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macOS Beginner’s Guide: How to Use a Mac for Beginners

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Last updated: September 3, 2023

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Congratulations on your new Mac! If you’re new to the world of Macs, it can be overwhelming to know where to start. But don’t worry. With some guidance and practice, you’ll navigate your Mac like a pro in no time.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through the basics of using a Mac, from setting up your computer to customizing your desktop and using essential applications. So let’s dive in and get started with this macOS beginner’s guide.

Introduction to macOS

introduction to macOS

macOS is a Unix-based operating system developed by Apple Inc. It is the default operating system on all Mac computers and is known for its intuitive user interface and seamless integration with other Apple devices.

macOS provides a user-friendly and powerful operating system for Mac users. Its intuitive user interface, powerful search tools, seamless integration with other Apple devices, and robust security features make it a popular choice for users who value productivity, security, and ease of use.

macOS Beginner’s Guide: How to Get Started with Mac 

Getting started with a Mac can be an exciting but overwhelming experience, especially for beginners new to the macOS environment. Whether transitioning from a Windows computer or starting fresh, learning to navigate the Mac interface and its unique features is crucial to maximizing your productivity and enjoyment. 

Choosing the Right Mac for Your Needs

When buying a new Mac, there are a few things to consider. Here are some questions to ask yourself before making your purchase:

  • 💻 What will you be using your Mac for? You might not need the most powerful machine if you’re using it for basic tasks like web browsing and email. You’ll want to invest in a higher-end model if you do more intensive tasks like video editing or graphic design.
  • 🗄️ How much storage do you need? If you have a lot of files or large programs, you’ll want to ensure you have enough storage to accommodate them.
  • 💰 What is your budget? Macs can be expensive, so deciding how much you want to spend before purchasing is essential.

Setting Up Your Mac for the First Time

Once you’ve purchased your Mac, it’s time to set it up. Here’s what you’ll need to do:

  1. Plug in your Mac and turn it on. You’ll be prompted to select your language and region.
  2. Connect to Wi-Fi. If you don’t have Wi-Fi, you can connect your Mac to the internet using an Ethernet cable.
click the wi fi icon in the menu bar
  1. Sign in with your Apple ID or create a new one. It will give you access to the App Store, iCloud, and other Apple services.
  2. Set up Touch ID or Face ID. It will make it easier to log in to your Mac and secure your files.
  3. Choose whether to use Siri. Siri can be a helpful tool for searching the web, setting reminders, and more.
  4. Set up iCloud. This will allow you to access your files and documents from any device.

Understanding the macOS

macOS is a powerful and user-friendly operating system that powers all Apple Mac computers. If you’re new to macOS, it can be a bit intimidating at first, but with some guidance, you’ll quickly get the hang of it. Here are the basics of using macOS:

The Dock

dock on mac home screen

The Dock is one of the essential features of macOS, and it’s where you can access your most frequently used apps. By default, the Dock is at the bottom of the screen, containing icons for apps like Finder, Safari, and Mail.

You can customize the Dock by adding or removing apps, and you can even change the size and location of the Dock. Here are the components and features of the Dock on Mac:

  1. App Icons: The Dock displays icons allowing you to quickly launch and switch between applications. By default, it includes the Finder, Launchpad, Safari, Mail, Calendar, Photos, and more. You can add or remove app icons by dragging them in or out of the Dock.
  2. Divider: The Dock includes a separator between the app icons and other items, such as folders and files.
  3. Recent Apps: The Dock displays recently used apps on the right side of the divider. You can customize the number of recent apps that appear in the Dock in System Preferences.
  4. Folders: You can add folders to the Dock to quickly access frequently used files and directories. You can also customize the appearance of the folders by changing their icons.
  5. Downloads Folder: The Dock includes a Downloads folder icon that provides quick access to files downloaded online.
  6. Minimization: When you click the yellow minimize button in an app’s window, the app minimizes the Dock. You can click the minimized app icon to restore the window.
  7. Exposé: When you activate Exposé (by pressing F3 or swiping up with three fingers on the trackpad), it displays all open windows on the screen. You can click a window to bring it to the front or click an app icon in the Dock to show all its windows.
macbook pro f3 key

