Chapter 3. Learning Mac OS X Basics

This chapter introduces Mac OS X and key features such as the desktop, Finder, Dock, and Spotlight. You’ll learn how to use menus, buttons, and accessibility features that make it easier to use your computer, as well as how to work with applications and windows.

About the Desktop

The desktop is the background area of your screen. It can display icons for hard disks, CDs, and any servers connected to your computer. You can also store files and folders directly on your desktop for quick access. Using System Preferences, you can customize the appearance of your desktop and choose the types of items shown on the desktop.

Navigate the desktop

The desktop shows icons for everything it contains, such as your hard disk, folders, documents, and image files. When you open a folder on the desktop, a new Finder window opens automatically.

About the Finder

The Finder is the program that manages your files, applications, disks, network connections, and devices such as printers. The Finder is always on when your computer is on, though it may be in the background if you’re using another program such as Mail. To display a Finder window, click the Finder icon in the Dock (it’s always the first icon in the Dock).

A screen shot of a Finder window titled "All My Files." The title is located in the top center of the window.  In the upper left corner of the window are 3 colored buttons used to control the window: red (close), yellow (minimize), green (resize).  Below the buttons is the toolbar. Aligned with the toolbar on the right side of the window is an empty text field to use for searching your computer. Below the toolbar, the window is divided vertically into two parts. A sidebar on the left and a view browser on the right, with a vertical separator bar between them.¶¶The Finder sidebar contains two expanded lists, from top to bottom: Favorites and Devices.¶¶The view browser shows files organized by kind of file, from top to bottom: Images and Documents. The Images section shows thumbnails of two images with the filename appearing under the image. The Documents section is only partially shown.

The top-left corner of a Finder window contains three colored buttons used to close the window, send the window to the Dock (minimize), or change the window to its previous size (zoom). Under the buttons, along the top of the window, is a toolbar used to navigate, change the view, find items, and perform other actions. Below the toolbar, the window is split into two sections called the “sidebar” and the “view browser.”

Toolbar buttons and search field
Sidebar and view browser

Navigate the Finder

Finder windows display the items on your computer. You use VoiceOver commands or gestures to open and navigate Finder windows. You can use Finder shortcuts to work with selected files and folders.

Note:The instructions below assume that cursor tracking is on, and the VoiceOver cursor and keyboard focus are tracking each other.

Open a Finder window

Do one of the following:

Navigate a Finder window
  1. In a Finder window, press VO-Right Arrow or VO-Left Arrow to move through the window until you hear “toolbar.” Interact with the toolbar.
  2. Press VO-Right Arrow until you hear “view radio group” and then interact with that control. Press VO-Right Arrow until you hear the view you want to use.

    You can choose from icon, list, column, or Cover Flow view. In Cover Flow view, the browser is split horizontally into two sections. The top section shows a graphical view of each item, such as a folder icon or a preview of the first page of a document. The bottom section contains a list of the items.

  3. When you have selected a view, stop interacting with the view radio group and the toolbar, and then press VO-Right Arrow to move through the window until you hear “sidebar.”
  4. Interact with the sidebar, and then move down the list of items in the sidebar by pressing VO-Down Arrow. When you hear the item you want, jump to it in the view browser; you can interact with it.

    To jump, press VO-J. If you’re using VoiceOver gestures, keep a finger on the trackpad and press the Control key.

  5. Move to and select the item you want to open, using the method for the view you’re in:
  6. Icon view: Use the arrow keys to move to the item you want.

    List view: To move down the list rows, press VO-Down Arrow. To expand and collapse a folder, press VO-\. To move the VoiceOver cursor across a row and hear information about an item, press VO-Right Arrow. Or press VO-R to hear the entire row read at once.

    Column view: To move down the list until you find the folder or file you want, use the Down Arrow key. To move into subfolders, press the Right Arrow key.

    Cover Flow view: To flip through the items in the top section and move automatically through the corresponding list rows in the bottom section, press the Left Arrow or Right Arrow key.

  7. When you find the file or folder you want to open, use the Finder shortcut Command-O or Command-Down Arrow to open it.

    VoiceOver announces when you have selected an alias or a file or folder you don’t have permission to open.

Use Finder shortcuts

You can use Finder shortcuts to work with selected files or folders.

