New Mac User Center: The Complete Guide for Mac Newbies
Posted on by Derek Erwin
No matter whether you’re brand new to the Mac, returning to using macOS after a long time, or just migrating from an old Mac to a new one, getting used to a new computer can be a stressful experience.
But fear not! At Intego, we know the Mac—after all, we’ve been a Mac-first software company for more than 25 years. To help you out, we’ve put together this one-stop resource for new and returning Mac users. Here you’ll find guides, tips, and helpful information to help you feel right at home.
Even if you’ve been using a Mac for ages, you might learn something new! Let’s get started.
In this article:
- How to choose which Mac is best for you
- How to set up a new Mac
- How to back up your data
- How to dispose of an old Mac
- Understanding user accounts
- Getting to know the Menu Bar
- Getting to know the Dock
- Getting to know the Magic Mouse or Trackpad
- Helpful Mac keyboard shortcuts
- Getting to know Apple’s Safari Web browser
- Getting to know Apple Mail
- Understanding the Trash Bin
- How to manage media files on your Mac
- Understanding open and save dialogs
- Understanding the Downloads folder
- How to search your Mac with Spotlight
- Getting to know macOS Accessibility features
- How to take screenshots and record your screen
- How to use iCloud Drive effectively
- Pro Tip: How to use Automator to simplify tasks
- How to troubleshoot Mac problems
- How can I learn more?
How to choose which Mac is best for you
If you haven’t gotten your new Mac yet, and you’re wondering which one you should buy, we’ve got you covered.
If you need portability, you’ll want some model of MacBook. Looking for one that’s small, lightweight, and affordable? Chances are that a MacBook Air is what you’ll want. Need something portable, but a bit more powerful, or perhaps with a larger display? You’ll want a MacBook Pro.
If you plan to leave your Mac on the desk, skip the portable options and go for a desktop model. If you just want a low-cost replacement for a Windows desktop PC, and you already have a nice HDMI display, the Mac mini may be the best choice. Or if you want a simple, all-in-one system with a beautiful built-in display, an iMac is what you need. And for power users with ultra-high performance requirements (for example, people who do a ton of work with 4K video), you’ll want to get a Mac Studio.
Lean more about all the options in our complete guide on how to choose the right Mac for your use case.
How to set up a new Mac
As you unpack your brand new computer, you may be wondering what’s the best way to set up it up, and what to do with all your data on your old computer. When you buy a new Mac, your first step should be to do a clean installation of the operating system, and then add the files that you need manually. This guide to setting up a new Mac will walk you through the process to migrate your files to your new Mac, or do a clean installation, and the pros and cons of both methods. After migrating your data from another Mac or PC to your new computer, we recommend following these 12 easy steps to securely set up your new Mac (note: if you just migrated your data from your old computer to your new Mac, you’re already done with step one!)
How to back up your data
One of the first things you should do after a clean installation (before you begin filling your new Mac with all sorts of fun documents, music, and kooky pictures of cats) is create a solid backup plan. One of the best data backup plans we recommend is for you to implement the “3-2-1 backup strategy,” which entails the three most important components for complete data protection.
Protecting your data with backups allows you to quickly restore your Mac to working condition should disaster strike. To do this, use Time Machine, Apple’s built-in solution that automatically backs up all the files on your Mac to an external hard disk. But if you find that Time Machine isn’t as flexible and efficient as you desire, Intego Personal Backup does much more, allowing you to back up what you want, when you want, all while saving space.
How to dispose of an old Mac
It’s time to move on and end your relationship with your old Mac. You had good times together, you’ll always have memories of the best moments you shared. But you’ve got a new Mac now, a better Mac; it may be faster, have a better display, or be lighter and more portable. Whatever the case, while break-ups are always tough, it’s good to make this one as smooth as possible. When you dispose of your Mac – whether you sell it, give it away, or send it for recycling – there are a number of things you should do to make sure your data and your accounts remain secure. Follow this guide to uncover 10 steps you should take before getting rid of an old Mac.
Understanding user accounts
Everyone who uses a Mac has a user account. If you’re the only person using your Mac, then you will only need one account. While most Mac users only have a single account on the computers, it can be useful to create additional accounts for friends, family, or coworkers. If you’re new to Mac or seek advice understanding user accounts in macOS, have a look at this guide in which we explain you how to create user accounts, when and how to use each of the different types of accounts, and how to delete them when you don’t need them any longer.
Getting to know the Menu Bar
The Menu Bar is a powerful tool for using and controlling your Mac, and it sits at the top of your screen. Yet, how well do you really know all of the many features it offers? There’s a lot you can do with your Mac’s menu bar: you can access your Mac’s system settings, access menus and their commands, use menu extras (those icons at the right side of the menu bar), search for menu commands, get help, and much more. Learn how to use some of the lesser-known features in the menu bar, and you’ll be able to do more on your Mac with much less hassle.
