Intro to Macintosh for the Windows Tech

22 May

This guide came out of a desire to familiarize the technicians where I worked at the time (a Windows shop with the occasional fugitive Mac) not familiar with the Mac O/S a quick and dirty reference and tutorial on dealing with Macs running Mac O/S 10.5.X Leopard. It assumes you are familiar with Windows troubleshooting. Of course no simple guide like this can hope to cover everything you need to know troubleshooting an operating system. If you have suggestions, quibbles, flames or corrections please feel free to email me and I will be happy to make any necessary changes. This document took me all of a couple of days to come up with, just off the top of my head and as such should not be considered comprehensive.

This guide was originally based on Mac O/S X 10.5 (Leopard). In April of 2014 I noticed a few errors and things that needed to be corrected/updated. So I have done so. Surprisingly there are few issues with the general usability and function of Mac O/S X so it pretty much applies through Mac O/S X Mavericks (10.9.x).


Don’t blame me if you try something here and you lose years of irreplaceable data, screw up your Mac, cause the ground to open under your feet and send the Earth careening into the sun. You are responsible for your own actions. This stuff works for me. So make copies of any files before you change them. Think about what and how you are doing something so that, if it fails, you can back out of the changes you have made.



Macs are at their core BSD Unix with proprietary Apple additions. There are two and only two commercial versions of Mac O/S: Client and Server. The server “merely” adds a management interface and a few bits of server software like an email server, blog, Wiki software and the like. Much of that functionality can be duplicated by configuring the Client version via command line tools and adding freely available open source equivalents to what Apple provides in the Server version. There is one version of Mac O/S. to get a server version you log on to the App Store and purchase Mac O/S X Server for the low low price of $19.99. And unlike Microsoft server versions there are no user CALs or restrictions on what you can or can’t install. This website used to run off of a bog standard Mac O/S client with a few options activated in the built-in Apache web server, plus MySQL and WordPress for the Blog section. In fact much of what is bundled with the Server (other than the proprietary management interface) is either based on or direct usage of commonly used open source software such as Apache, PHP, MySQL, Perl and the like. I recently gave up an the self hosting and went with Hostgator as my web host. In this day and age it is simpler and easier for me to deal with. But if you like fiddling with those kind of things the Mac makes a remarkably good web host for small, lower traffic web sites.

Where is everything? A quick file system tour.

Because the Mac O/S is a UNIX file system much of it is hidden by default from users for simplicities sake.

It is easy enough to view the whole file system but that requires using the Terminal application to access the built in shell. Which is not too unlike cmd.exe or more appropriately Windows Powershell.

The Mac equivalent of Windows Explorer is called the Macintosh Finder. When you are at the desktop you are in the Finder. To access the file browser you can double click on a hard drive icon (in the upper right of the screen, if it’s not hidden). Or you can select New Finder Window from the Finder menu (top left of the screen) or press Command-N (command is the cloverleaf key, it often has han Apple logo on it too).

On a typical Mac you will see these folders at the root of the hard drive:

  • Applications
  • Developer (Only if you install the (free) Apple Developer tools)
  • Library (in later/current O/S versions this is hidden)
  • System
  • Users

Applications: This folder is the equivalent of C:\Program Files and is where pretty much all applications are stored. Like in Windows you should not move Applications (Apps) around the file system or put them in subfolders within the Applications folder. This is especially true of applications supplied with Mac O/S X or purchased separately from Apple. While there are exceptions to that rule your best bet is to not move anything unless you are sure.

Important: There is no system-wide way to uninstall specific applications or O/S patches like Add/Remove Programs in Windows. Some application vendors however provide an uninstaller (sometime an un-install option is in the installer). Often just trashing the Application itself will uninstall it. However larger applications often have files strewn around the file system and it is a PITA to hunt them all down. There are shareware Apps that specialize in uninstalling an Application and all of it’s support files. Look for such things on MacUpdate An excellent source for Mac software, commercial, free and shareware. But be careful, lately they have been wrapping the downloads in an installer that may install things other than just the software you want.