Finder

click finder in your dock

Finder is another essential feature of macOS, where you’ll find all your files and folders. You can open Finder by clicking its Dock icon or pressing the Command ⌘ + N keys.

macbook pro command n

In Finder, you can organize your files into folders and search for specific files using the search bar. You can also use Finder to create new folders, move files around, and delete files. Here are some of the critical components and features of the Finder:

  1. Sidebar: The Sidebar is located on the left-hand side of the Finder window and contains shortcuts to various locations on your Mac, such as your Desktop, Documents, Downloads, and iCloud Drive.
finders left sidebar
  1. Toolbar: The Toolbar is located at the top of the Finder window and contains buttons for everyday tasks, such as creating a new folder, searching for files, and sorting files by various criteria.
finders top toolbar
  1. Grouping Option: The Grouping Option allows you to customize the grouping of the Finder items, including by name, kind, size, and more.
view options in finders toolbar
  1. Show Items Icon: The Show Items icon lets you view items as icons, list, columns, and gallery.
view options icon in finders toolbar
  1. Preview Pane: The Preview Pane appears on the right-hand side of the Finder window and displays a preview of the selected file. It is helpful for quickly viewing the contents of a file without opening it.
preview pane in finder
  1. Search Bar: The Search Bar is located at the top right-hand side of the Finder window and allows you to search for files on your Mac. You can search by file name, contents, or metadata.
finders search bar
  1. Context Menu: The Context Menu is accessed by right-clicking a file or folder and contains a variety of actions you can perform on the selected item, such as copying, moving, renaming, or deleting.
macos menu bar

The Menu Bar is at the top of the screen and contains menus for various functions, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and volume. The Menu Bar is always visible by default, but you can hide it if you want more screen real estate. To access a menu, click on its icon in the Menu Bar.

Here are some of its key features and functions:

  1. Apple Menu: This is the first item on the Menu Bar, represented by the Apple logo. It contains system-level options like System Settings, Sleep, Restart, and Shut Down.
apple menu in menu bar
  1. Application Menu: This menu is right next to the Apple icon and changes depending on the application you’re using. It contains options related to the active application, such as File, Edit, View, and Help.
  2. Notification Center: The Notification Center icon is on the Menu Bar’s far right. It provides quick access to notifications from various apps and widgets, such as Calendar, Reminders, and Weather.
macos notification center
  1. Spotlight: The magnifying glass icon on the Menu Bar opens Spotlight, which is a powerful search tool. You can use Spotlight to search for files, apps, emails, and even information on the web.
click the magnifying icon in the menu bar at the top
  1. Wi-Fi: The Wi-Fi icon displays the current network status and lets you connect to Wi-Fi networks. You can also turn Wi-Fi on or off from this menu.
click the wi fi icon in the menu bar
  1. Bluetooth: The Bluetooth icon (found in the Control Center icon in macOS Ventura) displays the current status of your Bluetooth connections. This menu can connect to Bluetooth devices like headphones or speakers.
toggle on bluetooth in control center
  1. Sound: The Sound icon (found in the Control Center icon in macOS Ventura) displays the current volume level and allows you to adjust it. You can also use this menu to switch between input and output devices.
check the volume slider
  1. Battery: The Battery icon displays the current battery level and status if you’re using a MacBook. You can also see how much time remains until the battery needs to be recharged.
battery icon in the menu bar

Launchpad

Launchpad is where you can access all of your installed applications. You can open Launchpad by clicking the colorful grid icon in the Dock or using the gesture pinch with your fingers.

click the launchpad icon in the dock

In Launchpad, you can scroll through all of your installed apps and launch them with a single click. You can also use Launchpad to search for specific apps.

