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Apple Mac Computers – Configuration Beyond the Original Initial Setup

When you get a new Apple Mac computer, there will be an initial setup process that asks for your region, keyboard preference, Apple ID, and some preferences. After you’ve completed that initial setup, here are some steps that can help improve your experience. You can also perform these steps with an existing Apple computer that you’ve been using for a while.

Note that for some of the instructions below steps are described with a symbol > to indicate that you are moving to the next step or choosing the next option. Such as, Apple Menu > System Preferences > General. This is a shorthand way of writing that would click on the Apple Menu, then select System Preferences, and then choose General.

  1. SHOW DRIVE. Finder is the utility that helps you explore your files and it is launched by clicking the blue smiling face in the lower left corner of your screen. The default setting for Finder is to not show the system hard drive on the desktop, but instead to show a limited number of user folders accessible through finder. The hard drive is hidden to help avoid having people mistakenly explore around in their computer and delete important system files. However, if you are careful, it can be helpful to have easy access to the hard drive. To change this setting, click on the Finder menu (top left of screen). Choose Preferences from the drop-down menu. Under the General settings, place a check next to Hard disks. Now the hard drive, called Macintosh HD, will show up on the desktop. This will be helpful for the next step.
  2. PLACE DRIVE IN FINDER SIDEBAR. By default, the system hard drive which is now showing on the desktop will still not show in the Sidebar of Finder. To place a simple shortcut to the hard drive in the Finder Sidebar, click and drag the Macintosh HD hard drive icon into the Favorites area in the left column of the Finder window (called the Sidebar). Consider placing this at the top of the list since it is the main drive where everything else will be found.
  3. TRACKPAD SETTINGS. If you have a Trackpad, either built-in on your MacBook or as a separate accessory for your desktop, you will want to optimize the settings. By default, the Trackpad has limited capabilities. Here are some changes you can make that will improve the function of the Trackpad.
    1. Tap to Click. Apple Menu > System Preferences > Trackpad > Point & Click > Tap to Click. Place a check next to the Tap to click option. This will make it possible to lightly tap the trackpad to click on whatever the mouse pointer is pointing at.
    2. Secondary Click – Two Fingers. Just above the Tap to Click option checkbox is the Secondary Click option which should already be clicked and configured as “Click or tap with two fingers.” This makes it possible to lightly touch with two fingers on the Trackpad to bring up a context sensitive menu of options. In other words, what options are available for the item your pointer is pointing at. This is the equivalent of a “right click” on a Windows computer.
    3. Three Finger Drag. One of the most difficult gestures or movements with a Trackpad is clicking and dragging items. This is because as you click and drag, you may reach the edge of the Trackpad before you reach the designation of where you were going. Follow these steps to allow an easy three fingers light touch to click and drag items. Apple Menu > System Preferences > Accessibility > scroll down in the left column. You can scroll down by moving the pointer to the left column, and then lighting touching with two fingers and pushing upward on the Trackpad. Click on Mouse & Trackpad > Trackpad Options button > place a check next to Enable Dragging. Click on the drop-down menu and choose Three Finger Drag. Then click the OK button, and close out of Accessibility. When you use the Three Finger Drag, you may need to lift your fingers and then place them again on the Trackpad to continue and complete the drag gesture.
  4. SCROLL BARS. The default setting for the horizontal and vertical scroll bars is to have them appear (seemingly erratically) when the user touches the trackpad or mouse and then they disappear. This can be confusing for people. It’s helpful to have the scroll bars showing all the time. To do this, to the Apple Menu (top left of your screen) then to System Preferences > General > set Show scroll bars to Always. Close out of System Preferences by clicking the red dot I’m the upper left corner of the settings window.
  5. APPLICATIONS. Finding programs on a new Apple computer is a little non-intuitive and awkward. Only some of the program icons can be found in the Dock – the strip of icons across the bottom of the screen. It’s handy to have the Applications folder on the Dock for easy access to all programs. To place the Applications folder on the Dock, open Finder > click on Macintosh HD > click and drag the Applications folder down to the right side of the Dock just to the right of the faint gray line. The initial icon for the Applications folder will be the App Store icon because this is the first icon in the stack. Right Click (light two finger tap) on the Applications folder in the dock and choose Display as Folder (rather than Stack). The Applications folder icon will now appear as the letter A on a folder.
  6. USER HOME FOLDER. It’s helpful to have easy access to your user Home Folder on the Dock. To do this, open Finder > click on Macintosh HD > double-click on Users > point to your Home Folder and then a with the three finger light touch, drag the Home Folder to the Dock. Right Click (light two finger tap) on the Home Folder in the dock and choose Display as Folder (rather than Stack). The Home Folder icon will now appear as a house icon in the Dock. Point to the House icon and use the Two Finger tap/click (same as right click) to bring up the context sensitive menu, then choose View content as List. Now when you click on the Home Folder (with a single finger tap), you will see a list of sub-folders in your Home Folder.
