Macs have a fairly simple setup process, and Apple’s macOS will walk you through what you need to do. But this is only part of the configuration process. Here’s a checklist of things you need to do to set up your Mac after you click the basics.
The initial configuration
Apple’s initial setup process is nearly foolproof, so we won’t spend too much time showing it to you. The first thing to do is to unpack your device and connect it to a power outlet. If you have an iMac, you will also need to connect a magic keyboard and mouse or a magic trackpad.
When everything is connected and plugged in, it’s time to press the power button on your Mac. On most machines, this is located in the upper right corner of the keyboard. If your Mac has a Touch ID sensor, tap it instead.
First, you will need to select a country, language and wireless network. If you prefer to use an Ethernet connection, you can connect your Mac to a wired network instead. Finally choose if you want or not move data to your new Mac using Migration Assistant.
Assuming you set up your Mac as a new computer, you will then be prompted to activate Location Services (GPS) and sign in with your Apple ID. If you do not already have an Apple ID, you will be prompted to create one. Once connected, there is a final document of general conditions to accept.
Next, macOS will prompt you to configure iCloud, FaceTime and iMessage. Add the additional email addresses you want to use with FaceTime and iMessage, then go to the next step of setup and activate Find My Mac as security. This feature allows you to remotely find and erase your Mac in case it disappears.
Next, you’ll be asked to set up your user account, but only if you’re setting up a new Mac rather than restoring from an old one. Add your name, password and select an image you want to see next to your login icon. You can change this later. Activate “Allow my Apple ID to reset this user’s password” to allow password reset on the Internet in case you forget your login information.
Finally, you can set a time zone (your Mac will automatically detect it if you enable location services) and choose to register your Mac with Apple. Then you can click Continue and start using your new Mac.
Install the latest macOS updates
There are probably updates or even major upgrades to the operating system to install on your new machine. First, check which version of macOS you are using by clicking the Apple logo in the upper left corner, then choosing About This Mac. You can check the latest version on Apple website.
If your Mac isn’t running the latest and best version of macOS, you’ll likely want to upgrade before continuing with the process. To do this, go to System Preferences> Software Update and wait for the tool to update.
Your Mac will check with Apple whether or not updates are available and you will be prompted to install them. Click the “Advanced” button to display the options for automatically keep your Mac and its applications up to date.
If a new version of macOS is available, it will be listed at the top of this window. Click “Upgrade Now” and wait for the download to finish. Once it is finished, the installation process will begin, or you can launch the “Install macOS “In your Applications folder (by replacing with the title of the current iteration).
Installing a new version of macOS can take a while, so be sure to set aside 30 to 60 minutes to complete the process. Your Mac will restart several times during this process.
Finalize your configuration
Now that you’re using the most recent version of macOS, it’s time to finish setting up your Mac.
Configure Time Machine backups
To use Time Machine, you’ll need a drive with at least as much free space as the total size of your Mac. Having a larger disk will allow you to store older versions of files, but it’s not necessary if all you want is a working backup. The easiest way to configure Time Machine is to use an inexpensive external hard drive.
Connect the drive you want to use to your Mac and go to System Preferences> Time Machine. Click Select disk to designate the drive you just added and confirm your selection. Time Machine will now start its initial backup and will automatically back up your Mac each time this drive is connected.
You do not need to use an external drive for this purpose. You can use another Mac for Time Machine backups, or even a Networked Raspberry Pi. It is also possible to partition your Time Machine drive and use it to store files too.
Enable FileVault encryption
FileVault is the disk encryption software provided by Apple with macOS. It is free and offers the bare minimum of security. Therefore, if you are concerned about your data, you can activate it. Enabling FileVault means that you must always log in to your Mac with a password. Although it is usually enabled by default, it is a good idea to recheck.
Go to System Preferences> Security and Confidentiality> FileVault and click on “Activate FileVault …” to activate the function (click on the padlock and first enter your administrator password). You will be prompted to create and store a recovery key in iCloud behind three recovery questions, or to create a local recovery key made up of random letters and numbers that you store yourself.