Here are some components and features of Launchpad:

  1. App icons: Launchpad displays all of your installed applications as clickable icons. The icons are organized in a grid layout, which can be scrolled vertically or horizontally depending on the number of installed apps.
all apps in launchpad
  1. Pages: If you have a lot of installed applications, Launchpad may have multiple pages of app icons. You can switch between pages by swiping left or right with two fingers on your trackpad or by clicking the dots at the bottom of the Launchpad screen.
  2. Search bar: If you have a lot of installed applications, it can be quicker to search for the app you want rather than scrolling through multiple pages. Launchpad has a search bar at the top of the screen where you can type the name of the app you’re looking for.
search bar in launchpad
  1. App folders: Launchpad allows you to create folders to organize your installed applications. To create a folder, drag one app icon on top of another, and a new folder will be created containing both apps.
games folder in launchpad
  1. Delete apps: If you want to delete an application from your Mac, you can do so from Launchpad. Click and hold on to the app icon until it jiggles, then click the x button in the icon’s corner to delete the app.
click the x icon to delete the app in launchpad

Mission Control

Mission Control is another powerful feature of macOS, allowing you to see all your open windows and virtual desktops. You can access Mission Control by swiping up three fingers on your trackpad or pressing the F3 key.

macbook pro f3 key

In Mission Control, you can see all of your open windows, and you can drag windows between virtual desktops.

Here are some of its components and features:

  1. Desktop Spaces: Mission Control lets you create multiple desktop spaces or virtual desktops, each with windows and applications. You can switch between desktop spaces by swiping left or right on your trackpad or using the Mission Control shortcut key.
  2. Application Windows: Mission Control displays all open windows for each application, making it easy to switch between them. You can also drag windows between desktop spaces or to the desktop to create a new space.
  3. Full-Screen Apps: When you enter a full-screen mode for an application, Mission Control creates a new desktop space for that app. You can swipe between full-screen apps just like regular desktop spaces.
  4. Expose: This feature shows all open windows for a single application when you hover over its icon in the Dock. You can activate Expose for all open windows using the Mission Control shortcut key.
  5. Dashboard: This is a customizable screen that displays widgets for things like weather, stocks, and calendar events. You can access the Dashboard by using the Mission Control shortcut key.

Spotlight

Spotlight is a search feature built into macOS that allows you to quickly find files, folders, and apps on your Mac. You can access Spotlight by clicking its Menu Bar icon or pressing the Command ⌘ + Space keys.

macbook air command space keys

In Spotlight, you can search for anything on your Mac, including emails, contacts, and calendar events.

Here are some of the critical components and features of Spotlight:

  1. Search Bar: This is where you can type in your search query.
spotlight search bar
  1. Search Results: After you’ve entered your search query, Spotlight will display a list of results that match your search terms. These results include files, applications, contacts, emails, messages, and more.
search results in spotlight

Moving Your Files from Windows to Mac

Switching from a Windows computer to a Mac can be an exciting experience but can also be a bit daunting, especially when moving your files. 

Using Migration Assistant

Migration Assistant is a built-in tool on Mac that allows you to transfer files from your old computer to your new Mac. Here’s how to use it:

  1. Ensure your Windows PC and Mac are connected to the same network.
  2. On your Mac, open Migration Assistant. You can find it in the Utilities folder in the Applications folder.
migration assistant in utilities folder
  1. Alternatively, search for it using Spotlight. Press Command ⌘ + Space to open Spotlight.
macbook air command space keys
  1. Choose From a Windows PC and click Continue.
  2. On your Windows PC, download and install the Migration Assistant software. You can download it from the Apple website.
  3. Open Migration Assistant on your Windows PC, select To another Mac and click Continue.
  4. Enter the security code displayed on your Mac and click Continue.
  5. Select the files and folders you want to transfer to your Mac and click Continue.
  6. Wait for the transfer to complete. This may take a while, depending on how many files you’re transferring.

