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You’ve loaded the big spotted cat on your hard drive, your Mac has rebooted, and you’re standing at the gateway of a brand-new OS X experience. Where do you begin? Right here. I’ll show you ways to start off your Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) explorations on the right foot.

Travel to Time Machine

For the first time, Apple has built a backup utility into the Mac OS. That utility, Time Machine, requires an additional hard drive for your data. If you don’t currently have such a hard drive, your first step is to obtain one—an external USB 2.0, FireWire, or eSATA drive, or an internal SATA or ATA drive will do. To be safe rather than sorry, you’ll want a hard drive with a capacity matching or exceeding your startup drive’s. That way you’re less likely to lose older files when the backup drive gets full and Time Machine tosses the older files to make room for more recent versions.

Pick the Right Drive After it first launches in Leopard, your Mac looks for all compatible drives for your Time Machine backup and provides them in a list within a Time Machine dialog box. Select the one you want, and the Time Machine preference pane opens. Within this pane you can change disks and exclude drives, volumes, and items from the backup.

Include and Exclude Data To create a smaller safety net that captures just your documents instead of your whole system, you really only need to back up your user folder. Click on Options and, in the resulting sheet, click on Plus. In the sheet that appears, locate Applications, Library, and System, and then click on the Exclude button after each choice. If you have other accounts on your Mac that you’re not concerned about, you can exclude them as well.

Watch Your Destination Note that Time Machine will use the destination you select for all of the Mac’s users. In other words, if you decide to change disks (an option in the Time Machine preference pane), that change will apply to all other accounts on the Mac. Also, when you change disks, you won’t have access to your Time Machine archive from the original backup disk until you change back to that disk.

Set up your e-mail account

During installation you’re asked for your .Mac account information. If you have such an account, OS X automatically configures Mail to use it. But if you’d like to add a different account, Mail makes that really easy, too.

Launch Mail (in /Applications), choose Mail: Preferences, and click on the Accounts tab. In the resulting Accounts window, click on the Plus button below the Accounts pane. Enter the name, e-mail address, and password for the account you want to create and, if the option remains available, leave the Automatically Set Up Account option enabled. (This option will become unavailable if you've entered an ISP that Mail can't automatically configure.) When you click on Create, Mail will attempt to automatically configure your account based on the account’s e-mail address. Unlike previous versions of Mail, Leopard’s is aware of all the major ISPs’ IMAP, POP, and SMTP server settings.

Make some Spaces

Spaces is a new Leopard program that allows you to jump quickly from one workspace to another with the press of a couple of keys or a mouse button. If you group particular tasks in separate workspaces, you can just switch spaces instead of constantly banging shift-tab to switch applications or digging through buried windows.

To configure Spaces, launch System Preferences, click on Exposé & Spaces, click on the Spaces tab, and select the Enable Spaces and Show Spaces In Menu Bar options. At the bottom of the window, you can change the keys you use to activate spaces (F8 by default), switch between spaces (control plus the arrow keys by default), and switch directly to a space (control plus the space’s assigned number key). You can also direct Spaces to activate when you use a third-party mouse or trackball button (three, four, or five, for example).

To configure Spaces, click on the plus-sign (+) button next to Rows or Columns. Next, click on the small plus-sign button beneath the Application Assignments pane and choose programs you’d like to appear within certain spaces. For example, click on the plus sign, choose Safari, and, in the Application Assignments area, choose Space 2 from the Space pop-up menu. When you launch Safari in the future (or switch to it while it’s running), it will appear in the workspace to which you’ve assigned it. Repeat these steps for other related programs so that particular kinds of work are gathered together in specific spaces—Mail, Address Book, and iCal in one space; iPhoto and iMovie in another; and Safari and iChat in another, for instance.

To make Spaces even slicker, move to the Account preference pane, click on the Login Items tab, click on the plus-sign button beneath the list of login items, and add those programs you included in Spaces (see “Special Spaces”). Now, when you log in or restart your Mac, the programs will automatically launch into their separate spaces at startup.

Soup up the Sidebar and Dock

The old familiar Dock and the Finder window’s Sidebar will seem a little less familiar in Leopard. While they still provide easy access to volumes, programs, and folders, other elements of these items have changed. Here’s how you can make the most of the new versions.

