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Feelin at "Home" on a Mac

Monday May 17th, 2010 by Extensis

Today’s tip is on simple navigation around the mac’s hard disk. Most problems in life can be reduced down to “a simple matter of semantics”; a synonym falls from the heavens and eureka, surprise, voila, hallelujah! We understand each other!

In Tech Support, we often help mac customers consolidate their fonts into a central location or delete a bad preference file. But a semantic gap can block even the simplest task if I’m talkin apples and you’re talkin oranges:

Tech Support: Double click on your hard disk to open up the “Finder” and go to your “Home” folder.
Customer: Uh, what’s the “Finder”?
Tech Support: The application that launches when you double click on your hard disk to help you “find” things.
Customer: Eureka !
Tech Support: So then go to your “Home” folder.
Customer: Uh, what’s my “Home” folder?
Tech Support: The folder with the little house icon that probably has your name on it, where you keep all your personal files.
Customer: You mean in applications?
Tech Support: No.
Customer: Is that in the System folder?
Tech Support: No. It’s in the Users folder.
Customer: I don’t think I have a “Users” folder. I’m the only user on my mac.
Tech Support: You still have a “Users” folder. Double click on your hard drive and the Users folder is right there : Applications, Library, System, Users
Customer: [several minutes later] Voila! I found it!
Tech Support: Hallelujah!

mac-10.6.3-home folder

As you can see, your “Home” folder is your “User” folder. Its located at:

[hard disk]/Users/[your name]

Nine times out of ten when you are workin on your mac, you are within your “Home” folder. See the cute little house icon? That’s why its called the “Home” folder and “Home” sounds more user friendly than “User Account”.

mac-10.6.3-home-get info

If you share your mac with a co worker or a family member then they have their own “Home” folder too. This is how your mac keeps your files separate and secure from prying eyes. Example: Boris and Natasha share a mac. When Boris logs into the mac, he has access to the files in his “Home” folder named “Boris”. When he saves a file named “Top Secret File.txt” to his desktop, it is saved to :

[hard disk]/Users/Boris/Desktop/Top Secret File.txt

When Natasha logs into the mac later that day, she has access to all the files in her “Home” folder named “Natasha”. Even though she is a spy and would love to see what devious plans Boris is up to, she cannot see his files because she cannot get into his “Home” folder without his password. Foiled! Foiled again!

So what’s the “Finder”?

mac-10.6.3-finder on the dock

The “Finder” is such a fundamental part of Mac OS X that we forget it’s there, but it’s an application just like Mail or Safari with its own preferences and commands. It’s the equivalent of “Windows Explorer” on Microsoft Windows, and simply helps you navigate around and “find” your files and folders.

mac-10.6.3-finder

The Finder is always running even if you’re not aware of its presence. It doesn’t live in your Applications or Utilities folder as you might think. Its tucked away safely in:

/System/Library/CoreServices/Finder.app

. . . so you don’t accidentally delete it. Lots of essential programs live here as well like Dock (provides quick access to things you use often), Installer (used when you install new applications), Archive Utility (used to “compress” i.e. zip and unzip files) and Software Update (used to update your mac applications automatically). Together all these little programs form the “core” experience of the operating system that we know and love as OS X.

Now, you know where to find the “Finder” and that you are almost always at “Home” on your mac.

Some additional semantic equivalents (Mac OS X to Windows):

  • Finder = Windows Explorer
  • Mac HD = “C” drive
  • Control click = Right click
  • Dock = Task bar
  • Get Info = Properties
  • Apple Menu = Start Menu
  • System/Library/Fonts = C:\WINDOWS\Fonts
  • System Preferences = Control Panel
  • Applications = Programs
  • Terminal = cmd
  • Alias = Shortcut
  • Sleep = Standby
  • Log Out = Log Off
  • Quit = Exit

Keyboard Differences (Mac OS X to Windows)

  • Control = Control
  • Option = Alt
  • Command or “Apple” = Option or “Windows”
  • Return = Enter