Transferring Files Manually

If you prefer to transfer your files manually, copy them to an external hard drive or USB flash drive and then transfer them to your Mac. Here’s how:

  1. Connect your external hard drive or USB flash drive to your Windows PC.
connect a usb drive to your macbook
  1. Copy the files and folders you want to transfer to your external hard drive or USB flash drive.
  2. Eject the external hard drive or USB flash drive from your Windows PC and connect it to your Mac.
  3. Open Finder on your Mac and select the external hard drive or USB flash drive from the sidebar.
  4. Copy the files and folders to your Mac from the external hard drive or USB flash drive.

How to Use Mac Applications 

If you’re new to Mac, you might wonder how to use the built-in apps and find new ones to download. 

Overview of Built-in Mac Apps

Mac computers have built-in apps covering everything from browsing the web to creating documents. Here are some of the most commonly used built-in apps:

  • Safari: This is the default web browser for Mac. You can browse the internet, bookmark your favorite websites, and save passwords securely.
  • Mail: This is the default email client for Mac. You can use it to send and receive emails, manage your inbox, and set up filters and rules.
  • Pages: This is a word processing and page layout app. You can use it to create documents, reports, flyers, and other documents.
  • Numbers: This is a spreadsheet app. You can use it to create budgets, track expenses, and analyze data.
  • Keynote: This is a presentation app. You can create professional-looking presentations with images, videos, and animations.
  • Photos: This is a photo management app. You can use it to organize and edit your photos, create albums, and share them with friends and family.
  • Music: This is a media player and library app. You can listen to music, watch movies and TV shows, and sync your media to your other Apple devices.

Finding and Downloading Apps from the App Store

In addition to the built-in apps, you can download new apps from the App Store. Here’s how to find and download apps on your Mac:

  1. Open the App Store app from the Dock or the Applications folder.
app store in applications folder
  1. Browse or search for the app you want to download.
  2. Click the app to see its details and reviews.
  3. Click the Get or Buy button to download the app.
  4. If prompted, enter your Apple ID and password to complete the purchase.

Installing and Uninstalling Apps

Once you’ve downloaded an app, you must install it before using it. Here’s how to install an app on your Mac:

  1. Double-click the downloaded app file to open it.
  2. Follow the on-screen instructions to install the app.
  3. Once the installation is complete, the app will appear in your Applications folder and the Launchpad.

If you no longer need an app, you can uninstall it to free up space on your Mac. Here’s a step-by-step guide to uninstall apps on your Mac using MacKeeper:

  1. Download and install MacKeeper on your Mac.
  2. After installation, launch MacKeeper and click the Smart Uninstaller in the left-hand menu.
click smart uninstaller in the left sidebar 2
  1. Click Start Scan.
click start scan in smart uninstaller 1
  1. Select the applications you want to delete from the list and click Remove Selected.
select the applications you want to remove and click remove selected
  1. Tap the Remove button on the pop-up to confirm the deletion.
click remove on the pop up window in smart uninstaller 2
  1. MacKeeper will uninstall the apps and remove associated files and folders. You will get a Removal Completed notification. If you want to scan your Mac again, click Rescan.
click rescan in smart uninstaller 3

Mac Tips and Tricks: How to Get the Most Out of Your Mac

Are you looking to get more out of your Mac? Here are some tips and tricks to help you customize, optimize, and back up your Mac for maximum efficiency.

Change Your Desktop Background

Changing your desktop background on a Mac is a simple and easy process. Here’s how you can do it:

  1. Click the Apple icon in the top-left corner of your screen.
  2. Select System Settings from the dropdown menu.
click the apple icon and select system settings
  1. Click Wallpaper in the left sidebar.
click wallpaper in the left sidebar
  1. You can now choose a pre-installed wallpaper from the list or click the Add Folder button at the bottom right to add your wallpaper.
click the add folder button
  1. Once you have selected your wallpaper and display options, close the window.
  2. Your new desktop background will be applied automatically.

Customize the Dock

The Dock is the bar of icons at the bottom of your Mac’s screen. You can customize it by adding or removing apps, changing the size of the icons, and more. Customizing the Dock on a Mac can be a great way to personalize your computer and make it work more efficiently.

