The best way to learn to use a Mac computer will depend on what your experience with computers. You’ll likely fit into one of three main categories of Mac beginners:

  1. You’ve never used a computer before.
  2. You can use a Mac for basic things like email and reading websites, but not much more.
  3. You know how to use a Windows computer, but the Mac looks strange and doesn’t make any sense to you.

Your approach to learning is going to be a little different for each.

You’ve Never Used a Computer Before

On a Mac

If you have absolutely no experience using a computer other than perhaps seeing other people use one, you will want to structure your learning in a way that each consecutive skill you learn builds on the one before it.

  1. Learn the Controls. First, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the tools you use to talk to the computer (the mouse, and the keyboard), and how the computer talks to you (the screen and sounds). Get comfortable how things on the screen change when you move the mouse and click its buttons, and type on the keyboard.
  2. Learn the Commands. Clicking that button on the mouse tells the computer something specific. And, you tell the computer something very different when you double-click (click twice in rapid succession). You can also type certain keys on the keyboard to get it to do what you want. The Mac also organizes many of the commands you can give it into “Menus”, to make it simpler to control.
    There is always more than one way to tell the Mac what to do. At this stage, you learn the various ways to control your Mac, and figure out which way makes the most sense to you.
  3. Learn How Find the “Files” on your Mac. “Files” is a generic computer term to refer to the many types of things you will store on your Mac. Pictures, videos, documents, programs, and the like fit into this category. There is a program on the Mac called the “Finder” helps you organize and find these file. Practice using it to create and organize your files.
  4. Choose a Task, and Learn its “Application”. At this point, you’ve got the basics of your Mac down, and can now dive into programs that will apply your Mac to specific tasks. (I think that’s why they call these programs “Applications”.) If you want to type a letter, you will start to learn a word-processing application like “Pages”. Want to send your friend an email message? Learn the “Mail” application. Want to start shopping on websites? Start with the “Safari” application, also known as a “web browser”.
  5. Repeat Step 4. Once you get the hang one application, move on to the next, and then next. The more applications you learn and use, the more you’ll see that they all work very much alike. So much so, in fact, that you might get to the point where you start an application you’ve never used before, and find that you intuitively know how to use it!

Other things you might want to explore after you complete this cycle and get the hang of things is customizing and personalizing your Mac. Change the speed of your mouse, add a picture to the background (the “Desktop”), or the sounds the Mac makes to keep you posted on things.

You Can Use a Mac for Basic Things, But Want to Know More

Command-OptionMaybe you’ve jumped into the Mac experience with both feet, and have already started using applications to look at websites and send email to your friends, and that’s great! However, you feel like you’re still missing out on something.

What you’ve done is basically started at Step 4, above, and figured out Steps 1-3 haphazardly. If that’s the case, I recommend you stop and back up a little bit.

You wont need to go back to Step 1 — it’s clear you have that down if you can use any applications. But, you should at least consider backing up to Step 3, or maybe even Step 2. You may even need to unlearn a few “bad habits” you developed.

Do you know the difference between a single-click and a double-click? Or do you just double-click everything? Do you know how to use the command menus, and how they change from application to application? Can you find and open an application if it’s not in The Dock?

Backing up and learning these basics will greatly enhance your understanding and experience.

You Know How to Use Windows on a PC

Mac & WindowsIf you’re already experience with using Windows, then you won’t have to learn how to master the mouse & keyboard, or menus, or even re-learn how to use a web browser — because all of that is basically the same.

You will need to learn some very important differences that leave Windows users confused when they sit down in front of a Mac.

For one, you’ll need to learn how to use the Finder application (instead of Windows Explorer) which is always running, and is often synonymous with the Desktop.

There is also no “Start” menu. You will use the Finder and the “Dock” at the bottom of the screen to find the program you want to run.

Additionally, the keyboard is a little bit different. Shortcuts and commands are similar, but found in slightly different places.

For the most part, Windows users have it very easy when learning how to use a Mac. Most of the basics are already mastered, and it’s just a matter of changing a few habits. It just takes a little time.

A Fourth Category: You Know How to Use an iPhone or iPad

Steve Jobs with iPad on iPhoneThere is a new and growing category of new Mac user that I should mention. The iPhone or iPad user.

The rapidly increasing popularity of these devices is giving Apple more and more reasons to merge the iPhone/iPad and Mac computer experiences. Swiping your fingers across your mouse or trackpad will have a similar effect on your Mac computer as it does on your iPhone.

If you already own and use one of these hand-held devices, you will have a leg up on learning how to use these new commands on the Mac computer, and the applications will look more familiar to you.