Got a new Mac for Xmas? Here's your Apple A-Z

MAC (Media Access Control)

All network ports – Ethernet and AirPort, for example – have a MAC address associated with them.

It's an ostensibly permanent, unique code, and allows network admins to restrict access to network resources such as Wi-Fi access points by blacklisting and whitelisting specific pieces of hardware. Your Mac has at least one MAC address, as do PCs, network-aware games consoles and internet radios.


Short for Macintosh. Named – and apparently deliberately misspelled – by Mac creator Jef Raskin after his favourite variety of apple. The original Macintosh 128K was released in 1984.

Mac OS X

The operating system that powers all Macs. It's pronounced 'Mac Oh Ess Ten', not 'Mac Oss Ex'. See also: Snow Leopard, Unix Menu bar The strip that runs across the top of the Mac's screen. It's where you'll find the Apple, File, Edit and other menus, along with the clock and some status widgets.

Mini DisplayPort

The new standard for plugging displays into computers. Found on all current Macs save some Mac Pro configurations. See also: DVI, VGA Permissions As a Unix-based operating system, Mac OS X uses standard permissions to tell the computer who has access to which files.

It's especially important for the files that applications and the system need access to; they can get mixed up, though, so a good first step in troubleshooting is to repair these permissions by launching Disk Utility from your Utilities folder, selecting your boot disk, and then clicking Repair Disk Permissions.

See also: Unix


All new Macs are powered by Intel chips. Older generations had PowerPC chips, including the G5, G4 and G3.


Mac apps don't close automatically when you shut the last window associated with them, as happens in Windows. You have to quit apps you want to stop running. Quit is almost always the last item under the application menu, or you can just get used to tapping Cmd+Q.

Safe Boot

A special troubleshooting mode you invoke at start-up by holding Shift as you switch your Mac on. For more information, see Apple Support.

See also: Single-user mode, Verbose mode

Single-user mode

You boot your Mac in single-user mode by holding Cmd+S as you start it up. It looks scarily like DOS, but you don't usually have to be here long. The only reason most of us have to enter single user mode is to run fsck.

See also: fsck, Safe Boot, Verbose mode

Snow Leopard

The current release of Mac OS X, version 10.6, is called Snow Leopard. That it's so similar a name to its predecessor Leopard is an acknowledgement that it's an evolution rather than a brand new operating system.

All releases of OS X have had big cat codenames, which have been used as public branding since 10.2. 10.0 was Cheetah, 10.1 Puma, 10.2 Jaguar, 10.3 Panther, 10.4 Tiger, and 10.5 simply Leopard.

See also: Mac OS X

Software Update

The engine in Mac OS X that lets you keep your core operating system and other Apple software up to date.


The search technology built into Mac OS X; you can access it from the magnifying glass icon to the right of the menu bar.

See also: Menu bar

Steve Jobs

Apple's charismatic CEO. He co-founded the company, was ousted by the board in 1985, and then made a triumphant return in 1996 following Apple's acquisition of his new company, NeXT, in time to launch the original iMac.

The operating system that powered NeXT computers, NeXTSTEP, eventually evolved into the Mac's current operating system, Mac OS X.


An optical drive that can read and burn both CDs and DVDs.


Like Windows' Recycle Bin. Lives at the right-hand end of the Dock.

See also: Dock


A robust, network-aware operating system core, originally developed on 1969 by a group of AT&T employees at Bell Labs. It's this rock-solid foundation that Mac OS X is built on.

See also: Mac OS X

Verbose mode

A boot mode that shows you what your Mac's doing at each stage. Very useful for diagnosing problems. See Apple Support.

See also: Safe Boot, Single-user mode


An older, analog port for connecting computers to monitors and projectors. More correctly called 'D-sub' or even DE-15, most Mac folks refer simply to 'VGA'. Avoid in favour of DVI or Apple's newest standard, Mini DisplayPort (found on all Macs bar some Mac Pro configurations) when possible, as these purely digital standards allow for a crisper, more stable image.

See also: DVI, Mini DisplayPort


First published in MacFormat: Switch to Mac Special

Liked this? Then check out Your first day with a new Mac: the get-started guide for Windows users

Sign up for TechRadar's free Weird Week in Tech newsletter
Get the oddest tech stories of the week, plus the most popular news and reviews delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up at

Follow TechRadar on Twitter

The TechRadar hive mind. The Megazord. The Voltron. When our powers combine, we become 'TECHRADAR TEAM'. You'll usually see this author name when the entire team has collaborated on a project or an article, whether that's a run-down ranking of our favorite Marvel films, or a round-up of all the coolest things we've collectively seen at annual tech shows like CES and MWC. We are one.