Three tips for new Mac Users

I got a call last week from a neighbor.  “Stop by when you get a chance,” he said.  “I have something to show you.”

Turns out that he’s just switched.  Has a shiny new iMac on his desk, with a not-so-old PC off to the side. Congratulations!

I had this funny feeling that I should have an opinion for him about what he should do next. He was fairly prepared – he’s a smart guy. I kept thinking I should say, “okay, 1-2-3, you should consider doing these things,” but I didn’t have a list at hand. That I didn’t started gnawing at me.

So, I put this together.  Not a top 50 list, or top 25 list, or even the top 10… how about just three things to start with, because they might be the most useful for anyone who wants to actually start to understand their Mac.

Set up a username and password for your Mac.  It’s a very good idea to keep your Mac locked – to configure it so that when it boots up or you wake it up it prompts for your username and password.  I hear you saying  your computer is unlikely to be stolen, and that makes sense but I have another point: not having your computer totally open is a good habit.  When you log in to your computer, you’re reminding yourself that the information you store is valuable.  You do need to provide this information anyway when you install and/or upgrade software; if you use it every day it’s easier to remember.

But more practical reasons are that when you log in to your Mac, you’re not only starting your “session” but you’re unlocking the Mac Keychain.  The Keychain can store passwords for you (explicitly – using Safari, for example) and also stores other security-related data, such as WiFi passwords and security certificates.  When you log in every day with your username and password, you can take advantage of the Keychain without any further effort.  And, by making a strong password for your login, you enable the Keychain to store data securely.  In fact, if you want to remember only one strong password, use it to login (and for your keychain); that’s the “key” to unlock any others.

Eliminate Distractions: Organize your Dock. A new Mac comes with a shiny array of attractive icons in your Dock when you log in.  I suggest you get rid of those you won’t be using often enough to have them sitting there waving at you, and then make it easy to find any of your other applications:

You can eliminate icons in your dock by dragging them to your desktop – there’s a puff-of-smoke effect, and a “woosh” sound that accompanies this.  That’s how to subtract, and that’s half the job.  The other half is having a quick way to get to the apps you don’t use as often by leaving the “Launchpad” icon in your dock or dragging your Application folder to the dock.  What you’ve just done is divided your apps into two tiers – those you use every day (or often enough to justify “one click” access), and the rest that you want to be able to find relatively easily.

Set Activity Monitor to run at startup.  There’s a good way to keep an eye on what your Mac is doing.  It’s called Activity Monitor, find it in the Utilities folder (which is itself in your Applications folder).  It gives you a list of all of the applications running on your Mac (choose the “All Processes” choice in the pick tab next to “Filter”, then click on the “% CPU” column to sort by the most active process).  The bottom half of that window shows you counters and a graphic of your usage of disks, memory, and network utilization.  Consider having this app start when you log in: right-click (or control-click) the icon in the dock, and from Options choose “Open at login”.  That way, it’s always hanging out so that you can switch to it and answer questions like “why is everything so slow” or “is that thing actually doing anything”.  This can be very useful.

Do you see the underlying idea to all of these tips?  If you implement all of these, you learn a bit about how Mac security works, how to navigate around, and what your Mac is actually “working on”.  In other words, if you set a password, configure your dock, and habitually have activity monitor running, you’ll get a bit more visibility into your new computer.  Just having yourself set up this way will help you see a bit better how the gears go around, and might help you get a conceptual step forward towards figuring out how to do more – and have more fun.

Bonus Round:

Check out MacWorld’s How To’s and Videos.

And consider learning more by using these apps:
Broaden your browser use: try Google Chrome.  More functional, updated frequently (so, arguably more secure), and I personally find the bookmarks easier to use.
Get good secure storage for your passwords: try Password Wallet .  It’s a tool to remember passwords for you.  Doesn’t actually “integrate” with your browser like most tools, which makes it a bit more secure.
Store those little pieces of information so you can find them easily wherever you are: try Evernote . File things like images, web pages, and screen shots, other notes. You can search for them, and it runs on a website, or apps for almost every current device.
File your mail messages really quickly and efficiently: try MsgFiler .  Two to six (in my case) keystrokes to file mail messages into the folder of your choice. Makes it just as easy to save for archive as to delete your mail.

(These are all unsolicited recommendations … this is just my opinion, I’m not being compensated for mentioning these.)

Hope these all help!  Have fun!

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