Making the switch: a Windows user's first MacBook (part 1)

Making the switch to Apple and OS X can be a little daunting for casual Windows users. Here's a rundown of how you can adapt to your new operating system.

Welcome to part one of our feature for switching to Mac. Once you're done, if you'd like to further your learning we've also got a second part, and a third for getting you up to speed on all things OS X.

So, you've succumbed to the shiny and bought yourself a new MacBook — but things aren't quite as familiar as your Windows world. CNET Australia is here to help with the adjustment!

We'll tackle this from the point of view of having opened your new Mac and walked through the set-up process, and you're now looking at your first desktop.

After you've gone through the sign-up process, this will most likely be your first sight. (Screenshot by Craig Simms/CBS Interactive)

Make yourself more comfortable

For the first-time OS X user, long-time Windows user, being presented with the OS X desktop can be a little jarring. Let's change a few settings to make things more comfortable.

Icons on the desktop

OS X likes to hide elements of its file system — let's open it back up for the power user.

We'll want to be using Finder, OS X's version of Windows Explorer. It runs by default as a shell, in much the same manner that Explorer does. From a straight cold boot, it's the first application running; you can see this, as the word Finder should be right next to the black Apple logo at the top left.

Many application preferences are found under their self-titled menus. (Screenshot by Craig Simms/CBS Interactive)

If it's not, we'll need to make Finder the active application. There are two ways you can do this: click the blue-and-silver square smiley face in the bottom left, or go through keyboard shortcuts. As a Windows user, you're more than familiar with Alt + Tab for task switching. The same functionality exists here, too, but instead is assigned to Command + Tab.

Once Finder is active, click the word Finder at the top left of the screen and select Preferences.

Finder's preferences window. (Screenshot by Craig Simms/CBS Interactive)

Under the General tab, there are options under Show these items on the desktop. Select them all — you'll now have a handy shortcut to your hard drive on the desktop, and whenever you insert a USB drive, it'll appear here, as well.

Saving settings

There's rarely a need to hit "apply", "save" or "OK" in OS X. Once you change a setting, in most circumstances it's instantly changed.

Let's take things one step further: we want easy access to the root of the hard drive when using Finder. Click on the Sidebar tab, and under Devices, ensure that Hard disks is a tick rather than a minus. You can also check Computer here if you want a top-down view of your system, although, at this stage, it'll have a blank name — you'll need to launch System Preferences from the dock (the gear-like icon in the bar at the bottom of the screen), then select Sharing under Internet & Wireless to change it.

Making Finder open a different folder by default

While some may find the "All My Files" view useful when opening new Finder windows, we don't. An easy way to make this more appealing to power users is to go back to the general tab of Finder preferences, find the section called New Finder windows show and set the drop down to your folder of choice. We like showing the root folder of the main hard drive, so we usually select Macintosh HD and leave it at that.

Getting the most out of the track pad

Time to address something that's likely been frustrating you: You can right click with an Apple track pad — out of the box, hold two fingers on the pad and physically click. But there's a more elegant, less effort, solution, and this involves tapping. Let's start tweaking our track-pad experience, and, while we're at it, explore why Apple really does make the best touch pad in the business.

Open up System Preferences, the gear-like icon in the dock. This is analogous to Windows' Control Panel — and, yes, just like Control Panel, not everything is stored here.

System Preferences is similar in function to Windows' Control Panel. (Screenshot by Craig Simms/CBS Interactive)
Three-finger drag

Three-finger drag has an interesting side effect — more than just moving windows, with it enabled you can also select text using a three-finger swipe, even if it isn't the most accurate of methods. We prefer the Windows method, though — double tap to drag/select, then tap once more to release/finish selection. This is available in OS X, too, but Apple's hidden the setting somewhere else.

If you prefer it to, ensure that three-finger drag is off, then head to System Preferences and click Universal Access, found under the Personal section. Select the Mouse & Trackpad option, then click Trackpad Options at the bottom. Check the Dragging check box, change the drop down to with Drag Lock. Click Done, and you'll start feeling a lot more comfortable immediately.

Under the Hardware section, click the Trackpad icon. The first thing you'll notice is that Apple includes a handy video, both demonstrating the gesture of the selected option, and what that gesture does. Let's get to customising.

Change the tab to Point & Click. Here you can enable tap to click (which automatically allows you to double finger tap for a right click, instead of physically depressing the track pad), set the bottom right or left corners to act as a right click when physically depressed and choose from several more options.

Apple includes useful videos for all of its track pad options, allowing you to customise easily. (Screenshot by Craig Simms/CBS Interactive)

Flip over to the Scroll & Zoom tab. By default, OS X Lion is set to scroll the page in the same direction as your fingers move — that is, the opposite way that Windows does it. It's a bizarre sensation, as you're likely used to manually associating the scroll bar moving with your fingers instead of the content. If it turns you off, you can turn it off: simply uncheck Scroll direction: natural. Let's head to the More Gestures tab.

This is where things get really cool, as we start to delve into window management in OS X. All we'd suggest is that you turn on everything here if it isn't already — it makes life a heck of a lot easier. To give you an idea of some of the gestures available, put the tips of all your fingers and thumb on the pad, then splay them out slightly. You should now be able to see the desktop, and manipulate things there. Put down your fingers and contract slightly to bring all of your apps back. Contract once more, and you'll be treated to Launch Pad, Apple's quick-access solution to reach your apps. Splay your fingers slightly to close it. Within time, it all becomes incredibly natural.

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