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New to Mac? Top 16 things to do when first setting up your Mac

New to Mac? Top 16 things to do when first setting up your Mac

A lot of new Mac users are so excited & overwhelmed by their purchases that they don’t even know where to start. While Macs do come out of the box ready to go, a little configuration here and a few applications there goes a long way.

Experienced Mac users tend to have a ritual or rundown of things they do when they take a shiny new Apple computer out of its box for the first time. Everyone’s routine varies depending on their particular needs and usage habits, but the general idea is the same. It’s mostly about personalization and taking Mac OS X’s default functionality a few steps further.

Unfortunately, recent Windows converts and first-time computer buyers haven’t yet developed these kinds of “must-do” practices for themselves. So, in the name of making the process easier for newcomers, we’ve put together a collection of 16 things to do when first setting up your Mac. These suggestions are by no means considered to be required, but they do serve as a good jumping off point for most folks. And once you’ve got the basics down, you can dive deeper into the Mac community for more advanced tips & offerings.

1. Run Software Update

Apple is continuously pushing out new updates for their software to fix bugs, improve compatibility, and add features. Going to the Apple menu, then Software Update right off the bat will get your Mac off to a good start. Do it a few times, too, because some updates are only available after you install other ones.

2. Enable right-click

Why Apple doesn’t do this by default is beyond me. But that seemingly single-button MacBook trackpad or Magic Mouse is very capable of right-clicking. Just go to System Preferences, choose Trackpad or Mouse and check the box next to “Secondary click”.

3. Show the full date in the menu bar

The Mac menu bar only shows the day of the week and time in the upper-right corner. Assuming you’re running Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, you can also add the month and date to the menu bar by checking “Show date” in System Preferences under Date & Time > Clock. Users of older Mac OS X versions can follow this tutorial to show the full date in their menu bar.

4. Set up Exposé and Spaces

Spaces is admittedly more of an advanced feature, but window management with Exposé is for everyone – especially combined with Active Screen Corners. Many new users don’t know it exists, though. Check out this in-depth video tutorial to see how Exposé and Spaces can improve your workflow and productivity.

5. Turn on the firewall

While we’re probably all fine without it thanks to Mac OS X’s excellent track record, an extra layer of security never hurts. Every Mac comes with a solid, easy to use firewall that can be enabled in System Preferences under Security. Switch it on and you’re good to go.

6. Set up Time Machine

Time Machine, Apple’s automated backup system is an absolute must for anyone who keeps valuable documents, photos, videos, music, and more on their Mac. Just plug in an external hard drive with enough free space and your Mac will know what to do.

7. Install Firefox

Now that the operating system tweaks are out of the way, it’s time to look at some must-have FREE 3rd party applications. First, of course, is Firefox. I consider Safari to be the best internet browser, but you never know when a certain site may require an alternative like Firefox to function correctly.

8. Install Glims for Safari

If you do choose to primarily use Safari, Glims is a fantastic add-on. It gives Safari a ton of additional features, especially in the area of search. Take a look our review of Glims for more details about what it offers.

9. Install Flip4Mac WMV

No Windows Media Player for Mac means no compatibility with WMV and WMA files, right? Not so fast! Flip4Mac WMV is a simple plugin that makes QuickTime compatible with these media file formats.

10. Install Perian

At some point you’re likely to need compatibility with additional audio & video types. Much like Flip4Mac WMV, Perian is also a plugin that gives QuickTime access to even more file formats.

11. Install VLC Player

No matter how many QuickTime plugins you install, it will never work with everything all the time. That’s where VLC Player comes in. VLC is its own media player and it plays just about everything under the sun – perfect for those times when QuickTime doesn’t cut it.

12. Install Handbrake

Depending on how you use audio & video, Handbrake may or may not be a program you need. Do you want to rip movies from DVDs to play on your computer or iPod/iPhone? Do you need to convert video files from one format to another? Then you need Handbrake!

13. Install Chax or Adium

Everyone who uses iChat should have Chax, an add-on that opens Apple’s instant messaging program up to a slew of new features. But if that still doesn’t get iChat to a place you’d like it to be, give Adium a try. It’s a totally separate application that works with more IM services and is far more customizable than iChat, albeit not quite as polished.

14. Install Growl

Growl is a notification system that a ton of popular Mac applications support. Want to be notified when an IM buddy has signed on? When an FTP upload has finished? When a video conversion has completed? Growl is incredibly useful, but it’s only as useful as the supporting software you install. Adium, Chax, Handbrake, and Firefox all support it, for example.