Developer: This folder is where Apple will install it’s (free) developer tools. These are the full suite of tools you need to develop Mac applications. Some of the tools are handy to have and technicians may want these installed. There is an installer on the O/S install disk or you can download it with a free membership in the Apple Developer Connection.

Library: This folder is a repository for files specific to User Land. Specifically settings and files that are for all users of this Mac. There is another “Library” folder in each user’s home folder that has a similar function, but specific to that, and only that, user. For example Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative suite install help files, services, fonts, plug-ins and the like in sub-folders of Library. You will find internet plug-ins, Apple Mail files and the like here. Of special note is the Application Support and Preferences sub-folders. These contain, respectively, other support files for installed applications and settings files for system wide settings. You can think of Preferences as the Mac version of the Registry except all settings are discreet (usually) compressed XML files. This folder, in later/current versions of O/S X is hidden, mostly because users shouldn’t be fiddling around in here.

System: This folder is the core of the O/S. Never ever add or delete anything to this folder. Stay away! Danger Wil Robinson!

Users: This folder is where settings and files specific to each user are stored. The equivalent of C:\Documents and Settings in Pre-Vista versions of Windows.

Paths Nomenclature

Macintosh path names are separated by a (forward) slash. This is standard Linux/Unix behavior.

/   (slash) is referred to as “root” and is the top level directory of the file system,
usually the root of the HD. in PC terms it is C:\. Any path that starts with the slash is an absolute path that shows the path from the root of the file system.

/Applications   The applications directory. Similar to C:\Program Files

/Users/Steve    Steve’s user folder. Similar to C:\Documents and Settings\steve. All of my files are stored here. Every. Single. One. Discourage users from storing files elsewhere.

~/Desktop   The tilde ( ~ ) refers to the root of a specific users folder. If you know your
username is Steve then ~/Desktop refers to /Users/Steve/Desktop. Similar to C:\Documents and Settings\steve\Desktop

/Applications/Microsoft Office 2008/Microsoft Word.App   The full path to the Microsoft Word application.
Note: Most applications and some files are actually directories with special attributes. A file with the “.APP” extension (an application) is actually (in developer terms) an Application Bundle and can be opened like other directories by right-clicking on an Application and selecting “Show Package Contents.” This is not something that you generally need to know except when an application saves it’s files this way. iPhoto’s library is such a bundle (holding all of iPhotos pictures) as are iWork and iMovie files, amongst others..

Learn the Special Keyboard Keys

The Mac keyboard has a few different keys than a Windows keyboard and behaves a little differently by default.

Command is the key with the cloverleaf on it. It will also often have the Apple logo on it and users sometimes call it the Apple Key. Later versions of Apple keyboards also have “command” on them as well. Command is used in conjunction with another key to issue a command. Much like the “Ctrl” key in Windows. Common (universal) Command keys are:

Command-S   Save

Command-P   Print

Command-V   Paste

Command-C   Copy

Shift-Command 3   Screen shot (saves a file to the desktop)

Some command keys are universal to the O/S and the same across all applications and some are application specific.The ones above are universial, E.G. common to all Macintosh applications.

The Option key is semi-equivalent to the Alt key in Windows and is used usually in conjunction with other keys or mouse clicks to issue an optional version of the command. In a word processor Option-8 will give you a bullet.
Pressing the option key while selecting (some) menus and buttons will give you additional advanced/hidden features.

The Control key is not used for the same thing as in Windows, usually. You will use the Control key most in conjunction with a mouse click to yield a right-click. While a control/right click often does similar things as you would do in Windows is not nearly as ubiquitous.

If you plug a Windows/PC keyboard into a Mac the Alt key becomes Option and the Windows key becomes command. Usually.

Most other keys behave as expected from Windows.

Note that the numeric keypad is always numbers and can’t (usually) be toggled to represent arrow keys.
ESC works as expected in most applications, canceling out a dialog box.

Mac/PC Equivalents

Close/Minimize/Zoom equals Minimize/Maximize/Exit Or does it?

