A beginner’s guide to OS X

There are an incredibly disproportionate number of people here at the UW that are using Macs, something we discovered last year. With that influx of new Mac users comes a complementary number of amusing mishaps, missteps, and generally just mistakes going on. So, to amend a general lack of content coming to my mind to blog about, here is a beginner’s guide to boosting your OS X familiarity and productivity off the bat.

First! Installing applications. In general, the process for installing OS X applications is as follows. You’ll most likely get a file in the format of a DMG. Think of this as someone emailing you a virtual CD. You can put the CD in your computer (mounting it), or remove it, but you won’t be able to edit it, and you most likely don’t want to run everything off a CD. Generally, you’ll find a .app file in the DMG. You’ll want to first drag that to your Applications folder, then run it from your Applications folder. There are two exceptions; if the .app says "Installer" in it, or if instead of a .app you find a .pkg, you’ll want to run them straight off.

You’ll probably need to know some Finder-fu if you want to efficiently copy files such as those .apps. The best view in finder by far is column view. That’s the one to the far right. In this one, as you delve deeper into folders, you’ll progress to the right. If you want to go back up, just go left. Also, if you select a file, you get a nifty preview pane with information in it. To couple this, the best way to manage the copying of files is to just open two Finder windows and navigate to the two paths in question straight off the bat. Cmd+N opens new Finder windows. If you click on the desktop, the Finder application comes into focus, so you can at any point simply click on your desktop, then hit Cmd+N to get a new window or two.

However, if your desktop is buried, your friend is F11. Arguably more useful than F9 (Exposé), this critter will instantly sweep your windows aside temporarily and give you instant access to the desktop. Nifty.

When you’re presented with a dialog (especially Yes/No or Save dialogs), you’ll often see a solid blue button and a glowing blue button. To select the solid one, hit Enter. To select the glowing one, hit Spacebar. Usually on save dialog this corresponds to Space->Don’t Save, Enter->Save. Also, if there is a small dark circle in your close button, it means you have unsaved changes.

This one is very simple. Use Cmd+Q to quit your applications! They won’t close if you just hit the red button. You’ll see over time why this is, but while it makes perfect sense after you do, it’s hard for Windows users to grok at first. While we’re at it, other keyboard shortcuts that are standard across all OS X apps are:

  • Cmd+W: Close window (but not application
  • Cmd+T: If an application has tabs, new tab. Otherwise, gives you the font changer window
  • Cmd+F: Find
  • Cmd+left or Cmd+right: Generally left tab or right tab… Sometimes Shift is required
  • Cmd+Tab: Switch applications, much like Alt+Tab in Windows
  • Cmd+~: Exactly like Cmd+Tab, but only between windows within the application.

In addition, there are many nifty Option+ shortcuts that produce special characters. Try Option+Shift+K. Or try Option+E, then hit any vowel.

Are you on a MacBook or MacBook Pro? If so, do me a favor. Right now, put down two fingers instead of one. Now move your hand up and down. It’s a crying shame how many people don’t know this. In addition, if you go to System Preferences (Apple Menu) and go to the mouse category, you can select "Place two fingers on trackpad and click for secondary click" so that you can right click simply by placing two fingers on the trackpad and clicking, rather than using Control+Click.

Get Quicksilver. Yes, not having Quicksilver is just as egregious an error as any of the above. Quicksilver is the single most amazing and useful application you will ever find on OS X, bar none. You can simplify literally hundreds of tasks with Quicksilver, among which are launching applications, extending applications with keyboard shortcuts, instantly open a directory in terminal, instantly open a file with an application, all the way up to selecting multiple files and emailing them without even touching Mail. I’ll elaborate on this in my next post.

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