15. Install StuffIt Expander

Mac OS X comes with support for ZIP files, which is the most common type of compressed folder. Every once in a while, though, you may run into a RAR file that you can’t open. StuffIt Expander takes care of that problem.

16. Delete unused languages and architectures

Did you know you can recover a few gigabytes of space on your hard drive just by removing extra language packs and outdated system architectures that come bundled in Mac OS X and 3rd party applications you’ve installed? I saved 4.5GB with a program called Monolingual, which you can learn more about in this walk-through.

Newcomers to the Mac platform should definitely benefit from this list. By completing these 16 steps, your new Mac will be configured for most of the challenges you’ll throw its way. And what about the Apple veterans out there? Feel free to share your favorite applications and operating system tweaks for when you’re first setting up a new Mac!

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33 Comments Have Been Posted (Leave Your Response)

I do like Safari, but I also agree with you that everybody should install Firefox.

My first Mac was an SE 20, your site is also very helpful to us everyday Mac & iphone users!

I just got my mac a couple of weeks ago and like many mac users out there, i just love customizing it to fit my needs and personality. I really liked your post. I found to be extremely helpful. Thanks alot!

Now how about a sequel? ^_^

I am a new Mac user and have just set up my Mac according to your directions. I have always used a PC and missed my right mouse click. Thanks!

One thing I would like to know, is how to remove terminal from the dock.Being new, I pulled it down and now it sits on my dock, Oh yes, also sitting there is a set of keys. I try to get them back but they keep sitting on my Dock?

Anyone help?

To remove icons from your Dock just click & hold an icon, drag it outside of the Dock, and release. It should literally disappear in a puff of smoke. The other option is to right-click an icon and choose “Remove from Dock”.

Felipe Augusto Dornelas
June 28th, 2010, 3:27 PM

I prefer The Unarchiver instead of Stuffit Expander. Much better.

I agree with the above poster. Why would you want to install Stuffit Expander? That software is so over.

First thing I’d install, hands down:
That thing’s saved my laptop’s behind many, many times.
I like setting up stuff *first* to take care of those inevitable future “oh sh*t!!” moments. GOTTA have some kind of a strong, methodical fixit plan in place, & software to do it. Then & only then do I feel comfortable with doing \/\/hatever…….
So when only Disk Utility & the Finder are running, & not even Disk Utility fixes the broken stuff then, I just reboot & run Applejack in Single User Mode, reboot, & 99 times out of 99 1/2, everything’s all better.
It’s the #1 “fixit utility” I use when stuff goes wrong & won’t go away. IMO, AJ is an indispensable system util….
(Does a GREAT job of cleaning up accumulated cache files, too BTW. Gets ya LOTS of space back.)

AJ Homepage:
AJ Alt DL site:
Gushing AJ Users’ Feedback:

I’ve tried quite a few Mac zippers & up until recently I had the BOM Archive Helper associated with all my zips ’cause it was fast, did it’s thing, & then disappeared.
However, it chokes on password-protected zips. Says the zips are no good or some such error message, can’t remember. Some other popular lightweight unzippers do the same thing.
StuffIt Expander doesn’t. If a zip’s pw-protected, a pw-entry window pops up.
And by the way, I know you’re somewhat of a newbie by your dissing of StuffIt. StuffIt’s one of the pioneer grand-daddys of all Mac software, bud. Respect yer elders too, sonny……. hehe

Thanks so much for this! Its been a great help to answer a few questions.

I have just one more that I cant find the answer to. . .

My email address has been linked to my mac mail, how can i undo this?


StuffIt sucks and I’ve been around since System 5 days. Pioneer that hasn’t innovated in a LONG time.

Awesome guidelines – thanks a ton!

Get Right Zoom, it adds a quick key command to fit any window to your screen.

Chrome is also good if you don’t like firefox! (I don’t know that many people that don’t life firefox so if you are one of those crazy haters then Chrome is the way to go.)
Great Guide!

A couple of things I’d have on my list: 1) disable automatic login and 2) enable password after sleep / screensaver after idle period of choice.

forget FireFox…. Chrome is way better

I need to know how to find any usb devices or sd cards i put into the mac ….. I have looked everywhere to find them and i havnt a clue…….any suggestions?

