Help, Guides, and News on making the Switch To Apple Macintosh Computers
Apple’s switch to Intel processors has caused some confusion amongst potential switchers and current Mac users. This is especially true for owners of PowerPC Macs. My view is that any PowerPC Macintosh purchased in 2005 or 2006 will serve its owner for several years. In fact, those PowerPC systems will be supported by Apple and they will run the next version of the operating system, Leopard version 10.5 which is slated to be released in late 2006 or early 2007. As of this writing, Apple has transitioned the iMac, Mac mini, MacBook (previously iBook), and MacBook Pro (previously PowerBook). The PowerMac will be transitioned by the end of 2006. Apple also sells Certified Refurbished Macs at the Apple Store.
Even though Macs are cool eye-catching machines backed by excellent engineering, hardware is not perfect and there will come a time when a repair will be required. As a result, I recommend the Apple Care Protection Plan be purchased with a new Mac. I recommend the AppleCare Protection Plan because for a small amount relative to the cost of a Mac, you’ll get peace of mind knowing that your Mac’s standard one-year warranty will be extended to three-years. It also extends the 90 days of tech support to three years. In the June 2006 edition of Consumer Reports, Apple was rated high in free tech support. A quote from the press release:
"Apple solved 76 percent of survey respondents’ problems”
AppleCare will give you access to this high level of tech support for three years and it will save you money in the long run. This is especially true if your Mac needs to be repaired after the first year.
I also recommend that consumers purchase .Mac (pronounced "Dot Mac"), an annual subscription of online services that are integrated with Mac OS X and Apple’s i’Life suite of products. The .Mac service provides users with several online features such as a unique email address (email@example.com), iDisk online storage, a personal website, software, a way to an easy to share photos, movies, and other parts of your digital lifestyle. .Mac members are also give special offers and discounts. .Mac can be purchased for a single person or as a family pack. A family pack provides up to five .Mac accounts all with the standard .Mac features but each user has their own e-mail and iDisk storage. The family pack also offers a family iDisk folder which makes it easy for families to share files.
Your new Mac will be packaged beautifully. If you have purchased or will purchase your first Mac, you’ll appreciate the attention to detail Apple undertook when it designed the box housing your new Mac. When you open the box, you’ll notice several documents and graphical hints on how to unpack your system. I urge you to pay attention to these details. I also urge you to read through the User’s Guide that accompanies your new Mac. Take your time to flip through the pages as very useful information will be presented. Pay close attention to the “Getting Started” section as it outlines what’s packaged in the box and how to setup the various cables, power cord, and accessories. If you notice that something is missing, or that the system is damaged, notify Apple immediately. If your you opted for the Apple Wireless Keyboard & Mouse, be sure to pay close attention to the instructions that Apple includes in the packaging. The wireless setup will take a few extra minutes.
Setup up Mac OS X
After you have cleared away your desk and followed the Mac’s setup instructions, you’re ready to get started. Obviously, your first step would be to turn on your Mac. Your Mac will boot up and go directly to the OS X Setup Assistant. The Setup Assistant is a very intuitive application that will guide you through a step-by-step process to setup your Mac.
Setup Assistant will guide you through a series of questions that will simplify the setup of a new system. Going through Setup Assistant is fairly straightforward and simple. The assistant will show screens based on the options you choose. At any time, you can quit the setup assistant by entering Command-Q. Before Setup Assistant quits, it will prompt the user to create an administrator account (required). It also reminds the user to register their copy of OS X. I recommend that new Mac users complete the setup process.
If you are an existing Mac owner, Setup Assistant can leverage the Migration Assistant utility to help transfer files, applications, and other information to your new Mac. The Migration Assistant can be run at a later time by launching it from the Utilities folder/directory in the Applications folder/directory. Just note that the following is a brief overview of the assistant as it will cover options that most users will encounter:
Select your country
Already Have a Mac
Switchers will choose the third option. Current Mac owners are likely to choose either of the first two options to simplify the transfer of existing information to the new Mac.
Select keyboard layout
Most people accept the default.
