Navigate Around on a New Mac

By: agreimann
April 12, 2011

As a switching Windows user, you may have several questions which you are asking, mainly because older Macs were not very Windows compatible. Sure, you had DataViz file translators and Macs did try the best they could, but until Mac OS X came on the scene, things were quite different. In fact, in a way, they still are, but you'll find a lot of things aren't as bad as you might think.


The first thing is that if you just bought a Mac desktop, you can easily plug in your existing VGA monitor, Windows keyboard, and Microsoft or compatible mouse brand into the USB ports on the back of your Mac. OS X is smart enough to pick all your new hardware up right off the bat. The Keyboard Setup Assistant can even figure out your keyboard layout without the need to buy a shiny new Apple keyboard. If you need help with keys and keyboard shortcuts, please see the Special Keys how-to. Right-clicking on a Mac can be achieved several ways. First of all, you can use an actual right-clicking mouse. Second, you can use the right, bottom corner of your Mac's trackpad on some models. Thirdly, you can use the Control key, and then click. Fourthly, if you really want, you can download open source right-click emulation software on older Mac models that can't support right-clicking like iScroll. If interested, you can find it here: iScroll Homepage.


When you start your Mac, the Setup Assistant is the first thing you'll see. It'll set up your accessibility preferences via VoiceOver, set the time zone and clock, register you with Apple (if you want) should something go wrong, set up your user account, and your Windows keyboard you've plugged into the back.

Once that's done, you're thrown into a whole new world that as a new Windows user, you're most likely blown away by, and scared of. No need to worry. Let's look at some major elements of the user interface to get you started:

The Menubar, Apple & Window menu, and Menu Extras

- The Menubar spans the top of the screen at all times. Like Windows, there are several menus, like File, Edit, and Help. However, there are other menus that exist. The application menu, in bold, serves two purposes. First, it tells the user what application they are working in, because even when you close a window on a Mac, the application still runs. Second, it gives application specific tasks--where Windows fails in. For instance, any settings, info, or runtime tasks like quitting available to the application are nestled under this menu. File tasks, like saving and opening are still under the File menu, and so on. The View menu works with adjusting how one window, the desktop, or all windows should look like. Generally, this menu is only present in applications like the Finder. Lastly, there are three other weird menus, besides the pane of a Help menu in Leopard and later. Let's look at those:

- The Apple menu, no matter where you are in OS X, always sits at the very top, left corner of the screen, housed in the Menubar. That's because it houses very important tasks that the user will always need, like Force Quit, equivalent to the Task Manager should an unruly app block you from using your computer. It also allows putting the computer to sleep, shutting it down, and rebooting it at any moment. Also, from one location, one can learn about the make, model, speed, and OS version of their favorite little machine. It also allows a quick jump to recently opened files, as well as logging off and setting a new location, as well as a place to adjust System Preferences; System Preferences are the Windows equivalent to the Windows Control Panel. Here, you change all system settings, though you can change things like Dock settings and wallpaper too.

- The Window menu, also housed in the Menubar at all times, is also extremely important. Look around. That's right--there is no taskbar in the OS X interface. Windows are managed by application, and to alleviate the problem of window switching, one can minimize, zoom (not maximize, which fills the screen; zoom "smart-fills" an area based on data), and switch between them. Cmd+~ does the same trick. We'll get to the mysterious band of icons running down the bottom of the screen in a minute.

- Finally, to wrap up Menubar tutorials, let's look at one more thing: Menu extras, which also sit to the right, like how they would in the Windows taskbar, only they sit in the Menubar. Universal across applications, this works like the notification area or tray. You can change the volume, check the time, check Bluetooth status, connect to the Internet or check its status, check the battery level, and if you so choose, you can add to the list of applets that appear here.

The Dock

- Remember where I mentioned we'd look at the mysterious band of icons running down the bottom of the screen? The Dock always sits at the very bottom of your Mac's display, but it can also move. Control-clicking or right-clicking the application and window separator which exists toward the right of the Dock, that appears like a walkway in a city street, allows changing dock settings. You can move it to the right or left, change it's size, add a cool effect called Magnification that allows you to see icons up close when they are super-small, plus you can change how windows look when they are sucked down into thumbnails, or you can auto-hide it if it gets in the way.

The Dock is not the taskbar, nor does it try to be. Apps sit in the left of the Dock, including the Finder and Dashboard, which without certain shell default.write commands that mod the UI or third-party apps, cannot ever be quit. They run the main UI. Holding down an application icon in the dock or right-clicking it gives you a docklet--the equivalent to the Jump List that 7 stole. :)

On the right are pinned aliases to files and folders. Aliases are shortcuts in Windows, only with a lot more power, because of UNIX inherency in OS X. This means aliases can change and move, plus be granted higher permissions, without losing paths, because HFS automatically keeps track of them for you. Pretty cool, huh? :) Also on the right are thumbnails of windows shrunk to the Dock. You can easily click them to bring them back up to life when you want to. (Tip: Holding Shift slows down animation time for cool eye candy during minimizing or restoring.)

More Fun

If you simply need more help that this tutorial just can't give, please visit Mac Help from the Help menu in the Finder, where you'll find an assortment of info--even stuff that this tutorial has already covered, plus a whole lot more. Have fun using your new Mac. :)

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