Getting to know the Dock
The Dock is one of the key elements you use to interact with your Mac. You can use it in many ways: open apps, open files by dragging them on icons in the Dock, open folders that you’ve stored in the Dock, and more. Get to know how to use the Dock on your Mac, and discover the many configuration options you have and the best way to turn it into a high-powered productivity booster. You may not realize it at first, but Apple only provides settings for some of the Dock’s tricks – many are effectively hidden. Fortunately, you can get at these bonus extras by way of a quick trip to the Terminal app and some deft typing – or by copying and pasting various commands outlined in our guide to unlock the macOS Dock’s hidden secrets in Terminal. Give these tricks a try and make the Dock significantly more useful!
Getting to know the Magic Mouse or Trackpad
If you’re new to the Mac, you may also be new to using a trackpad. The trackpad on a Mac is an incredibly versatile, useful feature that includes options for how you click on the trackpad, for scrolling and zooming, and other gestures that can make you more productive. Follow this guide to set up the trackpad on your Mac and you’ll be amazed at what it can do.
Once you set up your Mac’s trackpad, you’ll soon discover the options Apple provides in the System Preferences Trackpad pane only go so far – your trackpad is actually far more capable than what’s on the surface. Have a look here for tips on how you can unlock the power of your Mac’s trackpad with third-party software like BetterTouchTool.
Helpful Mac keyboard shortcuts
There are loads of Mac keyboard shortcuts you should know how to use, because they will make your computing life much easier. Keyboard shortcuts will save you a few trips to the menu bar and speed up your day-to-day activities. Many Mac users don’t realize system components primarily designed for cursor interaction can be navigated using the keyboard, too. Here we’ve outlined how you can navigate the Menu Bar, Dock, and more using your Mac’s keyboard. You can even make custom keyboard shortcuts for any macOS Menu Items, such as launching your favorite app.
Additionally, you can save time and work with the Finder much more efficiently on your keyboard: you can navigate the Finder, copy and paste files, move folders and much more. With these different Finder views and keyboard navigation shortcuts, you can move around your files and folders more quickly—give them a try and see if they change your workflow!
Getting to know Apple’s Safari Web browser
Safari is Apple’s default web browser that comes integrated with the Mac operating system. If you’ve just switched from Windows to macOS, you might be used to a different browser to surf the Internet.
Of course, you can still install Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, or even Microsoft Edge, if that’s what you’re used to (check out our comparison of desktop browser privacy features). But it doesn’t hurt to give Safari a try. While you’re in the mood to switch things up a bit, learn why switching search engines (and how to) could be your ticket to a more private web browsing experience.
Getting to know Apple Mail
If you get a lot of email, managing it can be time-consuming. This leads to some people never removing messages from their inboxes, neglecting to clean out previous recipients from time to time, or just having one massive archive. Because of this, relying entirely on search can be a bad idea when trying to find an email-shaped needle in a haystack comprised of tens of thousands of messages. Fortunately, Mail for macOS offers plentiful options for rapidly filing email, making messages far easier to find later.
Understanding the Trash Bin
The concept of the Trash on the Mac (like the Windows Recycling Bin), is one of the great inventions in computing. Prior to this, deleting files was all done via text commands or by selecting files in a list, and you could still type the wrong file name or select the wrong file. The Trash on a Mac is a sort of buffer.
If you’re just getting used to a new Mac, we put together a list of power tips for efficiently using the Trash in macOS. In this guide, we teach you how to quickly delete files with keyboard shortcuts, recover files from the Trash, have your Mac automatically empty the Trash, and securely erase data from your Mac and external drives so no one can recover it. After all, securely erasing your data ensures your personal and private information does not end up being found and abused by someone else!
How to manage media files on your Mac
If you’re migrating from Windows or an older Mac, you might be accustomed to using iTunes to shop for most forms of media, including music, movies, TV shows, and audio books. Recent version of macOS have instead split up iTunes into separate TV, Music, and Podcasts apps. You can still rent movies, listen to music, and download podcasts, but each of these tasks has its own, more logical app. Here’s our complete guide to managing media files in Apple’s Music, TV, Podcasts, and Books apps for Mac.
How to manage media files in Apple’s Music, TV, Podcasts, and Books apps for Mac
You may also want to check out our guide on how to rip DVD or Blu-ray movies and add them to your library.
Understanding open and save dialogs
Since you work with lots of files on your Mac, learning how to quickly open and efficiently save them can spare you some time. Did you know that there are a dozen different ways of opening files on a Mac? You can use whichever way is most comfortable for you.
The macOS Open and Save dialogs are powerful tools that let you find and work on files and save them efficiently in various locations. In this guide, you will learn some of the ways to master the macOS Open and Save Dialogs.
