Bo, what’s OS X/what’s good software to get?

Hey there, faithful readers!

Well, yesterday I blew up the blogosphere (hah!) with my amazing post on Which Mac You Should Buy. This post is for those who know they’ll be getting a Mac, or may have just gotten one. I’ll discuss some common/essential software for the Mac, and offer some recommendations.

Most importantly: Macs don’t run Microsoft Windows, they run OS X (neé Mac OS X, so pardon me if I regress). The ‘OS’ stands for ‘Operating System’, and the ‘X’ is a roman numeral for the number ’10’, not the letter ‘X’. Because of the different operating system, Macs have their own software. In most cases, this is good, because the software can be optimized for OS X’s unique feature set and methods. Occasionally, however, some national company will come out with some piece of garbage that looks most at home on Windows 2000. But I digress.

The current version of OS X is OS 10.7 Lion. The next version, OS 10.8 Mountain Lion, will be released later this summer. (Note: While the increase is simply from 10.7 to 10.8, the operating systems are as different as Windows Vista to Windows 7.) You’ll want to wait and get your shiny new Macintosh machines after Mountain Lion Comes out. Throughout the article, I’ll most likely refer to the operating system as Lion. I wouldn’t want you thinking that I was crazy, would I?

Anatomy of OS X


Above is a standard Finder (used to browse files on your Mac) window. A few things of note for the standard interface guidelines:

  • Close, Minimize, and “Optimize” buttons are on the top left, not the top right. Closing a window doesn’t close an app, you’ll need to manually quit the application by going to [Application Name] > Quit on the left hand side of the menu bar.
  • Scroll bars are hidden by default. They pop up once you start to scroll (a two-finger gesture).
  • The Menu Bar is always at the top. System information and the time is available in the top-right, and application-sensitive menus appear on the left. The  menu is always leftmost, followed by [Active application], File, Edit, etc., ending with Help.
  • Any discs, flash drives, or volumes that you mount (are recognized by OS X) will show up on your desktop.
  • Preferences for any Mac application will show up under [Active Application] > “Preferences…     ⌘,” option. System-wide preferences are available by opening the “Preferences” application. I highly recommend that you poke around in it.

Another important aspect of OS X is the Dock (not unlike the one you find on the Home Screen on any iOS device). It’s split into two parts: the side on the right of the dotted line, and the left of the dotted line. Applications that are running or that you’ve manually pinned to the dock show up on the left. The Applications and Downloads folders show up on the right, as well as any other folders you drag in. The Trash will always be the right-most. The dock provides an easy way to: 1) access often-used apps 2) see which applications are currently running {indicated by that blue dot underneath}, and 3) quickly access the Trash and other folders. You can make it bigger or smaller as you wish, and even turn on magnification for icons that the cursor is over:


(cursor not pictured but it’s there!)

You didn’t see it in my earlier photo of the desktop because I have it hidden.

OS X Major Features

I’d love to tell you about the major features myself, but Apple does such a great job for me. Check it out; you’ll want to be familiar with OS X Lion. The website also explains the default applications that come with your Mac. Don’t forget to use Time Machine to BACK UP YOUR DATA.

One of the best features that I do want to highlight is Autosave and Resume. For apps that support it, autosave automatically saves your work. I’ll say it again: it automatically saves your work. Even if you quit the app (as long as you don’t close the window). No more lost essays! Resume reopens each closed app in the exact same state it was in when you left it. I love the future.

Hey, where do I get more apps?

Your Mac can get even better with more applications, like games, calendars, email clients. The easiest way to get new applications is through the Mac App Store. You sign in with your Apple ID, and the same account that you use for your iOS devices and iTunes can be used to get new applications! You can always re-download them for free, and if you get a new Mac later on in life, you simply sign in to the store and re-download them. It’s great. The Mac App Store is also where you’ll update your Mac (once Mountain Lion comes out), and where you’ll get OS upgrades (e.g. From Lion to Mountain Lion).

There’s also the traditional route to get software: go to the website, and download the app directly or a .dmg file that has the app inside.

Psst… how do I install them?

Silly freshman. It’s easy to install apps from the Mac App Store: simply click ‘Purchase’ or ‘Get Free App’, and it’ll fly right into Launchpad.

If you download directly from a developer’s website, it’s still easy once you get the hang of it. You’ll receive a .dmg file. Double click it, and either Installer opens (self explanatory, it guides you through the process), or a disk image opens. Disk images are… hard to explain, but suffice to say that some software comes on it, and flash drives look like disk images. To install an application from a disk image, drag it from the disk image to your application folder.

Software You Need (to use)

Microsoft Word. If you go to Vanderbilt, like a winner, then Vandy actually gives you a copy to use FO’ FREE. Just go here. For the rest of you, check your institution’s IT department, or Good luck. The Student Edition should be all you need. For my fellow Tweeters, there are a host of great Twitter applications on the Mac. The best are the official one, Twitterriffic, and Echofon, all in the Mac App Store.

For A/V buffs, you’ll probably need Photoshop at some point. I recommend, however, you get Pixelmator. It’s just as good, and a lot cheaper.  For Video, Final Cut Pro X (again, that’s a ’10’) should be great. It’s an adjustment, but I’ve heard that it’s worth it.

Software You Want (to use)

As a Microsoft Word competitor, I recommend Apple’s iWork suite. I used it all through high school, and did wonderful things with it, and you can export your files in Office-compatible formats. Not to mention that it’s half as expensive. the iWork apps also look a lot prettier and support a lot of native OS X features. If you want a cheap way to edit photos, get Flare. For email, I recommend Sparrow for Mac. It’s wonderful, especially if you use Gmail. For calendar (and you’ll be busy), I’d say get Fantastical. I haven’t used it personally, but I’ve heard great things. Plus, it lives in your menu bar, which means it doesn’t take up space on your dock. For those of you who like shortcuts, give Alfred a try. I use it probably 50 times a day, and it will blow your mind. Plus, it’s free.

While not as extensive as my hardware report, I hope I’ve started you all on the right foot. Hit me up for questions, or more specific advice.


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