The Finder and application windows like their Windows counterpart have three main controls. Only on a Mac they are colored and on the left side of the window. Their operations are just different enough to be annoying to someone used to the way Windows does it.

  • The red close button will indeed close a window but will usually not quit out of an application. That requires pressing Command-Q or selecting Quit from the Application menu.
  • The yellow minimize button pushes the window itself to the right side of the dock. It only pushes that one window. If you have multiple windows open for that app they remain open and in place. The right side of the dock (next to the trash can) is for documents and minimized application windows. The left side is for the applications themselves.
  • The green zoom button scales the window to what the Mac O/S thinks it should be. Sometimes it means the window will shrink in size. Annoying. Play with it in a web browser and see.

Hide vs. Minimize On the Mac you can hide an application either by selecting Hide from the Application menu or pressing Command-H (usually) within the application. A hidden Mac application still shows as active in the Dock but its icon is grayed out. Click on it to un-hide. This is different from minimizing a window (as above). When you do that the window goes to the right side of the dock and shows as a thumbnail representation of the window. Again click on it to open it back up.

If you are a big fan of ALT (or WINDOWS KEY) TAB for application switching on the PC. Command-Tab will do the same thing.

Right click. Mac mice and track pads have no right mouse button. If you hold Control while clicking that will yield a right click. If you attach a mouse with a left and right button the Mac will automatically recognize the right mouse button. Newer Mac laptops allow you to set the trackpad to recognize multiple fingers as a right click. Newer Macs with trackpads also offer a bewildering variety of gestures on the trackpad, so when you touch the trackpad accidentally with four fingers and swipe up or down the fun begins.

Properties panels The Mac equivalent of a properties panel for an individual file is the “Get Info” window (see the screen grab in the table below). Bring it up by either right-clicking on a file and selecting “Get Info” or select the file and press Command-I. Unlike Windows, Get Info windows are only available for files, not for changing network settings, sharing files and folders, etc. The “Sharing Permissions” found in a Get Info window are for setting file system (on Windows, NTFS) permissions if that file/folder is in a shared folder.

Dock vs. Task Bar The Apple Dock is a much different beast than the Windows Task Bar even though they seems to, superficially at least, do the same things. While Windows 7 introduced several changes to the task bar don’t expect them to act the same. The Dock can be moved around the screen via its Preference pane and you can change the size and turn magnification on and off there as well.

The dock, in addition to displaying all open applications is a location to place an (shortcut or alias) icon for launching an application, similar to the Windows Quick Launch bar in XP.

To add something to the dock drag it to the dock. To remove it drag it out of the dock. Applications will only add to the left side of the dock, documents and folders, only to the right side.

Unlike Windows you can open a document in a particular application by dragging and dropping that document onto the application icon in the dock, an alias icon or the application itself. If the Application can open that type of file it will do so.

Shortcuts are largely the same on the Mac, except they are called Aliases, and they tend to work quite a bit better than on Windows. For example you can create an alias to a file on the Mac, then move the file to another location and the alias knows where it was moved to. To make an alias either select the icon and press Command-L or Command-Option-drag an icon.

Menu Locations. Unlike Windows the menu for each application is always at the top of the screen rather than at the top of each window. And no you can’t change this, it’s a low-level O/S feature. Because of this the Mac menu bar changes depending on which the currently active application is. The leftmost menu is always the Apple menu, displayed with the Apple logo. The contents of this menu do not change. The next menu to the right is the Application menu and is the name of the front most (or current) application. You will access the application preferences (analogous to Tools -> options) and quit out of the App here in addition to other functions dealing with the app as a whole (show, hide, about, etc.)

Deleting Files To delete a file on the PC you can drag it to the recycle bin or select it and press the DEL key. On the Mac it is a little different. You can still drag stuff to the trash but to do it via the keyboard you have to select the file(s) and press Command-Backspace.

