Moving to the Mac: Our Mac starters guide and buying a refurbished mac

Macworld Staff
18 January, 2014
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Moving to the Mac: Our Mac starters guide and buying a refurbished mac

At one point, all of us were new to the Mac. We all opened up that box and pulled out the new machine, and wondered if we’d be able to figure it out. If you’re reading this, chances are, you did.

As Apple has been fond of pointing out for ages, a huge percentage of the people who buy new Macs every year have never used one before. Which means lots of people are still having that first Mac experience. And you probably know some of them. If so, you’ve no doubt been called on to explain things to new Mac buyers. You’ve probably helped with a few initial purchases, too.

If you’ve ever worried about the advice you’ve given to the Mac newbies, you’ll find answers here to their most common questions. You can read this story and advise them, or just clip it out and hand it to them. Either way, you’ll help them get their bearings in their new Mac world.



How to buy your first Mac


You’ve thought long and hard about it and have decided to make the switch from your Windows PC to a Mac. The hard part’s over, right? You just traipse to an electronics boutique, slap down your credit card, learn the secret handshake and you’re a Mac owner.

Not exactly. Some questions remain to be answered. Where are Macs sold? Should you skip retail stores altogether and purchase your Mac online? Is it possible to buy an older model for less money? And are post-purchase protection plans worth the money?



Macs aren’t sold everywhere. Apple maintains tight control over who can sell its products – increasingly so since the Apple retail stores were launched.

The source. There are 20 Apple retail stores around Australia – Tasmania and the Northern Territory, however, are still without a store. To find the one nearest to you, visit Apple’s Retail Store page (apple. com/au/retail). You can also shop for your Mac at Apple’s online store.

Third-party retailers. Apple isn’t your only choice. You can buy a Mac in person at Apple resellers such as Zero3 and My Mac. Also, there are a number of department stores that have permission to sell Apple products.

Educational discounts. Apple offers discounts for educators and students. Professors, teachers, students and staff of primary and secondary schools and higher education institutions receive discounts for both Macs and Apple software. To see if you are eligible, visit the Apple in Education page.



Like any smart retailer, Apple wants the lion’s share of the profit when selling a Mac, and so it provides itself with perks that it doesn’t share with other retailers. To begin with, when you order online, you can custom-configure your Mac – add more memory or storage, for example, or upgrade the processor.

You can also choose to sign up for Apple’s One to One service, where for $129 a year (extendable to three years) Apple will not only transfer data from an old Mac but also offer training on a drop-in basis at an Apple retail store.

Apple also sells refurbished models for a discount (more about this later), which is something other retailers can’t do. And Apple performs many repairs and replacements on-site, whereas authorised retailers often have to return problem products to Apple for exchange or repair.

The third-party advantage. Apple doesn’t hold all the cards, however. These retailers offer the same warranty that Apple does and some physical stores with Apple Authorised Reseller status will migrate data from one Mac to another for free.

In a small store, it’s easier to establish a personal relationship with the owner and employees. And those people aren’t limited to telling you only what Apple wants you to hear. They often have advice for working around issues that Apple employees can’t discuss.


Shop at the online Apple Store and you can customise your Mac’s configuration.


mResell. For the price-conscious, you could purchase a second-hand or refurbished Mac (a good option for those looking to buy their first Mac) or you could choose to spread your finances across a number of purchases. How would you go about this? Well, rather than purchasing a new iMac, you may choose to purchase a refurbished Mac mini and an external display, depending on how powerful your Mac needs to be. You could also choose to add flexibility to your workflow with the purchase of a refurbished MacBook Pro and an external display.

Refurbished from Apple. Because all returned Macs eventually make their way to Apple, the company has the ability to repair and restore returned units. These weren’t necessarily broken computers – Macs are returned for a variety of reasons. Regardless of the state the Mac was originally in, Apple brings it up to like-new condition, equips it with the same warranty as a new Mac, and prices it, on average, a few hundred dollars less. You can find Apple’s refurbs on the Apple site.



With the purchase of an Apple product, the company offers a one-year limited warranty and 90 days of free telephone support. AppleCare is an add-on service and support plan that extends the coverage on your Apple product.

What it covers. For Macs and Apple displays, this coverage extends to three years from the original purchase date. For iOS devices and Apple TVs, coverage extends to two years from purchase. If you buy an Apple display at the same time that you purchase your Mac, AppleCare coverage for the Mac also covers the display.

