Setting up a new Mac

You have a friend that has not had a Mac before and they say to you "Help me set up my new computer." What do you do and what is the order you do these things in? My first question will be to ask my good friend what she plans to do with the computer. That way I can recommend some applications which will do the jobs she wants to do. My thoughts will be along the lines of how can we do it for free first of all, and if we have to spend any money, how do we get the best value.

There are some things that I will suggest that all Macs should have installed. For instance you will be doing copy and paste, so a good clipboard manager is essential. Surfing web pages will be another activity that is taken care of with the Mac, with there being Safari on there, when you get the computer, but I think that it is a very good idea to have at least one other option. Load up Firefox. While you are doing the surfing you will be putting passwords into web sites and that will have to be taken care of too.

For Writing

Most people will be writing something on the computer. Some will write a lot and some very little. The Mac comes with Text Edit which will certainly fit the bill for the small amount of writing end of the spectrum. Then there is Bean, a free application if you want to do more. Next I would move on to Pages which is part of the iWork suite from Apple and you can do some amazing things with that. Pages I would put into the realm of Desktop Publishing as well as being a word processor. There are some free office suites for the Mac and I would recommend them before even thinking about MS Office for the Mac. For all sorts of writing I would recommend Scrivener.

To work with totally basic un formatted text, without any of the extra, that you find in rtf files, then get Text Wrangler. It does a huge number of things with plain text.

For Number Work

If you work with numbers and formulas and a do lot of spreadsheet work, then you you may have to get Excel from Microsoft. It is still the best spreadsheet you can buy if you do the complicated sort of work. For most people I would point them in the direction of Numbers, also from the iWork suite. Now you can buy just the application you want. You don't have to buy all of the apps of the suite now that the Mac Application Store is opened. Very good pricing too.

Movies, Podcasting and Music Making

We don't have to worry too much about movie editing or making music because of the excellence of the iLife Suite. You have iMovie, iPhoto and Garageband which will be all that 95% of Mac users will need. Certainly best to try them out before you decide to look into what Final Cut, Aperture or Logic can do, and requiring that you spend some money. You can use Garageband to make your podcast. I like to use AmadeusPro which not free but is inexpensive. Less than $50, a bargain.

Essential Apps

  • EverNote - Note taking on steroids. Will sync to your mobile computing devices.
  • Password - Paid app that will store all your excellent passwords and keep you safe.
  • DropBox - Cloud storage and file sharing.
  • Jumpcut - Clipboard storage and management.
  • TextExpander - Will fill in text blocks with a small key combination, that saves you so much time typing.
  • Twitter for Mac - Will need one Twitter Client - I have tried others but keep coming back to this one.
  • Caffeine - stops the screen going to sleep if you are working on something.
  • Skype - Telephony and IM.
  • Cyberduck - FTP
  • MindNode - Free Mind Mapping - outlining tool
  • Stuffit Expander - The Mac will unzip files for you when you get it - this one does more
  • VLC - Lets you watch movies that don't play in QuickTime player
  • If you have a big screen Mouse Locator is very useful.
  • Flip4Mac WMV and Perian - video utilities to let you see more movies.
  • Growl - to get notifications from various applicatioins
  • Super Duper or Carbon Copy Cloner - for your back ups.
  • App for working with images - Sketchbook Express for free or Pixelmator a paid for app, which is great
  • Skitch - to grab images off your desktop and from your apps. Very Useful indeed.
  • Notational Velocity - Note taking app that syncs with Simple Note on the iDevices you have.


I have had in the past, Mobile Me for a at least a couple of years use, but now I use DropBox for my data sharing and cloud storage needs. For email I use the built in email client and have it bring in the email from Gmail which is set up as an IMAP account. Works perfectly and no need to spend any money.

Back up your data

It is not all about software though. You should buy an external hard drive that is double the size of the hard drive in the computer, to use as part of your back up strategy. In fact I would recommend two drives. As well as the one just mentioned, buy another that is the same size to use with SuperDuper or Carbon Copy Cloner. The double size one is to use with Time Machine. Connect it up start Time machine and forget about it, jut let it do the back ups for you. The second drive is so that, once a week you make a bootable copy of your hard drive. Technically, the Mac is better made than the cut price PCs of the world, but the hard drives used are the same. It is not if they fail but when! Back up, Back up, Back up.

Set up an Administration Account

When you start off with your new Mac, you have an admin account. You should set yourself a user account. It will give you a layer of protection. When you are working in the user account the system will ask you if it is OK to install software. You will have to give the Admin user name and its password to give permission for adding new software. You will not need any anti virus as there are none for the Mac in the wild. You still should practice safe computing as you can still be caught by social engineer type tricks to get control of you computer. This is when a baddy pretends to be a friend and asks you to give permission to enter your Admin account. So don't click links in email you don't know or trust. Even if it seems as though it from a friend, look to see if the url looks correct before you say OK.

New Mac User?

If you are a switcher you will find a couple of things strange to you, like needing to hit Command Q to quit an application, or do the same in the file menu. The application doesn't shut down completely by clicking on the red small button top left corner of the App. Needing only one click to start applications instead of the awkward double click in Windows is easy to get used to.