Ladies and gentlemen who have purchased a new Apple Mac, take backups.
If I could offer you only one piece of advice for the future, taking backups would be it.
The long term benefits of taking backups have been proven by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience.
I will dispense this advice… now:
Time Machine is built in to OS X and works both with external hard drives and Time Capsules (over wifi or ethernet). It will unobtrusively back up all your changes and will save your arse when your mac breaks / gets stolen / gets run over by a bus / etc. Use it!
If you are thinking of buying a Mac, do buy it with AppleCare – or go out and get it right now if you didn’t. Your Mac will then be kept working for 3 years, by which point you’ll most likely want to swap it for a new one anyway. I can’t recommend this highly enough, especially for laptops which do seem to be prone to hard disk failures (amongst other things). I know it’s not cheap but if something breaks, you will definitely get your money’s worth!
Spotlight is how I launch pretty much all my apps, rather than searching through start menus or anything else. Just hit Apple key + Space Bar and up pops the search window. Also useful for finding misplaced documents, emails, contacts and other things – but I mainly use it for starting apps.
Quick Look means never having to open a file to see what’s in it. Just hit the Space Bar with a file selected in Finder and it pops open a handy preview.
System Preferences if you’re trying to work out how to change settings on your mac, this is the place to start.
If you have a laptop, then two finger scrolling on web pages is your friend. I miss this a lot when using a PC. Remember you can plug any USB mouse in and have that work, so if you have an old mouse that you really like, you can still use it.
This is my one security tip: set up an Administrator account and make the account you use a Standard account. This means whenever apps want to install or doing anything out of the ordinary they need to ask your permission first. This makes your computer much safer against any nasty software. Talking of which, I don’t recommend running any Anti-virus programs – surprising but true! I don’t run any and never have on the Mac. There may come a time in the future where that’s not the case, but right now I’ve never seen or heard of any Mac malware that didn’t need to ask your permission to stuff your computer up first. So just exercise caution when you download and install applications and you should be fine.
Turn your Mac off sometimes, it is very fast to just use Sleep (or close the lid on a Macbook) but even Macs like to actually be turned off and on once in a while – they run some extra maintenance scripts and clean out cruft. Needless to say if your Mac is ever behaving oddly then the first rule (as with all IT stuff) is to try turning it off and on again. Seriously!
Apple Mail – I don’t use it because I’m not at any one mac often enough to keep my mail on it. I just use gmail (which works very well in Safari).
Which reminds me, if you use Google Calendar and Contacts you can get these to sync up with your iCal and Address Book on the mac.
Perian is great if you want to play any old kind of weird video formats – it just adds them all to Quicktime so it ‘just works’.
If you need to save a copy of a document or web page, press Print and then find the little PDF button the bottom left of the Print dialog. Click on that and choose Save as PDF. PDF support is built in to OS X (like support for zip files) so you don’t need to install Acrobat reader (in fact don’t, it is much slower than Preview).
Transmission is a great BitTorrent client and even has a web interface that works on an iPhone/iPod.
Cyberduck is the app to use when uploading files to FTP/SFTP/WebDAV/AmazonS3 — I sometimes use this for uploading things to my web site.
If you tire of using Front Row to browse your music/video from afar then Boxee seems to be shaping up very well as a ‘media center’ for your mac. It has an iPod/iPhone remote control app that makes it very handy.
If you’ve bought a new Mac you’ve probably got all the iLife apps on there. I can attest that GarageBand and iMovie are both handy for some light audio and video-remixing. If you need to do more involved audio editing then I’ve found Audacity to be useful, if a bit fiddly sometimes. If you want to encode video you can either do this from within Quicktime Player/iMovie or use Handbrake for more control.
I’ve recently ditched an old copy of Microsoft Office for iWork and Pages seems to be a lot easier on the eye. Haven’t quite got the hang of Numbers yet, but Keynote is definitely the easiest way to get slides for presentations sorted out. If you don’t have it free on your mac, iWork is not expensive (£70). You can also use Open Office if it has to be free – but I’ve given up on this recently as its just too fiddly to use (like many open source products, UI is not a priority).
If you decide after a few months that you need more memory in your Mac, I recommend Crucial as they’ve supplied me well for a few years now.
Finally if you need to do a ‘spring clean’ on your mac because its acting weird, I usually run Onyx which will clean out all manner of old caches and run the built-in Apple maintenance scripts. (Don’t forget to just turn it off and on sometimes).
I nearly forgot, to install a new application you usually just drag the icon to the Applications folder. Likewise to uninstall it just delete its icon from the Applications folder. It’s really that simple (OS X has a cunning way to package up all the data an app needs so that it is just in that one icon, which is much easier than the Program Files / registry malarkey on Windows).
If you only take one thing away from this, take backups. Seriously.
(There is more advice from Apple at their Switch to a Mac page.)
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