Ejecting a CD/DVD

Annoyingly enough Macs that have optical media drives do not have an easily accessible physical button to eject optical media. The Mac keyboard has an eject key. This key is usually in the upper right corner of the keyboard. You must hold it for 2-4 seconds to eject media. If you are using a PC keyboard on your Mac, F12 is the Eject key. Many Macs that have an optical drive have a fairly well hidden hole near the optical drive which will allow you to manually eject media.

If you hold down the mouse button when booting, a Mac will eject all removable media: CD, DVD, Floppy, etc.

Startup Options For Troubleshooting

Like PCs, Macs have a few keys that let you enter special troubleshooting modes at startup. Mac O/S does not have nearly the same number of startup options but the Mac’s startup options are generally sufficient.

Safe Mode: similar to Windows Safe Mode. Mac safe mode sometimes takes a bit longer to get into as it does a fair amount of disk diagnosis in addition to disabling all but necessary system services. You enter safe mode by holding the shift key until the boot screen comes up indicating it is booting into safe mode. Note that in Safe Mode a Mac retains it’s network connectivity.Also you can run installers and do quite a bit more than you can in Windows Safe Mode.

Single User Mode: Hold down Command-S while booting and you will be dropped into a command line only interface. Follow the instructions onscreen to do some basic disk repair.

To do more than that in single user mode requires a bit of knowledge of the Mac file system and shell commands. There is a utility called Applejack which installs a shell script accessible from this mode only that automates a lot of the things that would otherwise be annoyingly difficult to do and remember from the command line. Applejack must be installed before the Mac has any problems. Every time Apple does a major revision of O/S X Applejack breaks. Check the Applejack support forums for info on this.

Drive Selector: If you have multiple bootable partitions or drives attached to the Mac you can hold down the Option key while booting and it will present you with a simplified GUI for selecting which drive you want to boot from. This includes bootable flash drives, CD/DVDs such as the Mac O/S X install DVD, a Windows or Linux partition and the like.

O/S Install DVD: You can boot from the O/S install DVD and do a wide variety of helpful things like installing/reinstalling the O/S (duh!) repairing permissions and repairing the disk, restoring disk images to any attached hard drive, resetting the admin password, etc. To boot from a CD/DVD hold down the C or D key at startup. Note that booting from a CD or DVD is much slower than HD booting.

Recovery Mode is a special mode that lets you run disk utility to repair/diagnose your drive(s) and reinstall the operating system. SInce new Macs do not come with install media Recovery mode relies on your internet connection to download the O/S that corresponds to what is on the recovery partition from Apple’s servers. It works quite well, unless you have a slow internet connection.

It is a good idea to make your own bootable installer for those times when you don’t have Internet connectivity or it’s really slow. You’ll need a copy of the O/S installer application that you can download from the Apple App Store, an 8GB flash drive and a utility to make the flash drive bootable and copy the installer to the flash drive. ArsTechnica has the instructions.

When you see the gray Apple logo at boot up, the firmware (in PC terms BIOS) has found a bootable volume and is booting from it. If you see a flashing “?” on the screen it means that the firmware can’t find a valid bootable volume. Sometimes you may see a globe icon flash on screen briefly. That indicates it is looking for a network source to boot from. If you see a folder or drive icon with a slash through it the O/S on that location is damaged somehow and not bootable.

Basic Troubleshooting steps

Disk Repair: Because Mac O/S is based on Unix it is very dependent on the various file system permissions assigned to all the files on the hard drive. Many applications (and the O/S itself) require that some files have very specific permissions set. If those permissions are not correct then it could cause problems. A common (and usually overused) troubleshooting step is to repair permissions on the HD that you are booted from. You can do this from the O/S install media, recovery mode or right from the Disk Utility app located in /Applications/utilities. Just run Disk Utility, select the drive in questions and click on “Repair Permissions.”

While in Disk Utility you may notice a Verify Disk button and a greyed out Repair Disk button. This is Apple’s GUI front-end to the underlying FSCK, or File System ChecK command line tool. You can’t repair the currently active filesystem. this is why the Repair Disk button is greyed out. If you boot from an installer or from the Recovery partition repair disk is available to you.

