Power Fundamentals Part 1: Fresh Mac for business users

Simon Barnett embarks upon a series to teach "switchers" to Mac OS the power fundamentals that will help business users work most efficiently. He begins with a fresh Mac in this first post.

The Power Fundamentals Series is a streamlined selection of power tips, as opposed to, say, a complete manual or full cheat-sheet of shortcuts, which can be found elsewhere. These tips are essentially for efficient usage -- especially in the enterprise where time is of the essence, but with benefit to any users needing to rapidly become proficient on the Mac.

The first installments will be the easiest to grasp, but will contain tips which form the foundation of highly productive usage as you build up your knowledge. The more proficient of you may find some of this to be too basic, but sometimes even old hands will pick up something new or slightly different from a refresher.

The amount of benefit you gain will depend on how far you would like to take the series. Although aimed at fresh Mac users in the beginning (perhaps those switching from a different OS), I have come across 30-year Apple veterans who were able to find something new in the basic tips I will be covering at the beginning of this series. To get you on your feet quickly, some topics will be covered briefly early on, and then covered in more depth later in the series.

I've tried to skip the really-obvious, and covered-elsewhere type of advice and opted for covering items not immediately apparent when faced with a new Mac, as well as providing best practices for specific scenarios.

Mac Basics on Apple's own website provides the closest approximation to a Mac manual and provides detailed coverage of features in linear and wiki-type format.

If you feel I have missed something or disagree with a proposed tweak, please feel free to comment below. As the series is being written live / "on-the-fly" your comments will influence subsequent articles.

Note: This series was created for MacOS X 10.8 Mountain Lion. However it will be highly applicable down to MacOS X 10.6 Snow Leopard. MacOS X 10.5 Leopard users will obtain some benefit. 10.4 Tiger or earlier users may find many places where these tips don't apply.

What you can (and probably should) do with a brand new Mac or a fresh installation of MacOS X

Customize your Mac early-on in order to stay on top of navigating and managing your files in the way that most suits you and your profession.

Learn good habits and easy power-tips right from the start, or un-learn less productive habits and add some powerful basic tips to your bag of tricks.

MacOS X is the world's most advanced operating system "under the hood". To some outsiders it seems "tinker-toy", but that is due to a highly organised classification of features. You could, in fact, neatly unwrap its powerful features for a lifetime. Thankfully it's default settings are for the least advanced users. For pro work, these settings should be modified.

Part 1 - The Dock, opening and switching between apps

Level: Beginner / Switcher The scenario: You have a brand new Mac* or an older Mac and have just installed MacOS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, 10.7 Lion or 10.6 Snow Leopard. You have already set the Mac up using the "wizard" type screens (appearing in series), starting with your country screen and ending with the time zone screen.

Figure A

Assuming you didn't transfer all your settings from a previous Mac you'll be faced with a default desktop showing a big galaxy picture (to get a perspective on it all) and a menu bar at the top.

* Although the Power Fundamentals series uses a new MacOS X installation as a starting-point, this first post also applies to an existing "worn-in" system. Later posts may refer to aspects of the system you may have already customised, but you will find it easy to re-tweak those settings.

At the bottom is...

The Mac Dock

Figure B

If you've switched from Windows, you'll find the Dock similar to the Taskbar in one of its main purposes: it's a home for your most-used applications (programs), and provides a quick way to launch them and access or hide their open windows. The dock is also home to the Trash can (Recycle Bin) and can also hold folders, the contents of which can be customized to display in a number of ways.

Where the Mac Dock differs from its Windows counterpart is initially noticeable in its styling. Since the Dock is an application launcher first and foremost, for the most part it displays big, simple icons with an optional magnification/bulge effect (created by Bas Ording), which has arguably become the principle defining visual feature of MacOS X since its debut in 2001.

Other functions normally located in the Windows Taskbar, such as the system tray, date and time, network and volume control are found in other parts of MacOS X -- mainly in that other visually-identifying Mac feature, the Menu Bar.

For detailed coverage on the Mac Dock please take a look at Mac Basics: The Dock on Apple's website or, while still in the Finder, click on the Help menu (or Command-Shift-? Question Mark):

Type Dock in the Search box, click on Dock Basics:

To keep an Application in the dock for later use:

  1. Drag a closed app onto the Dock from a Finder window (i.e., The Applications folder), or... Launch an app using another method (see Power Tip #2 below)
  2. Right-click (or ctrl-click) on the app in the Dock
  3. Go to Options - Keep in Dock

Removing apps is simply a matter of dragging them off and away from the Dock, then letting go. They will disappear in a puff of environmentally friendly cyber vapour.