You can temporarily hide the toolbar and sidebar in a Finder window to make it easier to navigate. To hide or show the toolbar, press Option-Command-T. To hide or show the sidebar, press Option-Command-S.

About the Dock

You use the Dock to open applications, documents, folders, and more. By default, it appears across the bottom of the screen.

The Dock comes with icons for some applications, such as Mail and iTunes; you can add others. When you minimize a window or open an application that isn’t in the Dock, its icon appears in the Dock.

Each item in the Dock has a shortcut menu that gives you quick access to commands for that item. The shortcut menu also contains the commands “Remove from Dock” for icons that have been placed there permanently, and “Keep in Dock” for applications that are open but whose icons are only there temporarily.

You can customize the Dock by changing its magnification, repositioning it, and more. To change Dock preferences, choose Apple menu > Dock.

Use the Dock

Use the Dock to open applications, documents, folders, or stacks.

Navigate the Dock
Use items in the Dock
Exit the Dock

Press the Escape key. If you’re using VoiceOver gestures, scrub back and forth with two fingers.

To find out where the Dock is positioned on the screen, press VO-M to go to the Apple menu. Press VO-Down Arrow to move down the menu until you hear “Dock submenu” and then press VO-Right Arrow. Press VO-Down Arrow to move down the Dock menu until you hear the location of the Dock, such as “Checkmark Position on Bottom.”

When hiding is turned on, the Dock is hidden from view until the mouse pointer is over the area where it usually appears (such as the bottom). To make the Dock visible again without moving the mouse pointer, press VO-D.

Use Launchpad

When you open Launchpad from the Dock, a full-screen view displays the icons for all of the applications on your Mac arranged in a grid. You can easily navigate the grid to open any application.

  1. Navigate to the Dock by pressing VO-D.
  2. In the Dock, navigate to the Launchpad icon by pressing VO-Left Arrow or VO-Right Arrow.
  3. With the Launchpad icon in the VoiceOver cursor, press VO-Space bar to open Launchpad.

    VoiceOver automatically interacts with the grid containing your applications.

  4. Navigate down, up, left, and right in the grid by pressing VO and an arrow key.

    Depending on how many applications you have installed, Launchpad may have more than one page. To display other pages of the grid, stop interacting with the grid, navigate to the radio buttons at the bottom of the page, and then press VO-Space bar when you hear the page you want to display.

  5. When you hear an application you want to open, press VO-Space bar.

    To exit Launchpad without opening an application, press Escape.

New applications downloaded from the Mac App Store automatically appear in Launchpad.

About menus and the menu bar

The menu bar at the top of the screen contains the Apple menu, application menus, status menus, and the Spotlight menu.

In the online help that comes with your Mac, the right angle bracket, or greater symbol, is used to describe a sequence of items in a menu. For example, to open a new Finder window, you open the File menu and choose New. This is written in instructions as “Choose File > New” and spoken by VoiceOver as “Choose File greater New” or “Choose File greater than New.” If an item is contained in submenus, you hear a series of greater or greater than symbols.

Perform a menu command’s alternative action

You can press a modifier key (such as the Option or Command key) when a menu command is selected to learn whether the command has an alternative action with that modifier, and then perform the action.

  1. Move the VoiceOver cursor to a menu command.
  2. Hold down a modifier key.

    If the menu command has a different action with that modifier, VoiceOver speaks it. For example, if you choose Apple menu > About This Mac and hold down the Option key, the command changes to System Information.

  3. To perform the alternative action, continue to hold the modifier key and press Enter or press the other required keys.

About files and folders

Most of the information in your computer is stored in files. Files include documents, images, applications, and so on. Folders are simply a collection of files. Each file or folder is represented by an icon with its name below or to the right of the icon. You can select the text in the file’s name to change it, and you can copy, move, and delete files on your computer.

Your computer comes with some folders already set up, but you can create and delete your own folders to organize your information. Most folders and files you create are stored in a home folder with your user account name. If you have multiple user accounts on your computer, each user account has its own home folder.

You click once on a file or folder icon to select it and twice to open it. Clicking twice quickly is called “double-clicking.” If you double-click an application icon, you start the application and a window for the application opens. If you double-click a file created by an application, you automatically open the application (if it wasn’t open already) and open the file. For example, if you double-click a TextEdit file on the desktop, TextEdit starts up and its icon appears in the Dock. At the same time, the document opens on the desktop.

