Last year I wrote a document for a friend who was switching to a Mac. It was a basic ‘what you need to know’ rundown. Since then I’ve had a few other people ask for it, so I’m posting it here in case anyone wants it.

This is for Windows-users who are using a Mac for the first time. If you know anything about Macs, you’ll probably find this too basic for your needs. But for everyone else, let’s get started!

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* Let’s start with the Menu bar at the top of the screen. In Microsoft Windows every window gets its own menu (FILE, EDIT, VIEW etc.) and it moves around with that window. On a Mac there is always ONE menu bar at the top of the screen and it changes to show the APPLICATION you are currently using. Click a window for another application and the menu bar changes. THIS IS THE BIGGEST Mac/Windows difference! Make sure you understand this and you’ll be past the biggest hurdle. To recap – In Windows a menu bar refers to a WINDOW, on a Mac the only menu bar refers to the APPLICATION.

* Also note that “Finder” you see in the Menu Bar  is the name of the Desktop and all the windows that search the computer. It’s always running when the computer is on and is the same thing as Window’s “Explorer.” Go ahead and open ‘Address Book’ but clicking it on the Dock (down at the bottom of the screen) and see how ‘Finder’ changes to ‘Address Book.’ Now click on the Desktop and it changes back to ‘Finder’ again.

* On the far left of the menu bar you’ll see an Apple Logo. That’s usually called “The Apple Menu” and it never changes no matter what you’re doing.  There are several things in there, but here are the 2 most important items in that menu:

1)     Shut Down and Restart are obviously useful items. (Although “Sleep” is listed in there, you can put the laptop to sleep just by closing the lid.)

2)     System Preferences

* Click on System Preferences now. (It’s the same thing as the gear-box icon at the bottom of your screen.) If you ever need to change any setting on your computer, this is probably where you’ll do it. Try this trick: At the top of the Preferences box is a text-entry field with a magnifying glass in it. Let’s say you want to change your log-on password but you don’t know where to do it. Just type “Password” in that box and see what happens.

* Now, the mouse pad. Obviously it moves the cursor, but now you’ve got multi-touch! Go to a web-site that’s bigger than your screen, like a news site. Put 2 fingers on the mouse-pad again and move those 2 fingers up and down. Quick scrolling! This is critical knowledge for laptop users. Go into System Preferences and it will teach you more multi-touch tricks there. You can do stuff like scroll through photos or go back to a previous website without any clicking or buttons.

* The bar at the bottom of the screen with all the icons is called the DOCK. It contains shortcuts for your most-used programs. All Mac programs live in the ‘Appilcations’ folder. Find that in Finder (on the left side) and take a look. That’s where they live, but you can drag programs on to the dock to add  links to them, drag them around to change where they are, or simply drag them off to get rid of them. Everything on the dock is a shortcut…erasing it won’t affect anything else. The program still lives in the Applications folder. To access all your programs, click on the Finder (Happy face on the left of the dock) to open a new Finder window. On the left you’ll see an “Applications” folder. ALL of your programs are in there. Just put the ones you need all the time on the Dock. In fact, let’s start with ‘System Preferences’ (looks like gears). Now, you know how to get there in the Apple Menu, right? So I say, let’s save that space on the Dock. Just grab the gears and drag it off the Dock and let it go!

* You can put folder on the Dock too, but they have to live on the right over by the trash-can. Find one and drop it on there and click it. It’s a fast way to access stuff. Do you miss your Windows Start Menu? Drag a copy of the Applications folder onto the Dock. Then right-click it (read more if you don’t know how, I’ll explain it soon) and change that Applications folder to “List” view. Boom! Instant Start Menu! (But personally, I prefer ‘Grid‘ view myself.)

* There is also a section for the Dock in ‘System Preferences.’ Go in there and play around with the size and other options. You can turn on magnification, which lets you then shrink the Dock even further. It gets bigger when you mouse over it. There is a setting to “hide” the Dock, but I don’t use it. The Dock can often tell you things (like, when you have a new e-mail) and you won’t see that if you’ve hidden it.

* Next, look at the happy, blue smiley face on the left side of the dock. He is the “Finder” and he will always be there. You can’t remove him. Click him and you will see your computer’s contents. He is like “My Computer” on Windows. Look for the “Documents” folder or the home folder (it will have your user-name on it). These are all unique to your account. Files in those folders won’t be viewable if someone else logs on to a guest account on your computer. Stuff you put out on the top level of the hard drive will be viewable to guest accounts.