The coverage includes phone support for the length of the plan, carry-in service to Apple retail stores and authorised service providers, direct mail-in service, on-site service for desktop computers, and parts delivered to you for things that can be easily replaced. During the coverage period, repairs are free except in instances when it’s clear the problem was caused by user negligence.

What it costs. The price of AppleCare depends on the device for which you purchase coverage. For example, AppleCare for a Mac mini is $169, an iMac’s coverage costs $189 and a 15in Retina display MacBook Pro is $389.

Whether AppleCare is worth it depends on whether your Apple product has serious problems during the coverage period. If it operates trouble-free, you may feel like you’ve thrown away your money. However, if a display goes bad or a motherboard gives up the ghost, you’ll be thrilled to be covered when you learn that you’d otherwise pay three times the price of an AppleCare plan for the repair.

When it’s definitely worth the investment. A reasonable rule of thumb is that if your Mac has a built-in display (a laptop or iMac), AppleCare is worth the cost, as repairing a display is never cheap. AppleCare for an iOS device is a tougher sell, as problems with those devices usually surface within the first six months, though the AppleCare+ plans that cover such devices include coverage for two ‘accidental damage due to handling’ incidents.


If you’re a student or a faculty member, you may qualify for education pricing. 



Apple makes great stuff that’s fun and easy to use. It’s hard not to be enthusiastic about a new Mac. Now that you know where to get yours (and how to protect it should something bad happen), welcome aboard.



Transfer files from a PC to a Mac


If you’re switching from a PC to a Mac, one of the first things you’ll want to do is to move all your data to your new computer. The process is fairly simple, but you can go down any of several paths depending on your setup and your needs.

Consider what’s in the cloud

Before deciding on a data-transfer strategy, consider the extent to which the data on your PC is already mirrored in the cloud. For example, if you store most of your personal files in a folder that syncs to the cloud via a service such as Dropbox, you can install the corresponding Mac app, log in with your existing account and then sit back while your files sync automatically.

Likewise, if you store all your email on an IMAP server, you need only enter your credentials for that server in a Mac email client such as the built-in Apple Mail, and all your messages will download to your Mac. And if you rely on Google Docs for word processing and spreadsheets, your documents will be right there in whichever Mac browser you choose.

Take a quick mental inventory of your data. Be sure to consider personal data such as email, contacts, calendars and bookmarks; media such as music, photos, movies and TV shows; and documents you’ve created or downloaded.

If most of that material is already somewhere in the cloud, the path of least resistance may be to connect to the same cloud services on your Mac and then manually transfer any remaining items that live on your PC’s hard disk.

If your PC stores most of your data locally, you can choose among three main approaches to get it onto your Mac:



When you buy a new Mac directly from Apple (either at an Apple store or online), you have the option to pay an extra $129 for Apple’s One to One service. In addition to a full year of training on Apple products, this program includes a one-time data-transfer service.

Simply take your old PC to your nearest Apple Store, and someone will transfer your data, install any Apple software that you’ve purchased, and help you with any initial setup or usage questions.

The nice thing about the One to One service is that you not only get your files and data on a Mac, but you also have access to immediate, on-the- spot professional help. You can make appointments for ongoing classes and training, too, which can ease the transition to a new platform.



When you turn on a new Mac for the first time, a setup assistant runs to help you connect to the internet, create a user account and configure a number of important settings. As part of this process, the app asks if you want to transfer data from another Mac or PC. If you decide to skip the data-transfer step, you can accomplish the same thing later by opening Migration Assistant, a utility found in your Mac’s /Applications/Utilities folder. Other than letting someone else do the work, using Migration Assistant (in either form) is the easiest way to move data from a PC to a Mac.

Migration Assistant doesn’t move files blindly from one computer to another. It intelligently sets up your Mac to resemble, as nearly as possible, your PC’s configuration. For example, email, contacts, and calendars (and their associated accounts) might migrate from Outlook on a PC to Mail, Contacts, and Calendar, respectively, on a Mac; bookmarks in Internet Explorer are re- created in Safari; documents move to analogous locations on your Mac; and even your desktop background picture usually transfers.

To use Migration Assistant, make sure your PC and Mac are on the same Wi-Fi network or, for faster transfers, connect them with an Ethernet cable. Then, on the PC, download and install the Windows Migration Assistant. Run that app on your PC and Migration Assistant on your Mac. Follow the prompts on both computers to transfer data; for step-by-step instructions, see ‘About Windows Migration Assistant’.



If you have only a small amount of data to transfer, or if you want complete, manual control over the process, you can connect your PC and Mac over a wireless or wired network and use file sharing to make the PC’s files available to the Mac.

