macOS Basics: Navigating macOS

Lesson 2: Navigating macOS


Getting started with macOS

Whether you're new to computers or just new to the macOS operating system, it's important to learn the basics of using your computer. If it all seems a little overwhelming right now, don't worry! We'll take you through it step by step and show you some of the most fundamental things you'll need to know, like how to work with the desktop, open and close windows, and turn off your computer.

Watch the video below to learn the basics of navigating macOS.

The desktop

Once your computer has finished starting up, the first thing you'll see is the desktop. You can think of the desktop as the main workspace for your computer. From here, you can view and manage your files, open applications, and access the Internet, among other tasks.

Click the buttons in the interactive below to become more familiar with the desktop.

edit hotspotslabeled screenshot of the macOS desktop

Working with applications

An application—also known as a program—is a type of software that allows you to complete tasks on your computer. macOS comes with many applications you can use. For example, if you want to browse the Internet, you can use Safari, the built-in web browser for macOS. One of the easiest ways to open an application is to click its icon on the Dock.

Watch the video below to learn more about the Dock and Launchpad.

To open an application:

  1. Using your mouse, click an application icon on the Dock. In our example, we'll open Safari.
    clicking on the Safari icon in the dock
  2. The application will appear in a new window.
    screenshot of Safari opened

If you don't see the application you want, click the Spotlight icon in the top-right corner of the screen and type the name of the application with your keyboard to search for it.

screenshot of the Spotlight feature being used to search for an app

Working with windows

Whenever you open a file, folder, or application, it will appear in a new window. You can have multiple items open at the same time in different windows. You'll use windows all the time, so it's important to know how to switch among open windows, move and resize windows, and close windows when you're done using them.

Parts of a window

You'll see the same three buttons in the upper-left corner of almost every window.

screenshot of the Minimize, Maximize, and Close buttons in the top-right corner of a window

Clicking the red button will close the window.

Clicking the yellow button will minimize the window, hiding it from view. It will be minimized to the Dock. You can then click the icon for that window on the Dock to make it reappear.

Clicking the green button will maximize the window, making it larger. You can click it again to return the window to its original size.

To move a window:

  1. Click and drag the top of the window to move it to the desired location on the screen. When you're done, release the mouse.
    screenshot of moving a window in macOS
  2. The window will appear in the new location.

To resize a window:

  1. Hover the mouse over the lower-right corner of the window, then click and drag the mouse to make the window larger or smaller. When you're done, release the mouse.
    screenshot of a window being resized in macOS
  2. The window will be resized.
    screenshot of a window after being resized

Quitting applications

Unlike Microsoft Windows, closing a window in macOS does not automatically quit an application. The application will continue running in the background even if it doesn't have a window open. To see whether an application is running, look for a small black dot below the icon on the Dock. In the image below, you can see that there are four open applications (Finder, Safari, Notes, and Calendar).

screenshot of various apps that are open

To keep your computer running smoothly, you may want to quit an application when you're done using it. To do this, click the icon on the Dock to switch to the application, then click the application name in the top-left corner of the screen and select Quit from the menu that appears. Note: You won't be able to quit Finder because macOS requires Finder to run continuously.

screenshot of quitting an app with the menu

You can also quit an application by pressing Command+Q on your keyboard. This is an example of a keyboard shortcut, which we'll cover in this macOS keyboard shortcuts lesson.

Shutting down your computer

When you're done using your computer, it's important to shut it down properly. If you want to stop using it temporarily, you can also put it in Sleep mode.

To shut down macOS:

Click the Apple icon in the top-left corner of the screen, then select Shut Down...

screenshot of the Shut Down command in the Apple menu

Restarting and Sleep mode

You'll notice other options next to the Shut Down command. For example, if your computer has become slow or unresponsive, you can choose Restart to quickly turn it off and on again.

You can also choose to put your computer into Sleep mode. This mode turns off most of your computer's processes, but it remembers which applications and files are open. This allows the computer to start up more quickly because you won't have to wait for the operating system and applications to load. Note that your computer may go into Sleep mode automatically if you haven't used it for more than a few minutes.

screenshot of the Sleep command in the Apple menu

If you have a laptop, you can simply close the lid to put it into Sleep mode.

Waking your computer from Sleep mode

If your computer is in Sleep mode, you'll need to wake it to use it. To wake the computer from Sleep mode, click the mouse or press any key on the keyboard.