You have the very first Mac that you’ve owned. Don’t be afraid of your new computer; you’re leaving behind a world of headaches, and this new Mac is your pain reliever.
Now that you own a new Mac, here are ten tasks to take care of right away. (I’ve set up many new Macs in my day, and I’ve devised a new-Mac-setup checklist. These tips are especially geared for first-time Mac owners.)
1. Backup Plan
Yep, this is step 1. Creating a backup system is boring, unfun, and doesn’t involve playing with cool apps or doodads. But having a good backup solution now means you won’t lose irreplaceable data later. You can start by setting up a Time Machine backup plan, which requires an external hard drive. Or you can use third-party software or an online backup service. Pick at least one and get started. Trust me.
2. Install Dropbox
This can dovetail nicely with step 1 above. Dropbox is a free, painless utility that not only backs up your files, but also easily syncs them to other devices. When you install Dropbox, files and folders that you drag into the Dropbox folder automatically get backed up to the Dropbox website—and they also sync to other computers or devices (like iPhones and iPads) logged in to the same Dropbox account.
It’s a magical solution for backing up your files, syncing them between machines, and making them available everywhere. No Mac is complete without it. Get it at www.dropbox.com.
3. Tweak the Preferences
This is your Mac. Make it look and act the way you want. Fire up System Preferences (it’s in the default Dock, or accessible via the Apple menu) and go through every single pane. If you’re not sure what something does, or if you can’t see a benefit to tweaking a setting, you’re free to leave it alone, of course. But tweaking options like Highlight Color (under General), your Mac’s background image (Desktop & Screensaver), and the default alert sound (in the Sound Effects tab of the Sound pane) is your Apple-given right, so tweak away.
4. Master Gestures
If your new Mac includes a trackpad—either because it’s a laptop with a built-in pad, or because you scored a Magic Trackpad to go with your new desktop—take some time to learn about the many gestures built into Mac OS X Lion, your new Mac’s operating system.
One of the simplest ways to discover the various available gestures is right in System Preferences, where you just were in step 2. Click on the Trackpad preference, and you’ll find three tabs’ worth of mouse shortcuts. Move the cursor over any of them, and you get a video preview of how to trigger the gesture. Some gestures may well improve your Mac computing experience; I, for one, love using the three-finger double-tap on any word to bring up its definition.
5. Discover the Mac App Store
On a new Mac, it’s right there in your Dock—the blue circle with a stylized A inside it. The Mac App Store offers thousands of apps, and downloading and installing those apps is straightforward. Many apps are free; others require a payment, generally ranging from $1 to a couple hundred bucks.
While you can—and likely will—find plenty of apps outside the cozy confines of the Mac App Store, browsing it is a great way to discover interesting apps, read reviews, and get a sense of the Mac software marketplace.
6. Call Someone via FaceTime
Video chatting might not feel like the future anymore, but it’s still a delight. Perhaps no software makes it easier to start (or receive) a video call than FaceTime, which is built right into Lion. Find it in your Applications folder, or use Spotlight (accessible via the magnifying glass at the upper right of your menu bar) to search for FaceTime by typing in the first few letters of the app’s name. Now all you need is the email address or phone number of another FaceTime user.
And remember, anyone running Lion or Snow Leopard on a Mac, or using an iPhone 4 or 4S or an iPad 2, can communicate with you via FaceTime. That’s a lot of people.
7. Download Chrome
It pains me to offer this tip; I’ve been a devotee of the Safari Web browser since Apple first unveiled it. But Safari 5.1 introduced significant annoyances that made the experience of using it far less enjoyable—unless you welcome undesired page refreshes, systemwide slowdowns, and other bugginess. Recent updates to the browser have improved the situation a bit, but haven’t eliminated the problems.
Google’s free Chrome browser isn’t flawless, but in my real-world usage, it’s faster, more reliable, and less problem-prone than Safari. Get it at www.google.com/chrome.
8. Make an iMovie Trailer
iMovie comes included on every new Mac. (Just check your Applications folder.) Mastering this video-editing program takes patience, but you can create a great-looking pseudo movie trailer using your own video clips in just a few minutes if you follow our tutorial (which you can find at macworld.com/7619). Creating professional-quality trailers from your own home movies is great fun, and it’s an excellent way to get acquainted with iMovie’s more powerful features, too.
9. Record a Song
You’ve already made a movie; composing your opus should be easy. Like iMovie, GarageBand ships free with new Macs. The app lets beginners and professionals alike create music.
If you have a USB keyboard, that’ll help, but you certainly don’t need one. Start dragging music loops together—guitar parts, drum parts, and so on—and GarageBand automatically matches their pitch and tempo as needed. You can even play simulated instruments with your mouse or keyboard (Window ? Keyboard). Create an “I Don’t Miss Windows at All” jingle and share it with friends.
10. Clean Up
Your Mac’s desktop is your work (and play) space; neatness counts. Tidy up by removing apps from your Dock that you won’t use often. To do so, quit the apps if they’re open, and then simply drag their icons out of the Dock; they’ll vanish in a puff of virtual smoke, though they’re still safely ensconced in your Applications folder, ready for you to run them again should the need arise. Also consider creating a junk folder on your desktop, where you can store files you’re not ready to sort.