How to use the Mac -- Basics

Macintosh computers were first introduced in 1984 by Apple Computer of California. These computers were the first consumer computers built for people who didn't want to learn electronics or computer programming to get their work completed. They remain the easiest to learn and use, while being the most powerful desktops and laptops available for the price.

The Mac uses a display screen, keyboard, and pointing device (usually a mouse) to interact with you. You have probably already learned to use the mouse to move the pointer around on the screen, but for background information, when the mouse slides around on your desktop, a cursor will move about in the same direction on the screen. This cursor is usually an arrow-shaped cartoon, but depending on what you are doing, it may also look like a miniature I-beam, a wrist watch, a spinning beach ball, or something else.

Turning on the Mac

To use the Mac, you first need to turn it on. Some Mac models have an on/off switch which always has to be used (Plus, Se, SE/30, Classic, Classic II, Performa 400, PowerBook 1xx on back of chassis as a toggle-type push switch or a pushbutton. With the Quadra 6xx, Performa 4xx, PowerPC 61xx, etc. the switch is on front of CPU as a push button. Flip or depress the switch to power on the Mac.

Many other Macs have a soft-on/off command controlled by the software and the keyboard (IIsi, IIci, PowerBook 540, PowerPC 8500, iMac/G3 etc.). That's the "ON" button on the keyboard, the button all by itself with the odd triangle on it. Press the button, and the Mac should come to life and make a chime sound. If it doesn't, make sure the power strip that the computer is plugged into is turned on. If the Mac does chime, but nothing shows up on the display, make sure the monitor's own power switch is on and any brightness and contrast controls are set properly.

You may have some accessories which work with the Mac such as an external hard drive, printer or modem. These devices should be turned on before the Mac is turned on. Here's a handy rule-of-thumb: the CPU (Mac) is the last device on and the first device turned off. Keeping that in mind alone will save you hours of headaches down the road.

The Mac takes a few seconds to "boot up". You'll see a happy face on the computer, then a message that says something like Welcome to Macintosh or your OS version.  Finally, after some figures (icons) show up along the bottom of the screen, you will see what we call the desktop. A menu bar will be at the top of the screen which looks similar to this:

Using the Mac  --  The Mouse and the Desktop

You will use the mouse to move a pointer around on the screen to select either from the menu bar or the icons for the hard drive, trashcan, files, etc. All this you already know, but as a reminder, the mouse lets you do several things: You can move the tip of the pointer to an item to single-click on it (highlights a file or folder), double-click quickly to open a file or folder, or click-and-hold to select a menu item like File or Special.

Let's say you wanted to open a file on the hard drive. In the top right side of the desktop, the hard drive is represented by the icon called After Hours (the cowdog). Your hard drive may be named something different (Macintosh HD?) and have a different icon. That is perfectly normal.

To open the hard drive, you maneuver the pointer arrow so the tip is on the icon for the hard drive, then double-click the mouse button quickly. It takes a little adjustment, but if you double-click just right, the icon will "open", and the contents will be shown in a "window" which represents the hard drive. Some of these contents will be folders, and some may be files or applications. What's the difference? Well, a folder is analogous to a normal folder in your office filing cabinet: it's an icon which simple holds files or applications as a way of grouping related files or information. These are the Mac's version of a subdirectory. You can use folders many ways to organize your files, no one way is the right way, so experiment.

A file can be anything -- a written letter (the Word file called mom 7/16/96), a spreadsheet, a database, anything. Some special files are called applications (software programs which allow us to create other files or do special jobs on a computer "applications"). The nomenclature is kind of silly, but you have to know the terminology to move ahead.

O.K., let's touch upon the menu bar at the top of the screen for a moment. This is where the real action is. To select a menu, move the pointer up to a menu item(for instance, the "Apple"), then click and hold the mouse button down (System 7.6.1 or earlier) or just click once (OS 8.0 or higher). A menu will appear below the Apple. Let's pretend we want to discover what operating system (OS) and how much RAM memory is installed on our Mac (a very useful number to know when considering a software purchase, for instance).

To discover this, move the pointer to the Apple then click-and-hold the mouse button without moving the mouse. A pull-down menu appears. If you keep the mouse button depressed, you can carefully move the mouse and the pointer will move about on the pull down menu. Bring the pointer down on top of the About This Macintosh... item and release the mouse button. This selects the About This Macintosh... menu item, which reveals another window.

This window gives a lot of important basic information about the Mac. Here, we find our OS version (7.5.5) and the amount of built-in RAM memory (69,632 Kilobytes, or 69 Megabytes of RAM), and we can even see how much memory different programs use. When this window was copied, I had three programs running simultaneously (FileMaker Pro, Find File and Microsoft Word) along with the System (which always runs).



Each pull down menu will have it's own features. Some are only available after you have selected a file icon on the hard drive, and some are always available. You should explore these menus, because this is where you control how the Mac works.


Shutting Down the Mac

To turn off a Mac, always select the Shut Down command. Never turn off the power to a Mac without first selecting ShutDown. On most models, selecting ShutDown will also turn off the Mac; on others, you will have to turn off the power after the Mac tells you it is safe to turn off the model.





Do you want to expand your basic Mac skills?  We have some additional examples to explore below:

Discover Spreadsheets