Macs For Seniors For Dummies - Mark L. Chambers - ebook

Macs For Seniors For Dummies ebook

Mark L. Chambers

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Your ticket to entering the exciting world of Macs! If you've always thought computers were too complicated and intimidating, you're in for a pleasant surprise! Written and designed with your unique needs in mind, Macs For Seniors For Dummies makes it faster and easier than ever to experience all your Apple computer has to offer. In no time, you'll find out how to stay connected with family and friends, explore the Internet, create and print documents, watch your favorite movies, get apps from the App Store, and so much more. From advice on which Mac you should buy to getting started with set up and configurations, this hands-on, accessible guide covers everything needed to help you make the most of your new computer. You'll learn how to customize OS X El Capitan, work with files and folders, connect to a printer, use Safari to browse the web, and keep in touch through social media--and that's just the tip of the iceberg. * Set up your Mac and move around the desktop * Make FaceTime calls and send emails * Store photos and files using iCloud * Play videos, music, and games With the help of Macs For Seniors For Dummies, you'll soon discover that you don't have to be a millennial to make a Mac your minion!

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Macs For Seniors For Dummies®, 3rd Edition

Published by: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 111 River Street, Hoboken, NJ 07030-5774, www.wiley.com

Copyright © 2016 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey

Published simultaneously in Canada

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Macs For Seniors For Dummies®

To view this book's Cheat Sheet, simply go to www.dummies.com and search for “Macs For Seniors For Dummies Cheat Sheet” in the Search box.