Here are the steps to customize your Dock:

  1. Open the System Settings by clicking the Apple logo in the top left corner of your screen and selecting System Settings from the dropdown menu.
click the apple icon and select system settings
  1. Click Desktop & Dock in the System Settings window.
click desktop and dock in system settings
  1. In the Dock settings, you can adjust the size of the Dock, change its position on the screen, and turn on or off features such as magnification, which makes the icons grow as you hover over them.
customize the dock in system settings
  1. To add an app to the Dock, click it in the Applications folder and drag it to the Dock. You can also add a folder to the Dock to quickly access files you use often.
  2. To remove an app from the Dock, click and hold the app icon and drag it off the Dock.
  3. You can also rearrange the order of the icons on the Dock by clicking and dragging them to a new position.

Setting up iCloud

iCloud is a cloud storage and synchronization service offered by Apple that allows you to store your data, such as photos, documents, and music, in the cloud and access them from any device with your Apple ID.

Here are the steps to set up iCloud on your Mac:

  1. Go to the Apple menu in the top left corner of your screen and select System Settings.
click the apple icon and select system settings
  1. Click Apple ID and sign in with your Apple ID and password. If you don’t have an Apple ID, you can create one by clicking Create Apple ID.
click the apple logo system settings apple id
  1. Once you are signed in, you can select the iCloud option from the left panel.
click icloud in apple id
  1. Here, you can choose which apps and services to sync with iCloud, such as Photos, Documents, Mail, and more.
apps syncing to icloud
  1. You can also set up iCloud Drive, which allows you to store and access your files in iCloud. Click iCloud Drive in the iCloud options.
click icloud drive in icloud
  1. Click Apps Syncing to iCloud Drive.
click apps syncing to icloud drive
  1. Select the apps you want to sync with iCloud in the next window by toggling them on.
select the apps you want to sync to icloud
  1. Finally, click Done to save your settings and start syncing your data with iCloud.

Back Up Your Data

Time Machine is a built-in backup feature on macOS that allows you to create a backup of all your essential data. Here’s how to use Time Machine to back up your data on Mac:

  1. You need an external hard drive with enough storage space for your backups to use Time Machine. Connect the drive to your Mac.
connect external hard drive to mac
  1. Click the Apple menu in the upper left corner of your screen and select System Settings.
click the apple icon and select system settings
  1. Click General and select Time Machine.
click the time machine icon
  1. In the Time Machine preferences window, click the Add Backup Disk button. Then, choose the external hard drive you just connected to your Mac.
click the add add backup disk button in time machine
  1. You can customize your backup options once you’ve chosen your backup disk. You can exclude specific files and folders from the backup, set backup intervals, and more.
  2. Next, click the Back Up Now button to start the backup process. Time Machine will begin backing up your data to the external hard drive.
  3. You can monitor the progress of the backup in the Time Machine settings window. It will show how much data is backed up and how much time remains.
  4. If you need to restore your data from the backup, you can do so by opening the Time Machine preferences window and clicking the Enter Time Machine button. It will take you to view your Mac’s desktop as it appeared at various points in the past. Choose the backup you want to restore from and select the files and folders you want to restore.

Clear Disk Space

Over time, your hard drive will become cluttered with temporary files, old downloads, and other unnecessary data, leading to your Mac running slow. To free up disk space, you can do the following:

  • Delete old files and documents you no longer need.
  • Uninstall apps you don’t use.
  • Empty the Trash on your Mac regularly.
  • Use storage management tools like MacKeeper to identify and delete duplicate files and folders you don’t need.

Manage Startup Items

When you start up your Mac, certain apps and processes automatically launch, which can slow down your system’s performance.

