How to Learn to Use a Mac Computer

by Pam Willenz

If you’ve been using a PC computer and want to switch to a Mac, you will find the Mac easy to navigate, simple to organize, visually appealing and fun to use. There are plenty of ways to learn about your Mac and OS X Mavericks. In addition to exploring some of the basic features discussed here, you can check out Apple's website for tutorials, Macworld magazine for instructional how-tos, the OSXDaily website for the latest tidbits on Apple products or go to any Apple Store and consult with the Genius Bar.

Navigate With the Apple Menu, Launchpad and Dock

The Mac uses the Apple menu, Dock and Launchpad to organize its applications (apps), similar to the way a PC uses its Start menu and task bar to organize its programs. The Apple menu displays frequently accessed files, applications and functions, like System Preferences, Sleep, Restart and Shutdown. The Dock consists of a row of icons that provide access to your most used applications. Click on the Launchpad (spaceship icon) to view all of your apps. You can organize your apps by clicking and dragging an app. You can create a folder to combine similar apps by dragging one app onto another. Add any app to your Dock by dragging it from the Launchpad to the Dock. To remove an icon from the Dock, drag the icon to an empty area of your desktop. The app isn’t gone; it is still on your hard drive. Spotlight, another Mac organizing feature, helps you find content on your computer, whether it is a document in a folder, an email or a video. It is the mother of all search engines on your Mac. Look for the magnifying glass on the top of your screen, in the menu bar.

Basic Functions

The Finder app, Mission Control and Stacks on your Dock are the Mac’s basic organizing tools to help keep your files, documents and multimedia organized. The Finder app is like File Explorer on a PC. You can organize, view and manage your files. To open a Finder window, click on the Finder app in the dock and open Mission Control (the icon next to the Launchpad) to see which apps are running. Click on the app you want to use. Stacks are the Mac’s version of Windows' shortcut. Stacks are located on the dock, to the right of the line that divides the icons between the apps and the Document and Download Stacks (shortcuts that are your default Stacks). Also, on the right side of the dock beyond the Stacks are your minimized windows (just like the Windows task bar). The Trash app is at the far right side of the Dock (like the Recycle bin in Windows). Empty the Trash app using the Finder app (the icon with a face) or right-click the Trash icon in the Dock. Know what app you’re in by looking at the menu bar. Closing an app on a Mac is a two-step process -- click the red button, go to the menu bar, click on the app and select "Quit." The keyboard shortcut is “Command-Q.”

Mouse and Trackpad

If you’re used to working with a two-button mouse on a PC, you won’t notice too much difference using a mouse with your Mac. Right-clicking on the mouse brings up a small menu with options. You can use the right-click option with an Apple magic mouse, a multi-touch track pad or any USB third-party mouse with multi-touch gestures. Macs also use gestures to accomplish tasks. You can swipe, tap, and touch on the track pad or on your mouse. To scroll on a page, swipe using two fingers. Swipe with three fingers to change pages or switch between apps.

System Preferences

Use System Preferences to choose a desktop screensaver, set up your mouse and keyboard and configure your printers/scanners. You can find the System Preferences icon (resembling wheels in a clock) in your Dock or on the Apple menu. Find a particular setting by typing the subject you want in the search field. Select the item you want from the drop-down menu or click one of the spotlighted icons in the Preference window.

Difference From Windows

There are several differences between the Mac and PC. Some basic functions, like deleting items or quitting applications, are different. In Windows, delete text using the Backspace key (deletes right to left) and delete left to right using the Delete key. In a Mac, you delete left to right by pressing the "function" (Fn key) and "Delete" key simultaneously; however, the Backspace key on the Mac works the same as on Windows. The Command key on the Mac is like the Ctrl key in Windows. On a Mac, "Command-C" copies text, “Command-X" cuts text and “Command-V” pastes text. In Windows, you use the Ctrl key instead. To force quit an application that is unresponsive on a Mac, press “Command-Option-Escape." This is similar to pressing “Ctrl-Alt-Delete” in Windows. You can also “Control-click” the icon on the Dock and then select "Force quit" from the menu.

Learning Resources

Many resources exist for you to get the most from your Mac. The Apple store that sells and services Macs and other Apple products also has a service center to help you learn more about your Mac. You can go to an Apple store and make an appointment with the Genius Bar for guidance on particular features. The service costs depends on the warranty of the product and the nature of the problem. Check out tutorials on Apple's website, how-tos on Macworld Magazine's website and the latest Apple news at OSXDaily for more resources to help you master the Mac. Apple provides instructional videos covering the basics on the Desktop, Dock, Launchpad, Mission Control and the Finder app. Once you're comfortable with the navigation on your Mac, watch more videos on how to shop at the App store, set up Mail and iCal (Mac's email and calendar) and view your files in the Finder app as lists, icons and cover flow. Also, learn how to set up Safari's new bookmarks from instructional articles on Macworld magazine's website. (Safari is Mac's default browser, comparable to Internet Explorer on Windows).

About the Author

Based in Northern Virginia, Pam Willenz has been writing about technology for a consumer technology start-up since 2011. She has published articles on health, fitness and nutrition and her podcasts on technology appear on iTunes, YouTube and Vimeo. She received a master's in digital media in 2013.

Photo Credits

  • photo_camera Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images