On the PC, confirm that you have enabled file sharing and have shared the folder (such as your home folder) you want to access on your Mac. (For full instructions, visit en-us/windows7/share-files-with-someone).

Then, on your Mac, open a new window in the Finder. In the sidebar under Shared, click All. Select your PC, click Connect As, enter the username and password you set up on your PC, and click Connect.

The folder you shared on your PC should appear in the Finder on your Mac; you can then look through it for the items you want to copy, and drag them to the location of your choice on your Mac.

Joe Kissell is the senior editor of TidBits and the author of the ebook Take Control of Troubleshooting Your Mac (TidBits Publishing, 2012). 


Bring your hardware to the Mac


When switching to a Mac, you’ll likely worry most about software compatibility, but don’t forget all your hardware – the PC accessories and add-ons you’ve invested in over the years. Here’s what you need to know about getting that gear to work.



Any USB or Bluetooth keyboard will work with a Mac. Some keys work differently on the Mac, however, and a Windows keyboard won’t include the special- function keys you’ll find on Mac-specific keyboards.

If you frequently use keyboard shortcuts, you’ll discover that while shortcuts in Windows typically include the Ctrl key, OS X shortcuts more often employ the Command key.

If you’re using a Windows-formatted keyboard with a Mac, the Windows key functions as the Command key; similarly, the Alt key functions as the Mac’s Option key. (You can change the mappings by going to the Keyboard pane of System Preferences and clicking Modifier Keys on the Keyboard screen.)

Finally, many Mac-formatted keyboards have special functions assigned to the F-keys. These keys let you adjust volume, control media playback and access OS X’s Mission Control. You can’t trigger these functions on a Windows keyboard by default, although if you pick up third-party software such as Keyboard Maestro, you can assign the actions to keys.


As with keyboards, any USB or Bluetooth mouse will work with the Mac; you’ll be able to click and right-click just as you did under Windows, and if your mouse has a scrollwheel, that will work, too.

You can control the mouse’s basic features in the Mouse pane of System Preferences. Note that in OS X 10.7 Lion and later, scrolling works the opposite of what Windows veterans are used to.

When you spin the scrollwheel toward you, the window’s content scrolls down. You can revert to traditional scrolling by using the Scroll Direction setting in Mouse preferences.

Add special functions to your Windows keyboard with Keyboard Maestro. 


A Mac can read from and write to a hard drive formatted for Windows as FAT32 (but not as NTFS), assuming that you can connect the drive to your Mac. This includes any external hard drive that attaches through USB, FireWire or Thunderbolt. (If you have added an eSATA port to your Mac, you can use eSATA drives, too.) However, Windows-formatted drives don’t support all Mac features.

For example, some file metadata – but not the file data itself – is lost when you copy files to a Windows-formatted drive, and you can’t use a Windows drive as a startup drive or backup drive for a Mac. Conversely, Windows PCs can’t read Mac-formatted drives without help from special software.

Such limitations mean that if you want to use an existing external hard drive with both your Mac and your Windows PC,
you should keep it formatted for Windows and use it mainly for basic document storage. But if you’ll use the drive only with a Mac, you’ll want to reformat the drive, using Disk Utility, specifically for the Mac.



OS X ships with drivers for most popular printers – you should be able to plug in your USB printer or connect your Wi-Fi or Ethernet printer to your network, and print immediately. Just go to the Print & Scan pane of System Preferences to set up the printer. If OS X doesn’t have the correct software, it will usually download and install the correct drivers automatically when you set up the printer.


Change the Sound Output setting to listen to your music through external speakers. 


Pretty much any computer speakers (or other audio systems) will work with a Mac. If your speakers use an analogue audio cable, just plug that cable into your Mac’s 3.5mm audio-out jack. Although the audio automatically routes to the speakers and the Mac’s internal speaker is disabled, you can adjust overall volume using your Mac’s volume controls. Similarly, if your speaker uses a 3.5mm optical-digital connection, you can connect the digital- audio cable directly to the same jack on your Mac.

USB speakers also work with the Mac. Connect your speaker’s USB-audio cable to the Mac’s USB port, and OS X should route audio to the speaker system. If it doesn’t, you can choose the USB speaker system as your audio output by opening the Sound pane of System Preferences, clicking the Output tab, and selecting the USB speaker system as the output device.



Security basics of the Mac


When it comes to security, the latest versions of Windows and OS X are comparable, but you still have a few key differences and settings to become familiar with.