If you can’t use a mouse to select and click, you can use VoiceOver commands instead.

Copy folders and files

You can copy a file or folder to another location using the Copy and Paste commands in the Finder. Copying an item doesn’t remove it from its original location.

Note:The instructions below assume that cursor tracking is on, and the VoiceOver cursor and keyboard focus are tracking each other.

  1. Open a Finder window and move to the item you want to copy.
  2. To copy the item, press Command-C.
  3. Move to the folder where you want to paste the item.

    Don’t open the folder; the VoiceOver cursor should be on the folder.

  4. To paste the item, press Command-V.

About System Preferences

You use System Preferences to customize your computer and choose essential system settings, such as your network configuration and Internet access. System Preferences is located in the Apple menu and has an icon in the Dock.

You can find settings to improve accessibility in these preferences:

The easiest way to learn about the many options in System Preferences is to explore the different preference panes. Some preferences have multiple panes you access by clicking the tab buttons. Network preferences even has an “Assist me” button to help you troubleshoot connection problems.

About Spotlight

You can use Spotlight to easily find content on your computer. Spotlight is extraordinarily useful for VoiceOver users. In many cases, it may be easier to use than the Finder for opening files, folders, and applications. When you type text in the Spotlight search field, search results appear immediately in a menu below the search field.

A screen shot of the Spotlight menu. At the top left is the Spotlight search field with the word "accessibility" typed in it. Below the search field, the search results appear in a vertical list, beginning with "Show All in Finder." The remainder of the list is divided into two columns. The left column lists categories, such as Top Hit, System Preferences, or Webpages, and the right column lists the items in each category. At the bottom of the Spotlight menu is Spotlight Preferences, for displaying the preferences.

The more complete the word or phrase, the more refined your list of results will be. Search results are grouped by category, such as Applications, Messages, and Folders, among others. You click an item in the list to open it.

If you don’t find the item you want, you can search again or click Show All in Finder at the top of the results list.

Spotlight search results include all the metadata inside files, including the kind of content, the author, edit history, format, size, and many more details. Depending on the search word you type, you may find thousands of results. Spotlight narrows its results to show you the best matches, but you can also browse the entire list if you want.

You can find more information about Spotlight in Help Center on your computer.

Click the mouse

Generally, you select an item by pressing the VoiceOver command VO-Space bar. But if an item isn’t accessible or that VoiceOver command doesn’t work as expected, you can simulate a mouse click using a different VoiceOver command.

  1. Make sure the mouse pointer is on the item you want to click.

    If you didn’t set the mouse pointer to follow the VoiceOver cursor (in the Navigation category of VoiceOver Utility), you must move the VoiceOver cursor to the item and then press VO-Command-F5 to place the pointer on the item.

  2. Press VO-Shift-Space bar.

You can also use Mouse Keys, a Universal Access feature in Mac OS X, to control the mouse pointer. You can’t use Mouse Keys when the NumPad Commander is enabled.

Use sticky keys

The Sticky Keys feature treats a series of modifier key presses as a single key combination. For example, you can press Control and then Option, and your keyboard interprets that combination as the Control and Option keys held down together.

  1. Choose Apple menu > System Preferences, click Universal Access, and then click Keyboard.
  2. Select the Sticky Keys On radio button.

When you turn on Sticky Keys, you can also set options to display on the screen a symbol for each modifier key you press, and to hear a sound when a modifier key you press is accepted. Checkboxes for these options are below the Sticky Keys On and Off radio buttons.

Use slow keys

With the Slow Keys feature you can control the amount of time between when a key is pressed and when it is accepted by the keyboard. If you frequently press keys accidentally, you may want a longer delay.

  1. Choose Apple menu > System Preferences, click Universal Access, and then click Keyboard.
  2. Select the On radio button for Slow Keys.
  3. For a longer delay, move the Acceptance Delay slider to the left; for a shorter delay, move it to the right.

You can also hear audible feedback when you press keys. You hear one sound when a key is pressed and a different sound when the key is accepted. This is a good way to monitor what’s happening if you can’t see the screen. Select the checkbox labeled “Use click key sounds” to turn on audible feedback.