Hi Daniel, I just got a Mac too and I’m very lost. Do you mean, where are the files from the USB and SD Cards? I lost some things last night but then found them by clicking the magnifying glass in the top right hand corner and playing around with the wording of some of my files until I got something right and found them.
And if you click on the desktop, the menu bar at the top left will change to ‘Finder’, click on ‘file’, ‘new finder window’ – I found some stuff that way.
I am also struggling with my mouse. I even turned it off and don’t know how, or how I got it back on. I found the voice commands by mistake, now have a list of them beside me and the the icon permanently up to help when I’m stuck.
Good luck and worse case scenario, at least they’re prettier to look at than your average PC!

Hi Daniel, Emma,
When you plug any kind of storage device into your Mac it immediately appears as a mounted volume in Finder and also, more easily accessible, on your desktop.
It’ll usually appear with an icon based the kind of device it’s recognised as too, a usb hdd logo or an sd card logo. This makes it especially easy to spot for speed clickers in OSX.

I can agree with most suggestions also… although Stuffit won’t touch my drive and as for the commenter whom suggested APPLEJACK 100% yes for that!

Mac’s OS is different from windows, but keep at learning Mac OS X, because once you are comfortable and effective with it you’ll wonder how you even enjoyed Windows. That’s from my experience at least ;)

Any other new comers to Mac please ask, their are plenty of Mac users who are eager to help!

Thanks! Very helpful!!

Dumbest questions EVER – got my first a few months back, a Pro, LOVING it after figuring out it’s quirky differences (well then they were quirky now they are cute). Questions:

How do I rename MS word files (in windows right clicking on the name of a file would enable it to simply be changed)? I already had the right clicker enabled.

Also – how do I delete a whole folder (again typically from Word)? I’ve tried dragging it to the trash, but it won’t accept it. Weird! And driving my OCD a bit crazy…


Oh also – just this evening I turned it on and it had changed the date back to 11 Jan 2001 – why on earth would this happen?


I manually changed it back. But it has never happened before so quite concerned.

@T, the above poster:
If you want to change the name of MSWord files just click on it once (it will turn purple or blue, whatever color your default “select-color” is) and wait just a second and click it again (just once!). Normally you should be able to rename the file now.

As for the date changing: maybe you haven’t used your mac in a while? it happened to my mother’s macbook pro too, just yesterday but I’m guessing it was because the battery was completely empty and she hadn’t used her laptop in a while. Normally if you go to system preferences and click “date and time” you can select a box that enables auto date & time setting to “apple time” (I’m working in a different language so I don’t know the exact english terms Apple uses for it, but it should be something similar)

I hope this was helpful…

I think Quicktime is the clumsiest program ever. I would dump it immediately and set up VLC as default for all video files. MPlayer is a great backup for the occasional file that even VLC can’t handle. I would also strongly recommend a clipboard organizer (I use Jumpcut) and something like iStat to show you when you are really connected, when your CPU is going crazy, etc.

Good list. But what about installing Adobe Reader – I lost a whole load of work in a pdf form as I didn’t realise preview – the default mac app for pdfs – does not save text entered in pdf forms.

Thanks a lot for the hints. Especially bullet 2-5, I had not found out about it myself! :-)

REally the first thing I would do is install firefox, then check the plugins from tools>add ons>Plug Ins>”check to see if your plugins are up to date”.
From there I am sure I will need to get Air, Flash, Shockave, Silverlight, Acrobat and the aformentioned Perian/VLC etc.
I hate Growl. It isn’t really that useful. Most apps that can take advantage of its “features” can also display an alert on a menubar icon, or at least bounce their dock icon.

Hy thanks heaps, I finally took the plunge and switched from my old Acer laptop to a MacBook Pro. I had already done a few of these things (yay!) but found this list really helpful for someone who’s never used a Mac before!

Instead of firefox, get Chrome :)

Great Article..
I am a new mac user and recently bought a macbook pro..I am loving it…
1.sometimes pinch to zoom does not work e.g in safari. Is there a specific reason behinf that?
2.During video chatting on skype the isight camera disappears..when i restart my macbook it appears again..How can I resolve this issue??


THANKS! i am new to using Macs but they are the best for photo editing. The learning curve has been rough but im getting there!

“Enable right-click – Why Apple doesn’t do this by default is beyond me.”

It’s for legal reasons, agreed to by both Gates and Jobs :)