11 Mac Tips & Tricks for New Apple Users

By Joe Crosby

The fervently loyal Apple fan base touts the ease of use in nearly all of the company's products, not least of all its Macintosh computers -- or Macs, as they're known. But to new users, Macs may not seem all that intuitive. In fact, they can seem even more confusing. These are just a few handy tips and tricks just beyond the basics that will help former PC users become deft Mac navigators in no time.

Overview

The fervently loyal Apple fan base touts the ease of use in nearly all of the company's products, not least of all its Macintosh computers -- or Macs, as they're known. But to new users, Macs may not seem all that intuitive. In fact, they can seem even more confusing. These are just a few handy tips and tricks just beyond the basics that will help former PC users become deft Mac navigators in no time.

Mac Tip: Adjusting Your Trackpad Settings

Apple computers’ familiar trackpad –built in on laptops or as an add-on for desktops – offers the functionality of a mouse with just the tap or drag of a finger or two (or three). Use the trackpad preference pane to personalize settings and tailor trackpad functionality to your needs. For example, if you don’t want your “secondary click” to require a two-finger tap on the trackpad, you can switch it so that you tap with one finger in the lower-left or lower-right part of the trackpad. The pane offers a video reference for the various modifiable clicks and gestures.

Mac Tip: Creating a New User Accounts

Creating multiple user accounts within the same computer effectively allows multiple "computers" within one – with personalized settings, from media assets (like music) to desktop wallpaper. To create a new user or group account, visit the Users & Groups pan in System Preferences and click the “plus” button under the list of existing accounts. Fill out the basic account information (account type, account name, etc.) in the dialog sheet that appears. Click "Create User" to see the new account in the list on the left-hand side. Administrator accounts can manage the list – resetting passwords or enabling parental controls, for example.

Mac Tip: Using the Mac Calendar

The Mac calendar application is handy by itself, but try syncing it with iCloud, Gmail, Yahoo! or Microsoft Exchange applications, to name a few. To manage your cloud-based calendars, open “Calendar Preferences,” choose “Accounts,” click the “plus” icon to view the “Add an Account” dialog sheet, and fill out the calendar account details. Then, click “Create.” In this example, a Google calendar has been added for work appointments (in red), while the Mac calendar is for personal scheduling (in blue). If something is added to the Mac calendar, it’ll sync with Google in the cloud, and vice versa.

Mac Tip: Using iCloud

Apple’s cloud-computing application, iCloud, offers remote storage space on their farm of servers – saving you space – and automatically syncs information to all of your iCloud-connected devices – saving you time. In the iCloud preference pane you can choose which services and applications you want to sync and store on the Web. All of these items can also be synced to other Macs that you use and to iOS devices such as iPhones and iPads. Commonly synced applications and data includes mail, contacts, calendars, photos and even browser bookmarks.

Mac Tip: Using Time Machine for Backups

Time Machine is the Mac OS’s built-in backup system for your files. In addition to full hard-drive backups, it backs up multiple versions of individual files. So, you can view multiple “time slices” of a file and revert to a version from any point in the file’s history – even if it’s been changed many times over. For it to function, you’ll need to select an external backup drive. Assuming you have an external hard drive connected, open “System Preferences,” select the “Time Machine” pane, and click “Select Backup Disk.” Select the desired backup option from the list that appears.

Mac Tip: Troubleshooting Application Problems

When you have a problem with an application, it can be one of a few reasons. But one of the most frustrating symptoms is the “spinning beach ball.” To see whether a particular application is causing problems, launch the Activity Monitor, found in the Utilities folder. It shows everything that’s currently running on your Mac, including how much RAM and CPU (processing time) each application requires. A runaway application will appear at the top of the list when it’s sorted by “% CPU” and could give you some idea of why other applications are slowing to a crawl.

Mac Tip: Managing iPhoto Events

“Events” are the primary organizational units in iPhoto. By default, iPhoto likes the idea of organizing your photos by date and time. But as default options go, it’s not always ideal – things can get mixed up sometimes. Like, say, if iPhoto separates two separate sets of photos into two events, but you want them together. When that happens, drag and drop one event on top of the other. A dialog box will appear – click “Merge” to complete the action. Somewhat similarly, you can create “events” within an event by going to Events>Split Events.

Mac Tip: Importing Videos to iMovie

IMovie can easily import most basic video file types (.MOV, MPEG-4, etc.) without translation. To do so, choose File > Import and then choose “Movies.” In the dialog box, locate the video file that you want to add to your project. Highlight it to see options like what event to add the footage to, whether to optimize the files and whether you want to make a copy of the files you’re importing (thus leaving the originals intact) or move the files to your project folder, which saves storage space. With your choices made, click “Import.”

Mac Tip: Clean Reading With Safari’s Reader Mode

Web articles and documents are often laden with distracting ads, images, banners, related articles and so forth. Safari 6 has a feature that helps filter all of that out. Called Reader, it filters out the extraneous content. The enable the feature, click the “Reader” button at the top right of your browser’s toolbar. If you hover your cursor near the bottom of the screen, tools will appear, including a zoom, email and print features from the pared-down format. To disable Reader, click the Reader button again or press ESC.

Mac Tip: Managing Your Browser History

Safari stores recently visited sites in your browse history. To see them, choose History > Show All History from the menu. The list of the visited sites will appear, with any bookmarks or bookmark folders on the left rail. You can drag items around on this screen or delete them. If you’d like to keep a history item as a bookmark, you can drag it to a bookmark folder or the bookmarks bar. To delete a history item, highlight it and press “Delete.” And, of course, you can double-click an item to reload it in a browsing window.

Mac Tip: Home Sharing for iTunes Media

Your Mac can share its iTunes library with other Macs, Windows PCs or iOS devices (iPhones, iPads) on your local network. To set them up, launch iTunes and then choose Advanced > Turn on Home Sharing. You’ll see the Home Sharing screen, where you can enter your Apple ID and password and then click Create Home Share to start sharing your iTunes Library with your other devices. Simply turn on home sharing on your other devices, and they’ll detect whichever computers are sharing their iTunes libraries. This will include built-in playlists, such as purchased media and “My Top Rated.”