Getting Started with OS X Mountain Lion

If you're new to OS X Mountain Lion getting started is simple. Just follow the instructions provided in this free lesson.

Getting started with OS X Mountain Lion

Launch "Mountain Lion Desktop Basics" video!Watch the video (4:25).

If you've never used OS X before, you'll need to learn the basics about getting around the desktop. In this lesson, you'll learn about the Dock, menu bar, opening files and apps, Launchpad, and multi-touch gestures. If you're familiar with earlier versions of OS X, you'll probably find that the Mountain Lion's interface will be fairly easy to learn.

Watch the video to learn the basics of using Mountain Lion.

The desktop

The screen you see when your computer has finished starting up is called the desktop. The OS X Mountain Lion desktop includes a desktop background (or wallpaper), the Dock, and the menu bar. You can open files or applications from the Dock or Launchpad. You can also display files, folders, and shortcuts on the desktop background area.

Click the buttons in the interactive below to learn about the OS X desktop.

labeled graphic

Notification Center

The Notification Center displays an alert when you've received an update. It can be customized to let you know of upcoming appointments, tweets, news, and other real-time events. It remains hidden until you click its icon in the top-right corner.

The Notification Center was introduced in Mountain Lion and is not available in earlier versions of OS X.

Spotlight

When you click the magnifying glass icon, it will open Spotlight. Spotlight allows you to find a file or application by typing the name (or just part of the name).

Date & Time and Settings

On the right side of the menu bar, you will see the date and time, along with shortcuts you can click to adjust settings like sound volume.

Menu Bar

The menu bar will contain different menu options depending on which program you're using. In this example, the active program is Finder.

Apple Icon

In the top-left corner of the screen is the Apple icon, which you can click to access your System Preferences, recent documents, and more. You can also use it to shut down your computer.

Desktop Background

The desktop background, or wallpaper, allows you to personalize your computer. You can either choose a built-in background or use one of your own images.

Folders on the Desktop

You can keep folders, files, and shortcuts on the desktop so they'll be easily accessible.

Trash

When you delete a file, it is moved to the Trash. This allows you to recover the file if you change your mind. To permanently delete a file, you'll need to empty the Trash.

Dock

The Dock can contain shortcuts to applications, files, and folders. If you have multiple programs open, you can use the Dock to quickly switch between them.

Launchpad

Launchpad allows you to see a list of all of your applications. It is designed to make it easier to find and organize your applications.

Launchpad was introduced in OS X Lion, and it is not available in earlier versions of OS X.

Open Folders

When you double-click a folder, it will open in a specialized program called Finder. This lets you navigate to the specific file or folder you want.

Opening files, folders, and apps

When you use any operating system, you'll need to know how to open files, folders, and apps. In Mountain Lion, you can open something by clicking it in the Dock or Launchpad, or by double-clicking it if it's on the desktop or inside a folder.

If you're new to Mountain Lion, you may want to practice by doing the following steps:

  1. Open Finder by clicking the Finder icon on the left side of the Dock.


    Screenshot of OS X Mountain LionOpening Finder
  2. Close Finder by clicking the button in the top-left corner of the Finder window. Later on, we'll talk more about how to use Finder.


    Screenshot of OS X Mountain LionClosing Finder
  3. Open Launchpad by clicking the Launchpad icon on the Dock.


    Screenshot of OS X Mountain LionOpening Launchpad
  4. While Launchpad is open, click any app to open it.


    Screenshot of OS X Mountain LionClicking an app
  5. Quit the app you just opened by clicking the app name in the top-left corner of the screen and selecting Quit.


    Screenshot of OS X Mountain LionQuitting an app
  6. If you have any icons on your desktop, double-click one of them to open it, then close or quit it.


    Screenshot of OS X Mountain LionDouble-clicking a file to open it

When an app is open, the icon on the Dock will have a light under it. You may notice that the Finder icon always has a light under it. This is because it's always running, even if there are no Finder windows open.