Repairing permissions can take a few minutes or an hour depending on the drive, the apps installed and any problems that the drive may have. Permissions repair rarely takes more than 10 minutes and often less. It is a good first step to take in troubleshooting issue with a Mac. And will give you time to think of the next steps to take while an anxious user is hovering over your shoulder.

For actual disk/file system repair, like I said above, you will need to boot from the O/S install media or Recovery Partition. At the language selection screen of the O/S installer click the right arrow at lower right and when the first O/S install screen comes up, select Disk Utility from the Tools menu,

Sometimes even the Apple disk repair utility can’t do anything for you. In cases like that you may have to resort to commercial disk repair utilities. My favorite is Diskwarrior and anyone with a Mac should own a copy, just in case. Drive Genius is also a very good disk repair utility. But it does much more than just disk repair. If you have neither start with Diskwarrior.

Cache: Like on the PC there are folders for temporary files. These are referred to as the cache folders and are here:


You can freely delete the entire contents of these folders manually. Note that the /Library/Cache folder may ask you to authenticate as an Administrator to delete some files there.

There are many other caches on a Mac but they are often difficult to locate and delete. I use one of many utilities out there that will do all of this for you. I have used “Onyx” for this for many years. It is freeware and can be found here. The developer updates the App for each revision of the O/S but also keeps older versions around to match what O/S version you have. If odd crashing/slowness persists you may want to use Onyx to run all of its repair functions and then reboot. Note that Onyx is pretty much just a front end for the maintenance utilities built into Mac O/S. I have yet to have an issue other then slow app or O/S launching the first time while the caches are rebuilt in the years I have used this free utility.

Slowness issues. Sometimes no matter what you do; deleting caches, repairing permissions, etc. the Mac is slower than it should be. You can execute a terminal command that will update the “prebinding” on the O/S and applications. This may or may not fix the slowness issue but is worth a shot. Go to /Applications/Utilities and launch Terminal.

At the prompt issue this command exactly as shown (or paste it in) and press enter

sudo update_prebinding -debug - root / -force


It will ask for your password and rapidly display a bunch of status messages. When it returns to the shell prompt it is done. Reboot the Mac. There is an option in Onyx that will do this as well.

Troubleshooting Application Issues

Many of the problems with Applications can be traced to a damaged settings (or in Mac parlance “prefs” or preferences) file. On the Mac these settings are stored in one and possibly two locations:



The first location is usually for applications that have settings that are common or can be common to all users. The second is specific to that user only.

So, just like in Windows, a good way to determine if the issue the user is having is specific to that user would be to log on as Administrator (or any other user with admin access) and try to duplicate the issue under that login. If the issue is not present under another login it is quite likely an issue with the preferences file for that particular user.

Note: due to file system permissions it will be impossible for you to access another user’s files from the Administrator login. You will have to do that from their login. However when you try and do something that the user is not permitted (if their login does not have admin rights) to do you will be asked to authenticate. If you provide an Administrator username and password it will let you proceed.

So this procedure is about the same steps in Windows. In Windows the settings are stored in the (shudder) registry, on the Mac each Application creates and reads from it’s own discreet settings file or files.

While there is no universally used naming convention for preferences files there are three common naming formats:

  • – The settings file for Apple’s Quicktime
  • Adobe Photoshop CS3 (a folder) – Multiple settings files for Adobe Photoshop CS3 within
  • Quinn.plist – setting file for an App called quinn


The first is the preferred and common naming convention. The “.PLIST” extension tells you that this is an XML Property List file. This can be opened with plist editor (installed with the Dev Tools). If the XML file is not compressed (under Leopard and later, many are by default) you can open them in any text editor if you want to have a peek.

So if you think it is a prefs file issue, locate the prefs file and move it to the desktop and re-launch the App. If it then works fine, trash the prefs file, otherwise you may need to remove/reinstall the app or dig deeper.

Note: Some apps store their serial number in the prefs file, so if the prefs file is causing the issue you may have to re-enter the App’s serial number. Also some applications have more than one preference file and sometimes more than one in each of the indicated locations.