Table of Contents

Cover

Introduction

Foolish Assumptions

About This Book

Where to Go from Here

A Final Word

Part 1: Buying and Setting Up Your Mac

Chapter 1: Buying a Mac

Know What Your Mac Can Do

Understand Hardware and Software

Choose a Desktop or Laptop

Know How Much Computing Power Is Too Much

Choose a Price Range

Select a Monitor

Compare Processors, Memory, and Hard Drives

Decide Which Software You Want

Buy Online or at the Apple Store

Chapter 2: Setting Up Your Mac

Choose a Location for Your New Mac

Unpack Your New Mac

Get Power

Figure Out Ports

Access the Internet

Use Keyboard/Mouse/Monitor

Use Your Mouse

Turn On Your Mac and Run OS X Setup

Change Your Account Password

Add Another Account to Your System

Switch between Accounts

Set Your Mac’s Date and Time

Turn Off Your Mac

Part 2: Getting Started with Your Mac

Chapter 3: Getting Around the Mac Desktop

Tour the Desktop

Discover the Finder

Use the El Capitan Icons

Open and Switch Programs from the Dock

Run Programs from Your Internal Drive

Add Favorite Programs (and More) to the Dock

Stack Files and Folders on the Dock

Change the Dock Size and Location

Empty the Trash

Display the Dashboard and Widgets

Search Your Mac with Spotlight

View the Finder in Icon View

List Finder Items in List View

See Items in Column View

Surf Items in Flow View

Open Windows

Use Mission Control to Switch Windows

Scroll Windows

Minimize and Restore Windows

Zoom Windows

Move and Resize Windows

Close Windows

Close Programs

Chapter 4: Customizing El Capitan

Fine-Tune El Capitan

Change the Desktop Background

Change the Desktop Color Scheme

Select a Screen Saver

Customize the Keyboard

Organize Icons on the Desktop

Customize Your Pointing Device

Set Your Screen for Maximum Visibility

Use the Accessibility Tools

Replace Sounds with Visual Cues

Set Up Dictation

Chapter 5: Working with Files and Folders

Store Files on Your Mac

Organize Files with Folders

Open Files and Folders

View Documents with Quick Look

View Images and PDF Documents with Preview

Create an Alias to a File or Folder

Launch Recently Used Documents and Programs

Select Items

Create Folders

Rename Items

Delete Items You No Longer Need

Copy Files and Folders

Move Things from Place to Place

Chapter 6: Working with Printers and Scanners

Add a USB Printer to Your System

Print a File

Choose a Default Printer

Remove a Printer

Create a PDF Document

Install a USB Scanner

Chapter 7: Getting Help

Explore the Help Window

Search Help

Find Help in the Apple Forums

Share Screens

Search Other Mac Support Resources

Part 3: Having Fun and Getting Things Done with Software

Chapter 8: Creating Documents with Pages

Create a New Pages Document

Open an Existing Pages Document

Type and Edit Text within Pages

Cut Text

Copy Text

Paste from the Clipboard

Format Text with Panache

Insert Tables

Add Photos

Resize an Image

Add a Shape to the Document Background

Check Your Spelling

Find and Replace Text

Print Documents

Save Your Work

Close a Document

Chapter 9: Working with Numbers

Understand Spreadsheets

Create a New Spreadsheet

Open an Existing Spreadsheet

Navigate and Select Cells in a Spreadsheet

Enter and Edit Data in a Spreadsheet

Choose a Number Format

Change the Cell Text Alignment

Change Character Formatting

Format with Shading

Insert and Delete Rows and Columns

Add Simple Calculations

Insert Charts

Save Your Work

Chapter 10: Getting the Most from Photos

Upload Pictures from Your Digital Camera

Display a Digital Image in Photos

Tag Your Photos with Keywords

Organize Photos in Albums

Create a Slide Show

Edit Photos with Panache

Add Photos to Your Email

Chapter 11: Enjoying Music, Video, and Podcasts

Set Up Speakers

Control the Volume

Add Music from a CD to iTunes

Play an Audio CD in iTunes

Play Digital Music, Video, and Podcasts in iTunes

Create and Use an iTunes Playlist

Burn an Audio CD in iTunes

Watch Visualizations

Find and Buy Music, Video, Audiobooks, and Podcasts at the iTunes Store

Chapter 12: Playing Games in El Capitan

Play Chess

Play the Tile Game Widget

Install New Widget Games from Apple

Download New Games from Apple

Play Games Online

Part 4: Exploring the Internet

Chapter 13: Understanding Internet Basics

Understand How the Internet Works

Explore Internet Connections

Set Up a Broadband Internet Connection

Set Up a Wireless Internet Connection

Set Up a Dial-Up Connection

Find Out about iCloud

Keep Your Mac Secure Online

Know the Antivirus Basics

Follow Common Sense: Things Not to Do Online

Chapter 14: Browsing the Web with Safari

Visit a Website

Navigate the Web

Search the Web

Find Content on a Web Page

Add Pages to the Reading List

Set Up a Home Page

Bookmark a Website

Organize Bookmarks

View Your Browsing History

Use Tabs

Download Files

Keep Your Finances Safe Online

Delete History Files

Delete Cookie Files

Delete the Safari Downloads List

Print a Web Page

Chapter 15: Using Mail

Set Up an Internet Email Account

Set Up an Apple Mail Account

Get to Know Apple Mail

Manage Email Accounts

Read and Delete Email

Reply to a Message

Create and Send Email

Send an Attachment

Save an Attachment That You Receive

Format Email Messages

Add Contacts

Customize Apple Mail

Add a Signature to All Outgoing Messages

Use Folders

Handle Junk Mail

Chapter 16: Connecting with People Online

Check Your Equipment

Set Up Messages

Add Friends to Your Messages Buddy List

Set Your Status in Messages

Chat with a Buddy

Start an Audio Chat

Start a Video Chat Using Instant Messaging

Converse Using FaceTime

Share on a Blog (an Online Journal)

Communicate in Message Forums

Network with Others

Part 5: Taking Care of Your Computer

Chapter 17: Protecting El Capitan

Understand Computer Security

Customize the El Capitan Firewall

Configure and Run FileVault

Configure Secure User Options

Chapter 18: Maintaining Your Mac

Scan a Drive for Errors

Keep El Capitan Up to Date

Back Up Important Files and Folders

Remove Unnecessary Files

About the Author

Connect with Dummies

End User License Agreement

Guide

Cover

Table of Contents

Begin Reading

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Introduction

Is a Macintosh the computer for you? I can unequivocally answer “Yes!” Why am I so sure? Because Apple has been producing the best consumer computers and programs for many years now — desktops, laptops, and software that surpass anything else now offered on the market. (Yes, that includes other famous companies you’ve heard of, such as Dell, Microsoft, and Gateway.) Macs are designed to be easy and fun to use, and computing beginners will find that Apple has a knack for writing the best personal-computer software around.

Let me be honest: I’m not easily impressed when it comes to computers. As a cynical old computer programmer (and curmudgeon), I’ve used every version of Windows that His Gatesness has produced, including the latest, Windows 10. I’ve used many Mac versions all the way back to 1989. I’m very sure that you’ll have the same great experience I’ve had using a Mac. Macs are just easy and fun!

The current operating system, OS X (now in version 10.11, called El Capitan), performs like a Ferrari and looks as good, too. And don’t let that term OS throw you. That’s just the name for the engine under the hood. See? Easy. (And the X in OS X is pronounced ten, not ex. Now you’re in the know.)

The book you hold in your hands is written especially for seniors, using the For Dummies design. You’ll find easy-to-follow and lighthearted step-by-step instructions for using the major features of both your computer and El Capitan. What you don’t find in this book is wasted space or a bunch of intimidating computer terms. Everything is explained from the ground up, just in case you’ve never touched a computer, let alone one from Apple.

