Beginner's guide to OS X

Master your Mac
Become a Mac maestro with our guide

Well done. You've just made one of the best decisions of your life – buying yourself a new Mac. If you've come across from Windows, so much the better. 

The first thing you'll notice is that the latest Macs are impressively fast. They also come bundled with software you would normally pay a lot of money for, allowing you to create some out-of-this-world projects.

You're also less at risk from viruses. And, of course, you are now a user of the best operating system in the world.

But before you get to the good stuff, you need to make sure things are set up just the way you like them. Whether you need to move your files over from your old computer, hook up your web connection or get your accessories attached and up and running, the next few pages will help you get going.

Transferring your data from your old computer – be that a Mac or PC – may seem like a daunting prospect, but it's actually very straightforward. However, we will still guide you through the process to make sure your important files make it across. We'll then help you connect to the internet, set up your email and customise Mac OS X so that it looks just the way you want it to.

We give you tips on what you need to do once you've completed the simple setup process that greets you when you first switch on your Mac. From here we'll explore the best apps (most of which are inexpensive or free) you should invest in and then impart a little Mac knowledge for those new to the platform to help you get up to speed fast.

Finally, we'll give you a glimpse of just what's available in terms of creative projects, so you can make a start right away.

The first 10 things to do with a Mac

1. Transfer data from your old computer

With your new Mac up and running there are bound to be items on your old computer you would like access to. If you know what they are then you can transfer them via an external hard drive. But you can also transfer a lot more; even your entire system.

If you're moving data from a PC to your Mac you should certainly consider Parallels Desktop 6 Switch to Mac Edition (

Master your mac

Not only does Parallels allow you to run a copy of Windows on your Mac, but it can also transfer the data from your existing PC to your new computer via its high-speed USB transfer cable in as little as three clicks. That's all of your software, your browser bookmarks, photos, documents and music.

If you're moving data between a new Mac and your old one, make use of Apple's Migration Assistant via a FireWire connection or over Ethernet. Make sure your old Mac has all of the latest software using Software Update, then run Migration Assistant on your new Mac, which you can find in the Utilities folder in the Applications folder.

Migration Assistant will now guide you through the steps to transfer your files and settings from your old Mac to your new one.

2. Connect to the internet

During the setup of your new Mac, you will be asked if you want to connect up 
your internet. If you have opted not to or have changed your setup since you got your new Mac, you can quickly and easily connect to the web using your Mac's System Preferences.

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Start by making sure your router is turned on and connected and then hook up the Ethernet cable to your Mac if you don't use Wi-Fi. Now launch System Preferences from the  menu at the top left of your Mac's screen and select Network.

If all is working as it should be, you will see a green light next to Ethernet in the pane on the left of the Network preferences.

If you are using Wi-Fi, select AirPort from the left-hand pane and make sure it's switched on. Now select your wireless network from the drop-down menu and enter your password if required.

When you're done, click Apply and open up Safari from your Dock to make sure everything is working correctly and you can access the internet.

3. Organise your Finder windows

Click on your Mac's Desktop and press Cmd+N to open up a new Finder window. This is the standard view for your files in Mac OS X. You can drag any file or folder into the Places area – your Music, Movies and Pictures folders for example – so you can access them from any Finder window.

Master your mac

By pressing Cmd with 1 – 4 you can bring up Finder in different views, such as Columns and Cover Flow view, to make them easier to navigate.

If you want a specific view each time you open a Finder window, open one and, without navigating to any files or folders, select the view you wish to use. Now close the window. From now on, every time you open a Finder window it will display in the viewing method you selected.

4. Adjust your Dock

As beautiful as the Mac OS X Dock is by default, you can make changes to it to adjust the way it works and looks. Start 
by clicking and dragging on the dashes between your app icons and stacks at the right of the Dock to change its size.

If you right click or Ctrl-click on the Dock, you can change other settings too, such as turning off Magnification, setting the Dock to hide when not in use and moving it to the side of your screen.

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Clicking Dock Preferences from this menu takes you to the preferences pane where you can make adjustments to your Dock's size and magnification. You can also set windows to minimise into icons rather than to the end of the Dock where they take up space.

