Beginners-Guide-Mac-OS-X

When I first started using my new Macbook Air, I felt simultaneously at home and lost. OS X is similar in so many ways to Windows, the operating system that most of us grew up on. It was where I first learned how to use a computer. Moving to Mac and the Apple way of doing things makes me feel like I’m doing that all over again. The designers at Cupertino changed just enough to make using a Mac feel distinctly different.

The learning curve here is gradual and almost nonexistent. Apple does a good job of making its interface open and friendly. It’s easy to pick up how to use a Mac. However, you might get tripped up on some of the quirks of OS X. Some of the design decisions left me scratching my head. Why they chose to design the system in this way, I don’t know. Maybe it all makes sense in the mind of Steve Jobs.

Beginner’s Guide To OS X

The Red “X” Doesn’t Close the Window

When you begin an app in OS X, it does not stop until you specifically tell it to do so. Clicking the red “X” in the upper left corner of a program’s window merely closes that window. The app still runs.

safari-menu-quit-option

The easiest way to quit an app is Command + Q. You can also select the quit option from the menu up top. Either way, programs will continue until you end them in this manner.

This isn’t necessarily a bad way of doing things. Chrome and Microsoft Word on Windows run in much the same manner. It makes launching new windows quick and painless. Like most of the changes in OS X, the Cmd-Q approach isn’t worse, just different.

Command is the Control

In Windows, most shortcuts operate through Control. The most commonly used ones include Ctrl+C, Ctrl+X, and Ctrl+V for copying, cutting, and pasting.

Mac-Keyboard-control-option-command-keys

In OS X, the Control Key is reserved for Ctrl-Tabbing through browser tabs and switching between desktops. Most of the usual commands have been moved to Cmd.

Alt-Tab? Cmd-Tab. Ctrl-C? Cmd-C. You get the idea. If it’s a shortcut on Windows involving Ctrl, chances are there’s an OS X equivalent operating off Cmd.

You Can Still Cut and Paste

This is one change that is actually worse than on Windows. There is no Cmd-X shortcut for copying files. A “Cut” option is similarly MIA from the right-click menu in the Finder.

right-click-menu-copy

However, you can actually still cut and paste files. It’s just unnecessarily complicated. First, select the files and copy them (Cmd-C). When you go to paste, hit Cmd-Option-V. This will paste the files and delete the ones at the original directory.

Unnecessary? Absolutely. Maybe there’s some kind of strange logic behind this, but we miss the simplicity of a basic cut command.

Virtual Desktops, All Day Long

We worry that one of the absolute best features in OS X might go unnoticed by people who don’t dig around in Mission Control. You should certainly try out virtual desktops.

mission-control-multiple-desktops

When you activate Mission Control (the thing that lays out all open windows), there’s a set of rectangles at the top. They range from the widgets page to your desktop to all your open full-screen apps.

However, if you move your mouse toward the upper right corner, a plus icon appears. This creates another “virtual desktop.” Think of this as another home screen where you can keep more windows separate from the ones on another desktop.

It sounds basic, but this feature is incredibly useful when you’re juggling three separate projects, each with its own set of windows that you don’t want to close but also don’t want in the way. Virtual desktops in Mac OS are an amazing feature.

Shining a Spotlight

One of my favorite features on my old Windows 7 machine was its unified search. Just tap the Windows key and start typing to search your hard drive. It’s a great way to find stuff.

mouse-spotlight-hover-preview

Thankfully, OS X has something similar. Spotlight can be activated by clicking the magnifying glass icon in the top bar or pressing Cmd+Space. Just start typing and it’ll pull up relevant search results.

It’s an easy way to launch apps that you don’t keep on your bottom bar. You can also use it to search Google and Wikipedia. There’s even a basic calculator function.

No Deleting Allowed

The keyboard on a Mac is laid out slightly differently than on Windows. Apple machines eschew the traditional set of extra keys found on Windows machines, including the Delete key.

app-bar-trash-can

The Apple way of deleting things is to drag it to the trash can on your bottom app dock. Some of you may find this annoying. For you all, pressing Cmd+Delete will do what you’re looking for.

A Helpful Tool

If you have trouble remembering all this stuff, there’s a great freeware tool that can help. Download CheatSheet to get a list of available keyboard shortcuts with a simple long-press of the Command key.

cheat-sheet-program-logo

CheatSheet is context-sensitive, so it presents the correct shortcuts depending upon the program currently in use. It’s a great way to keep everything in front of you when you don’t have the shortcuts memorized yet.

Final Thoughts

OS X can take some acclimatization when you’re first getting started. Most of Apple’s changes are harmless but require changing your computing habits. Good luck remembering to reach for the Cmd key instead of Ctrl when you go to copy something.

  • Michael Kent Smith says:

    I have to chuckle that you refer to “Apple’s changes” as if they somehow copied Windows but made some “changes”. Maybe you’re not aware that the Mac OS came on the scene long before Microsoft’s early failed GUI attempts (Windows 1, 2 and 3.0) and ever since ‘good old’ Windows 3.1 Microsoft has basically been playing catch up.

    • Actually, although Apple did have a GUI before Microsoft, it was not the first computer to do so. And Apple created the “option” and “command” keys long after IBM style keyboards were ubiquitous (before the PC), and in fact Apple started creating new keys before the Mac OS. I will leave that exercise in Googling to you. But many people were using those keyboards, and when people refer to changes that Apple made to the keyboard, that is what they are referring to.

      • I am aware of all that, thank you. No googling required since I was there at the time. I don’t think he was referring to those changes since he only goes back 17 years and the period you refer to is long before that.