(Note: This page is a little out of date.)
Basic System Info and Navigation:
- Use the Apple logo in the upper left corner of the OS to manually check for system updates, change system preferences, see recent apps/files, shutdown, reboot, and more.
- For information about your computer, click the Apple logo and select “About This Mac”. For much more detailed information, load the System Profiler, found in the Applications/Utilities folder.
- To quit any application, select the application and click its title on the menu bar across the top of the screen, always located next to the Apple logo in the upper left. Also, you can hit CMD-Q, or right-click the Dock and choose to quit. Simply clicking the red “X” on a program window won’t completely close an app unless it is a single-window app by nature, which is kind of rare. (Mac System Preferences and Keychain are two such examples.)
- Use keyboard keys F8, F9, F10, and F11 for Expose features toggling windows. F8 is Spaces (make sure you have Spaces turned on). F9 spreads and shows you all windows. F10 is like F9, but only shows windows for the application you have selected, F11 moves all windows out of the way. Try them all. With Spaces, you can hit F8, followed by F9 to show all Spaces in a spread.
- F12 takes you do the Dashboard widgets. Once in Dashboard mode, clicking the white plus sign [+] at the lower left corner of your screen will allow you to add and remove widgets. I’ll provide links to some Dashboard widgets.
- Screen captures: CMD-SHIFT-3 captures the whole screen. CMD-SHIFT-4 gives you crosshairs to drag a box around anything to capture. The captures are automatically saved to the desktop as a PNG file.
Basic App Information:
Apps are installed by dragging the software to the Applications folder. Most software comes in the form of a DMG file (disk image). Launch the DMG file, which will unpack and mount to the desktop. From there, you drag the app to the Applications folder. This will be made obvious when you “mount” the new software (via unpacking the DMG). Some programs have a package installer, showing not a DMG file, but a MPKG file. (Office is one). Apps are removed by dragging an application to the Trash from the Applications folder. That said, third party apps do exist for removing all particles of an application. I’ll mention one below.
OS X version 10.6.6 introduced the Mac App Store, where you can install and update applications with the click of a button. This will be especially easy and convenient for new users. This is a new feature and I expect it to become very popular, though I’m not honestly that crazy about where this could take us in the future.
- Web browsers: Safari (included on the Mac OS), Firefox, or Chrome. Opera is available for Mac as well, but it’s the least recommended of the bunch.
- Email: Use the Apple Mail program included with OS X. Sparrow used to be a great one, but it is no longer being supported.
- Calendar: Use iCal, included with OS X. Outlook can also be used if you have MS Office. Of course, Google Calendar is a great online solution.
- FTP: Cyberduck. Open-source. It used to be my favorite. Now I use FileZilla which is cross-platform.
- Chat: Adium. Adium is open source, and arguably the best multi-protocol chat program for MacOS. Of course, you can use Apple’s iChat software as well.
- Office Suites: Microsoft Office, Apple iWork, or the free OpenOffice. MS Office has your usual Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and Outlook. OpenOffice on the Mac runs a bit slow and clunky, but hey, it’s free. NeoOffice is a Mac port of OpenOffice, which is worth considering. Scrivener is also a fantastic writing and research tool, and worth checking out.
- Disc burning: I prefer Disco. Not free, but simple, easy, and it works on a variety of projects. If you want something more than audio CD burning via iTunes, you’ll need a separate burning application. Toast is the most robust, and is made by Roxio. Toast is pricey and has more features than the average user needs, especially in the Titanium editions.
- Photo editing: iPhoto (included with iLife), or Photoshop Elements Mac. Of course, Photoshop CS5 is available, but very pricey and only for hardcore users. The greatest bang for your buck is Pixelmator, which is a fantastic Mac program.
- Advanced text editor: The best HTML text editor is BBEdit, but it is costly if you want features beyond what’s included in the free version. I used to use Taco HTML Edit, it has since been discontinued. TextWrangler is a good editor, and is made by the same company as BBEdit. TextWrangler is useful for multi-file search and replace.
- Twitter client: Twitter for Mac. Twitter is available via the Mac App Store. The best Twitter client is probably Tweetbot for Mac. I use the iOS version and swear by it.
- RSS readers: NetNewsWire and NewsFire are both great apps to choose from. Both free!
- Bulk file renaming: NameMangler. My favorite bulk file-renamer. Useful for music and photo file renaming, among others.
- Finance: Quicken for Mac. Quicken is a bit expensive. That said, it is the best finance manager on the Mac, in my experience. Banktivity is a good program as well.
- IRC chat: Colloquy. Others prefer X-Chat Aqua. Textual is good lightweight choice.
- Journal: My favorite program is Day One. The most robust journaling program for the Mac is MacJournal, but it’s rather expensive and has features that most users will never need.
- File decompression: The Unarchiver. The Mac OS handles zip files automatically, but for other formats (.rar, etc) you want this. There are others, and some may disagree with my selection here.
- File compression: Zip files are handled by the OS automatically, but for other formats and options, there are many programs. I like the free YemuZip and 7zX. Also worthwhile are ApiMac Compress Files, Springy Archiver, Stuffit, and many more. Stuffit is the most robust, but it’s also very bloated and installs stuff everywhere. It’s also very confusing. Personally, I don’t like it. I’d downloaded it once, but deleted it because I hated it so much.
- BitTorrent client: Transmission. The best. (Only necessary if you use BitTorrent file sharing.)
- Backup: Time Machine – included in the Leopard Mac OS. To tweak Time Machine with more options and backup intervals, try Time Machine Editor (not sponsored by Apple).
- Online backup: Carbonite or Mozy Backup.
- Thorough uninstaller: AppZapper. Not free, but you are granted three free zaps at first, and only $12 to purchase the software. See if you like. If you have a new Mac, you won’t need this type of thing for a while. After some time, I bought this one, myself. The new version 2 of AppZapper has a fantastic interface.
- No sleep: Caffeine. This is a free tiny program that sits in the menu bar that, when activated, keeps your Mac from going to sleep. I’ve found this to be very handy.
- Clipboard tool: Jumpcut. Free and awesome.
- Window management: Moom. This is a very handy tool that I can’t live without. Only $5.
- WiFi and Bluetooth networking tool: iStumbler.
- Video ripping: Handbrake. MactheRipper is another solution. Do a Google search for that app, as the authorities have disabled the official site due to piracy concerns.
- DVD audio ripping: Audio Hijack Pro. This is the easiest and best solution to achieve this. Even better, you can use the program for free for captures that are less than 10 minutes!
- Audio converter: (FLAC to MP3, etc.) Max is my personal choice. It is a free open-source Mac audio converter that works wonders. Another choice is Switch. If downloading Switch, be sure to grab the Intel version, assuming you are using an Intel Mac.
A Note About the Home/End Keys:
As a former Windows user, I have to address the issue I have with the HOME and END keys on the keyboard. On Windows and Linux when you are typing text, hitting the HOME key takes you to the start of the line you are typing on, and END takes you to the end of that line.
On the Mac, this doesn’t work the same. I should mention that in some programs it does, such as Microsoft Office and Dreamweaver. I think the Mac OS needs an explicit setting in the OS itself to address this potential situation. Today, I have to hit ALT-[RIGHT ARROW] and ALT-[LEFT ARROW] do to what I said above. This took some getting used to, and does work, but with one fatal exception–web browsing. Hitting ALT-left/right moves forward/backward in browsing history if you don’t have a text field selected on a web page. For switchers from PC to Mac, this can be frustrating.