Most of the time (we hope) your Mac boots normally. But when it doesn’t, you need to know how to get it started or to troubleshoot the problem. You should also know how to customize the login process—the apps that load, the text that appears on the screen, the password required—and how to manage user accounts.
Boot from an optical disc
Sometimes—most notably when Mac OS X doesn’t start up normally—you need to boot your Mac from an optical disc (such as the installation disc that came with your Mac), external hard drive, or USB drive. To do so, insert the disc as soon as possible after pressing the power button and then hold down the C key. (See “12 Startup Keys” for other options.) If Mac OS X is already running and you know you’re going to want to reboot from an optical disc (perhaps to repair your startup drive using the installation disc’s copy of Disk Utility), go to System Preferences and choose Startup Disk. Next, select the disc in the pane near the top, then click Restart—Kirk McElhearn
Choose items to launch at login
To have your most-used apps open automatically whenever you log in, open System Preferences and click on Accounts. Click on Login Items and then on the plus (+) button. Navigate to the item you want to launch and click on Add. (Alternatively, you can add items by dragging them from the Finder to the Login Items list.) This works for documents and Websites as well as applications. To add a site to the list, first drag its icon from your browser’s address field to the desktop. Then drag the resulting .webloc file to the Login Items window. To remove an item from the list, select it and click on the minus (–) button.—Kirk McElhearn
Require a login password
By default, when you turn on or restart your Mac, it automatically logs you in to your user account. This is convenient but risky: If someone else gets physical control of your system, and it boots into your user account automatically, whoever has your Mac will be able to open your files, reader your e-mail, and otherwise violate your privacy. You can make your Mac more secure by requiring a password at login: Go to System Preferences and choose Accounts. Click the lock in the lower left corner of the window, enter an administrator’s credentials, and click OK. Select Login Options (at the bottom of the account list) and choose Off from the Automatic Login menu. Choose the List Of Users option (the default) or the Name And Password option to specify what should appear in the login window.—Joe Kissell
Customize the login screen
If you add contact information to the login screen, anyone who boots your Mac will know how to contact you; that’s especially useful if you own a MacBook that you might misplace. While you’re logged in as an administrator, launch Terminal (in /Applications/Utilities). Type sudo defaults write /Library/Preferences/com.apple.loginwindow LoginwindowText -stringyourtexthere—where yourtexthere is whatever you want to appear on the login screen. (For example: Reward if returned: email@example.com or 415-555-1212.) Press Return, and then (when prompted) provide the administrator password and press Return again.—Dan Frakes
12 Startup Keys
Press this (when startup chime sounds):To do this:
Boot from a CD or DVD (such as Mac OS X Install disc)
Select a volume to boot from
Force system to boot into OS X
Attempt to start up from network server (NetBoot)
Start from NetBoot server using default boot image
Eject any removable media, such as an optical disc
Change the type of account
Mac OS X has three kinds of user accounts: Standard (which allows you to access only your own files and change only some preferences); Managed (which means you’re restricted by parental controls); and Administrator (which lets you do almost anything). The first account you create on a Mac is an Administrator one, but you may want to give administrative privileges to other accounts or revoke them later. You may also want to create a Standard account for yourself; it’s safer not to use an Administrator account for day-to-day computing. To change an account from one kind to another, go to the Accounts system preference. Click on the lock and enter your administrator password. Then select the account you want to change. To upgrade that account, select the Allow User To Administer This Computer checkbox; to remove administrative rights, deselect it. Note that you cannot change the account you’re logged in to; to do that, you need to log in as another administrator first.—Kirk McElhearn
Manage parental controls
Mac OS X’s Parental Controls let you limit access from some user accounts (most likely your kids’) to inappropriate applications and Websites. To configure those controls: Launch System Preferences and select Accounts. To apply Parental Controls to an existing account, click the Lock icon at the lower left and enter your administrator credentials. Then select the account you want to manage and click the Enable Parental Controls box. To create a new Managed account, click the plus (+) button, choose Managed With Parental Controls from the New Account menu, provide the name and password, and click the Create Account button. Once the account is set up, click on the Open Parental Controls button. There you’ll see five tabs: Apps, Web, People, Time Limits, and Other. Most of the settings are straightforward. One of them is relatively new: In the Apps tab in the latest version of Snow Leopard, you can limit the account to using age-appropriate applications from the Mac App Store.
If you’re setting up a couple of managed accounts at once, you can save time by copying settings from one to another: After opening Parental Controls, select the account you want to copy from, and then open the action menu at the bottom of the window and select Copy Settings For “username.” Then select the account you want to paste those settings to and choose Paste Settings To “username” from the same menu.—Christopher Breen
Senior Contributor Joe Kissell is the senior editor of TidBits and the author of Mac Security Bible (Wiley, 2010). Senior Contributor Kirk McElhearn writes about more than just Macs on his blog, Kirkville. His most recent book is Take Control of iTunes 10: The FAQ (TidBits Publishing, 2010).