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Switching to Mac OS X - quick tips for new users

First thing, understand that I'm not going to try to convince to to switch. If you are stuck in the world of Microsoft, I feel sorry for you, but making you understand that you should switch is not my purpose today. This article is just quick tips for those who have decided to switch.

I have written other articles like that. I have suggested that if you are considering a new computer, that's an ideal time to consider switching. Other people have written long articles about why you might think about switching; Chris Pirillo gives 50 reasons to switch to Mac. But I am not going to touch that here. If you want to stay with Microsoft, so be it.

No, this is for the person who has just switched or is about to switch. My intent here is only to run over a short list of things that might help you in your early days with your new Mac.

By the way, Apple has their excellent Mac 101 pages. Those go into great depth, so you will want them as a resource. My intent here is much less grand. I just want to give you some very quick advice to get you started.


If you have Outlook files to bring over, check Take your Windows Outlook email, contacts, and calendars to your Mac! - it's $12.95 but they do have a "test drive" available.

Finder is your Friend

Finder is your friend. Finder gives you access to your files and your desktop. For example, if you wanted to rename a file or open it or delete it or print it, you first need to find it, don't you?

If you came from Windows, Finder is "My Computer" and is quite similar in that you can choose different views and sorting options.

You open Finder by clicking on the smiling blue box at the far left of your Dock. The arrow in the picture below points it out.

See that smiling box? That's Finder.

If you don't see the Dock, it's been hidden. To unhide it (or make other adjustments), click on the black Apple at the top left of your screen.

Dock adjustments

Once you have Finder open, it shows you files. See all those buttons and things? Those are your file viewing options. I'm not going to waste time explaining them, just try them out - you'll get the idea.

Dock adjustments

Finder isn't your Desktop

Clicking Finder doesn't show your Desktop. You can set a "Hot Key" in Preferences to show your Desktop. Preferences is the "Gear Box" icon in your Dock.


Hot Keys

That picture shows Mac OS X 10.6; the newer 10.7 "Lion" version has slightly different options and more things it will show you with hot keys. Until you get a bit more comfortable with everything else, I'd recommend ignoring all that. The Desktop really isn't all that important - the Dock (and Spotlight, see below) is where most of the action is.

Finder is not your best friend. Command-Space is your Best Friend Forever

Whatever keyboard you use, it has a key combination that will call up Spotlight. Spotlight is a way to find files and to startup programs (Applications). Spotlight is equivalent to (but much more powerful than) Start-Run. The default keys are Command and Space.

Spotlight keys

Some people detest Spotlight and recommend that you use alternative tools like SilverLight. Ignore those people, at least for now. You MAY eventually want a replacement, but most of us find Spotlight meets all our needs. Don't rush to replace it. Wait until you Spotlight has become your BFF before you try Silverlight or any other Spotlight replacement.

When you summon up Spotlight, you get a box to type in. Whatever you type, Spotlight will search for things that match - either in their name, or in text within a file.

Using Spotlight

See it? I started typing "Dis" and it has found programs (like "Disk Utility") and files that match. What else do you need? Select any of them and press enter to open them. It is that easy.

Spotlight Preferences will let you change the Hot Key and other things about how Spotlight works if you want to tinker.

Adjusting  Spotlight

Close is on the left

Windows users are accustomed to looking for the big red X on the right to close windows. On the Mac, it's a little red circle on the left.

Adjusting  Spotlight

I often find myself with dozens of Finder windows open. I can close them all at once by holding down the Option key when clicking on any windows red circle.

You can leave stuff in the Dock

It's OK. You see that I have LOTS of stuff in my Dock.

I very seldom quit programs. Windows users really don't need to either, but it's a habit they acquire for some reason. Leave your programs running - just click on them when you want them again.

Terminal is quicker

If you call up Terminal (Command-Space and type Terminal) and leave it in the Dock, you'll learn that there are a lot of things that you can do much faster there.

For example, you could type "df" to see how much of your disk space you have used up.

You could type "rm Desktop/*.jpg" to remove all the .jpg files in your Desktop. There are many more quick commands you will eventually learn.

You can even use it to start running other applications. The "open /Applications/TextEdit.app" command will start up Apple's built in text editor, for example. If you "open http://aplawrence.com/MacOSX/Switching-to-Apple-Macintosh-OS-X.html", your browser will open this page.

Using Terminal

Deleting and Renaming

To delete a file without using "rm" in Terminal, right click (after you found it in Finder) and "Move to Trash". To empty the trash, right click on the Trash icon on the far right of your Dock.

To rename a file, find it in Finder, right click and choose Get Info. You can type in a new name within the window that pops up. That "Get Info" window will also tell you the dimensions of images and other information (some of which you can change). Click on the top left red button to close Get Info.

Renaming a file

Seeing recently edited files

This isn't really Mac specific; you can do the same thing on Windows or Linux. It's just a little trick that is sometimes useful.

Sorting by date modified

The picture above shows my Document directory. I have clicked on List View and the Date Modified column header. Recently edited files will be at the top of the list. That's useful when you remember that you were working on something but can't remember what it was.

The same idea is useful in the Downloads directory. Rather than searching through, just sort by Date Modified.

Some things you'll like

There are, of course, many, many add on tools and applications for Mac. You can get many of them through iTunes now. The access to that is now in your Dock.

app store

Two add-ons that I like a lot are Skitch (which is how I got all the screen shots here) and Jumpcut (which gives you a cut and paste buffer).

Check Apple's iTunes Application store for more.

That's it

That's it, though of course it isn't. The Mac 101 stuff is excellent and of course there are many books that will teach you more.

Apple has courses in their stores, too. Some free, some very inexpensive. They will also help you transfer things from your PC.

I know that once you get by the little things that confuse you, you are going to be very happy you switched.

Got something to add? Send me email.

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