Master essential Mac facts, concepts, and skills!

Take Control of
Mac Basics

Tonya Engst

Whether you’re new to the Mac, or simply want to sharpen your Mac know-how, Take Control of Mac Basics is an easy-to-use and exhaustive reference to macOS. Drawing on her years of experience as the former editor in chief of Take Control, author Tonya Engst has compiled an invaluable guide to understanding important Mac facts and concepts, and how to develop the skills you need to become a highly proficient Mac user.

All Take Control books are delivered in two ebook formats—PDF and EPUB—and can be read on nearly any device.


Note: This book is badly outdated. When the last version was released, macOS 10.13 High Sierra was current. The number and scope of changes to macOS since then is breathtaking. Almost every bit of advice in the book would have to be thoroughly reworked to cover more modern versions of macOS. Unfortunately, Tonya is unavailable to do any further updates to this book, and so far, we have been unable to find someone else to take over the project. Therefore we can’t commit to any future updates. (Read more about updates).)

The Mac has become an essential tool for many activities, but it’s not always easy to use, leading to frustration and wasted time. Because Apple often makes small changes to the interface, you may be stumbling over interface oddities or struggling to complete common tasks that you once handled with ease.

Take Control of Mac Basics, written by Tonya Engst, former Take Control editor in chief, will fill in the gaps in your knowledge and shower you with useful tips. Carefully arranged and highly cross-linked, the ebook brings together dozens of Mac topics into one place, making it easy for you to find help on many interrelated topics.

Free Webinar! The title includes access to a helpful video, where Tonya discusses interface issues and shares her Mac screen as she demonstrates using the Finder window sidebar, saving files, managing windows, launching apps, finding things in System Preferences, and more.

After you read this book, you’ll be able to:

  • Get Your Bearings: Find out the names of the interface elements on your Mac screen and learn what you can do with them, including the menu bar, Apple menu, application menu, Siri, Spotlight, Notification Center, Finder, Finder windows, Dock, and Desktop. You’ll also be introduced to each built-in app and utility on your Mac, and get expert advice on how to locate, install, and update additional apps.

  • Use the Finder: Become confident with using the folders available to you on your Mac and with filing your files in both default and custom folders that work well for you. You’ll find lots of tips for working on the Desktop, customizing the views in your windows, resizing windows, and understanding Mac paths.

  • Manage Customization: Discover the many ways you can make your Mac work better for you, including making it easier to see, less of a power hog, more beautiful to look at, and easier to share with a child by creating separate accounts. Also learn how a wide variety of settings in System Preferences can improve the way you carry out essential tasks, such as copy/paste between your Mac and your iPhone, speaking through headphones on a FaceTime or Skype call, and viewing recent text messages or upcoming calendar events.

  • Run Apps Effectively: Understand the best methods for getting in and out of apps, having apps launch on their own, quitting apps, dealing with frozen apps, opening new files, saving files, and more.

  • Master Essential Tasks: Build your expertise with core Mac tasks and technologies including printing, copy and paste, keyboard shortcuts, connecting to a Wi-Fi network (in certain cases even if you don’t know the password), Universal Clipboard, Mission Control, AirPlay, Sleep, Shut Down, what to do if you need to enter a Unix command in Terminal, how to think about backups, and more.

This book is based on macOS 10.13 High Sierra, which Apple released in 2017. This book is compatible with earlier versions of macOS, but older versions will not entirely match what the book presents. Although we currently have no plans to update the book for 10.14 Mojave or later, Tonya covers relevant changes to Mojave in a series of posts on this book’s blog:

Take Control of Mac Basics is based on an older book called Read Me First: A Take Control Crash Course, which contained information about core Mac skills useful to Take Control readers. Take Control of Mac Basics expands greatly on that idea, adding invaluable content that is pertinent to anyone interested in other Take Control titles.

Tonya Engst

About Tonya Engst

Tonya Engst co-founded the TidBITS online publication in 1990 with Adam Engst. She also co-founded the Take Control Books series with Adam in 2003 and saw the series through its early years, working with many talented authors and editors to add hundreds of titles and to create a process that could easily produce PDF and EPUB/Mobipocket formatted ebooks from the same WYSIWYG manuscript. Tonya was editor-in-chief of the Take Control series from 2003–2017.

Playing Mother-May-I in Mojave’s Security & Privacy Preference Pane

Posted by Tonya Engst on December 14, 2018

Have you noticed the occasional—or frequent—dialog in Mojave, asking for permission for some app to take some action? Dialogs I’ve seen include Skype wanting to use my camera and microphone, SuperDuper! requesting Full Disk Access, and Keyboard Maestro asking to control BBEdit. These requests are caused by enhancements in Mojave aimed at improving your privacy. In some cases, when you see a dialog like this, you can simply click OK to allow access, but in other cases, you must go to System Preferences > Security and Privacy > Privacy, unlock the pane using the lock icon at the lower left of the pane, select the desired category in the left-hand list, and then enable the app at the right.

Here’s info about a few of the privacy categories, listed in the order they appear in the Privacy sub-pane:

  • Location Services isn’t a new category, but just like in iOS, for an app to know where your Mac is, that app must have permission. (If you’re running an app-like service within a Web browser, like Yelp, the Web browser needs permission!)

