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A Guide to Using a Mac for First Time Users

After years of a love/hate relationship with a PC, I have finally taken the plunge and decided to try a MacBook.  My slightly battered old laptop has been resigned to the desk drawer and in its place is a shiny, new, Apple logo emblazoned wonder-machine!

A machine that would manage my diary, magically write my emails for me and make my dinner…. ok so maybe my expectations of my new Apple MacBook were a little high but it was with a certain amount of excitement I unpackaged the Mac and pressed the power button…

Initial impressions of my MacBook…

So my initial impressions were positive; I loved the look of the machine, it powered up extraordinarily quickly and it has some pretty neat features to boot.

Adapting to a Mac…

However, I soon came to realise that my fingers were more used to my PC than I had expected – suddenly the @ button was in the wrong place, it took me days to find the # key and alt + tab no longer niftily switched between windows.

Some of these complications were probably worsened by the fact that I had hooked the MacBook up to a large monitor and a British keyboard, but nevertheless it was a pretty steep learning curve progressing further than repeatedly minimising and maximising windows and marvelling at how cool the genie-like effect is.

Help – it’s all different!

My next step was to start grumbling (loudly) about how nothing worked and none of my previously hard learned shortcuts did what they were meant to in the hope that someone would either take pity on me and help me or get annoyed enough with my moaning to teach me the art of living peacefully with a Mac.

Getting to know your Mac…

Either way, I did start to collect lots of tips, tricks and shortcuts, which made the change from a PC to a Mac a far smoother transition.

So to prevent Mac–related office rage and to help fellow recent Mac convertees out there I decided to share some of these tips that I have learned along the way.

(The operating system on my machine is Snow leopard 10.6.)

How do I close, minimise & expand windows?

Use the little traffic light coloured dots in the top left corner of a window to close, expand or minimise a window.

How do I expand the window to make it fill my screen?

The green + dot maximises a window but if you want to expand a window further than the little green dot automatically allows – use your mouse to drag the window larger from the bottom right corner until it is the required size (or it fills your screen.)

The dock

The dock is the colourful ribbon of reflective icons that appear at the bottom of your Mac’s screen.  This is where you can position the icons of programmes that you use frequently.

Mac Guide: The Dock

You can add icons to or remove icons from the dock. You can also resize the dock or lock the dock into place.

  • When you mouse over a dock icon, the title of the appropriate application appears.
  • Single-clicking a dock icon launches a programme or other activity and if you
  • A little blue glowing dot beneath an icon in your dock tells you that that particular program is running on your Mac
  • You can add your favourite items and programmes to the dock simply by dragging and dropping them there.
  • To remove items, just drag them outside the dock ribbon and the icon will disappear

Changing dock preferences

There a few simple things you can do to customise the position and appearance of the dock.

First click the apple icon (top left of screen) and then select Dock and then Dock preferences.

Mac Guide: Dock Preferences

  • You can then use the slider to change the size of icons in the dock
  • You can switch on ‘magnification’ which means that when you roll your mouse over an icon in the dock it magnifies so that you can see it better
  • You can change the position of the dock on your screen

Help – where did that window just go?

  • When you minimise an application, it goes into the dock
  • The little dashed line in the dock (that looks a bit like road markings) helps to divide programmes from open finder windows and folders – every icon to the left of this line is a programme or tool and to the right of the line is where open files and folders appear, plus a ‘stack’ for downloads that expands to show all recent downloads when you click on it and the trash can.
  • If a finder window is not minimised, but is hidden behind another open window you can bring the hidden window back to the front by single clicking on the main finder icon for the programme it uses in the dock.
  • Show all open windows – hit F9 (useful when some windows are hiding behind others!)
  • Show all open windows of a particular programme  – hit F10
  • Show desktop – hit F11

Help – I can’t ‘right-click’!

If you hold the CTRL key at the same time as left-clicking on something with your mouse and the extra menu will pop up – it’s just like right-clicking on a PC mouse

Where has the ‘forward delete’ key gone? (This was one that really bugged me!)

There is no key that allows you to delete the letter or number to the right of the cursor on the Mac but don’t panic – just hold the function (fn) key at the same time as hitting the delete/backspace key and the letter in front of /to the right of the cursor will be deleted.

How do I switch between running windows? (The old Alt + Tab trick on the PC)

Don’t worry you can still switch between running windows using the Mac keyboard – use Command + Tab to cycle forwards and Shift + Command + Tab to cycle backwards.

NOTE: You can cycle through running applications that are open on the screen but hidden behind each other but it will not open an application that you have minimized to the Dock.
You can also switch between open windows in the same application using Command + ~

How do I take a screenshot?

This is a great and easy tool for grabbing a screen shot.

  • Use Command + Shift + 3 to take a full screen shot which is saved to the desktop
  • Use Command + Shift + 4 to capture a selection of your screen (a little cross/target will appear which you can drag to capture the are you want) – this will be saved to your desktop
  • Use Command + Shift + 4 + spacebar to capture an entire application window and save it to the desktop

NOTE: With any of these screenshot shortcuts, add the Ctrl key and the screenshot is copied to the clipboard

Other useful Mac keyboard shortcuts (these are the tips that helped to restore my sanity!)

NOTE: The ‘Command’ key I refer to is the (cmd or ‘flower’ key) on your Mac keyboard either side of the spacebar.

  • Copy: Command + C
  • Cut: Command + X
  • Paste: Command + V
  • Minimise Window to dock: Command + M
  • Select All: Command + A
  • Shut down/sleep/restart: Ctrl + eject (top right up arrow with underline)
  • Log out: Shift + Command + Q
  • Undo: Command + Z
  • Quit the active application: Command + Q
  • Find (in Excel): Command + F
  • Move to trash: Command + Backspace/delete
  • Repeat last action e.g. bold: Command + Y
  • Move cursor to end of line: Fn + “End” key (not on laptops)
  • Create new folder (in workspace): Command + Shift + N
  • Select all items or text in an active window: Command + A

Learn these tips and tricks and living with a Mac should become much easier and you will soon come to love your shiny new Mac!  Obviously Macs are complex machines and I have just covered some basics that helped me when I first got my Mac.  I am sure there are hundreds of other Mac hints, tips and tricks that veteran Mac users know and love…

So if you have a shortcut, hint or tip to help other users get the most out of their Mac, simply add a comment below and share your knowledge with the rest of us!

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