So you just got a MacBook Air…

…lucky you!

If you’re a Mac user already, you know how to use it. If not, let’s go through some basics:

  • To ‘right click’ put two fingers on the trackpad and click with the thumb.
  • The bar at the top is separate from the Application windows — it changes context as you switch apps.
  • The Dock at the bottom is kind of like the windows Start menu, drag stuff there for quick access
  • ‘System Preferences’ is the analogue to Control Panel on Windows — it’s accessed through the Apple menu in the top left corner of the screen.
  • Make sure you get the System Updates that are available (currently 10.6.5) from the Software Update… option in the Apple menu.
  • The temptation to go get Microsoft Office is strong — but also consider the Free, Open Source alternative OpenOffice, or Apple’s offerings (iWork)
  • If you’re a college student, or education faculty, you can get AppleCare for $183 instead of the regular $249 (MacBook Air). Other great discounts apply to the other computer versions. AppleCare is great, and you have a year from the purchase date of the computer to purchase it. It’s important to remember, though, that AppleCare does not cover physical damage to the system.
  • As with any kind of battery-powered device, it’s important to know the ins and outs of battery performance.
  • Setting up a new computer is a great opportunity to start backing up your data … Mac OS X makes this easy with Time Machine, and you can use any Mac-formatted USB hard drive (or do it over the network if you’re feeling super fancy…)
  • Spotlight is awesome — it’s the magnifying glass in the top right corner of the screen. It searches all the files on your Mac as you type. I use it to launch applications, too — it’s handier than clicking through the Applications folder. You can open it by pressing Command-Space also.
  • has some great tutorials on Switching from Windows to Mac and Computer Literacy for the Mac. But of course, you already know that… 😉
  • It’s pretty easy to move stuff from an old pc to a shiny new Mac — just copy the files you want to move on to a USB hard drive.
  • Moving your iTunes library is pretty easy as well.
  • The Migration Assistant that you see during the initial setup is also available later in Applications/Utilities/Migration Assistant
And on to a few Air-specific things:
  • You might consider migrating data from an older Mac. Apple provides a nice article explaining this. Be sure to uncheck the ‘Network’ settings under the preferences dropdown when migrating, especially if you’re using the network to migrate. If your new Mac picks up the address from your old Mac, it can abort the transfer. Most people don’t have exotic network settings to bring over, and if they do they should probably just set them up manually anyway. 🙂
  • Because the Air’s screen is rather short vertically, consider moving the Dock to the side of the window. You can ‘right’ click on the little crosswalk divider and change the position of the Dock. You can also do this in System Preferences.
  • Since the Air doesn’t have an optical (dvd) drive, you might be tempted to go out and buy one. I would try to resist this — most people don’t use CD’s much anymore. Consider investing (a fraction of the cost) in a large-ish USB disk — 8 or 16GB. You can also use another computer’s cd/dvd drive! Just follow these instructions.
  • The Air is very WiFi oriented. If you need an ethernet plug, you’ll need to buy one. Or maybe it’s time to get a WiFi router…
  • If you do get that ethernet plug, bear in mind that it’s 10/100Mbps, not Gigabit. This shouldn’t matter much to you unless you plan on doing enormous file transfers… There’s a ‘gigabit’ adapter available over at amazon, but it won’t actually go gigabit — USB peaks out at 480Mbps.
  • Since the air is so lightweight and networky, consider jumping into the cloud rather than shuffling files back and forth with a disk. Services like Dropbox allow you to automagically sync a folder of files from your Air to other computers (and access the files on the web, too!). I use it for all my grad school work, so I have my files anywhere I need them. Evernote is a great tool for keeping text and clippings synced across your Mac, PC, nerdy Linux machine, or iPhone/something else.
  • The Air is a rad little slice of Mac, but it’s not a powerhouse. It’s very well suited for internet, document creation, and photo viewing but not so great for AfterEffects, Final Cut, or World of Warcraft. They’ll all run, but not optimally. Consider that the processor in the Air is about the same as the MacBooks from a few years ago. It has more RAM (4-8x) and a much faster SSD hard drive, though. These help it be snappier for navigating and doing file access.
  • Since the Air is so thin, be very careful about how you put it in your bag. The screen lid is very thin, so avoid positioning anything like a power adapter near it where it could impact the screen.
  • I personally like to use Tap to click on the Air trackpad. It feels more appropriate or something … more like the iPad.
  • Being very small, the Air is probably easier to lose (or have taken from you). You might consider turning on FileVault to encrypt your personal stuff. It can be found under Security in System Preferences. This of course doesn’t protect against data loss, but is a pretty solid line of defense against ne’er-do-wells getting access to your personal data. There’s a slight performance hit, but it’s mostly offset by the faster SSD storage.
  • Additionally, check out some of the ‘stolen Mac recovery’ apps. There’s a free one here for a limited time.
More tips to come as I think of them. Please let me know if you have Mac or Air-specific questions you’d like addressed.