Mac Beginner Guide: What’s New in OS X Yosemite Interface

On a Windows PC, the desktop is usually filled with shortcuts to apps, pre-installed bloatware that you didn’t ask for and a lot of other stuff.

And if you’ve been using Windows 8, it’s the same on the Start screen.

There’s none of that here.


The desktop is clean. Suspiciously so. The only thing you’ll see here are the hard drive partitions (if you choose to add them), any connected USB drives and the screenshots you take.

The desktop on a Mac is not something you stop and look at. It’s something you see in the passing. When you quit and launch an app, for example.

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Understanding Menu Bar and the Apple Menu

Windows has taskbar. That row in the bottom that contains the Start menu, pinned apps, running apps and the system tray or notification center on the far right.

Desktop Copy

OS X’s equivalent to the taskbar ( or to be more accurate, system tray) is the menu bar. It lives on top of the desktop and unlike the Windows taskbar, you can’t change its position.

Apple Menu

The Apple menu has the iconic flat Apple logo as the icon. Here you’ll find machine related options like System Preferences, About This Mac, App Store, Log out, Power off, Sleep, Restart and more.

On the far right you’ll see an icon that looks like a bulleted list. This will bring up the Notification Center. The search icon brings up Spotlight search.

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Then there are system icons for the current user, Wi-Fi, AirPlay, Date and Time. Icons for Bluetooth, Time Machine and other system level features, when enabled, will also show up here.

Scratchpad Menubar

To the right you’ll find icons for running apps like Dropbox, Evernote and more (just like you would on the system tray in Windows). Menu bar app icons are usually interactive ( or else there’s no reason for them to be in the menu bar). For instance, clicking the Dropbox icon shows you the latest uploads, while Evernote brings up a quick text entry field.

The white space between the Apple icon and running apps is filled by the app specific menus. In Windows apps you might have noticed menus like File, Edit etc taking up an entire row below the titlebar. On Mac, these menus show up on the menu bar itself.

The Dock


In simple terms, the Dock on OS X is like the app management part of the Windows taskbar. In the Dock you’ll find pinned apps, active apps, minimized apps and even designated folders. The biggest part of using the Mac is interacting with apps in the Dock (not Launchpad or the Applications folder). It will be the start and end point of your day-to-day app use.

When you first open up your Mac, you’ll find that the Dock is filled with OS X apps like Mail, iPhoto, Photo Booth, Keynote, FaceTime etc.

When you launch an app from Launchpad, Spotlight or the Applications folder, it will show up in the Dock. You can pin a running app to the Dock by right-clicking the icon (two-finger tap on the trackpad) and selecting Options -> Keep in Dock.

To remove an app from the Dock, simply click the app’s icon, hold and drag it out of the dock and release the trackpad click.

Remove From Dock

The Dock has its own settings. You can either access it from System Preferences or by right-clicking on an empty space on the Dock.

Dock Pref

From here you can change the dock’s position to the left, right or bottom of the screen. It’s advisable to dock it to the left or the right as vertical screen real estate is scarce on a widescreen MacBook. You can also increase the size of the Dock, turn on magnification or switch from the Genie effect or Scale effect when maximizing/minimizing windows.

Dock On Side

How to Create New Users Accounts and Switch between Them

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If you share your Mac with your family members or just want to hand it over to a friend for some browsing, it’s important to have multiple user accounts (or just a guest account) set up for your privacy.

Go to System Preferences -> Users and Groups. You’ll see a Guest User account enabled here by default.

To start editing, click the lock icon in the bottom-left corner and enter your password.

Click the + button to create a new user. OS X allows you to create four kinds of accounts:

  • An Administrator (admin) can do anything with the Mac. Create, delete, modify files, install software, change settings etc.
  • Standard users can do all of the above other than manage user accounts.
  • Managed with Parental Controls allows parents to restrict apps, inappropriate content and limit the time the kid spends on the computer (more on that below).
  • A Sharing Only user can access shared files or screens on the network. They don’t have the right to create, change files or install applications.

Once you’ve decided which kind of account you want, go ahead and enter the full name and account’s name. You can bind a user account to an iCloud account (this is just for the user account and not for the iTunes/App Store account) and either use the same iCloud password as authentication or add a different password altogether.

After that click the Create User button.

Guest Account New

Restrictions in Guest Mode

Guest Mode in Mac runs in a kind of silo environment that’s separate from your own account.

The most important thing to know about Guest Mode is that by default OS X erases everything at the end of a guest session. That means browsing history, file downloads, everything.

Using Parental Control to Block Access to Applications

If your kids borrow your Mac for browsing or to do some homework, you don’t really want them reading your email or looking at your super secret work documents. This is where the Managed with Parental Controls kind of user account comes in handy.

To set it up, go to System Preferences -> Users & Groups and when creating a new account, choose Managed with Parental Controls as an option.

Parental Guidence

After the account is set up, select it from the left pane, click the Parental Controls button and click the lock to make the changes (Note: You can do the same for guest accounts as well).

From the Apps section you can uncheck the apps you don’t want the user to access and from the Web section you can either whitelist the sites the user is allowed to visit or specifically block the ones they are not.

What’s Dashboard and is It Still Useful in the Time of Notification Center Widgets?


Dashboard was first introduced in OS X 10.4 Tiger (released in 2005) and still lives on. Dashboard is a collection of widgets. The widgets are essentially small, custom websites (written in HTML and JavaScript). Apple bundles a couple of widgets like Stickies, Calculator, Define but you can find lot more widgets on the internet. Everything from monitoring Google Analytics for your website to tracking package deliveries to monitoring time zones can be done with Dashboard widgets.

More likely than not, Dashboard is on the way out. And the replacement, Notification Center widgets, are already in place with OS X 10.10 Yosemite.

Did You Know? When Apple was working on the first iPhone and the iPhone OS 1.0, the engineers thought of using the code from Dashboard widgets to run apps like Weather and Stocks. But it was soon deemed too slow and unresponsive for the touchscreen and the apps were ultimately re-written, this time with native code.

In Yosemite, widgets work and look similar to the ones in iOS 8. The fundamental difference between Dashboard widgets and Notification Center widgets is that Dashboard widgets are far more customizable and most of them are free.

Anyone can make and add Dashboard widgets easily. On the other hand, Notification Center widgets can’t even be installed on their own. They need to be bounded by an app. But the future is clearly Notification Center widgets, so let’s focus on that.

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Apple bundles 9 widgets like Weather, World clock, Calculator, Calendar and more. And while the collection of third-party widgets isn’t as great as Dashboard’s, it’s getting better day by day.

To get to the Notification Center, do a two-finger swipe towards the left from the right edge of the trackpad or click the list icon on the far right of the menu bar. You’ll see two sections up top. Today and Notifications. Today section will show you widgets.

More about Trackpad Gestures: Apple has a useful page to help you learn more about Mac’s multi-touch gestures. If you were not sure how to do the two-finger swipe to access the Notification Center when we talked about it above, you can see a demonstration of that on this page.

To add more widgets, click the Edit button. You’ll see a new pane slide in from the right. If you download an app that has widget support, it will show up on this pane. Click the green + icon to add a widget to the Today view.

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More about Notification Center Widgets: Know more about the built-in Notification Center widgets and a couple of third party ones here. We’ve also written about how to get lyrics from iTunes in the NC as well as system monitoring stats.

Just Switched to a Mac? Get our eBookThe Ultimate Guide to OS X Yosemite for a Mac Beginner. It is the perfect eBook for people who want to get a hang of a Mac and how to get the most out of it.

Last updated on 03 February, 2022

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