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.