* You might notice that the Finder looks a lot like iTunes. It works a bit like it, too. You can even make those purple ‘Smart Folders’ for your files, just like you can in iTunes.

* Programs that are running have a black triangle under their icon on the Dock. Try this experiment: Click on the blue compass called “Safari.” That’s the web browser. You’ll get a web browsing window. Once it’s open, click the red arrow at the top left part of the widow. The window closes, just like the “X” button on Windows will do. Simple, right? But look! Safari is still running…just look at the black triangle on the dock. This is pretty important: Closing a WINDOW does NOT close the PROGRAM! That is another difference from Windows. On a Mac, the program can be running even though no windows are open. This matters, because you could end up with ALL of your programs running if you don’t quit them properly when you’re done with them.

Here’s what you should do to quit a program. First, click on the desktop. Look up in the upper left…do you see the Apple logo? Next to that it says “FINDER.” That’s the program you are in. Now click on Safari in the dock again and WATCH next to the Apple menu…it will change to “SAFARI.” If there are any Safari windows open, click the red dot to close them. The menu STILL says “SAFARI” because it’s still running. Click on the “Safari” menu and select “Quit.” NOW the black triangle disappears and your web browser is no longer running. (Command-Q on the keyboard also works for quitting. This is a big time saver.)

* Want to right-click the trackpad button? You can still right-click with it even though you’re on a Mac. Go into SYSTEM PREFERENCES > KEYBOARD and MOUSE. Click the TRACKPAD tab. Find the box that says “For secondary clicks, place two fingers…” and turn that ‘on.’ Now, put 2 fingers on the track pad and click with your thumb. Right-click! Works just like on Windows. You can buy 2-button mice as well. I always use Logitech mice with my Macs, I like them even more than Apple’s own mice (which are cool, I admit.)

* When you move the mouse over the dock you see the names of the programs. Please open these programs:



Address Book


Once you’ve done that, please hold the Command key (by the spacebar with the little squiggle on it) and AS you hold it hit “tab” again and again. Maybe you know this from Windows. Maybe not. Either way, make sure you learn this trick now and you’ll use the mouse a LOT less to switch between programs…VERY useful on a laptop! Practice this for a minute.

* Now, what to do if the screen gets too crowded? Switch back to iCal. Now go up into the “iCal” menu and select “Hide Others.” Everything else should vanish. It’s just hidden, though. Use Apple-tab to pick something…it comes right back! Conversely, use Command-H to hide the current program you are in rather than all the other programs.

* Just so you know, if you click the yellow button in the upper left corner of a window, it shrinks down to the Dock.  (Like Window’s ‘minimize.’) You should know what that does, but if you’re using Command-Tab and Command-H, then you should never need that button! Seriously, if you’re minimizing windows, YOU ARE WASTING TIME. Learn how to hide programs using command-H. It’s much, much faster.

* And since you’re probably wondering, the Green button up there makes the window either full screen or back to a smaller size, depending on what it currently is. I rarely use this, but that’s what it does.

* Here’s an advanced trick. You still have other programs open, right? Use Command-Tab to switch to one of the programs BUT do NOT LET GO of the Command key! Instead, move your “tab” finger to the “Q” key. That will quit that other program without even switching to it. A quick way to quit programs you’re not currently using.


I’m going to explain the programs that are currently on your dock. (Remember, there are more in your Applications folder. These are just the ones that are out on the Dock at the moment.) Feel free to move them around or change them, but here’s what you’ve got right now:

FINDER: Always there, like “My Computer”

DASHBOARD: Little floating programs. This is accessable from a the keyboard, so I usually take this off my Dock and just use the keyboarda. See System Preferences to set the key.

MAIL: Like Outlook. You can plug in more than 1 e-mail account. So if you have gmail and yahoo, just program them both in here. Most mail services have a website explaining how to setup their service in ‘Apple Mail.’ Just google them and I’m sure you’ll find a walk-through.

SAFARI: Mac web browser. You can also download Firefox if you prefer it.

iCHAT: Use this instead of AIM. Put your AOL name and password into it. It supports some other services too, but I’m not familiar with that. Explore the menus.

