PDF but using the Print to PDF feature of OS X it winds up looking like garbage. I realize the site is all modern and all, but I’d rather have a terrible looking page that prints well than … well, you know. Otherwise, A for effort. Cheers!

    • http://adamawilliams.com Adam Williams

      Thanks for the encouragement! If you’d like to look at an alternative method of grabbing web pages, I’d recommend LittleSnapper’s browser capture feature – it works great and leaves you with just the column you want.

      http://www.realmacsoftware.com/littlesnapper/

      There is a free trial demo but I’m not sure if all the functionality works or not without purchasing a license.

    • Dan

      Hi Erik,

      try the following: open the (mac.appstorm-) page you would like to print out, view the page in Safari’s Reader (by clicking on the reader-button next to the reload-button, or by pressing Shift+Command+R), now try to print the page (or export to pdf).

      Does it look better now? (using the Reader feature you get rid of all the ads, navigation, and other unnecessary stuff for printouts)

      Cheers,
      Dan

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