Preferences (Control Panel)

The Mac analogue of the Windows Control Panel is called System Preferences and is (by default) a small application placed in the dock. It can be removed from the dock though. If it is missing from the Dock you can find it in the Applications folder. Like the Windows Control Panel it is a central location for all system settings.

Both application installers and the user can set things to run at startup. This is analogous to placing a shortcut to a program in the Startup Items folder on Windows. To add and remove startup items look under the Accounts (or Users) Preference Pane. Select the users name on the left and then the Login items tab.

You will get a list of login items. If there is a check next to an item it means that when it launches it will launch and then hide. To remove something from the list select it and click the minus sign under the list. To add an item click on the plus sign and navigate to the application you want to launch automatically. Some items in this list are faceless background applications and clicking the hide checkbox will have no effect.

Most of the rest of these preferences are fairly self explanatory.

Authenticating: Some Preference Panes and other applications must be unlocked in order to make changes. If you try and click on a control and nothing happens or the control button is grayed out you need to unlock that option. Look for a small padlock icon, usually in the lower left hand corner of the window. If the lock is closed then no changes can be made until it is clicked and an administrator password is entered. Once the lock is open, changes can be made. An example of this is in the User Administration Preferences Pane.

About Viruses/Spyware

While Windows is (in some ways) technically a more secure operating system, the Mac remains (for whatever reason) largely (not completely!) free of viruses, spyware, adware, trojans and worms. That is not to say that they don’t exist or that the Mac is inherently better or invulnerable but such malware are much less prevalent on the Mac. Common malware entry points are (like on Windows) through Java, Flash and Adobe Acrobat. None the less you it would be a good idea to have the latest version of one of the many Anti-Virus applications available for the Mac installed. It is also important to verify that the installed AV app is set to download the latest definitions automatically as Macs can pass on PC viruses and in case you do run across some Mac malware.

The Finder (Windows Explorer)

The Finder is the Mac version of Windows Explorer. Pretty much anything you would do in Windows Explorer you should be able to do in the Mac Finder.

The Finder file browser remains largely the same in later versions of the O/S. Though there are some minor differences. Screen shots are from O/S 10.9.2 (Mavericks).


Buttons (top to bottom, left to right)

Red Close Window
Green Zoom to content (this will not maximize the window to fill the screen)

This now puts you in full-screen mode. Hold the Option key while clicking to revert to the old behavior.

Yellow Minimize to the Dock.
Icon/Title Shows where you are. In this case at the root of a users home directory.
Command-Click on this and you will get a hierarchal path to this folder.
Handy for navigating up in the directory structure.
“lozenge” Show/hide the button bar and left side bar.
L/R arrows Back in forth in your navigation history.
View buttons (Left to right) Selects Icon, List, Column, Cover flow views for that window.
Eye Quicklook. Previews the file. ESC to exit from QuickLook.
(gear icon)
Select a file/folder and perform an allowed action on it. Similar to the Windows right-click. Right-click on the Mac does the same thing as this menu.
Search box System-wide (content indexed) search.


There are three other views available to you: List View (comparable to Details View) Column View and Cover Flow view which have no analogue on Windows.





There is another view valuable mostly for scrolling though media files called cover flow


Clicking on an individual file in column view will provide basic information on the file, along with a preview of the file (left).

Click on the file and press COMMAND-I and you get a window like this (right), the “Get info…” window. Equivalent to the Properties pane in Windows.


If you select Finder Preferences from the Finder menu you will get preferences that effect how Finder windows act, what they display, how they display it.

If you select Show View Options from the View menu when you have a Finder window open you can select icon and text size and what information is shown about files . You can also set individual windows to act differently here via a checkbox to “Always open in ____ view” and a button at the bottom to make your changes the default for all new finder windows.


By default the Macintosh O/S installer installs an enormous number of printer drivers and if you connect a printer directly to a Mac via USB or thru a home network chances are the Mac will find and set up the printer with no user interaction. On many corporate networks you may have to set up a printer manually using the printer’s IP address.