When customizing your Dock, keep it very simple and minimal, with only the main apps you use on a daily basis, for example:

  • Launchpad (for launching apps not in the Dock)
  • Mission Control (if you use it)
  • One of Safari / Chrome / Firefox
  • PhotoBooth (in case you need to snap in a hurry)
  • iTunes (if music be the food of good productivity)
  • Any of Word / Excel / Powerpoint or Pages / Numbers / Keynote
  • Any other frequently-used third-party apps
  • Any of Calendar / Contacts / Notes / Reminders
  • Any of Messages / Facetime

System Preferences and App Store are both accessible via the Apple Menu. No need to double-up.

Why keep the Dock simple? Because there are many other ways of launching apps -- which will be covered here -- and very soon you will have a lot of them. The Dock's big bold style lends itself well to quickly launching your primary applications.


Simon Barnett is a freelance tech consultant / support specialist, creative publisher, and Mac software (registered dev programme) and web developer in Cape Town, South Africa. In addition, he has had several years experience in designing and trainin...


Hey Simon - I have been in the process of switching since the new MBAs came out in June of last year, and have been doing relatively decently at it. The biggest problems I have come across are how to browse the Finder using the keyboard (in Windows Explorer, a quick Alt+D, and typing a few letters, tab, a few letters, tab, etc... got you right where you needed to go) I finally worked around this in Finder by learning Command+Shift+G and typing, tabbing, etc... The other one that I still find troublesome is the inability to right-click and select New File. I am a bit of a file freak, and I REALLY relied on this in Windows. Browse to the directory where you will store a new file, right click, new (Text, Excel, Word, what have you) file, name it, open it and get cracking. In OS X I have found a few script ways of doing this but nothing very intuitive or simple to use. Can you use any of your resources to find a better option for us? Good luck - and thanks! JN


It's useful to have Apps on the dock because you can open files intelligently by dropping them on the icon. Fo instance, if you drop a photo onto Mail a new message will open with the photo attached, by default a double click will open it in Preview but if you need Photoshop to make fancy edits drop it on that. For text files you might want the icons for Text Edit, Word, Dashcode, Text Wrangler. Much quicker than doing a right click and Open with...


I agree, great article Simon can't wait for the rest. I bought my first PC in 1987 and have been a big user ever since but got more and more disillusioned with Windows so took the giant step in July last year and bought a new MacBook Pro. Loved it so much I've just taken delivery of a new 27" i7, which is absolutely stunning. The transition has been relatively easy but I'm always looking for help and it sounds like your series may provide many of the answers I'll need.


Great job Simon, this is much needed as the transition has been slow and frustrating for some switchers. We need more - keep em coming!


Hi JN, I'm covering some shortcuts in the next article, but since I'm taking baby steps with this series, nothing as advanced as enabling the functionality you require with your second question. I will only get to that sort of usage much later on (good question, though - keep 'em coming). Here's a link to the steps for your second question. As solutions go, it's a little bit geeky / fiddly to set up initially, but I tried it - took me 5 minutes to do, and creates the right-click functionality you require: Your solution to the first one is correct, by the way - that is the best way to navigate to a folder, which I'll get to earlier in the series. Some other less-targeted methods will be outlined in the next article. As a general comparative list of Windows / Mac / Linux shortcuts, look no further than Good luck! Simon

Selena Frye
Selena Frye

Sorry about that. I was being indecisive about the titles in this new series, so it got a little confused. You are correct that the series is Power Fundamentals, so I've tweaked the first one and also this one to make it more clear. However, even thought it's a series, we want all of them to have self-contained, actionable tips that can be read on their own as well as part of a series. I'll try to make future titles reflect that as well. Thanks for pointing it out.


Thanks John. Agreed.. open-with type apps need app icons. My next article will have details on my personal recommendation for drag-and-drop type apps: the Finder window toolbar, since it's located nearest to documents.


Thanks Guy .. many more in the pipeline :) - Simon


Thanks for your reply. It clears up some confusion, but unfortunately now creates a further one :-) And once more I apologise for being picky! There are now two articles with the same title "Power Fundamentals Part 1: Fresh Mac for business users", both dated and timed as February 12, 2013, 12:17 PM PST. One can be found at, and the second (with different text) at ie the same as the first url with "?pg=2" (without quotes) tagged onto the end. Only the first of these is listed on your home page All three of your articles so far are excellent, and will help me no end to convert to the Mac. I look forward to more of your series. One request, please. It would be very useful if there was a link to a downloadable pdf for each article, so that I can save them for future reference.


Part 1 (1st page) Part 1 (2nd page) Part 2 (only 1 page) To make a pdf: - Open the page in your browser - Type command p (to print) - In Firefox or Safari: go to [pdf ] in the bottom left of the dialog box. In Google Chrome: Destination - - Save as pdf.. - Click Save The Tech Republic site does a good job of automatically reformatting the page for printing or making a pdf.

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