Mac OS X Basics

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Desktop Black.png Macintosh

This page is part of a category. To see more pages like this, go to the Macintosh index.

Operating Systems

OS X is a significant change from previous versions of Macintosh operating systems. Its base is codenamed 'Darwin'; written on an open-source version of Unix called BSD (Berkley Software Distribution). So far there have been nine versions of Mac OS X with Mavericks being the current version.

  • 10.2 - Jaguar (updates to 10.2.8)
  • 10.3 - Panther (updates to 10.3.9)
  • 10.4 - Tiger (updates to 10.4.11)
  • 10.5 - Leopard (updates to 10.5.8)
  • 10.6 - Snow Leopard (updates to 10.6.8)
  • 10.7 - Lion (updates to 10.7.5)
  • 10.8 - Mountain Lion (updates to 10.8.5)
  • 10.9 - Mavericks (updates to 10.9.4)
  • 10.10 - Yosemite
  • 10.11 - EL Capitan

To find your current version of OS X, click on the Apple in the upper left-hand corner and then select "About This Mac."

Using a Macintosh

The base of the system is called Finder. This is where you can browse your system files and folders and also where you'll find the Desktop.

Within Finder, all open windows on the screen can be modified with three buttons on the top left of each window. By default, these buttons are red, yellow, and green.

RED -closes windows
YELLOW - minimizes windows
GREEN - expands the window to full screen.

Important note: Closing a window (using the red button) does not usually quit an application, it just closes that window. The program will remain open until you pull down the Application menu (Chrome, Safari, Word, etc.) at the upper left and select QUIT "Application Name."

To launch applications, either use the MENU BAR at the top of the screen (click on GO menu and select APPLICATIONS) or use the DOCK (typically at the bottom of the screen). Users can drag applications from the APPLICATIONS folder on the hard drive to the DOCK to create a shortcut for (frequently used programs. To remove an program, simply drag it off the dock until it disappears in a puff of faux smoke/dust.

To change settings for an open application, click the menu with the Application name (Chrome, Safari, Word) in the Menu bar at the top of the Desktop, and select Preferences. Preferences can reset many of the program defaults. For example, in a web browser, you would use Preferences to set the home page, delete cache and cookies and examine any installed extensions.

When looking for folders or files, use SPOTLIGHT ( located in the upper right-hand corner of the screen). The icon for SPOTLIGHT is a magnifying glass. Click on this icon and type in any keyword, title, or even text within a document. Click "Show All" to open the results in a window.

To change system-wide settings, click the Apple logo in the Menubar and select System Preferences. From here, you can change your password, turn on your firewall, change your desktop and screensaver, manage hardware, and much more.

To shut down or restart the computer click on the Apple in the upper left hand corner and select Shut Down or Restart.


Disk Utility

Whenever programs, extensions are installed or updated, "companion" files are stored in a receipt folder. This file keeps a record of all the files that are installed and their valid permissions. Over time, or during an installation process, these permissions can be partially over-written and, as a result, not function properly.

Incorrect permissions can slow down your machine and cause some features to be unavailable. The URI Help Desk recommends that Mac users verify and repair permissions at least once a month.:

To repair permissions:

  • Open your computer's hard drive on the desktop.
  • Open the Applications Folder.
  • Open the Utilities Folder inside the Applications folder
  • Double click on "Disk Utility". The icon for Disk Utility looks like a hard drive and a stethoscope.

Disk UtilityII.png

  • In the left column, select your hard drive. This should be the second item in the list.
  • Select the "First Aid" tab in the right area of the Disk Utility window.
  • Click on "Repair Disk Permissions". This process can take as little as five minutes or as much as an hour depending on how long it has been since you last repaired your permissions

System Preferences


  • General
  • Desktop & Screen Saver
  • Dock
  • Mission Control
  • Language & Text
  • Security & Privacy
  • Spotlight
  • Universal Access


  • CDs & DVDs
  • Displays
  • Energy Saver
  • Keyboard
  • Mouse
  • Trackpad
  • Print & Scan
  • Sound

Internet and Wireless

  • iCloud
  • Mail, Contacts & Calendars
  • MobileMe
  • Network
  • Bluetooth
  • Sharing


  • Users & Groups
  • Parental Controls
  • Profiles
  • Date & Time
  • Software Update
  • Speech
  • Time Machine
  • Startup Disk

Other (Platform Specific)

  • Flash Player
  • MacFUSE
  • MenuMeters
  • NTFS-3G
  • etc.

Adding Printers

To add a printer, open any document and go to File, then Print. In the Printer drop-down menu, select "Add Printer". The setup utility will launch, allowing users to add Bonjour, Fax, IP, Windows, Bluetooth, Appletalk, or physically connected printers. Users may also go to System Preferences and select "Print & Scan".

Key Commands

Please refer to the following page for the most comprehensive list of Mac OSX Keyboard Shortcuts:

Mac OS X keyboard shortcuts

  • OSX Lion has the ability to create custom keyboard shortcuts for applications. Click here for instructions.

Startup Options

Press the following upon initial signs of boot (chime or grey display) to modify normal startup:


Available Boot Devices
Eject CD/DVD
Safe Mode
Startup from CD/DVD Drive
Startup in Firewire Target Disk Mode
Startup from Network Server
Startup in Single-User mode (troubleshooting)

  • Click here for a more comprehensive list of Startup key combinations for Intel-based Macs.

Related Links