OS X is very secure overall. It includes many of the same inherent protections as Windows 8 does. Anti- exploitation technologies, firewalls, sandboxing and other tools are built in, with mostly sensible default settings. Apple also includes interesting security features that take advantage of the Mac App Store to further reduce your security risk.

Here’s a basic guide to your Mac’s built-in security features.



The core principles for safe internet computing remain the same, whether you use a Windows PC or a Mac. Although you have many ways to fiddle with your Mac’s security preferences, we’re going to focus on the most important ones and highlight key differences from Windows.

System Preferences. You manage most security settings through the System Preferences application, located in the Applications folder. You can also find a shortcut to System Preferences in the Apple menu and, by default, in the Dock.

Software Update. To stay safe, we recommend keeping your application software and system software up-to-date. You can choose whether the computer should automatically check for and download such updates by going to System Preferences > Software Update.

All of your system software updates come through the Mac App Store.

Your Mac prompts you with a system notification when new updates are ready. You can also see what updates are available at any time by going to the Apple menu and choosing Software Update.

User accounts. Managing user accounts is similar in the Mac OS and Windows; OS X just has a slightly different organisation strategy. Some settings are in the Users & Groups system preference pane, while others are in Security & Privacy.

By default, your Mac allows for guest access, which permits friends and other guests to work on your Mac in an empty user account. When your friend finishes and logs out, the account is wiped. You can manage this feature in Users & Groups. To control when passwords are required, however, you have to go to Security & Privacy > General.

Firewall protection. Your Mac’s built- in firewall isn’t quite as robust as the Windows one, as it won’t automatically adjust itself based on the network you are on. This limitation is OK, though, since network attacks aren’t nearly as common as they used to be.

Go to System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Firewall to turn on the firewall; it works similarly to the Windows Firewall by default, blocking incoming connections on a per-application basis. If you prefer, you can also block all connections under Firewall Options.

Unlike Windows, your Mac doesn’t include an outbound firewall, but you can add one if you wish by installing a third-party tool such as Objective Development’s Little Snitch.

Antivirus support. Your Mac includes a (very) basic antivirus feature (called XProtect or File Quarantine) that operates in the background to keep you from running into trouble while you’re browsing the web. This bundled utility is similar to – though not as powerful as – Microsoft’s Security Essentials.

Safari, Apple’s built-in web browser, doesn’t have all the same protections found in the latest version of Internet Explorer, but it still offers several great security options, such as the ability to allow Java – an oft-hacked technology available as a plug-in – only on specific sites. By default, Java isn’t even installed on your Mac, so you can eschew using it altogether if you prefer.


Manage most security settings through the System Preferences menu. 



OS X includes two powerful security features that aren’t available on consumer versions of Windows.

Full hard-drive encryption. Encrypt your entire hard drive (and external hard drives) with FileVault. You can find it by going to System Preferences > Security & Privacy > FileVault. It’s similar to Microsoft’s BitLocker – but that utility is available only in the Windows Enterprise and Ultimate

editions, whereas FileVault is available for all OS X users. FileVault is reliable and generally does not affect system performance. It’s ideal for laptops, and it even includes a recovery option that you can use in case you forget your password.

Gatekeeper. The Gatekeeper feature (go to System Preferences > Security & Privacy > General and look under Allow Applications Downloaded From) restricts what kind of software you can install on your Mac.

By default, you can download and launch software only from the Mac App Store and from websites of registered third-party developers. You can change these settings to open up your Mac to software from any location.

You may be tempted to allow all apps, but we suggest leaving the default setting as is and opening any app that doesn’t qualify (but you know you want to install) by Control-clicking it and then choosing Open. By doing so, you tell Gatekeeper that you purposefully want to bypass its security controls when opening this specific app.



The biggest security question we get from people who first switch to a Mac is: “Should I install antivirus?” The answer, for most users, is no – with a few caveats.

If you use Gatekeeper, leave Java disabled, and use an email service – such as Gmail or iCloud – that filters out known malware, the odds of your Mac ever becoming infected with malware are minuscule. Switch to Google Chrome, and you further reduce those odds.

Why can you get away with no antivirus software on a Mac? Some antivirus firms say they see 65,000 new Windows malware variants every day, while Macs get a handful or two every year.

Overall, your Mac’s security requires much less active effort on your part to maintain than a Windows system does.


Rich Mogull is an industry analyst and the CEO of Securosis, and formerly a research vice president for Gartner. He is also the security editor at TidBits. 

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