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

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If you take a gander at the top-right corner of your Mac’s menu bar—whether you’re running Mountain Lion or Mavericks—you’ll see three lines, preceded by dots. This is Notification Center, the place where alerts issued by your Mac appear. These can include Calendar events, received Twitter tweets, text messages, and email summaries.

Notification Center in Mavericks looks and operates very much as it did under Mountain Lion, but it has a few changes you’ll find helpful. To begin with, when you receive a notification from Apple’s Messages application, you can click directly within the message and type a reply in the Reply field. You’ll also see email notifications sent from Apple’s Mail application. Hover your cursor over such a notification, and you can choose to reply to the message or delete it. Choose Reply, and Mail opens with a reply message already set up for you.

Safari now supports a feature that can allow (with your permission) websites to send you notifications via Notification Center. This could be helpful with sites that push sports scores, for example.

If you scroll up in Notification Center you’ll find a new Do Not Disturb switch. This is similar to the feature of the same name on iOS devices. Flip the switch to Off and you’ll see no notifications until the next day, when the switch will automatically move back to On.

But you needn’t handle this kind of thing with a switch. Instead, launch System Preferences and select the Notifications preference. On the right side of the resulting window, you’ll see controls for configuring Do Not Disturb. By default, your Mac won’t bug you between the hours of 10 PM and 7 AM when you enable this option, but you can always change those hours using the up and down arrow controls. You can additionally enable an option to allow FaceTime calls to be received during the Do Not Disturb hours you’ve configured.

Be notified only when you choose to be by configuring the Do Not Disturb feature.

Two new applications

Mavericks continues the tradition of incorporating elements of the iOS into the Mac OS. In this instance it does so in pretty obvious fashion by including two applications that were previously found only on iOS—Maps and iBooks.

My colleagues and I will be covering both applications in depth in the coming days and weeks, but here’s the once-over on each.

Maps: If you’ve ever used Maps on an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch you’ll be very familiar with Mavericks’ Maps application. It has all the same elements and features. You can view the world (or an area as small as your local neighborhood) in a traditional map view or as a satellite image. And you can bend and twist those satellite images (more likely taken from a plane than a celestial orbiting body) into a 3D view where you can see the scenery from an angle.

As with the iOS version, Maps offers 3D views.

Maps also supports driving and walking directions and can give you some information on places of importance in a region you’re viewing—restaurants, parks, banks, and so on—as well as paint a picture of how congested the traffic is in that area.

While Maps may seem like an unnecessary addition in a world where we have Web browsers and access to Google Maps, Apple has incorporated its Maps data into other applications such as Calendar and Mail, making it easier for you to quickly view a location.

iBooks: How many of you read books on your computer? Neither do I. Devices like iPads and Kindles are far better vehicles for portable reading. So here too you may wonder why bringing an application better suited to a portable device to the Mac is necessary.

Working on that P.G. Wodehouse term paper? iBooks can help.

Apart from being a benefit for those who do relish taking a MacBook to bed, iBooks can be helpful for students. Load a textbook into iBooks, place it on the left side of the screen, move your school applications on the right side, and you’ve got a pretty sweet work environment—one where you don’t have to type in words pulled from a paper textbook. It could be just as helpful for those who work with technical papers offered in the ePub format.

iBooks can also catalog PDF files, though not open them. (Preview remains the application tasked with that.) If you routinely work with such files and are less than thrilled with how they’re organized, drag them into iBooks and arrange them in categories.

New look for some applications

A few applications have a new look, influenced by the design of iOS 7. Once you get beyond the new, sparser look, you’ll find that these programs haven’t changed all that much. Calendar, for example, looks quite different, but its basic functionality remains the same. A very noticeable difference is that you can now scroll through weeks in Month view rather than being presented with a preset five-week view. Event edit windows also look different. But at their heart they’re the same. It’s just that they’re now divided up into four areas within the window. Click the area you want to work with, and you’re well on your way.

Despite its new look, Calendar operates much as before.

Contacts also has a new appearance—one that strips away the old “book look” with its faux leather stitching. And, of course, if you’ve downloaded any of the new iLife (iPhoto, iMovie, GarageBand) and iWork (Pages, Numbers, Keynote) applications, you’ll find that they too look different. Some of them have changed significantly, while others have simply been slathered with a new coat of paint and a few new features sprinkled on top.

But where does that leave us?

Apple naturally wants people to be excited about any new thing the company does. And in the case of a new operating system, it often tries to prompt excitement with claims of “Over 200 new features!” In the case of Mavericks, however, a lot of these new features are things you will never see—processess that take place “under the hood” that make for better performance, improved battery life, and more stable operation.

In other words, no, you haven’t wasted the last year learning all about Mountain Lion. Mavericks is not a radical departure from the version of the Mac OS that preceded it. Just about everything you’ve learned up to this point is still applicable to a Mac running Mavericks. And where important things have changed, I’ll bring them to your attention.

In short: Carry on.

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