If you are an existing iTunes user or purchased your Mac via the online Apple Store, you have an Apple ID. You can choose to enter that ID or sign up for a new one. If you do not have an Apple ID, I recommend that you sign up for one as can get free access to Apple's .Mac service for 60 days. .Mac is integrated with the iLife suite so I highly recommend it. The process is straightforward. Just know that you don’t need an Apple ID to use your Mac.
The subsequent screen will ask you for information such as your name. Following that, you will be prompted to setup a user account – “Create Your Account”. This is an important step in the setup process because you will be creating the Mac OS X “Administration Account”. The Administrator is a very powerful user in OS X that has high level privileges. The Administrator can install software, change system settings, add and/or remove users, and perform system maintenance to list a few capabilities. For you UNIX users, this is not “root”, root is disabled by default in Mac OS X. I recommend that switchers (and all Mac users for that matter) to create a “Normal” user account (non-administrator) for daily use. This can be accomplished after Setup Assistant completes via the Mac OS X “System Preferences” settings.
In most cases, the Administration Account should only be used to setup and configure your Mac. If a less privileged user wishes to change something, in most cases they won’t be able to however, if they are attempting to change an alterable setting, they will be prompted for the administrator password. Over time, you’ll find a baseline configuration for your Mac that will require fewer changes. Using a “Normal” user account is a simple and common sense way to protect your Mac and its settings because Normal users can in essence, only change settings that impact their own account. For example, changing the “Preferences” setting for how they would like an application to work or be displayed.
Each user in Mac OS X is given a full "Name" and "Short Name". Once the Setup Assistant completes, this information will be visible in the Users/Accounts section of the OS X System Preferences. I recommend that that you enter your real first and last name in the Name field, as this information is used by numerous applications and thee registration process. The short name is used to name of your home directory and among other things, for example an e-mail account name. A common short name would be your first name. The short name can contain letters, numbers, and the underscore character (_).
Decide to register OS X
Unlike Windows, you are not required to register your copy of OS X. You can skip this part by hitting Command-Q on the keyboard to show a window that will give you the option to skip this step. You'll be able to contiue through Setup Assistant, shut down your Mac, or cancel. The decision to register is a matter of personal preference. In my view, it's beneficial to register as it will make it easier to engage Apple Support for future help.
Internet Connection Type and Setup
Users with a current internet connection will often choose the option to select thier current internet service. It's a good idea to have available, your current Internet details so you can enter it in Setup Assistant. If you don't know this information contact your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to obtain this information.
This will depend upon the prior choices you've made. You do not need to setup an email account in Setup Assistant. You always have the ability to setup or change your email settings in the OS X Mail program.
Date and Time Zone selection
Setup Assistant completes and you will be logged into the Administrator account you just created. The Finder application will be active and you will see the Mac OS X desktop.
Congratulations, you have now setup your new Mac! Before you begin using your new Mac, you want to do a few additional things.
It’s very likely that updates for Mac OS X and pre-installed applications have been released since your Mac left the factory. There’s also a chance that a firmware update will be available. On a Mac there are two ways to update your system. You can use Software Update or the standalone installer. The easiest method to start off with is to use Software Update. Over time, you may decide to use the standalone installer but note that you only need to use one method to get an update. To ensure that you have the latest version of Mac OS X and Apple applications, use the Software Update program to see what’s available. Apple distributes updates ranging from security patches to fixes via Software Update. Software Update manages all the Apple specific updates on a Mac. Windows users are familiar with “Microsoft Update” and “Windows Update”. Software Update is the OS X counterpart to those Windows programs. Just note that if you install third-party software on your Mac, you should use the update utility or procedures to update those programs.
The two most common ways to manually run Software update are as follows:
- Apple menu > Software Update or
- Apple menu > About This Mac, the click “Software Update” button
An alternate way to run Software Update is by configuring its settings in System Preferences:
- Apple menu > System Preferences > Software Update > click “Check Now” button:
There are differences in the types of updates and the impact they have on your system. Some will require a system reboot as indicated by the left pointing arrows and some will not. You can choose what you wish to download by checking or un-checking the boxes. After you’ve made your decision, click the “Install” button on the bottom right to get the update. You will be prompted for the administrator password and in most cases; you will be presented with some documentation and/or license information. It’s a good idea to review what’s presented to you. It’s recommended to let your system reboot for those updates that require it. After your system reboots into OS X, I recommend that you run Software Update again as its possible that some updates will show up only after a previous update has been installed. After you complete this update process, your Mac will have the latest software, fixes, and patches.