You will need a recovery key in case you forget your FileVault password. Make sure you are comfortable with the recovery key method you choose, and if you choose to create a local recovery key, be sure to keep it somewhere where you can access it (not on your main boot disk, what you encrypt).
Connect email, calendar and other services
If you want to configure Mail to use it with your email accounts or integrate your Google or Outlook calendars into the Apple Calendar application, you will need to configure your different accounts. Head to System Preferences> Internet Accounts and click on the type of account you want to add.
When adding an account, you will be asked to activate features such as email, calendar, contacts and notes. If you have a CalDAV, CardDAV, LDAP or an old classic POP3 or IMAP email address, click on “Add another account” and choose the appropriate option.
Set up other accounts and parental controls
Are there other members of your family, household or office who will be using this Mac? Head to System Preferences> Users and Groups to add new accounts. You will need to click the padlock icon and enter your administrator password to make changes. You can then click the plus “+” icon to create new accounts.
Add details like full name, account name, password and type of account, then click “Create User” to finalize. If you want to impose parental controls on the account, visit System Preferences> Screen Time for enforce application limits and content or privacy restrictions about the type of content the account can access.
Modify macOS as desired
Now that you’ve set up all the important things, it’s time to make changes to macOS until you’re happy with how it looks and feel.
Configure pointing devices
If you have a laptop or Mac with a Magic Trackpad, you will probably want to customize the behavior of your pointing device. Head to System Preferences> Trackpad to see the different gestures available. You can customize these gestures or simply hover over them to see a video example.
This is an opportunity to change the way macOS scrolls. If you don’t like the “Natural” scrolling inspired by the touch screen, click on “Scrolling and zooming” and deactivate “Scrolling direction: Natural” to reverse it. If you have a Magic Mouse instead, go to System Preferences> Mouse to set the double-click and tracking speed.
Customize the Dock
Click and drag an icon out of the dock, then release it to delete it entirely. You will not delete the application or folder, just the shortcut. Drag an application from your Applications folder to the dock to pin it, or launch the application, then right-click (two-finger click with a trackpad) on the icon and select Options> Keep in Dock.
Head to System Preferences> Dock to see even more options. You can choose to position it on the left, right and bottom edges of your screen, activate automatic masking, change the size of the dock, activate the enlargement animation, etc.
Activate dark mode
macOS now has dark mode, and it looks great whether or not you mainly use your Mac in low light conditions. Go to System Preferences> General and switch the appearance between Light, Dark and Auto. If you choose, Auto macOS automatically activates the dark mode according to the time of day.
Disable automatic correction
For whatever reason, macOS always turns on AutoCorrect by default on every new Mac. Although AutoCorrect is a lifeline when typing with a touch keyboard, it is generally unnecessary on a standard-size hardware keyboard. It’s easy to think that AutoCorrect “fights” what you’re trying to type.
If you don’t like this, you can turn off the feature under System Preferences> Keyboard> Text. Disable “Automatically correct spelling” and “Automatically capitalize words” to completely disable automatic correction. You can also deactivate the option “Add a period with a double space” if you are not using the functionality.
Adjust resolution scale
You can adjust the display resolution of your Mac to more or less fit the screen at the same time. If you choose to have more on screen, things will appear smaller. The text will be more difficult to read and everything will look somewhat “zoomed out” compared to the default setting. Or, if you want the items on the screen to be larger, you can go the other way and “zoom in”.
Go to System Preferences> Displays, select “Scaling,” then choose a new resolution. You can always go back to “Default” if you don’t like what you see.
Configure secondary screens
If you’re planning to connect a secondary or tertiary display for use with your Mac, now is the time. Connect the monitor and turn it on, then launch System Preferences> Screens. You should configure your screen according to its location on your desktopand choose a resolution and refresh rate that work for you.
Tweak the Keyboard
Head to System Preferences> Keyboard to display keyboard preferences. Most of these options will be kept at their default settings, unless you feel the need to change them depending on usage.
You can add text extension shortcuts on the Text tab, for example, you can replace “: shrug:” with “¯ _ (ツ) _ / ¯” or “: myaddress:” with your home address for faster entry.
