Set Up Your New Macintosh Out of The Box

If you just bought a new Mac with OS X Lion, this howto will be a helpful guide for the initial setup. While the Mac itself will step you through the initial settings, there are some additional, customary tasks that every new owner should know about to ensure security, privacy, and data backup.

Of course, no article or even book chapter can be all inclusive and exhaustive. This howto covers just the basics to get you started. In time, you’ll learn additional procedures and come to have additional preferences for both settings and useful applications.

Default Tasks

When you first boot up a new Mac with OS X Lion, you’ll immediately step through the following setup items in this order:

  • Language
  • Country
  • Keyboard
  • Wi-Fi network
  • Transfer of Information
  • Apple ID
  • OS X License agreement
  • Registration
  • Computer Admin Account
  • Picture for Account
  • Time Zone

If you don’t have an Apple ID, it’s a good idea to get one. There are things you can do with an Apple ID that doesn’t have a credit card number attached, for example, log into iChat or Mobile Me, access support, check your Applecare coverage, and make a reservation at an Apple retail store. If you elect to have a credit card attached to your account, you’ll be able to purchase Apple products and accessories from the online Apple store and the other Apple stores: Mac Apple Store, iTunes Store and iBookstore. It’s essential for use with an Apple TV. You must be at least 13; here are the Terms and Conditions.

The first user account you create is the system administrator. This “admin” account has broad privileges for installing software and modifying many OS X settings. (See below for notes on creating a second admin account.) Once you log on as the admin user, you can also create “standard” (unprivileged) users, say, for other family members. They won’t be able to alter OS X and can only install simple apps in their own home directory, apps that don’t require system changes.

Recommended Tasks

The following items are recommended for all users for a new Macintosh. You’ll find the System Preferences under the Apple icon at the top left of the display in the menubar.

Check for dead pixels. Go to System Preferences -> Desktop & Screen Saver -> Desktop -> Solid Colors. Select a dark color and then white color. Look for dark or bright spots. Here’s a handy reference on Apple’s Dead and Stuck Pixel Policy. You have two weeks from the purchase date to return the Mac for exchange or refund.

Make hard disks and external disks visible on the desktop. Finder -> Preferences -> General. Rename your internal drive, if you prefer, to something more personal. Click on the default name “Macintosh HD” below the drive icon, and move the cursor away. The name is now highlighted, and you can change it. Hit Return when done.

Create a second admin account. This is so that if the primary admin account becomes damaged, and you can’t log in, you can log in with the second admin account and make repairs. System Preferences -> Users & Groups. Click on the padlock and enter an admin password. Then click on the “+” sign at the bottom left to add a new user account. Be sure to specify the kind of account in the popup. For security, it’s a good idea to make the Full Name and the Account name both a simple, first name, all lower case. For example, “melissa”.

Create OS X user

Create a new OS X user

Connect an external drive and do your first Time Machine backup. FireWire 800 is preferred, but USB2 is acceptable. A good rule of of thumb: the TM drive should be three times the capacity of the main drive. An icon that looks like a clock is already installed in the menubar. Click it and select “Open Time Machine Preferences.” Select a disk and turn it on. It’s beautifully simple.

Calibrate your MacBook battery’s microprocessor monitoring system. Do a full charge, then full discharge, then a full recharge. That will result in a more accurate display of your remaining battery power.

Optional Tasks

Make these settings at your discretion.  They are some things that, in my experience, make one’s Mac life better. The list is, of course, not nearly exhaustive. Rather, it’s a few items to consider initially, then grow from there.

Display the login window as “Name and Password.” System Preferences -> Users & Groups -> Login Options -> Display login window as “Name and password” The reason is beter security. An unauthorized user has to guess both the user name and password, not just one.

Block guest account from shared folders. System Preferences -> Users & Groups -> Guest User.

Set Tracking Speed: System Preferences -> Track Pad -> Point & Click -> Tracking Speed. Apple’s default is almost never fast enough.

Turn on the OS X Firewall for better security. System Preferences -> Security & Privacy -> Firewall -> Start.

Disable Location Services until you need them. System Preferences -> Security & Privacy -> Privacy.

Improve Menubar clock: System Preferences -> Date & Time -> Clock -> Display the time with seconds. Also show the date. Apple’s minimal approach here continues to mystify.

Show Scroll bars: System Preferences -> General -> Show Scroll bars. Apple has, perhaps unwisely, elected to suppress scroll bars by default in Lion. If you want them, they can be turned back on. (For a more extended discussion on reenabling Lion scroll bars, see Jeff Gamet’s excellent writeup.)

Consider Adobe Flash.  Adobe’s Flash plug-in is not well regarded by Apple and is not installed by default on some Macs. See if you can live without it before rushing to install, especialy on a MacBook Pro/Air where battery life is crucial.

These recommended and optional tasks will get you off to a good start with your new Mac in terms of security, privacy, and backups. Future articles will discuss recommend apps and more advanced settings for the Mac geek.