Many people routinely save all the files on their desktop, creating a digital pile of documents that’s hard to sift. We recommend that you avoid doing that; see our section below about the Downloads folder. Some people save documents without checking where the app is putting them, only to discover they can’t find them later. If that’s you, don’t fret—see our Spotlight search section below.
Understanding the Downloads folder
Increasingly, Apple hints you should move your data to the cloud. As mentioned in the iCloud Drive section below, it is to your benefit to spend time learning how to store your Desktop and Documents folder in iCloud, making whatever’s within them more easily accessible from other Macs and devices. While iCloud Drive has lessened the ‘hub’ nature of the user folder found on your Mac, important folders nonetheless remain housed there – one of which is Downloads. Take a look at our newbie’s guide to using the Mac Downloads Folder and you’ll quickly learn how easy it is to access downloads and manage your downloaded files.
How to search your Mac with Spotlight
Spotlight is another example of how macOS is full of incredibly powerful features that many people have yet to discover. This search program is built into macOS and searches through all of your personal files, folders, apps, emails, and other content to find what you’re looking for quickly and easily. Learn how to use Spotlight on your Mac and experience the joy of simple, painless searching and navigation.
Getting to know macOS Accessibility features
Chances are when you open System Preferences you don’t venture into the Accessbility pane. And that’s fine – after all, that area of macOS is primarily designed for people with additional assistive needs when it comes to interacting with computers. However, “primarily” is the key word there, because accessibility controls can potentially benefit every Mac user. In this guide we explore five macOS accessibility features, explain what they do, and how they can help improve your Mac experience.
How to take screenshots and record your screen
Need help regarding a tech problem? Want to show off something cool on your Mac? Try sharing a screenshot. If you don’t know how, have no fear – this guide will turn you into a Mac screenshot guru in no time! But what happens when your problem’s too complex for a single still – or if something you’d like to share only looks good when it’s moving? Then it’s time to record some video! Whether you’re using a Mac, an Apple TV, or iOS devices, this guide will explain how to record your computer screen.
The Complete Guide to Taking Screenshots and Screen Recordings on Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch
How to use iCloud Drive effectively
iCloud Drive has evolved a great deal since it was first introduced. As you become familiar with your new Mac, you should spend some time learning how to work with macOS’s iCloud Drive features to get the most out of its awesomeness.
When you create your Apple ID—and subsequently set up and use Apple’s two-factor authentication to boost security—you get 5 GB of free storage on iCloud Drive. You can use this storage space for things like backing up your iPhone or iPad iOS device or syncing data between your Mac and your iOS device. You can even use iCloud to optimize your Mac’s storage by offloading some of your files to iCloud Drive, thus saving you disk space. At some point in the future when, inevitably, 5 GB of storage is not enough, you can always purchase more space as needed.
Pro Tip: How to use Automator to simplify tasks
Automator is one of the little known tools available in macOS that can save you lots of time. It enables you to create workflows, which you can use to automate repetitive tasks or tweak your Mac’s operating system. There are an overwhelming number of different options for things you can automate or adjust, a list so large it may inspire both a mix of excitement and dread. Luckily for you, we have just the guide to help you explore Automator and use it for automation and other system modifications. As an added bonus, if you’re feeling inspired by this nifty app, take a gander here for tips on how to use Automator to convert and resize image files.
How to troubleshoot Mac problems
Funny thing about computers: humans build them all, and humans make mistakes. As is the case with any technology, sometimes things go haywire; for example, you may run into problems upgrading your Mac to a new operating system, or in other cases, performance issues could crop up that require troubleshooting. These annoyances can range from small issues like connecting to the wrong Wi-Fi network, to bigger issues like kernel panics or a Mac running slow.
We never like to have problems with our computers, but they are inevitable. Just remember to take a deep breath and know that a solution is most likely out there for you. One of the tools you can use to troubleshoot problems on a Mac is Activity Monitor, a dashboard for many of your Mac’s under-the-hood activities. Here’s an easy-to-grasp introduction to Activity Monitor where we explain how this utility can help you find and resolve problems on your Mac. But remember, before you troubleshoot any issue, it’s imperative to back up your data to ensure that you don’t lose any files. Apple’s Time Machine and Intego Personal Backup are some ways to reliably do this.
How can I learn more?
To get the most out of your Mac, and to stay aware of important Mac news, be sure to subscribe to our free e-mail newsletter. You’ll get updates in your inbox twice a month with news, tips, and highlights from our Apple-focused blog and podcast.
In between newsletters, keep an eye here on The Mac Security Blog for the latest Apple security and privacy news, and more. Follow Intego on your favorite social networks to keep up to date:
Last but not least, every week we release a new episode of the Intego Mac Podcast. Intego’s Mac security experts discuss the latest Apple news, including security and privacy stories, and offer practical advice on getting the most out of your Apple devices. Be sure to follow the podcast to make sure you don’t miss any episodes.