Under “Input sources”, you can install different keyboard layouts if desired. For example, if you are using the “British” layout, you can type the “£” symbol while holding Shift + 3.
Do you use a third-party hardware keyboard for Windows? A free application called Karabiner-Elements will allow you to reconfigure each key, including Windows keys and unsupported multimedia keys, for a much better macOS experience.
Tweak the Touch Bar
If you have a MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, you can configure what is displayed by launching an application and then selecting View> Customize Touch Bar. You can drag and drop commands into the touch bar panel depending on what you use most often.
You can also go to System Preferences> Keyboard to see the other Touch Bar options. Click Customize Control Strip to change the system-wide control buttons that are displayed (including volume and media controls).
You can change everything on Siri, including the keyboard shortcut, language, voice profile and whether or not you want to receive voice comments under System Preferences> Siri.
If you deactivate “Activate Ask Siri”, you will deactivate the function completely. Siri can be used to do useful things on macOS, like find files for you and pin dynamic data to your screen Today.
Configure Touch ID
If your Mac has a fingerprint reader, you may have already set up Touch ID. Otherwise, you can do it now under System Preferences> Touch ID. You can activate Touch ID for the following:
Unlock your Mac
Pay for items with Apple Pay
Pay and download items from the App Store, iTunes, Apple Books
Fill in passwords and other saved credentials
All of these are useful and deserve to be activated. You can also add a secondary fingerprint here if you wish.
Activate battery percentage display
If your new Mac is a laptop, chances are you’ll like a battery percentage counter in the upper-right corner, rather than the vague battery symbol displayed by default.
To do this, click on the battery indicator at the top right and select Show percentage. Do not forget; you can also click on the battery indicator at any time to see all the apps that use a significant amount of power, which is useful when trying to conserve battery power.
Activate night shift
Night Shift is a function that emulates the orange glow of the setting sun to promote better sleep. To do this, it removes as much blue light as possible. You can activate the function under System Preferences> Screens> Night shift.
You can define a “Sunset to Sunrise” program, which will use weather data to decide when to activate or deactivate the function, or define your own personalized program. Drag the “Color Temperature” slider to the desired level of blue light reduction.
You can instantly deactivate or activate Night Shift by displaying the Today screen (click the icon in the upper right corner of your screen), then scrolling up to reveal the Night Shift option.
Personalize your wallpaper
Apple includes incredible wallpapers with macOS. Head to System Preferences> Desktop and Screen Saver to browse what’s already available. Choose “dynamic” wallpapers to see your wallpaper change according to the time of day.
Install essential applications
The final step in setting up your Mac is to install additional applications you want to use. We recommend using Safari as your primary browser, as it is well optimized for performance and energy efficiency on macOS. A second browser is handy to have around, so we recommend that you enter Chromium or Firefox also.
You must use a password manager, so download Last pass, 1Password, Dashlane, or whatever you use. If you’re already using Apple’s iCloud keychain, just make sure you’re signed in to your Apple ID under System Preferences.
You may also need a media player for the many types of unsupported files that QuickTime Player does not support. Download VLC or MPV and install them. If you are an avid cloud storage user then you will want to enter Google Drive, Dropbox, onedriveor the solution you prefer.
It’s also helpful to check your Mac App Store purchase history for any apps you may have forgotten. Launch the Mac App Store and click on your name in the lower left corner to see a list of past purchases. Click the cloud icon next to each to download them.
After all of that, you may want to download Vanilla to minimize the menu bar icons and keep everything organized. For even more suggestions, check out these essential apps for new Mac owners.
The final touch
You are now ready to use your Mac. There are a few other tasks you may want to do in the background while you kick the tires on your new machine:
Launch Mail (if you use it or another mail application) and let it download your mail history. Depending on the size of your inbox, this may take time.
Open Photos and configure the iCloud photo library if you’re using it. Give it some time to download your library. You can choose between “optimized” copies and full size originals.
Launch the Music, Podcasts and TV apps and connect to each, then let iCloud sync your library so your entertainment is ready to go when you want it.
But what if you don’t set up your new Mac from scratch? Learn how to backup and move to a new Mac without putting everything back in place.