Mac OS X Lion - 32 tips for beginners

Apple’s OS X Lion has been around for quite a while now. Like Snow Leopard before it, the new OS update brought in a significant number of changes that built on Apple’s already polished user experience.

The success of the iPad and iPhone has led to an increasing number of people looking at Macs to replace their PCs. It means a whole generation of Mac newbies are being created and they need training. You could spend a few hours with one of Apple’s "Geniuses" post-purchase. Better still, scrap the trip to the store and read our beginners guide, we guarantee you will learn something new.

1) Sort out Hot Corners

One of the best features in OS X is called Hot Corners. It's a very simple way of managing all your windows and generally keeping your desktop tidy while using your Mac. The problem is that Apple changed the way that it's set up in Lion. You now need to go to System Preferences, click on Mission Control and then select Hot Corners in the bottom left of the screen. You can then set them up as normal, choosing what happens when you go to each corner of your display. Say, for example, you want dragging your mouse to the bottom left of the screen to show the desktop, you do it here. 

2) Sort out Mission Control

Mission Control is the new exciting feature Apple has included in OS X Lion. It is a major revamp for Expose and helps plenty with setting up multiple desktops. This feature is also in System Preferences. We suggest setting Mission Control itself to the fn key. This means you can tap it and open up all the windows and desktops you have running. Don't forget that the new gestures also mean three finger swipes will let you switch around desktops quickly.

3) Get rid of OS X Lion inverted scrolling

Inverted scrolling was a bit of a controversial inclusion in OS X Lion. Personally we like it when using the Apple track pad, but aren't such big fans if we are going for the MacBook option. Either way, Apple made it surprisingly difficult to turn off. You are going to want to go to Trackpad in System Preferences, then uncheck the box that says Scroll Direction Natural. Fixed. 

4) Close a program

Unlike in Windows, hitting the red x icon on the top left of an open program does not close it. If you want to shut down a program completely then long press on its icon in the dock and hit close. You need to try and keep track of everything open otherwise the whole system will get slower. 

5) Learn some gestures

Gestures are one of the biggest additions Apple made to OS X Lion. It's now possible to manipulate the entire operating system virtually by just using your fingers. There are far too many to learn to list here, but head over to Apple's website for a full list. Personally, we like the way Safari behaves using Gestures. You can pinch to zoom and use two fingers to swipe forwards and backwards or scroll up and down. The four finger pinch to bring up Launchpad and all your apps is also worth taking advantage of. 

6) Use Launchpad

Apple is beginning to incorporate iOS style features into OS X in what we suspect is an attempt to bring unity between its operating systems. Launchpad is essentially iOS on the mac. A four finger pinch will bring up lists of all your apps, complete with folders, which you can then click to launch. A two finger swipe will let you switch between pages of apps. 

7) Use full screen apps

Prior to the days of Lion, the silver toolbar that sits atop the OS X screen was always there. Lion changed this by introducing full screen apps, which take advantage of all your screen size. For native Apple programs like Safari things work pretty well, but not all third party apps support the function yet. 

8) Create multiple desktops

If you run a lot of apps at the same time then having more than one desktop, particularly if you are on a laptop with limited screen space, will make life a lot easier. To do this fire up Mission Control and click the plus symbol at the top right of the screen. Each time you click you get another desktop. Switch between them using four fingered swipes.

9) Drag folders into quick select bar on left

It might not seem the biggest of benefits at first but, believe us, getting your quick select bar sorted will seriously speed up the way you use OS X. Just drag and drop in the things you want to keep there. Having downloads on the left, for example, means you can easily drop files or delete anything you've grabbed from the Net. Similarly, pictures on the left will allow you to just throw image files straight into your image folder. A bit of practice and you will be swapping and sending files across your operating system lightening quick.

10) Customise your dock

The dock that sits at the bottom of the screen in OS X is one of our favourite Mac features. It's easily customised to give you quick access to your favourite apps. Personally, we prefer to use this over Launchpad to get our apps up and running. Some people keep the dock sat on the bottom of the screen permanently, others prefer it to pop up when they hover the mouse over the lower part of our display. Either way, it's a very good egg indeed.

To add an app to your dock simply drag and drop it in. To remove, do the opposite. If you want to change the size and genie effect of apps going back into the dock, you can do that in System Settings. Anything to the right of the dock will behave like a folder. You can open it and select documents and files from within without leaving the dock.