  • In System Preferences click on Print & Fax, then IP at the top of the window, and then the Plus sign below the list box on the left.
  • Select the Protocol to use. If you use HP printers select HP Jet Direct Socket. Otherwise the LPD selection will work with most network printers.
  • Fill in the IP address in the Address box and leave the Queue box blank
  • Give it a name, usually the Windows Queue name for easy identification, and an optional location.
  • The Mac may have selected a printer driver once you give it an IP address if not pick “Select a driver to use…” from the drop-down menu and select the appropriate printer driver. If it is not in the list use the generic postscript driver.

You can use the Windows (printer) option and scroll through the list of print servers listed but depending on the Windows print server and your network you may or may not be able to print this way. IP printing is much more reliable on the Mac than printing through many Windows print servers.

Note that the Macintosh printing subsystem is based on CUPS (now owned by Apple). This is the printing system that most Unixes use and should you feel geeky enough you can manage Mac printing thru it’s CUPS web interface. That is beyond the scope of this document. More information on CUPS can be found at

Drive Mapping?

On the Mac there is no actual analogue to mapping a drive. However you can accomplish an acceptable alternative with the following procedure for mapping to a share on a Windows share.

  • In the Finder tap Command-K or select Connect To Server from the GO menu
  • Type SMB:// followed by the IP address a forward slash and then the path to the share that you want to connect to. EG: “smb://” You can also use UNC paths but IP addresses are more reliable.
  • Click the plus sign to the right will add that server path to the list of favorite servers.
  • Click on connect and you will be asked to authenticate, once that is done the share will appear on the desktop
  • If you then select the newly mounted share icon you can tap Command-L or File -> Make Alias and it will make a “Shortcut” to that share on the desktop. You can place that in the dock (next to the trash icon) or place it elsewhere on the desktop for later use.

Installing The O/S (upgrading and issues, imaging, etc.)

Like Microsoft, Apple periodically issues updates to it’s O/S and applications. By default the O/S is set to check for updates weekly. You can check manually by selecting Software Update from the Apple menu. It will query the Apple update servers and present a list of available updates.

Important: Unlike Microsoft O/S updates there is no way to roll back these changes. If an update messes up the O/S you will have to reinstall the operating system. For this reason many people make an image of their hard drive before performing O/S updates and upgrades. More information on this directly below.

When you run an update it is best to quit all open applications, run the update and then reboot if requested.In later versions of Mac O/S X the software update process may do this for you depending on what is being updated.

If an update is an O/S point update (EG 10.5.6 to 10.5.7) or security update it is recommended though not always necessary to clear the caches and repair permissions before applying the update.

Many people have better success applying O/S updates via the freely downloadable “Combo Updater” available on Apple’s Support downloads page. The combo updater will update any Mac (PPC or Intel, MacBook or Powerbook, iMac or Mini) but is much larger. If you have had issues installing O/S updates directly from Software Update or the App store, try doing the O/S update via the combo updater.

Like PCs you can create an image of a reference machine with your customizations installed and then make an image that can be applied to any Mac just like many companies do on Wondows PCs with Symantec Ghost. Apple’s disk utility can create these images once you have set up the Mac. In fact the O/S install disk is designed to use disk utility to restore an image from a special server or secondary USB/Firewire hard drive to the hard drive of the Mac you are booting it with.

You can also image using 3rd party applications like the excellent (but no longer freeware) CarbonCopyCloner and others. Personally I use CCC when making an image of a drive. It is easier as you can make an image from your currently active boot volume. And you can do incremental backups to an image with CCC. Another good backup/imaging tool is SuperDuper I use that as well.

It is beyond the scope of this document to detail these backup/imaging procedures.

Migrating User Settings

Apple has a utility that makes it fairly simple to migrate user settings and applications from one Mac to another. yes I said Applications. Unlike the Windows Easy Transfer utility, the Migration Assistant in /Applications/Utilities will transfer Applications from one Mac to another (along with documents, preferences and the like) is the utility to do this with. It can copy all the user files, applications and all the network settings and preferences from one Mac to another. It works great.

