Setting Up Your Mac Tips for the First Time

As someone who reinstalls macOS several times a year, I’ve gotten into a habit of powering through the initial setup process without thinking much about it. Today, I’d like to share 10 of my favorite initial setup tips with new Mac users. But even if you’re a long-time Mac user, you may still find a helpful gem or two within this how-to.

Keep in mind that the following 10 suggestions are just that, suggestions. If you prefer macOS’ default settings, then by all means, keep them. None of the following items are meant to be rules or standards. Through my usage of macOS over the past few years, I’ve been able to establish a basic workflow when setting up new Macs, and/or when reinstalling macOS.

It’s likely that you, too, have been able to establish your very own new-install workflow, so feel free to combine your preferences with some of the suggestions below. Also, be sure to share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments so that we can help others who read this post.

Full video walkthrough

Enable right-click, and adjust tracking speed

Right Click

macOS ships with right-click disabled, so you’ll need to enable that functionality out of the box. This is literally the very first thing I do after unboxing a new Mac or when doing a fresh macOS install. The mouse and trackpad tracking speed is also inordinately slow by default, so I boost its speed using the Tracking speed slider from the outset of things as well.

How to do it: Open System Preferences → Mouse → click the checkbox next to Secondary click.

Placing the Dock on the side of the screen

Dock on Left Side Mac OS X

Some of you may or may not agree with this tip, but I’m a firm believer that placing the dock on the side of your Mac’s display makes the most sense. From a pure real estate perspective, it provides you with additional vertical space, which is more limited on a widescreen monitor than horizontal space is.

How to do it: Open System Preferences → Dock → click the Left radio button next to Position on screen.

Minimize windows into application icon

Minimize windows into application icon

When you minimize apps on a fresh macOS install, you’ll notice that minimized applications and their corresponding windows take up their own spot on the Dock. If you have a variety of windows open at any given time, it won’t take long before the Dock begins to appear untidy. By choosing the “minimize windows into application icon” setting in the Dock’s preferences, minimized windows will reside inside of the related app’s icon on the dock instead.

How to do it: Open System Preferences → Dock → click the checkbox next to Minimize windows into application icon.

Enable Show Desktop Hot Corner

Show Desktop Hot Corner

Sure, you can always use the F11 key on a full sized keyboard (or fn+F11 on smaller keyboards) to quickly show the desktop. That said, I prefer assigning the Show Desktop shortcut to a Hot Corner, which makes it possible to quickly show the desktop using a mouse or trackpad.

How to do it: Open System Preferences → Mission Control → Hot Corners → select Desktop in the bottom left-hand corner.

Enable three finger drag with trackpad

Enable Three Finger Drag Trackpad OS X

In newer versions of macOS, Apple made it slightly more difficult to find and activate the trackpad’s three finger drag gesture. The three finger drag gesture, as its name aptly alludes to, lets you easily move windows and other content by using three fingers on your Mac’s trackpad.

How to do it: Open System Preferences → Accessibility → Mouse & Trackpad → Trackpad Options → click Enable dragging and select three finger drag.

Show Keyboard, Emoji & Symbol Viewers

Show Symbols Emoji Keyboard Mac OS X

Having quick access to all of the Emoji characters and symbols in the menu bar is something that I’ve grown used to having. By enabling the Show Keyboard, Emoji, & Symbol Viewers option, special characters and emoji are always just a click away. You can even set favorites and drag emoji characters directly into documents that you’re composing.

How to do it: Open System Preferences → Keyboard → Keyboard → click Show Keyboard, Emoji, & Symbol Viewers in menu bar checkbox.

Set Full Keyboard Access to ‘All controls’

Full Keyboard Access All Controls

Without changing Full Keyboard Access to ‘All controls’, you’ll notice that you won’t be able to use the Tab key on your Mac’s keyboard to tab between buttons and other on screen assets. By default, macOS only allows users to tab between text input boxes. That’s extremely annoying, so you’ll definitely want to enable this feature as soon as you can.

How to do it: Open System Preferences → Keyboard → Shortcuts → click the radio button next to All controls.

Clean up the Finder

Finder Preferences Clean Up Desktop

By default, the Finder displays hard disks, external disks, and other media on the desktop. I don’t need those items on my desktop, as such assets are easily accessible within a Finder window. Use Finder’s preferences to keep your desktop looking nice and neat.

How to do it: Open Finder → Finder Preferences → uncheck items under Show these items on the desktop.

Disable Shadows on screenshots

Kill screenshot shadow OS X guide

Unless you modify the screenshot settings, you’ll notice that screenshots come with a shadow around their edges by default. Some people like this effect, but other don’t. Place me in the latter camp. To disable screenshot shadows, simply use the following Terminal commands within a Terminal window:

defaults write disable-shadow -bool true
killall SystemUIServer

Add a shortcut to the Library

User Library Shortcut Mac OS X

The user Library folder gives you access to all sorts of things like Application Support files, Preferences and much more. Many users may not need access to such files, but power users will absolutely want to have quick access to the Library folder by means of a Finder shortcut.

How to do it: Open Finder → click Go menu → hold the Option (⌥) key on your keyboard → click Library.

Once the Library folder is open, click the column view option at the top of the Finder window to reveal the hidden base Library folder. From there, it’s just a matter of dragging the Library folder to the Favorites in the Finder’s sidebar to create a shortcut. Be sure to watch our video above for a visual walkthrough through this, and the nine additional getting started tips.

Just the beginning…

Of course, there are other preferences that I tend to establish when I buy a new Mac or reinstall macOS, but the aforementioned 10 items are among my most used configuration changes. What about you? What preferences and options do you reach for upon setting up macOS for the first time? Drop us a line down below in the comments with your tips and suggestions.

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About the Author

Jeff Benjamin

Jeff produces videos, walkthroughs, how-tos, written tutorials and reviews. He takes pride in being able to explain things in a simple, clear and concise manner.