Ease into the Switch
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The Finder is the Mac equivalent of Window's Explorer. Most users don't even know what Explorer is in Windows because it is normally accessed via the My Computer icon. On the Mac you access the file browser through the Finder icon in the Dock, or alternatively, from disks you may have mounted on your desktop.
In Explorer, pressing Enter while you have a file selected will either open the file or run it. In Finder, pressing Enter allows you to rename the file. To launch the file, you should use the Command+O key combo. At first this may sound counter-intuitive to a Windows user--as it did to me. The explanation I have heard is that Macs tend to have the default action be one that is non-destructive. Using Enter to open a file could be seen as disruptive, if not destructive, and if for some reason you enter rename mode by accident, hitting Enter again will end rename mode with no changes made. I've come to enjoy the quick access of renaming a file because I do that rather frequently, and Command+O is easy to use and remember.
You'll get a lot of use out of the Command key while using Finder. Command+O also opens a folder if it happens to be the selected item. You need to use the key combination Command+Delete instead of simply hitting the delete key to delete files. It's great. Apple has made deleting files deliberate without annoying prompts. Command, when used in conjunction with the up-arrow and down-arrow will issue back and forward commands respectively. This will function much like the buttons in any Web browser.
While Finder is active, clicking on it in the menubar will give you access to its preferences. I would advise settings the option to show Home in new Finder windows. It will give you fast access to all of your documents and files, and since your Applications folder will be in the Dock you'll rarely need to access other folders on your hard drive. In the same vein, I would uncheck the option for showing hard disks on the desktop--unless you just can't get away from having something like Window's "My Computer" on your desktop.
The Mac OS X Finder gives you three ways to view your files: icon, list, and column view. Icon view shows icons of any size from 16-by-16 pixels (that's pretty small) to 128-by-128 pixels (mammoth in relation to Windows' icons), along with labels displaying the filenames below or to the right, and optionally, some meta-data about the file. Folders are intermixed with files according to your configured arrangement order.
List view lists all the file and folders in your current folder and places an arrow next to folders. You can expand folders and the arrow will point down to reflect the fact that Finder is now also displaying the folder's files indented below it.
Column view is very useful and is also the view used in file open and save sheets. (Mac OS X replaces dialog boxes with sheets that slide down from the title bar of the window they are associated with.) It has one column for each folder. Deeper folders are displayed to the right and more shallow folders to the left. If you have a file selected, the right-most column will display a preview of the file. I'm using this view as I write this article to sample some MP3 files, without having to launch iTunes or QuickTime. You can type Command+J to access view options for Finder.
You can customize the Finder's toolbar from the View menu. But, one of the best ways to customize its toolbar is to drag a folder into it to give yourself a shortcut to that folder.
You can copy and paste files in the Finder just like you do in Windows via the Command+C and Command+V combinations. However, you cannot cut files. That's a good thing. Microsoft chose to implement cut in a way that is inconsistent with the standard cut, copy, and paste metaphor. The only way to do it so that it is consistent is also dangerous. You don't want to cut files and wind up losing them because you forgot to paste them.
Many applications for Mac OS X are distributed as disk images. Disk images are files that represent the layout of a physical disk. They're also used to create images of CD-ROM discs for burning to CD-R at a later date. To install an application that is distributed as a disk image, all you have to do is mount it by double-clicking on the file. Once the image is mounted, just open the disk (they appear as white, external disk drives in Finder) and copy your application to the Applications folder or any folder under it. Some applications may use an installer instead of drag-and-drop installation.
One of the most difficult things for me to understand about how Mac OS X works is uninstalling an application. During my first week I wanted to remove an application from the system and immediately opened System Preferences to look for an uninstaller. I finally figured out that all you have to do is drag the undesirable application to the trash. Now this is the way computing should be.
Even to this day I have a voracious appetite for new and cool applications for my Mac. I'd like to share a few of my favorites with you:
SearchGoogle Service allows you to search for your currently selected text using Google. Services are a great feature of Mac OS X. Instead of having to put interoperation menus in every separate application, Apple has the Services menu under the application name in the menu bar. This allows you to send selections or files to an email recipient by going to the Services menu and selecting Mail. That way you don't have to hope that the developer included a mail-to function in his or her application, as you do in Windows.
OmniWeb is a user-friendly Web browser for OS X. I love its user interface. Unfortunately, it is behind currently on standards compliance. The next version, 5.0, is supposed to bring it up to date. If you need current standards compliance in your browser, I would advise downloading Mozilla. Chimera is an up-and-coming Web browser that integrates Mozilla's Gecko rendering code into a native Mac OS interface.
Okito Composer is a word processor that is in development, but there is currently a preview version available for download. Version 1.0 should be ready in September. I look forward to using the first version of this because Microsoft Word has become increasingly frustrating since before Word 97.
Candy Cruncher is a great little game for passing time. Pyrogon's next game for Mac OS X will be NingPo MahJong.
TinkerTool is a program that you can use to enable or disable certain Mac OS X features that don't have an interface already exposed for them. I used to use this for a few things on my computer. But, Jaguar has brought enough of the features that TinkerTool has exposed in the past that I decided I no longer needed it. Still, many people appreciate what it can do. I would recommend not using TinkerTool until after you're comfortable with Mac OS X.
I hope that this has proven to be a good primer for the Mac OS X user experience. If there is something you're interested in that I didn't touch on feel free to post a comment in the discussion forum below.
Michael Brewer is a developer based near Charlotte, North Carolina. His interests include web development of various flavors, databases, and Java. One of the off-shoots of these activities is his website Brewed Thoughts.
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