Organize Your Sidebar If you liked the way previous OS X versions placed commonly accessed folders, such as Movies, Music, and Pictures, in the Finder window’s Sidebar, you can easily put them back. Just open your user folder and drag them to the Sidebar’s Places area.

While you’re in the Sidebar, you may also want to delete items from the Search area. By default, in this area you’ll find searches based on time (Today, Yesterday, and Past Week) as well as kind (All Images, All Movies, and All Documents). But you may not want just anyone sitting at your computer to have one-touch access to your images and movies. Drag an item out of the Sidebar to delete it.

Stack It Up Take this opportunity to put Leopard’s new Stacks feature to good use by dragging your Applications folder to the Dock (by default Apple places your Documents folder in the Dock). When you do so and then click on the folder, a grid appears, displaying all your programs (see “Easily Access Applications”). Click on one to launch it. You can also drag documents over this folder and wait for the Applications window to appear. Drag a document on top of a compatible program—for example, drag a JPEG on top of Preview—to open that item.

Hear Voices

If you’ve used previous versions of OS X, it’s unlikely that you’ve done anything more with the Speech preference pane than opened it, listened to a couple of voices, and then moved on, unimpressed by the computerized voices. Today is the day to give OS X’s speech capabilities another chance. Open Speech, click on the Text To Speech tab, select Alex from the System Voice pop-up menu, and click on Play. You’ll probably be impressed by how lifelike Alex’s voice is.

To put Alex to good use, enable the Speak Selected Text When The Key Is Pressed option, click on Set Key, and choose a memorable key combination (I use control-F9). Open a program such as TextEdit or Mail, highlight some text, and press that key combination to hear Alex pronounce your words trippingly on his virtual tongue.

Set up a troubleshooting account

Macintosh troubleshooting experts recommend that you create an additional “clean” user account—one that you leave entirely untouched after setting it up. The reason? Should things get wonky in your main account, you can switch to this troubleshooting account to see if the problem exists there as well. If it doesn’t, you know something is wrong with your main account—a corrupted preference or font, for example. Knowing where the problem lies can help you solve it.

With that in mind, this is the time to launch the Accounts preference pane. Click on the Lock icon and enter your administrator password to unlock Accounts. Click on the plus-sign button at the bottom of the list of accounts, and create a new Standard account (one that doesn’t have administrator permissions, so that it doesn’t let you install applications or alter certain system settings). Give it an intuitive name such as Troubleshooting. If your Mac misbehaves, switch to this account and see how your Mac reacts.

Make your Mac kid-friendly

If you have kids, you probably have a number of concerns when it comes to their use of the fresh, newly upgraded family computer—they might muck about in your system, stumble across content that’s not age-appropriate, or just not know what to do with the overwhelming number of programs and files scattered across your desktop and Dock. If any of these issues rings a bell, don’t leave the Accounts preference pane yet.

Click on the plus-sign button once again and choose Managed With Parental Controls from the New Account pop-up menu. Enter a name, a short name, and a password for the account and click on Create Account. If you’re asked to turn off Automatic Login (which automatically boots your Mac into your user account), click on Turn Off Automatic Login in the dialog box that appears. It doesn’t do much good to impose Parental Controls if your kids are automatically logged in to your unprotected account.

Click on the Open Parental Con-trols button that appears in the Accounts window. Select the account you just created from the Accounts list. Within the Parental Controls tab you’ll find options for choosing exactly which programs and widgets the account can run; hiding profanity in Apple’s Dictionary; restricting Web-site access; limiting e-mail and iChat correspondents; setting time limits (to a certain number of hours per weekday and weekend, as well as preventing access during specified hours); and saving logs for Web sites visited and blocked, programs run, and iChat sessions.

[ Senior Editor Christopher Breen is the author of The iPhone Pocket Guide, second edition ; and The iPod and iTunes Pocket Guide, third edition (both from Peachpit Press, 2007). ]

Special Spaces: Configure Spaces to place frequently used programs in separate workspaces. Then set Login Items to launch those programs when you log in.Easily Access: Applications Take advantage of the Dock’s newest trick to gain quick access to all your programs. Drag your Applications folder to the Dock to create a stack.
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