Mac 101: Getting set up

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Enable Location services

When your Mac is within range of wireless networks, it can tell where it is—no, not in the sense of "in the kitchen" or "outside in the garden," but where specifically it is on earth: 123 Main Street, Anytown, U.S.A., for example. In order for it to do this, however, you have to grant it permission.

Your Mac can perform some remarkable tricks when it knows where it is

And why would you? Because there are applications that can automatically provide information based on where you are—to find local services, for example. For these apps to work, you must enable Location services. If you prefer that your Mac not know where it is, feel free to leave this feature turned off. You can always enable it later. Click Continue.

Apple ID

If you’ve ever purchased media from the iTunes Store or iOS apps from the App Store, you have an Apple ID. This ID will also allow you to purchase applications for your Mac as well as use Apple’s cloud-based data service, iCloud. If you have such an ID, enter it in this window. If you don’t, click on Create a Free Apple ID to be walked through the steps necessary to obtain one. Although you’ll have to provide some personal information as well as create a user name and password, you needn’t provide a credit card number. You can skip this step by clicking on Skip or enter your Apple ID and password and then click Continue. As with many of these steps, this is something you can configure after your Mac has started up.

Terms and conditions

Have trouble sleeping? Read the first few paragraphs of the terms and conditions document and you’ll be out in seconds. However, you must agree to this legalese in order to continue setting up your Mac, so click on Agree and then on Agree yet again when you've read as much as you want.

Set up iCloud

Enable iCloud to have its settings configured on your Mac

As mentioned, iCloud is Apple’s cloud-based data service. It not only provides you with a free iCloud email address but also lets you synchronize things like your contacts, calendars, email, Web browser bookmarks, notes, reminders, pictures, and some documents with other Apple devices (iPhones, iPod touches, iPads, and other Macs). When you enable this option and click Continue, your Mac will be mostly ready to perform these operations the minute it starts up for real.


Your Mac is not just a computer, but also a communications tool. If it has a video camera built in (all laptops and iMacs do) you can make video calls using something called FaceTime. You can also send instant messages with your Mac using the Messages application. In this window you’re asked which email account people can use to contact you via FaceTime and Messages. If you’ve entered an Apple ID, your iCloud email address will appear automatically—, for example. If you’ve registered other email addresses with Apple—these may be older MobileMe addresses that end with .mac or .me—you’ll see them here as well. Just tick the checkbox next to those addresses you want to use and click Continue.

Use iCloud to find your Mac

When talking about Location services, I mentioned that your Mac can tell where it is. One of the greatest benefits of this ability is that if your Mac is mislaid or stolen, you can use a service called Find My Mac to track down its location. I’ll explain Find My Mac in another column, but for the time being, this is not a bad option to switch on, particularly if you’re using a laptop that you might leave in a cab or airport. Click Continue when you’ve made your choice, and then click Agree.

Create your computer account

The Mac operating system (known affectionately as the Mac OS) allows you to set up multiple user accounts—one for you, one for your mate, and one for your child, for example—on one computer. It’s as if every user has his or her own little room, decorated just the way they want. Under normal circumstances, no user can look in another user’s room. Again, that's more fodder for another column.

All you need to know for now is that our screenshot shows where you create your user name. To do that, enter your full name in the appropriate field. An account name will be automatically created for you, but you don’t have to use it. If your full name is Bartholomew Billy Bob Constantinople, you probably don’t want to be saddled with the terribly long account name the Mac OS would generate for you—you'd be prompted to enter that name a lot as you use your Mac. In such a case, I’d suggest you use something like Bart or Mew or, well, anything you like, as long as it’s short and memorable.

One of the most important steps of all: Creating your account

Where you shouldn’t skimp, however, is in the Password fields. Excuse the yelling, but DO NOT CREATE A SIMPLE PASSWORD!!! And by SIMPLE PASSWORD!!! I mean password, or 123456, or 654321, or kitty, or doggie, or your first name or your kid or spouse’s first name. This is your private account, and if you want to keep it that way, use a password that other people can’t guess but that you won’t forget. Use something memorable such as the first three letters of your grandmother’s name followed by your shoe size in centimeters followed by the letters of the four words that begin your favorite limerick—anything that can't be easily guessed and doesn't appear in a dictionary.

Below the Password field, you'll see two options—Allow My Apple ID To Reset This User’s Password and Require Password When Logging In. The first option is helpful if you ever forget your password and need to reset it. (Perhaps your shoe size has changed.) The second option is useful if your computer is in a place where others have access to it. Should a surly teen start up your new Mac with mischief in mind, they won’t be able to access your account if they don’t have (and can't guess) your password. Click Continue to move on.

Select your time zone

We’re almost through. This one’s easy. By telling your Mac where you are, it can automatically set the computer’s time and date. You can tell it where you are in a variety of ways. If you’ve turned on Location services, just enable Set Time Zone Automatically Using Current Location. Your Mac will drop a pin in your general location and set the appropriate time zone—accounting for Day Light Savings Time, if necessary.

But you don’t have to use this option. You can enter a nearby city in the location field or click somewhere on the map. Either one will set the time zone properly for that location. Click Continue again.


If you care to, you can register your Mac with Apple. At the same time, you can opt to allow Apple to send you marketing email as well as alert you to updates. Personally, I leave this option off—Apple is already aware that I’ve purchased a Mac, since I shop exclusively from the Apple Store. To refrain from registering, just click on Skip.

Thank you!

Yes, Apple appreciates you taking the time to set up your Mac and offers thanks. To begin using your new Mac, just click Continue. You’ll be taken to the desktop and you won’t see this setup assistant again unless you install a fresh copy of the Mac OS.

Next time: We take a look at all those things you see once your Mac starts up.

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