  • Accessibility is for utilities that need to control your Mac in some way, such as by expanding text, running a macro, launching an app, or managing windows.

  • Full Disk Access is for apps that need special access to your drive, such as many backup utilities and syncing services; certain Apple apps, including Home, Mail, Messages, and Safari; and even Terminal. (For more about Terminal, see OSXDaily’s article Fix Terminal “Operation not permitted” Error in MacOS Mojave.) There’s a special procedure for adding an app to this category: unlock the Privacy sub-pane, select the Full Disk Access category from the left-hand list, click the + button under the list of allowed apps, and then navigate to the app you want to allow. (Alternatively, drag the app’s icon from the Finder to the Full Disk Access list.)

  • Automation allows an app to control certain other apps. You’ll most likely encounter it with macro-making utilities like Keyboard Maestro.

That’s all folks! Of course, if you download a game from a developer you’ve never heard of before and the game requests Full Disk Access, you should click Deny. Or if an app wants to use your camera but you don’t know why, you should click Deny. But, if it’s an app you expect making a sensible request, like Skype wanting access to your microphone, or it’s an app from a developer whose reputation you are confident of, then you’ll want to allow access so the app can work properly.

macOS Updates Now Happen in System Preferences

Posted by Tonya Engst on December 13, 2018

In previous recent versions of macOS—such as 10.12 Sierra and 10.13 High Sierra—to configure how your Mac would handle downloading and installing updated software from Apple’s App Store, you’d go to System Preferences > App Store. And, to actually install an update, you’d open the App Store app, select Updates in the toolbar, view a list of pending updates, and install them as desired. (A quick way to open the App Store app is to choose it from the Apple menu.) This worked for both macOS updates and individual app updates.

Mojave handles updates slightly differently. The App Store system preference pane has been replaced with a new pane, called Software Update. Software Update offers the same customization options that were previously available in the App Store pane. Software Update is also where you now go to install macOS updates, such as updating from Mojave 10.14.1 to 10.14.2. But to install an app update from the App Store in Mojave, you’ll work in the App Store app—in the App Store app, click Updates in the left-hand sidebar to begin.

Using Dark Mode and Trying New Desktop Wallpapers

Posted by Tonya Engst on December 10, 2018

Although macOS X 10.14 Mojave works much like previous recent versions of macOS, the default Desktop wallpaper—a scene from the Mojave desert—makes it look rather different. And, if the change from mountain scenery to desert wasn’t enough, Mojave also offers Dark mode. Dark mode changes the overall interface so text and controls generally appear as light-colored characters or images on a dark background instead of the usual black-on-white approach. You may have seen an option for Dark mode during Mojave’s installation, but if you missed it, you can turn it on in the General pane of System Preferences—at the top of the pane, click Light or Dark.

Here are a few tips for getting more out of Dark mode:

  • You may wish to adjust the accent color—this is for interface elements like the small arrows that indicate the presence of pop-up menus. To select an accent color, click a colored dot from just below the Light and Dark options in the General pane of System Preferences. With Dark mode enabled, I like the green accent.

  • The Mojave Desktop wallpaper looks rather bright behind Finder and application windows in Dark mode. You can improve this somewhat with Dynamic Desktop, a new feature in Mojave that provides two wallpapers—Mojave and Solar Gradients—that change slowly over the course of the day and night. At night, Dark mode matches these wallpapers nicely. To find these options, go to System Preferences > Desktop & Screen Saver > Desktop and under Apple at the left, select Desktop Pictures.

  • My favorite wallpapers for Mojave, in both Light mode and Dark mode, feature new designs not seen previously in macOS. Look for them in the Desktop Pictures area mentioned in the previous bullet point. Right after the mountain scenes are some gorgeous images, featuring color bursts, swirling abstracts, and flowers—all on a black background.

  • To dive deeply into Dark mode, check out Adam Engst’s TidBITS article Explore the Dark Side of Mojave: Understanding, Enabling, and Customizing Dark Mode.

Try This Quick Tip for Making Your Pointer Easier to See

Posted by Tonya Engst on February 9, 2018

Yesterday was the first webinar for Take Control of Mac Basics, and I had fun sharing my actual Mac screen with viewers as I demonstrated some of my favorite Mac features. One viewer commented, however, that he had trouble seeing the mouse pointer. “Drat!” I thought, “I’m sure there’s a way to enlarge the pointer, and I wish I’d thought of that before starting the webinar.” Sure enough, its easy to make this change: go to System Preferences > Accessibility > Display, and drag the Cursor Size slider as desired. Saturday’s show will feature the pointer at nearly the largest size! (To access the webinars, make sure you have version 1.1 of the ebook and look in the chapter “The Mac Basics Webinar.”)

November 23, 2022—This book is badly outdated. When the last version was released, macOS 10.13 High Sierra was current. The number and scope of changes to macOS since then is breathtaking. Almost every bit of advice in the book would have to be thoroughly reworked to cover more modern versions of macOS. Unfortunately, Tonya is unavailable to do any further updates to this book, and so far, we have been unable to find someone else to take over the project. Therefore we can't commit to any future updates. (Read more about updates.)


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