Screenshot of OS X Mountain LionLights indicating which apps are open

Full-screen apps

Some apps in Mountain Lion have a full-screen mode that lets you just focus on one app, with no distractions. These apps have a double-arrow icon in the top-right corner. When you click the icon, the app will zoom to fill the entire screen, and everything else will be hidden. You can then use the keyboard shortcut Control+Command+F to return to the normal view. Not all apps currently support this feature. However, it is used by many of the pre-installed apps such as Calendar, Safari, and iPhoto.

Screenshot of OS X Mountain LionThe double-arrow icon

The menu bar

The menu bar is located at the top of the screen. It is always visible, except when you're running a full-screen app. The options on the menu bar will vary depending on which app you're currently using. The name of the app will appear in bold near the left side of the menu bar, and the options to the right of the name allow you to perform various tasks within the app.

Screenshot of OS X Mountain LionThe menu bar, while using FaceTime

The Apple icon

On the left side of the menu bar is the Apple icon, which you can use to access your System Preferences, recent documents, and more. You'll also use the Apple icon to shut down or restart your computer.

Screenshot of OS X Mountain LionThe Apple icon

Spotlight

On the right side of the menu bar is a magnifying glass icon. When you click it, it will open Spotlight, a tool you can use to search your computer. If you're having trouble finding a file, app, or folder, you can just type the name in Spotlight and it will show you a list of results.

Screenshot of OS X Mountain LionUsing Spotlight to search for an app

Notification Center

The Notification Center icon is located on the far right of the menu bar. When you click it, the Notification Center will appear on your desktop. It keeps track of all alerts you receive for upcoming calendar appointments, tweets, news feeds, and other application events. The Notification Center can be customized to show as many or as few app alerts as you desire.

Screenshot of OS X Mountain LionNotification Center

Multi-touch gestures

Mountain Lion allows you to use many different multi-touch gestures with your mouse or trackpad. These include pinches, taps, double-taps, and swipes. Each gesture performs a specific task, and by learning different gestures you can increase your productivity.

In order to use multi-touch gestures, you will need the right equipment. If you have a laptop, the built-in trackpad can be used. For desktop computers, you can either use the Magic Trackpad or the Magic Mouse. One of these may have been included with your computer; if not, they can be purchased separately. Most mice are not touch-sensitive and cannot be used for multi-touch gestures.

From left to right, the images below show a laptop trackpad, a Magic Trackpad, and a Magic Mouse.

Photo of a laptop trackpadA laptop trackpad
Photo of the Magic TrackpadThe Magic Trackpad
Photo of The Magic MouseThe Magic Mouse

To see gestures in action, watch the following video from Apple.

Examples of gestures

Some gestures will vary depending on whether you're using a trackpad or a Magic Mouse, and there are a few that only work with trackpads. Some apps may not support all gestures, but apps made by Apple (such as Safari) tend to use them more. Therefore, you may want to practice the following gestures with Safari before you try them with other apps.

There are many more gestures you can use. To learn more, check out the Mac Basics: Multi-Touch Gestures page on the Apple website.

Natural scrolling

By default, Mountain Lion uses natural scrolling, which means things move in the opposite direction from traditional scrolling. To understand this, let's compare traditional and natural scrolling.

To change scrolling type:

If you've never used Lion before, natural scrolling may seem awkward at first. However, since it mimics the way mobile devices work, it may not take long to get used to it. You can switch between natural and traditional scrolling in your mouse settings to see which one you prefer.

  1. Click the Apple icon, then select System Preferences.


    Screenshot of OS X Mountain LionOpening System Preferences
  2. Select the Mouse icon to go to your mouse settings.


    Screenshot of OS X Mountain LionGoing to Mouse settings
  3. Next to Scroll direction, uncheck the check box to use traditional scrolling, or check it to use natural scrolling.


    Screenshot of OS X Mountain LionChanging the scroll direction