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New to the Mac? New to Mavericks? Here's what you need to know

When we last met, we’d just waded into the first lessons for getting the most from iMovie. And I’d fully intended to push on through iMovie and into GarageBand and then the iWork applications. But a funny thing happened—Apple picked up the board and threw all the pieces in the air, which naturally caused me to give the future a significant re-think.

Of course, this is about more than me. I can imagine that those of you who’ve followed these lessons from the very beginning are quietly fuming, “Great, all that time spent on the old operating system. Now I have to relearn the whole thing.”

Fortunately, no, you don’t. While plenty is going on in the newest version of the Mac OS (known as Mavericks), on the surface it’s not radically different from what you’ve used before. In this lesson I’ll provide you with some information on the obvious changes so that you can get on with your work and play rather than stumbling over something unexpected. Let’s start with the Finder’s most significant changes.

Finder tabs

Back in mid-June we talked about Safari and its Tabs feature. The gist was that you could create a single window, and within that window create tabs—with each tab representing a different Web page. It’s a great way to cut down on the clutter while browsing the Web.

Someone at Apple had the brilliant notion that creating a similar tabbed experience in the Finder could be just as helpful. Rather than trying to find your way through dozens of open windows, why not instead create a single window and then turn additional windows into tabs? Mavericks makes that possible, and it’s easily done.

In the Finder, press Command-N to create a new Finder window. Choose View > Show Tab Bar. If you now gaze at the top of your new Finder window, you’ll see a smallish Plus (+) button on the far right. Click this button, and you create a new tab that opens in the Finder’s default view (which is the All My Files view). You can treat this tab just like a window. Open a folder within it, and that folder shows its contents. Click the window’s Back button, and you navigate back to the previous contents of the tab.

One window, multiple tabs makes for a cleaner desktop.

You can create tabs in other ways. If you hold down the Command key and double-click on a folder, it becomes a new tab within the active window. Or you can drag a folder from another location (from the desktop, for instance) on top of the plus sign to create a new tab that contains that folder’s contents. And if you’d like to pull a tab out of a window, just drag it outside the window. It will turn into a window of its own.

This is a feature worth looking at right away, as it will greatly help create a tidier Mac.

Finder tags

Are you the kind of person who alphabetizes the spices in your condiments cabinet? Who dutifully tags photos once they’re imported into iPhoto? Who knows the difference between a cousin once removed and a second cousin? Then you’ll love Finder tags. This is a feature designed with the organized in mind.

The idea is that you can assign colored labels to your files and folders as well as slap keywords on them. If this sounds like the old Labels and Finder Comments features it should. They’re kissing cousins (once removed, perhaps). The differences are that you can assign more than one colored label to an item, and keywords are much more evident.

You can assign a colored tag in a few ways. First, you can select an item in a window and, from the Tags menu at the top of that window, select a tag. (Select more than one if you like.) You can also drag items on top of tags that appear in a Finder window’s sidebar. Or you can select an item, click on the Finder’s File menu, and choose a tag. Or you can Control-click (right-click) on a file or folder and choose a tag from the resulting menu.

Colored labels are all well and good, but keywords are where the power lies. And creating such things is easy too. To do so, select an item in a window and click, once again, on the Tags menu. At the top of this menu you see an empty field. This is one place where you can create tags. If you’re preparing for the upcoming holidays and want to easily organize documents associated with it, just enter the appropriate tags—Thanksgiving and Pumpkin, for example (be sure to press the key after each keyword). Those terms are now keywords that you can assign to other items.

In Mavericks you can create your own tags.

You can tell that they’re tags by glancing in the Tags area in any Finder window. Among your tags you should see Thanksgiving and Pumpkin. But wait, they have no color. Wouldn’t it make sense to assign the color orange to them? Easily done. Just -click (right-click) on them in the sidebar, and from the menu that appears choose a color. Optionally, you can choose Finder > Preferences, click on the Tags item, and then, in the list of tags below, click on the empty circle next to the tag whose color you wish to change. A menu appears offering you the seven color choices plus a No Color option.

But how are these worthwhile organizational tools? If you click on one of these sidebar tags, you’ll see a window full of files that have been assigned that tag. So, click Thanksgiving, and all your Thanksgiving-related items should appear (if, of course, you’ve taken the trouble to tag them). Also, if you open a window in List view, choose View > Show View Options, enable the Tags option, and then click the Use as Defaults button at the bottom of the window; whenever you open a window in List view you’ll see the names of your tags within each Finder window.

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