Getting Started with Macintosh: Mac User Interface Essentials

The Apple Menu

Macintosh User Interface Essentials

Apple Menu

At the far upper-left of the Macintosh screen is an Apple icon. The Apple icon is always there, regardless of what programs you may be running.

Click the apple, and the Apple dropdown menu appears. The Apple menu is essential for operating your Mac.

Apple Finder menus



"About This Mac"

to find information about your Mac, such as the currently installed verison of the Mac Operating System (OS) and information about RAM memory, hard drives, and graphics cards.

"Software Update"

to download updated versions of your software.  It is important to download software updates periodically because they often include important bug fixes and security fixes.

"App Store"

to purchase and download Macintosh applications.

"System Preferences"

to see and set important preferences. (See "System Preferences" below for more information.)


to hide, display, or move the dock.  (See "Working with the Dock" below for more information).

"Recent Items"

to quickly find applications and documents you have recently used.

"Force Quit"

if an application freezes and you need to close it.

"Sleep," "Restart," or "Shut Down..."

when you want to stop working or restart your Mac. See "Sleep, Restarting, and Shutting Down" at the end of this page.

Using the Finder to find and manage folders and files

Using the Finder

The Finder allows you to find and manage all your files and programs. To get to the Finder, double-click any folder, or click in any blank area of your Mac's desktop. The Finder menu bar will appear at the top of the screen.

Finder menu bar

Click on a menu heading to see the menu. To get a better understanding of the Finder, explore all of the Finder menus.

The Finder Window

To look at and manage files and folders using the Finder, double-click any folder, or go to the Finder menu bar and choose File > New Finder Window. A Finder window wil appear. Finder windows allow you to look at all of your stuff, including all your files and folders (directories).


new Finder window


Icons at the top of the Finder window:  To explore different ways of looking at and navigating through folders and files, click the icons at the top of the Finder window. Or you can search for a file using the search box located to the right of the icons:

Finder window icons

Finder window sidebar: Icons in the sidebar on the left side of the Finder window are shortcuts that allow you to quickly access important places on your computer. Just click on icon and the contents for it will appear on the right. To change the shortcuts that appear in the sidebar, right-click in the sidebar and open the sidebar preferences.

Sidebar prefs

Where are my software programs? 

Software programs (applications) are usually located in the Applications folder on your hard disk. A quick way to find them is to click the Applications icon in the Finder window sidebar (on the left side of the Finder window). To start a program, you can double-click its icon. Or if it is in the dock (described below) click its icon in the dock. 

Get Info:

For more information about a file or folder, right-click on the item and choose "Get Info" from the pop-up menu that appears.

Get Info


For more information about the Finder, see "Finder Basics" on Apple's "Mac Basics" webpage:

Working with the Dock

The Dock

The Dock provides an easy way for you to access applications and folders that are important to you.  To display or hide the dock, go to the Apple menu and choose dock:


The following is an example of how part of the dock could look when displayed at the bottom of the screen. Programs that are currently running are indicated by a small light under the icon. In this example, the Finder and Outlook are running.


To add an application to the dock, find the file (usually in the Applications folder), and then drag the file's icon to the dock.

For more information about the the dock, go to "Using the Dock"  at

System Preferences

System Preferences

From the Apple menu, choose "System Preferences" to see and set important preferences that control many aspects of how your Macintosh works and you use it. 

System prefs

Click on different icons to view (and change, if you wish) different categories of system preferences. The more you work with your Mac, the more familiar you will become with various system preferences.

The Trash

The Trash

When you want to delete a folder or a file, you need to move it to the trash. You can do this any of these ways:

  • Click on (select) the item, and choose File > Move to Trash from the Finder menu
  • Right-click the item and choose "Move to Trash" from the pop-up menu:

move to trash

  • Drag the folder or file to the Trash icon in the dock:

trash icon

It is important to empty the trash periodically. To do this, choose Finder > Empty Trash from the Finder menu.

Sleep, Restarting, and Shutting down your Mac

Sleep, restarting and shutting down your Mac

You put your Mac to sleep, restart your Mac, or shut your Mac down by choosing items in the Apple menu.

When you want to stop working on your Macintosh for a while, it is a good idea to put it to sleep.  It will wake up again as soon as you move the mouse or press the spacebar.

IF you are having difficulty or your Mac is acting strangely, you may need to restart the Mac.

When you are going to stop using your Macintosh for an extended period of time, it is a good idea to shut it down.

NOTE:  It is always best to shut down your Macintosh by choosing "Shut Down"  from the Apple menu, rather that shutting it down by pressing the on/off button.

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