Mac 101 wrap-up: Panic optional

498 days and 68 lessons later, it’s time to apply the decorative ribbon to Mac 101. It was fun while it lasted, but I’m done. As part of our journey we’ve started with the most basic of basics; taken long looks at the Finder; dived into the Mac’s Find features; explored Mail Contacts, Calendar, and Messages; gone on Safari; defined common jargon; previewed Preview; and even dipped our toes into iPhoto, iMovie, and GarageBand. In short, I’ve churned out enough material to create a goodly-sized book (he says, hinting broadly).

If you (or, more likely, someone you’ve urged to learn more about their computer) has followed along through the weeks and months, you’ve acquired enough knowledge to elicit glassy-eyed stares when, at your next cocktail party, you reel off endless Mac trivia with no more urging than someone humming the letter M within earshot. Congratulations.

While we could end this with a cheery wave, I’d like to draw your attention to a broad concept before issuing the final hand wiggle. And it’s this: The beauty of the Mac OS and its accompanying applications is that—when implemented correctly—it’s predictable. Harkening back to the Mac’s earliest days the operating system and design guidelines were drafted so that with a basic understanding of the Mac’s core principles, you could navigate and operate nearly every piece of software that you encountered.

Examples abound—from common menu commands to keyboard shortcuts to gestures to left and right clicks. If you can operate a text editor, there’s a good chance that you can manage to create and send an email message. If you can find a file stored in a remote location on your hard drive, you can probably locate an even more obscure website with Safari.

There are exceptions, of course. Media applications like iPhoto and iMovie rely more on principles pulled from their analog counterparts than something like a word processor or spreadsheet application. But there remains enough “Mac-ness” about them that once you grasp the core notion of a timeline editor or histogram display you can make some headway using techniques you’ve picked up from the OS and other applications.

And what does this mean for a recently-minted Mac user?

Don’t panic.

If you’re learned the fundamentals of how a Mac works there should rarely be a time when you gawk stupidly at the screen and wonder “What the heck do I do now!?” With the faith that the designers of the tool you’re using want you to succeed, take a deep breath or two and ask yourself “If I designed this thing, how would I expect it to operate?” More often than not, you’re going to arrive at the correct answer.

Of course there will always be Mac 201 features that you’ll miss because they were intentionally hidden to protect the newborn, so little-used that the designer chose to bring more common features to the fore, or, quite frankly, because the job you’ve tasked your Mac with is complicated and the click of a single obvious button won’t do. In such cases cursing and random clicking are often the first resort, but you may find it more helpful to select the Help menu and enter an appropriate keyword or, failing there, visit the developer’s support page.

And with that I wish you the best with your Mac. Thanks for taking the time to follow along. I hope you've enjoyed the ride.

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