11) Use Photobooth

If you are one of the lucky few who has a new iMac or MacBook, then using Photobooth should be even better, thanks to the new Facetime HD cam. Photobooth is the classic Mac photo warping program. You can snap yourself with a whole host of different effects including mirroring or even green screen style backgrounds. To access Photobooth click on the magnifying glass on the top right and type it in, hit enter when the application icon appears. Great app for instant Facebook profile shots, but just as useful if you need to take a quick serious pic of yourself for the Internet.

12) Install apps

So, this one might seem massively obvious but, believe us, if you have just moved from Windows, it is worth explaining how you get things installed on OS X. Essentially, unlike Windows operating systems, apps are installed simply by dragging them into the applications folder. You might find some applications, particularly those downloaded, come in the form of .dmg files.

If this is the case, double click them to open them and then drag the app icon into your apps folder. Mainstream applications, like Skype for example, once downloaded will open a folder which features the app icon and your normal applications folder. Just drag it to the app folder to install. Easy peasy.

13) Remove apps

Removing apps is about as straightforward as it gets with OS X Lion. You just drag them straight into the trash and hit Empty. They may leave the odd file fragment in your system but it's nothing that a decent cleanup app, say like Cleanmymac, won't solve. You can also actually go into system's preferences, found in the folder marked Library on your hard disk, and delete the related .plist files. Although we do suggest not messing with this folder as it can cause errors. Your Mac shouldn't slow down much over time particularly as its file systems work very differently. 

14) Clean up login items

One thing that can slow down your Mac is the system's login items. They are the programs that boot up every time you start the computer. Things like Skype are particularly fond of adding themselves to your login items and will do nothing but chew up memory if you aren’t using them. Fix this by going to System Preferences, hitting Users and Groups, then clicking Login items and unchecking each box you can see.

15) Swipe from your keyboard

If you are a fan of keyboard shortcuts, you are going to love this one. Hold down the control key and press the left or right arrow to spin through your full screen apps. It uses the multi desktop feature in OS X Lion and builds on the snappy screen switching speed you get with a Mac.

16) Empty the trash

Pretty simple this one and a tip for real beginners. You see that bin you drag documents to when you want them gone? Well it keeps things, a bit like the recycle bin in Windows. You can then restore documents to the desktop if you are so inclined or, better still, empty the trash to make some space on your hard drive. How do you do this? Either click the trash bucket and then hit empty trash in the top right of the window that appears or right click the bin and select the relevant option. Easy does it.

17) Clean up your disk

Mac OS X is fairly nice at mainting its own filesystem but after a few months it can get a tad clogged. This is easily rectified via the Disk Utility app. Find it in the Spotlight which is the magnifying glass on the top right of the screen. Once you have it open, click your computer’s hard disk. This will be on the white box to the left. You should see to options below a white box that says either "verify disk permissions" or "repair disk permissions". Do both, in that order, and you should see a decent part of your file system fixed. Nothing can beat a full re-install, however, which is why we suggest using Time Capsule.

18) Setup Time Machine

Apple makes its own device called a Time Capsule that will wirelessly backup your whole system. If you own one of these, then the process is virtually the same should you be using a networked hard drive or physically connected one. If you don't have an external HDD, a partitioned drive or a Time Capsule, then Time Machine is not something you can use. If you do qualify, then simply click the clock icon in the toolbar at the top of the screen and hit Open Time Machine. Drag the slider to on and select your hard drive. The program will do the rest.

19) Use the new look calendar

OS X Lion brought a new calendar app along with it. iCal now looks more like the one you see on the iPad and features an easier way to add quick events and manage your commitments. The real thing you want to do with iCal, however, is sync it up nicely with your Google and other web-based calendars. Hit Preferences, then the plus icon and sign in with your relevant credentials. The calendar will then populate with your information.

20) Setup mail

One of the best things about OS X Lion is its Mail app. Now with much better management of messages and conversations, it is worth using. You need just fire the app up and then sign in with whatever email service you use. If you want to add more, click the toolbar, hit Preferences and Accounts, then add however many you need.

21) Change the clock

This might seem like one of the most obvious things you would ever need to do with a computer, and it is, but changing the clock is important. If you can't do it, you could find yourself in a whole heap of do-do should you travel abroad. Fire up System Preferences or just click the clock and hit Open Time and Date Preferences. You then want to uncheck the box that says Set Time and Date Automatically. You will then be able to adjust the relevant settings as you see fit.