  7. ORGANIZE DOCK. You may want to personalize the Dock to suite your use. Do this by clicking and dragging (light three finger touch drag) the Dock application icons into the order that works best for you. For example, some people prefer to have their most commonly used programs on the left side of the Dock and perhaps system settings and maintenance related icons on the right side of the Dock. Note that a gray vertical bar on the right will provide a divider between your application icons on the left and file or folder shortcuts on the right.
  8. RECENT APPLICATIONS. Once you start launching applications, there will be another grouping of application icons on the right side of the Dock. These will be to the right of the application icons that are on the left side of the Dock. They will appear between two vertical lines, with your folder and file shortcut icons on the right side.
  9. SOFTWARE UPDATES. Even with a new Apple computer, you may need to perform updates to the system software. To do this, go to the Apple Menu (top left of your screen) then to System Preferences > Software Update > and Checking for Updates should appear. If an update is available, information will be displayed. For example, if your computer has macOS Mojave installed, you might see an Upgrade Now button to upgrade to macOS Catalina. There is an option to automatically keep the computer updated, but choosing this may result in an unexpected or unplanned update that could be disruptive or cause some older programs not to work. So, manually updating when notified is probably better.
  10. DATE AND TIME. By default, the day of the week and time show in the top right corner of the computer. You can include the month and day of the month as well by going to the Apple Menu (top left of your screen) then to System Preferences > Date & Time. Under Clock options > Date options > put a check next to Show Date.
  11. TIME MACHINE BACKUP. You will want to purchase a new external hard drive that can be dedicated to making backups of your computer. Depending on how much information you have on your computer, purchase a drive accordingly. If you are using 500GB of space on your drive, consider a 1TB backup drive for an extended backup range. An ideal drive would be the Samsung Solid-State External USB3 Drive for $130. [View/Buy] It comes with USB cables to attach to older USBA or newer USBC ports on computers. When you plug-in the new drive, a notification will ask if you’d like to use the drive as a backup drive. You can select yes. This will erase the drive, so do not use an existing drive with data on it. Go to the Apple Menu (top left of your screen) then to System Preferences > Time Machine. Review the settings, and also be sure to put a check next to Show Time Machine in menu bar.
  12. CLEAN RESTART. It’s helpful to perform a clean restart of your computer weekly. This prevents unnecessary tasks from continuing to run in the background. Such tasks can be left running without you knowing it. Whenever you restart the computer, perform a clean restart. Remove the check next to Reopen windows when logging back in. This will ensure that your computer restarts and doesn’t try to run multiple programs when you startup.
  13. SECURED ACCOUNT. You can setup a new user account on your computer with administrative privileges. Then from that new account, configure your own account to be a Standard user account. That way, any malware from malicious websites would be limited in what can be launched and installed. Follow these steps:
    1. Go to the Apple Menu (top left of your screen) then to System Preferences > Users & Groups.
    2. Click the lock icon (lower left) and provide your login and password when prompted.
    3. Click on the plus (+) symbol in the lower left.
    4. Add a new user account, and when setting up the account, from the New Account drop-down menu, choose Administrator.
    5. Provide a Full Name (user name) such as Administrator or Maintenance.
    6. The Account Name will be filled in automatically based on the user Full Name you enter.
    7. Provide a password and be sure to note it down. If your computer is in a physically secure location, you could tape it to the computer. It is critical that you not lose that password because you would end up not being able to perform administrative tasks without it. Enter a Password Hint where prompted, and click the Create User button.
    8. Once the account is created, save all open files, close all programs, go to the Apple menu (top left) and choose Log Out.
    9. Login under the newly created Administrator account.
    10. Go to the Apple Menu (top left of your screen) then to System Preferences > Users & Groups.
    11. Click the lock icon (lower left) and provide your login and password when prompted.
    12. Select your user account from the list.
    13. Remove the check next to Allow user to administer this computer.
    14. Your user account will no longer be able to install software without typing in the new Administrator account username and password. This provides an extra barrier of protection.
    15. Be sure to keep the new account password in several safe places where you can find it later.

By Greg Johnson

Greg Johnson is a freelance writer and tech consultant in Iowa City. He is also the founder and Director of the ResourcesForLife.com website. Learn more at AboutGregJohnson.com

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