OS X Lion: Getting Started with OS X Lion

Lesson 2: Getting Started with OS X Lion


Getting started with OS X Lion

Launch video!Watch the video (3:52).

Once you have OS X Lion up and running, you should spend some time getting comfortable with the interface. If you've never used OS X before, you'll need to learn about the basics such as the Dock, menu bar, and how to open files and apps. If you're familiar with earlier versions of OS X, you'll find that it's mostly similar but you now have additional options such as Launchpad, full-screen apps, and multi-touch gestures.

Watch the video to learn the basics of using Lion.

The desktop

The screen you see when your computer has finished starting up is called the desktop. The OS X Lion desktop includes a desktop background (or wallpaper), Dock, and menu bar. You can open files or applications from the Dock or from the new Launchpad feature that was introduced in Lion. You can also display files, folders, or shortcuts on the desktop background area.

Click the buttons in the interactive below to learn about the OS X desktop.

labeled graphic

Notification Center

The Notification Center displays an alert when you've received an update. It can be customized to let you know of upcoming appointments, tweets, news, and other real-time events. It remains hidden until you click its icon in the top-right corner.

The Notification Center was introduced in Mountain Lion and is not available in earlier versions of OS X.


When you click the magnifying glass icon, it will open Spotlight. Spotlight allows you to find a file or application by typing the name (or just part of the name).

Date & Time and Settings

On the right side of the menu bar, you will see the date and time, along with shortcuts you can click to adjust settings like sound volume.

Menu Bar

The menu bar will contain different menu options depending on which program you're using. In this example, the active program is Finder.

Apple Icon

In the top-left corner of the screen is the Apple icon, which you can click to access your System Preferences, recent documents, and more. You can also use it to shut down your computer.

Desktop Background

The desktop background, or wallpaper, allows you to personalize your computer. You can either choose a built-in background or use one of your own images.

Folders on the Desktop

You can keep folders, files, and shortcuts on the desktop so they'll be easily accessible.


When you delete a file, it is moved to the Trash. This allows you to recover the file if you change your mind. To permanently delete a file, you'll need to empty the Trash.


The Dock can contain shortcuts to applications, files, and folders. If you have multiple programs open, you can use the Dock to quickly switch between them.


Launchpad allows you to see a list of all of your applications. It is designed to make it easier to find and organize your applications.

Launchpad was introduced in OS X Lion, and it is not available in earlier versions of OS X.

Open Folders

When you double-click a folder, it will open in a specialized program called Finder. This lets you navigate to the specific file or folder you want.

Opening files, folders, and apps in Lion

When you use any operating system, you'll need to know how to open files, folders, and apps. In Lion, you can open something by clicking it in the Dock or Launchpad, or by double-clicking it if it's on the desktop or inside a folder.

If you're new to Lion, you may want to practice the following steps:

  1. Open Finder by clicking the Finder icon on the left side of the Dock.
    Opening FinderOpening Finder
  2. Close Finder by clicking the button in the top-left corner of the Finder window. Later on, we'll talk more about how to use Finder.
    Closing FinderClosing Finder
  3. Open Launchpad by clicking the Launchpad icon on the Dock.
    Opening LaunchpadOpening Launchpad
  4. While Launchpad is open, click any app to open it.
    Clicking an appClicking an app
  5. Quit the app you just opened by clicking the app name in the top-left corner of the screen and selecting Quit.
    Quitting an appQuitting an app
  6. If you have any icons on your desktop, double-click one of them to open it, then close or quit it.
    Double-clicking a file to open itDouble-clicking a file to open it

When an app is open, the icon on the Dock will have a light under it. You may notice that the Finder icon always has a light under it. This is because it's always running, even if there are no Finder windows open.

Lights indicating which apps are openLights indicating which apps are open

Full-screen apps

Some apps in Lion have a full-screen mode that lets you just focus on one app, with no distractions. These apps have a double-arrow icon in the top-right corner. When you click the icon, the app will zoom to fill the entire screen, and everything else will be hidden. You can then press the Escape (Esc) key to return to the normal view. Not all apps currently support this feature. However, it is used by many of the pre-installed apps such as iCal, Safari, and iPhoto.

The double-arrow iconThe double-arrow icon

You can also switch to full-screen mode by using the keyboard shortcut Control-Command-F.

