Getting to Know Mac OS X
The Desktop and the Dock
Along the right side of the screen are the icons for the hard drive, as well as any shortcuts to network drives
(this will vary depending on your location).
Every Macintosh in a public lab will have a shortcut to the Residential file server — RESSERV (what some
people call the “Y drive”; Macs use real names for disks instead of letters) called My Network Folder.
Double-click it, and you will be prompted for your network username and password (just replace what's
At the bottom of the OS X Desktop is the Dock. The Dock is a launcher where you can place applications,
files, or folders. It is also where the Trash now lives (no more Trash icon on the Desktop). Any running
applications will have a black triangle under the icon.
In this example you can see I’m running Sherlock, Safari, Microsoft Internet Explorer, Norton AntiVirus,
Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, iTunes, Terminal, and Adobe Acrobat Reader. The Finder (always the
leftmost icon) will always be running.
Items are added to the Dock by dragging them onto it (the other icons will move out of the way). Likewise, to
remove an item, simply drag it off of the Dock and it will disappear in a puff of smoke. In the public labs,
however, the Dock cannot be modified.
The Dock is divided by a dividing line — to the left of this line you can place only applications. Any
applications you launch that are not already in the Dock will appear there while running. Any windows you
minimize will shrink to the right side of the Dock, which can contain only files, folders and the Trash.
Holding the mouse button on an application icon in the Dock will show a list of available commands, plus
any open documents of that application. Microsoft Word, for example, would show you all the Word files you
currently have open. Explorer would list the web pages you’re viewing at that moment:
Holding the mouse down on a folder icon will give you a list of the contents of that folder. Click and hold on
the Trash icon, and you have the option of emptying the Trash.
The Dock is also used to eject removable disks (CDs, server volumes, floppies (does anyone use floppies
anymore?)). To eject a disk, drag it to the Dock, and you will see an Eject symbol in place of the Trash icon:
will change to…
Drag the icon for the disk onto the Eject symbol, and it will pop out of the computer (or just unmount if it’s a
Working with Finder windows
The Finder is the program that presents the graphical interface to the user and allows us to organize files
and folders and easily work with icons and windows.
The title bar of a typical Finder window will look something like this:
Clicking the hide/show toolbar button at the top right (THIS DOES NOT CLOSE THE WINDOW!) changes
the window to look like this:
Once a window has been minimized to the Dock, mousing over it will reveal its name:
Note also that the Dock icon of a minimized window shows a small badge that tells you which application it
The zoom/unzoom button will expand a window to show all its icons. Clicking it again will return it to its un-
Working With Finder Windows
Here are some other useful tips for working with windows in the Finder:
If you want to…
close a window
- click the red button at the top left NOT THE TOP RIGHT, or press Apple-w
minimize a window to the Dock
- click the yellow button at the top left, or press Apple-m, or double-click title bar
minimize ALL open windows
- hold down Option and click the yellow minimize button, or press Option-Apple-m
expand a window to see all of its contents
- click the green button at the top left
cycle through all your open windows
- Apple-` (just under the esc key)
move a window in the background without bringing it to the front
- hold down Apple key and move window by the title bar
toggle the toolbar on/off in Finder windows
- click the oblong button at the top right of the window, or…
- press Apple-b
Working With Applications
At the top left of every Mac OS X screen, next to the Apple Menu, is the Application Menu. It will always tell
you what application you are currently running. When you first start up the computer, you will be in the
Finder, the OS X graphical interface. When you launch an application (Word, Excel, etc.) this menu will
change to reflect that.
When you are finished using an application, choose Quit from the Application Menu (or just press Apple-q),
and you will be prompted to save any files that have been modified but not saved.
Clicking the red close button does NOT quit an application. It only closes the document.
If you’re used to using Windows, closing the last open document usually quits the application. On the Mac
you have to tell the application to quit. The application stays open so if you want to open another Word
document you don’t have to wait for Word to launch all over again, since it’s already open.
Another useful function of the red close button is that it tells you if that document has been modified. If the
document has been changed, a dot will appear in the center of the red close button:
Saving the document will cause the close button to revert to its “unmodified” appearance.
Using Contextual Menus
Contextual Menus have been around in the Mac OS since the days of OS 8, but it’s really only with the
release of Mac OS X that they have come into their own as an extremely useful (and in some cases,
To call up a contextual menu, hold down the Control key (ctrl) on the keyboard and click on an item
(document, folder, disk, etc.). Contextual menus are different depending on what you click on, so:
Control-click on the Desktop… on the hard drive…
on a compact disc… on a TextEdit file…
Control-clicking is what users of Microsoft Windows would call “right-clicking”; from the outset (way back in
1984) the Mac OS was engineered so that only one mouse button would be necessary. The saying goes
that the second mouse button on a Mac is on the keyboard J
If you can’t live without a second mouse button, Mac OS X has built-in drivers for any 2 or 3 button mouse
— just plug it in, and OS X will automatically recognize the extra buttons and scrollwheel.
Quick and dirty instructions for other OS X functions:
Burn a CD
- insert blank CD
- give it a name; CD image icon appears on desktop
- drag files onto CD image
- eject CD (drag to the Dock or press Apple-E)
- click Burn
Eject a disk
- drag it to the Eject icon in the Dock
- click on it and hit Apple-e, or…
- Control-click on it and choose Eject from the menu, or…
- click on it and choose Eject from the File menu
Browse the network
- press Apple-k
- browse to the server you want to log into
Search for a file
- hit Apple-f
- choose where you want to search
- choose search criteria
- type in what you're looking for
- click the Search button
Move files to the Trash
- drag icon to Trash icon in Dock, or…
- click once on item, then hit Apple-delete, or…
- Control-click on item and choose Move to Trash from menu that pops up, or…
- click once on item and choose Move to Trash from File menu
Empty the Trash
- hold mouse button down on Trash icon in Dock, and choose Empty Trash (the only option)
- choose Empty Trash from Finder menu
- hit Apple-Shift-delete
See which characters a font can display
- open the KeyCaps program in the Dock
- choose the font you want to explore
- hold down different modifier keys (Shift, Option, Apple) to see the different characters available
with that keystroke
Accented characters, and characters with umlauts, are created by first invoking the modifier key, then the
character to which you want to add the accent/umlaut. To get é, you would press Option-e (nothing will
seem to happen), then e all by itself. Or Option-u, then o for ö.
-Type in a non-roman alphabet (i.e. Cyrillic, Hebrew, Japanese, Arabic, etc.)
- open TextEdit in the Dock
- choose the language you want to type in from the "flag" menu
- the font should automatically switch to the language you chose
At present, Microsoft Word does not support typing with non-Roman keyboards or fonts. If you want to use
a non-Roman alphabet and keyboard layout, you must use TextEdit, or another word processor that
supports this feature.
To convert any document (word processing, web page, etc.) into a PDF file
- choose Print from the application’s File menu
- click the Save As PDF… button
- give the file a name and press Apple-d to save it on the Desktop
- click the Save button
To force quit a misbehaving program
If you get a colored spinning “beach ball” icon for a long time, that program might be stuck.
- press Apple-Option-esc (or choose Force Quit… from the Apple menu at the far left)
- you will see a list of currently running applications; choose the one that’s stuck from the list and
click the Force Quit button
- you will be asked if you really want to quit; click Force Quit again