Use the cursor control keys

You can use the mouse, keyboard, and VoiceOver cursor to navigate to text and objects that appear on your screen. VoiceOver uses three function keys to describe the keyboard, VoiceOver cursor, and mouse pointer.

Note:If your keyboard has an Fn key, press the Fn key when you press a function key.

F3—VoiceOver Cursor Key

To hear a description of the item in the VoiceOver cursor, press VO-F3. This could be a control, text in a document, an HTML content area, and more. The description includes the current state of the item. For example, you might hear that the checkbox is selected, or hear the value settings of a slider.

F4—Keyboard Focus Key
F5—Mouse Key

Set the key repeat rate

If you find that keys register more than once when you press them, you can adjust the key repeat rate. The key repeat rate and key repeat delay let you control how fast keys repeat and how long the keyboard waits before it begins to repeat a key press. If you have trouble releasing keys fast enough, you can set the delay very long or turn off the repeat.

  1. Choose Apple menu > System Preferences, click Keyboard, and then click Keyboard.
  2. To have keys repeat slowly, move the Key Repeat slider to the left; to have them repeat at a faster pace, move the slider to the right.

    If you tend to make mistakes when pressing keys, moving the slider to a slow setting will help minimize the number of repeated keystrokes.

  3. To cause a longer delay between when you hold down the key and when the key begins to repeat, move the Delay Until Repeat slider to the left.

    To turn off key repeating completely, move the Delay Until Repeat slider all the way to the left.

Use buttons and other controls

You can use VoiceOver commands or gestures to click buttons, select checkboxes, choose an item in a list or menu, and adjust sliders, steppers, and splitters.

Make sure you know where the keyboard focus and VoiceOver cursor are located before you select an item.

Use Mission Control

Mission Control gives you a comprehensive view of what’s running on your Mac, including Dashboard, all your spaces, and all open widows, including those in full-screen view. When you need more room for your windows and documents, Mission Control lets you create new desktop spaces and quickly navigate among them.

In Mission Control, a row of thumbnails across the top of the screen represents Dashboard, desktop spaces, and your full-screen apps. The lower part of the screen shows an Exposé view of the open windows on your desktop, grouped by application.

  1. Open Mission Control in Launchpad. If the Trackpad Commander is not turned on, you can swipe up on the trackpad using three fingers.
  2. Navigate to the Spaces list or Expose windows by pressing VO-Left Arrow or VO-Right Arrow.

    To add a desktop, navigate to the Add Desktop button, located immediately after the Spaces List.

  3. Interact with the Spaces list or the Expose windows by pressing VO-Shift-Down Arrow.
  4. Select a space or window by pressing VO-Up Arrow or VO-Down Arrow until you hear the space or window you want to work with, and then press VO-Space bar.

    To exit Mission Control without making a selection, press Escape or swipe down with three fingers.

Take an application full screen

In many Mac OS X applications, such as iCal or Mail, you can expand the window to fill your entire screen.

Hear open applications and windows

You can hear which applications and windows are open on your computer.

Switch between applications

When you have more than one application open or more than one window open for an application, you can quickly switch to the application and window you want.

Using the Application Chooser
  1. To open the Application Chooser, press VO-F1-F1. If you’re using VoiceOver gestures, double-tap near the left edge of the trackpad.
  2. A screen shot of the Application Chooser. A panel with a black background and white text, titled Application Chooser. It lists the applications that are currently open. From top to bottom, the list includes: VoiceOver Utility (previous), Grab (current), iTunes, Safari, System Preferences, Finder. To the right of each item is an arrow.

  3. To navigate the list of open applications, press the Down Arrow or Up Arrow key, or flick down or up.
  4. When you hear the application you want, press the Space bar or double-tap.

    If you used the VoiceOver command to open the chooser, pressing the Space bar opens a submenu that lists all open windows, dialogs, or alerts for the application. Navigate a submenu in the same way you did the list of applications.

To exit the Application Chooser without making a selection, press the Escape key. If you’re using VoiceOver gestures, scrub back and forth with two fingers.

Using the standard Mac OS X shortcut

Hold down the Command key and press the Tab key repeatedly to cycle through the open applications. When you hear the application you want, release the keys. Press Command-Shift-Tab to cycle backward.

If you’re using Spaces, you can use the Spaces shortcut Command-arrow keys to navigate your spaces.