The menu bar

The menu bar is located at the top of the screen. It is always visible except for when you're running a full-screen app. The options on the menu bar will vary depending on which app you're currently using. The name of the app will appear in bold near the left side of the menu bar, and the options to the right of the name allow you to perform various tasks within the app.

The menu bar, while using iPhotoThe menu bar, while using iPhoto

The Apple icon

On the left side of the menu bar is the Apple icon, which you can use to access your System Preferences, recent documents, and more. You'll also use the Apple icon to shut down or restart your computer.

The Apple iconThe Apple icon


On the right side of the menu bar is a magnifying glass icon. When you click it, it will open Spotlight, a tool you can use to search your computer. If you're having trouble finding a file, app, or folder, you can just type the name in Spotlight and it will show you a list of results.

Using Spotlight to search for an appUsing Spotlight to search for an app

Multi-touch gestures

Lion allows you to use many different multi-touch gestures with your mouse or trackpad. These include pinches, taps, double-taps, and swipes. Each gesture performs a specific task, and by learning different gestures you can increase your productivity.

In order to use multi-touch gestures, you will need the right equipment. If you have a laptop, the built-in trackpad can be used. For desktop computers, you can either use the Magic Trackpad or the Magic Mouse. One of these may have been included with your computer; if not, they can be purchased separately. Most mice are not touch sensitive and cannot be used for multi-touch gestures.

From left to right, the images below show a laptop trackpad, a Magic Trackpad, and a Magic Mouse.

A laptop trackpadA laptop trackpad
The Magic TrackpadThe Magic Trackpad
The Magic MouseThe Magic Mouse

To see gestures in action, watch the following video from Apple.

Examples of gestures

Some gestures will vary depending on whether you're using a trackpad or a Magic Mouse, and there are a few that only work with trackpads. Some apps may not support all gestures, but apps made by Apple (such as Safari) tend to use them more. Therefore, you may want to practice the following gestures with Safari before you try them with other apps.

  • Pinch to zoom (trackpad only): Place your thumb and forefinger on the trackpad, and move them apart to zoom in or move them together to zoom out.
    Pinching to zoomPinching to zoom
  • Smart zoom: Tap the trackpad twice (double-tap) with two fingers. If you are using a Magic Mouse, double-tap the mouse with one finger (make sure you are just tapping the mouse and not clicking). The app will zoom in to the area where the mouse pointer is.
    Double-tapping with two fingersDouble-tapping with two fingers
    Double-tapping with one fingerDouble-tapping with one finger
  • Swipe to navigate: Instead of using your web browser's back and forward buttons, you can swipe to the left or right with two fingers (on a trackpad) or one finger (on a Magic Mouse). You can also do this to scroll through different screens in Launchpad.
    Swiping with two fingersSwiping with two fingers
    Swiping with one fingerSwiping with one finger
  • View Launchpad (trackpad only): Place your thumb and three fingers on the trackpad and move them together to open Launchpad.
    Pinching with three fingers and thumbPinching with three fingers and thumb

There are many more gestures you can use. To learn more, check out the Mac Basics: Multi-Touch Gestures page on the Apple website.

Natural scrolling

By default, Lion uses natural scrolling, which means things move in the opposite direction from traditional scrolling. To understand this, let's compare traditional and natural scrolling.

  • Traditional scrolling: When you're viewing a webpage, you can scroll down by using a downward swipe on your trackpad (using two fingers), Magic Mouse, or the scroll wheel on a more traditional mouse. Your web browser's scroll bar moves down, but the content on the page moves up. This is the way most computers handle scrolling.
    Traditional scrollingTraditional scrolling
  • Natural scrolling: With natural scrolling, you will use an upward swipe and the content on the page moves up, almost like you are pushing the content up. This is the way scrolling usually works on touchscreen devices like the iPad and iPhone, and it's the default option in Lion.
    Natural scrollingNatural scrolling

To change the scrolling type:

If you've never used Lion before, natural scrolling may seem awkward at first. However, since it mimics the way mobile devices work it may not take long to get used to it. You can switch between natural and traditional scrolling in your mouse settings to see which one you prefer.

  1. Click the Apple icon, then select System Preferences.
    Opening System PreferencesOpening System Preferences
  2. Select the Mouse icon to go to your mouse settings.
    Going to Mouse settingsGoing to Mouse settings
  3. Next to Scroll direction, uncheck the check box to use traditional scrolling or check it to use natural scrolling.
    Changing the scroll directionChanging the scroll direction