ADDRESS BOOK and iCAL: These 2 programs and mail all add up to work like Outlook does. It’s 3 programs instead of 1, but they all talk to each other, so it works as if it was 1 program. This is useful. For example, if you put someone’s name and e-mail in Address Book, then Mail knows it and you can type their real name in Mail and it will change it to their e-mail address. If you put their IM name in Address book than Mail knows that too and will put green dots by e-mails that are from people who are currently online in your buddy list!

PREVIEW: This program views things like photos. It’s also useful for re-saving photos in different formats. This is actually more than just a view. You can alter the color of photos, crop, and quite a bit more. It’s a handy, if basic, photo editor. But if you just want to LOOK at a photo, be aware of ‘Quick Look’ which is even faster. Select any file in Finder and hit the Space Bar. It will preview it without opening a program. Hit the Space Bar again to stop Quick Look.

iTUNES: You know this one, it works the same as on Windows. The only difference is that it can see Address Book, iCal, and iPhoto and copy data from those programs to an iPod.

iPHOTO: Just like iTunes but for photos. You can import photos from cameras into here or just drag photos onto it to import them. I highly suggest iPhoto for your pictures instead of random folders like many people do.

iMOVIE: Simple video editing software.

GARAGE BAND: Use loops to make your own royalty free music.

SPACES: Simulates virtual monitors. Imagine having 2, 4, or 16 monitors. Spaces lets you switch between them with the one screen you have. This is “off” until you turn it on in System Preferences. I wouldn’t worry about this too much if  I were you…more useful for power-users like computer programmers. Even I don’t have much need for this.

TIME MACHINE: A fantastic back-up utility. It allows you to restore a single file rather than the entire hard drive. So you if accidentally erase something, you can get it back. This feature requires an external hard drive, which is tricky with a laptop. I suggest getting one and making sure you plug it in every couple of days. Make sure that it’s “bus powered.” This lets you use the hard drive without plugging it into a wall…it will be powered from the computer. It will back-up what’s new whenever you plug it in. This is also ‘off’ until you turn it on in System Preferences.

In “Applications” you will find other programs, play around with them and see what’s what.

NOW…more fun stuff.

* Go to SYSTEM PREFERENCES -> Expose & Spaces

“Dashboard” should already be set to F4 and “All Windows” should already be on F3.

Set the other 2 options to F5 and F6. Now go out and open up 3 or 4 program and play with you F3 to F6 keys. Learn what they do!

For example, the ‘Show Desktop’ button is super useful! Here’s the cool part. Let’s say you have a photo on your desktop that you want to put in a text document. Hit the ‘Show Desktop’ button, grab the file (keep holding that mouse key!) and hit the button again to get back to your text document. Then just drop it! Almost ANYTHING can be done in OS X by just dragging and dropping. Forget all that “Import/Export” stuff…just grab a file and drop it in your document! It works almost everywhere. You can even grab a document from Finder and drop it on the program you want. Have 2 JPEGs? Drop one on ‘Preview’ on the Dock and the other on ‘iPhoto.’ No more right-click-and-open-with-this-application stuff…just drop the file on the program you want!

* And now…DASHBOARD.  Hit F4. These are quick little programs you might need from time to time. They’re called “Widgets.” To open more, click that + symbol in the lower left when the Dashboard is open. To CLOSE one, hold the “Option” key and mouse over it. An “X” will appear that you can click. There’s only a few programs in there right now, but if you get online, go to the Apple menu and pick “Mac OS X Software.” That will take you to the Apple web site and you can  find tons of free widgets. Little mini games…utilities…things that check E-Bay for you…whatever, there are hundreds of them.

* Hit Command-Esc. Use the arrow keys, return, and esc. That’s all you need to control it. I’ll let you play with that, you should be able to figure it out…it’s just another way to access the media on your computer. Escape will exit it.

* Once you’re online, go the Apple menu and select “Software Update.” You get free updates from Apple this way.

* You also shut down the computer using the Apple Logo menu. Closing the lid just puts it to sleep.

* The magnifying glass in the upper RIGHT is called “Spotlight.” It’s a super search feature that finds EVERYTHING. Even text within files…it looks inside stuff, not just at the name of the file. You can have a text layer in a Photoshop document and it will find it. It’s amazingly better than what you’re used to now.

* Lastly, Use F3, F4, and F5 to control volume and you eject CDs with the button on the far upper RIGHT on the keyboard.

Feel free to contact me at any point if you have ANY questions. I’m happy to help with any Mac stuff so don’t hesitate to write.