Switch between windows

When you have more than one window open for an application, you can quickly switch between windows.

Using the Window Chooser
  1. To open the Window Chooser, press VO-F2-F2. If you’re using VoiceOver gestures, double-tap near the right edge of the trackpad.
  2. A screen shot of the Window Chooser. A panel with a black background and white text, titled Window Chooser. It lists open windows for the current application. From top to bottom, the list includes: vacationplans.rtf (current), Apple Pie Recipe.txt, Order Copy.txt, README.txt, Preferences.¶

  3. To navigate the list of open windows, press the Down Arrow or Up Arrow key, or flick down or up.
  4. To select the window, press the Space bar or double-tap.

To exit the Window Chooser without making a selection, press the Escape key. If you’re using VoiceOver gestures, scrub back and forth with two fingers.

Using the standard Mac OS X shortcut

Hold down the Command key and press the ` key repeatedly to cycle through the open windows for the current application. When you hear the window you want, release the keys. Press Command-Shift-` to cycle backward.

Move a window to the front

Sometimes the window where the VoiceOver cursor is located doesn’t move to the front of the other windows. If this happens, some of the buttons and controls in the window won’t be active. You can use a VoiceOver command to move a window to the front so you can use all the controls.

Press VO-Shift-F2.

Move windows and objects

You can move windows and some objects in applications, such as graphics and text boxes.

  1. Navigate to the item you want to move and press either VO-` (for a window) or VO-Command-` (for an object).

    VoiceOver tells you if an item can’t be moved.

  2. Move the window or object in one of these ways:
    • To move up, down, left, or right, press the arrow keys.
    • To move diagonally, press VO with the Up or Down arrow and the Left or Right Arrow keys. For example, to move a window diagonally toward the upper-right corner, press VO-Right Arrow-Up Arrow.
    • To move in smaller increments, press Shift while you use the arrow keys.
  3. To stop moving the window or object, press the Escape key.

    You can’t use other VoiceOver commands until you stop moving the item.

You can use certain number keys to quickly move windows and objects around the screen: the top-left, middle, and right section using keys 1, 2, and 3; the center-left, middle, and right section using keys 4, 5, and 6; and the bottom-left, middle, and right section using keys 7, 8, and 9.

Resize windows and objects

You can resize windows and some objects in applications, such as graphics and text boxes.

  1. Navigate to the item you want to resize and press either VO-~ (for a window) or VO-Command-~ (for an object).

    VoiceOver tells you if an item can’t be resized.

  2. In the menu that’s displayed, choose an edge, corner, or handle.
  3. Resize the item.
    • To resize an edge, use the VO and arrow keys (for example, press VO-Right Arrow to extend the right edge of a window or object). To resize in smaller increments, also press Shift.
    • To resize a corner or handle, use VO and two arrow keys (for example, press VO-Right Arrow-Up Arrow to extend the top right corner of a window or the top-right handle of an object). To resize in smaller increments, also press Shift.
  4. To stop resizing the window or object, press the Escape key.

    You can’t use other VoiceOver commands until you stop resizing.

Log in to an encrypted account without VoiceOver

You can turn on FileVault to encrypt the information on your disk and protect it from unauthorized access. After your disk is encrypted, you must log in to your account whenever your computer is restarted or wakes from sleep. VoiceOver and Mac OS X speech services aren’t available in the login window. Instead, a series of beeps indicates in which field of the login window the cursor is positioned.

  1. After your Mac awakes or starts, determine if the login window is displayed by pressing Command-F5.

    If you hear a single beep, the cursor is positioned in the Name field and you can begin logging in. Continue to step 2.

    If you don’t hear a single beep, the login window might not be displayed yet. Wait a minute and then press Command-F5 again. If you still don’t hear a beep, there may be a problem with encryption. Turn off your computer and then turn it on again. An unecrypted login process will begin and you can log in with VoiceOver available.

  2. Type your account name and press Return.

    If you hear a double beep, you entered a valid account name. Continue to step 3.

    If you hear a single beep, you entered an invalid account name and the cursor remains in the Name field. Keep entering your account name until you hear a double beep.

  3. Type your account password and press Return.

    If you hear three beeps, you entered a valid password and login proceeds.

    If you hear a double beep, you entered an invalid password and the cursor remains in the Password field. Keep entering your password until you hear three beeps.