Apple also offers a utility to transfer files from a Windows PC to a Mac. It uses the same Migration Assistant on the Mac side and uses an Apple utility called the Windows Migration Assistant.

It is best to run the Migration Assistant from the Mac that the settings are being moved to. This procedure originally used the Firewire port but also supports a network (best to use a single ethernet cable between the two computers), or even the old Mac’s hard drive in an external case. You could even or make an image of the old HD first on an external USB drive.

If you are using Firewire start up the old Mac (the one that you are moving the settings from while holding down the “T” key (“T” for Target Disk Mode). Shortly it will display a blue screen with a large floating Firewire logo. Plug the cable into a Firewire port on both Macs and shortly the old Mac’s hard drive will appear on the desktop of the new Mac.

You can also just plug a plain ethernet cable between the ports on the two Macs. This need not be a crossover cable. This method is a bit slower than Firewire.

The Setup Assistant will walk you through this procedure and will wait for the other Mac’s hard drive to be connected. You will be given an option for which user’s data to move and what you want to copy (files, settings, apps, etc.) and then it will proceed.

This has the effect of completely preserving ALL of the user’s settings on the new Mac, including (if desired) all of the Apps that were installed on the old Mac.

Terminal (DOS, PowerShell)

The Mac O/S does not have DOS or (the poorly named) PowerShell. Instead it has a fully functional terminal application which (by default) uses the Unix Bash shell to allow you to issue commands and operate the Mac via command line. If you are a Windows command line kinda tech then Terminal is your baby on the Mac.

Terminal is located in /Applications/Utilities and provides a standard Unix Bash shell. Other shells are available and installed but unless you are already a Unix command line guru, stick with the default.

It is important to note that this is a Unix command line and as such does not use MS DOS conventions and/or commands.

It is beyond the scope of this document to teach you how to use the shell. But this guide should be helpful.

ZIP (and SIT) Files

Like Windows, the Mac has built in support for ZIP files. Unlike Windows it does not treat Zip files as if they were folders. Double clicking on a Zip file on a Mac will just unzip the file into the current directory. If you right-click on a file (or a bunch of files) you will have the option to “Compress “[filename].” This just creates a Zip file in the current directory.

Back before O/S X and the Zip format the predominant archiving format on the Mac was .SIT or “Stuffit.” Stuffit is a commercial product and still available and supported but is much less prevalent these days. You may run across these files now and then. There is a freely available Stuffit Expander that will expand Stuffit and many other files (including Zip) as well. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to have the latest version of this on your Mac, though you hardly ever see it anymore except for older files or applications.

Web Resources

Yeah Google is your friend. Adding “mac” or the O/S code name (Snow Leopard, Lion, Mavericks, etc.) to your troubleshooting searches will find you all sorts of Mac help. remember to put them in quotes to make the keyword mandatory on the search page. In addition to Google I have found these web sites are of particular interest to Mac techs.

  • Apple Support, is the official place for updates, downloads and knowledgebase searches.
  • Apple Discussion Forums, is the official Apple discussion forum on just about everything Mac related.
  • Mac OS X Hints is a good place for tips, tricks and troubleshooting on the Mac.
  • StackExchange Apple is a great forum and a good place to ask technical questions.
  • Mac In Touch is the granddaddy of Mac tech sites. Daily updates, discussions and a good (moderated) forum for vexing problems.
  • MacUpdate is my favorite place for legal downloading of freeware, shareware, commercial apps and updates. But be careful, lately they have been packaging downloads with their own software. Not A Good Thing.


That’s it, my brief intro to Macintosh troubleshooting for a Windows tech roughly thrust into the just different enough to be confusing world of Macintosh. It is certainly not a comprehensive guide. But hopefully of some use.

May 22 2009

I’ve fixed a few spelling and grammar errors as well as making a few minor changes for clarity’s sake.

Nov 23 2009

Updated, reworded and adjusted for the changes since this was originally written.

April 3 2014


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