22) Customise the Finder

The core experience of OS X Lion is powered by the Finder. It's what makes using a Mac such a nice thing to do. On the face of it, the look and style of the Finder might seem extremely set in its ways. Not so. You can, in fact, alter the Finder quite easily. The cartoon version of two face sat on the left of the dock will call up the Finder. Once you have it open, hit Finder in the top menu bar and then select Preferences. You can then do things like select what items appear on the desktop, spring load folders, select what items appear in the sidebar and manage the way the trash is emptied.

23) Secure empty the trash

With the Finder preferences still open, you should see a few extra options under the Advanced tab. One of them is to secure empty the trash. This will mean that each time your erase things from your Mac, they are deleted to a more extreme level and much harder to find should someone suspect get hold of your machine.

24) Learn some keyboard shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts aren't unique to Mac, but there are loads that you can use to speed up actions and spend less time opening menus. Many use the cmd, or command, button new to the space bar, but you'll find combinations that also use alt and shift are common. Cmd+space takes you straight to Spotlight, so you can search for what you want, Cmd+A selects all, Cmd+C will copy and Cmd+V will paste, Cmd+S will save, Cmd+W will close. Many shortcuts work across applications, but you'll also find shortcuts within apps, again, saving you masses of time if you use a particular app a lot.

25) Manage your computer’s sleep settings

Macs are brilliant at managing the way they sleep and wake. The MacBook Air in particular is almost unparalleled at the speed at which it can boot and restart from sleep. A simple way of putting your Mac to bed is just to close the lid. There is, however, an alternative. Fire up those old faithful system settings and hit Energy Saver. From there you are going to get all sorts of options in terms power management. Tick things like "slightly dim the display when using a power source" and "hard disk sleep" and also set the computer to go to sleep after a few minutes and it will save lots of battery in the future.

26) Decide if applications open when you start the system

A long press on app icons on the dock will reveal an options menu. From there you can tell apps to re-open when you fire your computer up. If you want to do the opposite and stop anything from opening at startup, then un-check the box that says re-open windows on startup.

27) Use Activity Monitor

An app we live by is Activity Monitor. By now you should be feeling fairly comfortable with the whole OS X infrastructure and using something like AM can only help. Managing what is up and running on your system is not easy but can be rectified by using the app. Search in the Spotlight for Activity Monitor, set it to stay in your dock and then change the app icon in options to available memory. The amount of RAM left on your system is portrayed like a pie; the more red, the less resources. If things get slow, then take a peek at Activity Monitor and maybe close some things down.

28) Try out iWork

Apple actually does a really good job at word processing, spreadsheet making and powerpoint presentations. Unlike the usual Microsoft Office excitement, everything is done with that Apple shine and costs quite a bit less. Open up the App Store and search for Pages, Numbers and Keynote. All three are the equivalent of Microsoft’s offering and can save in the relevant formats. They’re £13.99 each and have iPad equivalents which can manage things just as well.

29) Try out iLife

The core of Apple’s user experience is driven by things like iLife. Once you get used to each individual application, they all begin to compliment each other perfectly. Start off with iPhoto, upload some images from your camera and then begin tagging them. Really straightforward stuff. iMovie will then let you send stills from iPhoto and even take songs in from iTunes. The last and biggest part of iLife is Garageband.

30) Use Garageband

Garageband is a sort of lite version of Apple’s much more powerful and complex Logic. It is brilliant if you want to bang together a song or experiment with podcasting. One of the most self explanatory apps Apple has ever put together and capable of quite an amazing amount of stuff should you take the time to experiment, Garageband is well worth trying.

31) Take Versions for a spin

New to OS X Lion is Versions. Like Google Doc’s permanent online saving facility, it stops you losing changes you’ve made to your work. You can, like Time Machine, step back through documents in the time order you created or altered them. It means you don’t go losing major parts of work if the system crashes. One thing though, you need Pages to use it.

32) Install Skype

Skype is one of the best programs you can have on your computer. It allows you to communicate via video, text or audio chat with contacts for free over the Internet. Download it from here and install by simply dragging the app icon into your applications folder. Easy stuff really and it's great for chatting to the grandparents.

Anything else you could offer a new Mac user? Let us know in the comments below ...