Security Procedures and Lockdowns
Mac OS X has numerous default and built-in security features that are pre-configured on new Macs. OS X can be configured to be as restrictive (locked down) or open as you deem fit for your computing activities. You have the ability to customize OS X’s security features to your unique computing requirements. I recommend that you take advantage of as many of these security features as possible. The OS X GUI (user interface) makes it easy to configure and tweak security features. At a minimum, I recommend that you configure the following security features:
- Enable the Firewall
- Enable the Screensaver with Password Protection
- Disable Safari’s file open feature
Enable the Firewall
OS X comes shipped with a built-in UNIX based ipfirewall (IPFW). IPFW is the industrial strength UNIX firewall based on FreeBSD technology that protects your Mac when it’s connected to the Internet. The OS X firewall protects your Mac from unwanted network access and other communications. The firewall works by monitoring all incoming network based traffic into your Mac. You even have the ability to turn on a logging feature on the firewall. The beauty of the OS X firewall is that you can configure the security level to meet your needs. In simplified terms, a firewall works by locking down ports and network services. The end result is that it protects your system from unauthorized remote access.
You can configure certain “ports” to be open on the firewall to be used by various programs and services. Examples of services include iTunes Music Sharing and File Transfer Protocol, better known as FTP. When you select the checkbox for a service, a rule is created/updated on the firewall to allow/prevent that service from communicating with the outside world. If a service is enabled, the service’s corresponding port on the firewall will be opened. In simplified terms, enabling a checkbox creates an exception that tells the firewall to open the port. Most users will not need to configure these ports but more advanced users generally perform port configurations.
You get to the Firewall settings via System Preferences:
- Apple menu > System Preferences, then click Sharing
- You will see three tabs; Services, Firewall, and Internet
- Click the Firewall tab, then click Start
Starting with OS X Tiger (10.4), the firewall can be setup for “Stealth Mode”, a feature that hides your Mac’s existence on the Internet. From a technical perspective, it does this by dropping certain communication packets to make it appear as though the system isn’t even connected to the Internet.
Advanced users will likely configure the OS X firewall by creating custom rulesets. In most cases, they will use the Terminal application to perform such tasks. Mac OS X users are not restricted to the built-in firewall that ships with the operating systems. Third-party software firewalls can be installed and configured on Mac OS X. The advanced configuration options for the built-in OS X firewall and third-party firewalls are beyond the scope of this article.
Enable the Screensaver with Password Protection
You get to the Security settings via System Preferences:
- Apple menu > System Preferences, then click Security
I recommend that at a minimum, the following option be enabled “Require password to wake this computer from sleep or screen saver”
This is an important box to check because if not selected, anyone can wake the computer from sleep and/or exit the screen saver with a simple stroke of a key or a move of the mouse. They essentially become the user who last used your computer with the ability to cause harm ranging from deleting files to accessing e-mail. If this feature is not enabled, you leave your Mac vulnerable to a malicious user’s harmful intentions. This brings me back to a previous point that I made about the Administrator Account. If you do not use a Normal account for your daily use and instead use the Administrator Account and fail to enable this feature, your Mac’s settings can be altered. A potentially dangerous and sometime unrecoverable security breach.
Disable Safari’s automatic open feature
Disable Safari’s automatic file opening setting. This will prevent downloaded files from automatically opening when the download completes. There is no need to open a file automatically after it download because it only takes a few clicks of the mouse to open a file. Furthermore, you should only download files from trusted sources and known web sites. If this feature is enabled and you inadvertenly access an untrusted web site that initiates a download, you are susceptible to the unknown.
To make this adjustment:
- Lauch Safari > Safari > Preferences > General > uncheck “Open safe files after downloading”
Your downloads will not open automatically as long as this setting is preserved. All downloaded files will require a manual launch.
Setting up a new Mac is a fairly easy task. All it requires is that you follow the hardware setup as outlined in documentation that accompanies your new Mac. Complete the Setup Assistant, download software updates, and complete some security tasks and lock downs.