October 06, 2012, 7:05 AM — Welcome to Mac 101, Macworld's new guide for the new Mac user. Our plan is to use this weekly column to explain how to use Apple's computers--starting with the most basic of the basics and, over the course of time, to touch on virtually every aspect of the Mac and its operating system.
The primary audience for these stories will be people switching from PCs to Macs or those who have decided to explore Macs after using an iPhone or iPad. But I think even if you already have some Mac savvy, you'll benefit too--not only because we might fill some gaps in your knowledge, but also because you'll now have a place to send your Cousin Bob when you get one of his regular "How do I do this?" calls. So let's get to it.
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Starting your new Mac for the first time
I see you have a freshly minted Mac in front of you. Let's fire it up and see what happens.
Press the Mac's power button, and you see a gray screen that eventually displays a black Apple logo and then a spinning gear icon. This is a signal that your Mac is getting its house in order so that it can start up properly. How long you'll wait depends on the kind of Mac you have. If you have one with an SSD (Solid State Drive) rather than a hard drive, it will start up very quickly. (Right now, that most likely means a MacBook Air.) A Mac that uses a standard hard drive to store its data will take a little longer.
When a new Mac runs for the very first time, it launches something called the Setup Assistant. This is a computer program that helps you with all the little settings your Mac needs so that it can get on the Internet, create a user account for you, properly set the time and date, connect your Mac to your Apple ID (or help you create one), and register your computer with Apple. Here are the exact steps.
Welcome screen with map
The first thing you'll be asked to tell your Mac is the country in which you live (or in which it will be used). On Macs configured for use in the U.S., this list will contain the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland. If you don't see your country in the list, select the Show All option to get a list that includes other choices around the world. Choose the correct one and click on the Continue button.
Note that if you wait a while before leaving this screen, your Mac will start speaking to you. This is for the benefit of those with visual impairments. If you are visually impaired, follow the spoken instructions. You can have those spoken instructions begin at any time on this screen by pressing the Escape (marked Esc) key on the top-left corner of your Mac's keyboard.
Select your keyboard
Keyboards around the world have different layouts. Your Mac wants to know which layout you use. In the U.S., you see two options--U.S. and Canadian English. If you don't see your preferred keyboard arrangement, click on Show All and choose the one that's more appropriate. Click Continue when you're done.
Select your Wi-Fi network
As you go through the setup process, your Mac will want to connect to the Internet for a variety of purposes. To help it do that, it will look for any nearby Wi-Fi network and ask you to choose one to connect to, as shown in the screenshot (click to enlarge it). If you see a lock icon next to one, that means you'll need to know the network's password. Just select a network to enter the password in the field that appears.
If you've connected your Mac to an ethernet network using a networking cable, there's a very good chance you won't see this window at all, because once the Mac understands that it can connect to your network, it won't bother asking you for a Wi-Fi alternative.
In this window you'll also see an Other Network Options button in the bottom-left corner. Click it, and you can tell your Mac specifically the kind of network you wish to connect to (or that you don't have access to a network at all). Your choices are Wi-Fi Network, Local Network (Ethernet), and My Computer Does Not Connect to the Internet. You needn't have a network connection to complete setup. Click Continue to move to the next step.
Transfer information to this Mac
Your Mac can move all the data from your old computer to this new one; that old machine can be another Mac or a Windows PC. This bit of magic is performed through something called Migration Assistant. (I'll go into the details of Migration Assistant in a future column.) If you're reading this as you're setting up a new Mac and want to transfer your data, go ahead and choose the appropriate option--From Another Mac, From a Windows PC, or From Another Disk. You'll be walked through the steps of the transfer. Because this is a process that you can perform at another time, you can also select Not Now and click Continue.
Enable Location services
When your Mac is within range of wireless networks, it can tell where it is--no, not in the sense of "in the kitchen" or "outside in the garden," but where specifically it is on earth: 123 Main Street, Anytown, U.S.A., for example. In order for it to do this, however, you have to grant it permission.
And why would you? Because there are applications that can automatically provide information based on where you are--to find local services, for example. For these apps to work, you must enable Location services. If you prefer that your Mac not know where it is, feel free to leave this feature turned off. You can always enable it later. Click Continue.