To manage login items on your Mac, you can follow these steps:

  1. Click the Apple menu and go to System Settings.
click the apple icon and select system settings
  1. Click General and select Login Items.
click general and select the login items tab
    1. Here, you’ll see the items that launch when you start up your Mac.
    2. Select the login item you want to remove and click the  button at the bottom of the list to remove the login item.
    select an item and click the minus icon to delete it

    Alternatively, you can use MacKeeper to get rid of all unnecessary login items in a single click. Here’s how:

    1. Download MacKeeper and install it on your Mac.
    2. Open Login Items under Performance in MacKeeper.
    tap login items under performance 1
    1. Click Start Scan.
    tap start scan 1
    1. Select unnecessary items from the list and click Remove Selected Items.
    select the files you want to delete and tap remove selected items 1
    1. Tap the Remove button on the pop-up.
    tap remove on the pop up 1
    1. It will remove your selected items from the system startup list. You can click Rescan to repeat the process.
    tap rescan 1

    What Else Can MacKeeper Do?

    Besides removing login items and uninstalling apps, MacKeeper offers a variety of features to enhance your Mac’s performance, such as deleting duplicate files on Mac, deleting cache files, running a virus scan, and removing annoying ads on Mac. Check out my detailed MacKeeper review to learn more about its features.

      Figure Out Your New MacBook With this macOS Beginner’s Guide

      In conclusion, using a Mac for beginners may seem daunting initially, but it can become second nature with practice and guidance. Here are three tips to keep in mind as you continue to explore the world of Mac:

      • Learning Mac keyboard shortcuts can significantly increase your efficiency and speed when using a Mac. So, familiarize yourself with the most commonly used shortcuts.
      • Like any other device, your Mac requires regular maintenance to run smoothly. Learn more about Mac maintenance to prevent performance issues with your new machine.
      • Your Mac is a safe machine but not immune to malware. So, install a reputable antivirus and run regular virus scans on your Mac to prevent malicious agents from accessing your data.

      Frequently Asked Questions

      1. How do I customize the Dock on my Mac? 

        To customize the Dock on your Mac, right-click the Dock separator to access Dock Settings. From there, adjust size, position, and add/remove apps. You can also use System Settings > Desktop & Dock for more options.

      2. How do I optimize my Mac’s performance? 

        To optimize your Mac’s performance, update your macOS, manage startup items, clean up your hard drive, close unnecessary background processes, disable visual effects, clear cache and temporary files, consider upgrading your Mac’s RAM, and restart regularly for a system refresh.

      3. How do I back up my Mac? 

        To back up your Mac, you can use the Time Machine feature in macOS. Connect an external hard drive to your Mac and go to System Settings > General > Time Machine to set it up. Select your external hard drive as the backup disk and turn on Time Machine. It will automatically back up your Mac’s data regularly, and you can restore it from a Time Machine backup.

      4. Is it difficult to switch from Windows to Mac?

        Switching from Windows to Mac may require some adjustment initially, but it is generally considered a smooth transition. Mac’s user-friendly interface, intuitive design, and similar core functionalities make the switch relatively straightforward. However, familiarity with Mac-specific features, keyboard shortcuts, and software compatibility differences may take some time to adapt.

      5. How do I install new apps on my Mac? 

        You can install new apps on your Mac using the App Store or download them from the developer’s website. If you choose the App Store, search for the app you want, and click Get or Buy to install it. Alternatively, you can download the app installer from the developer’s website, open it, and follow the on-screen instructions to install it.

      Pawan Singh

      Author

      Pawan is your go-to tech buddy with over 4 years diving deep into the world of Macbooks and cool gadgets. He's written a ton of articles, blending his tech-savvy expertise with a dash of friendly banter. When it comes to the latest in tech, Pawan's got the scoop and isn't shy to share it. Trust him, he's been around the block a few times!

      Ojash

      Reviewer

      Hi there! I'm Ojash, a tech journalist with over a decade of experience in the industry. I've had the privilege of contributing to some of the world's largest tech publications, making my mark as a respected Mac expert. My passion lies in exploring, using, and writing about MacBooks, and I enjoy sharing my expertise to help others make informed decisions and get the most out of their MacBook experience. Join me as we delve into the fascinating world of MacBooks together!

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