5. Control your clicks

Whether you're using a mouse or a trackpad, you'll want to make sure your Mac responds the way you want it to when you click.

Head to System Preferences from your Dock or click on the  menu and select Mouse to configure what buttons you want do what. You can also adjust tracking speed and, if you're using a Mighty or Magic Mouse, make changes to scrolling options.

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For laptop and Magic Trackpad users, head over to the Trackpad preferences pane to set your Multi-Touch options including pinching, scrolling, rotation and swiping.

Apple's trackpads support gestures that use up to four fingers, so there are plenty of options and neat tricks available, such as swiping left and right to switch between open applications. Small video clips show you how to make the most of these features too.

If you're moving from Windows, make sure you set up your secondary click options to avoid any confusion when controlling your Mac with a mouse or trackpad.

6. Get protected

It might not be something you're thinking about right away, but backing up your data is something you should always have in mind.

Getting your backup tools in place early will save you time and headaches in the long run and it's pretty simple to do.

With a decent-size external hard drive at your disposal, you can make use of Mac OS X's Time Machine right away. Simply plugging in your external drive will usually bring up a window asking if you want to dedicate it as a backup location. But, if not, plug it in and click on the Time Machine icon on the Dock to set the drive you want to use, among other options.

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While Time Machine backups are enough for most users, in the case of major disasters such as house fires, on-site backups are still at risk. For complete peace of mind, invest in an off-site backup solution such as Carbonite (

The service requires a subscription and stores all your data online rather than in your home, so it's safe from even the worst scenarios.

7. Make some space

In effect, Mac OS X's Spaces feature gives you more than one screen to work with. By creating virtual spaces on your Mac you can swiftly jump between applications and windows without having to dig through all of the open screens to find which one you want.

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By default, Spaces is set up to provide four areas to use but you can set more if you need them. By using shortcut keys you can quickly jump between and from space to space and, in turn, find the window of the app you need. You can even drag windows from space to space to organise things the way you want.

In System Preferences under the Exposé and Spaces section, you can switch Spaces on and select how many 
of them you want to use. You can even assign specific applications to a space so you always know where they 
are at any given time.

8. Set up your email

If you haven't used migration software such as Parallels or Apple's own Migration Assistant before, you'll want to set up your email to work with your Mac.

You may even want to add more than one mail account to the Mail application. This is incredibly simple to do yourself with many of the most popular email services such as Gmail, Yahoo! and Apple's MobileMe.

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Start by launching Mail and following the instructions to add your email address to the app so that it can search and display your messages. To add a new Mail account to your existing setup, simply open Mail, select Preferences from the Mail menu and under the Accounts tab, click the plus button at the bottom left of the interface.

From here you can access the same setup steps that you performed when you started Mail for the first time and add as many mail accounts as you wish.

9. Stay up to date

Between the time your Mac was built in the factory and arrived at your home, it's highly likely that some of its default software would have been updated by Apple.

This update could be something as basic as a simple tweak to an iLife app or drivers to a major security patch for the whole OS itself. So it's worth checking that you have all the latest updates.

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In order to do this, shut down all of your open apps and select Software Update from the menu. Assuming you have a web connection, your Mac will now check your system and Apple's servers to see if any new software is available.

If so, you can select which to install or install everything. The latter option is often the best choice as you can never be sure when an out-of-date piece of software could cause you all sorts of problems and, in the worst case, open you up to viruses and fraud through security loopholes.

Once the updates have been installed, it's usually best to restart your Mac to ensure the updates are applied correctly.

10. Sync your kit

If you have an iPhone, iPad or iPod synced with your old computer, it's best to start afresh with your new system.

If you migrated your iTunes account from your old machine you should be fine to sync as normal. But, if not, you will need to manually copy over your movies, music and apps to your new Mac first and then sync your device with the new iTunes library, which could mean losing files if they don't copy properly. It's best to use Apple's Migration Assistant to copy your iTunes library.

If you're happy your library has successfully moved, syncing should work as usual and will store a backup of your iPhone or iPad in the new library so your data is protected.

For devices such as printers, scanners and other USB gadgets, you can just plug in and start using them. Mac OS X does a great job of finding the drivers but, in case it doesn't, check the manufacturer's website for the latest firmware and drivers and install them if the current files are out of date.