Foolish Assumptions

All you need to follow along with this book is a Mac running OS X version 10.11 (El Capitan). (A desk, good light, and mouse pad are all up to you.) Even if you have a Mac running an earlier version of OS X, this book will still become a trusted friend, although some of the screenshots throughout the book will look a little different from what you’ll see on your screen, and some things I talk about may not quite jibe. If you’re at the point of buying your Mac — maybe you’re standing in a bookstore right now! — go right to Chapter 1 for some helpful advice on your choices and options.

Here’s the good news: You don’t require any of the following:

A degree in computer science:

Apple designed El Capitan and Macs for regular people, and I designed this book for people of various experience levels. Even if you’ve never used a Mac, you’ll find safe waters here.

A fortune spent on software:

Almost every program covered in this book is included with OS X El Capitan — and the size of this volume gives you a rough idea of just how complete El Capitan is! Heck, many folks buy Macs just because of the free software they get, such as iMovie and Photos.

An Internet connection:

Granted, you can’t do much with Apple Mail (email) without an Internet connection, but computers

did

exist before the Internet. You can still be productive with OS X without receiving buckets of spam (junk email). And if you already have an Internet connection, this book helps you connect and become familiar with the best of what’s online!

I’m guessing that you probably do want an Internet connection (if you don’t already have one). See Part 4 for help on getting online. I also recommend using a power strip with a surge-protection feature for powering your Mac, but that’s your call, too.

About This Book

This book is organized in a straight-through, linear fashion, although you don’t have to read it that way (and certainly not in one session). Having said that, you can certainly hop right to whatever chapter fits the bill for you. If you do go to a more advanced topic — or just need a refresher on something — I give you lots of signposts to related chapters where you can find more information.

The book is divided into parts, each of which covers a different area of Mac knowledge. You’ll find parts on software, the Internet, and Mac maintenance, for example. And each chapter discusses a specific application, connection, or cool feature of your Mac. So feel free to begin reading anywhere or to skip chapters at will. I do recommend that you read this book from front to back, as you would any good mystery novel, but it’s your choice. (Watch out, though. Oncoming spoiler: For those who want to know right now, Microsoft did it.)

If you’ve read any other For Dummies books, you know that they come with a helpful, simple set of conventions. Here’s what you find in this book:

The Tip icons in this book point out information you don’t want to miss.

When I ask you to type a command (tell the computer to do something) or enter information (such as your name or phone number) in a text field, the text appears in bold like this:

Type me.

Then you just press the Return key (on the keyboard) to send the command or enter the text. Easy.

When I give you a set of menu commands to use in a certain order, they appear in the following format: Edit ⇒ Copy. In this example, you click the Edit menu and then choose the Copy menu item, in that order.

Sometimes when you tell the computer to do something — like make a word bold — you can use keyboard shortcuts instead of using a menu and clicking things. Keyboard shortcuts look something like this: +B. You press and hold down the key and then press B. (No need to press Shift to make a capital letter: Just press B or whatever.) You might also see three keys strung together, like this: +Option+down arrow. That just means to press and hold the first one, press and hold the second one, and then press the third one (in this case, to mute sound in iTunes).

If I mention a specific message that you see on your screen, it looks like this:

This message is displayed by an application.

Where to Go from Here

I have just a few recommendations on how to proceed from here:

Whether you’re thinking about buying a new Mac or your new Mac is still in the box unopened in your living room, start with

Part 1

.

If you want help setting things up, start with

Part 2

.

If you already set up your Mac and you’re familiar with El Capitan basics, start with

Part 3

.

If getting online and using email are your top priorities, start with

Part 4

. Just realize that you may need to go back through earlier chapters to set things up.

If you want to know how to protect your Mac from the dangers of the world or need to do some maintenance, check out

Part 5

.

There’s also a cheat sheet! You can find it by visiting

www.dummies.com

and typing

Macs For Seniors For Dummies Cheat Sheet

in the search field.

For all other concerns, use the index or check out the table of contents to jump directly to the chapter you need.

I may update this book from time to time. If so, you can find those updates at

www.dummies.com/

.

A Final Word

I want to thank you for buying this book, and I hope that you find that this edition of Macs For Seniors For Dummies answers the questions you have along the way! With this fearless guide in hand, I believe that you and your Mac will bond as I have with mine. (That sounds somewhat wrong, but it’s really not.)

Always remember this as you make your way through this book or come back to it for help: Take your time! Finding out how to use your computer isn’t a race, and if something doesn’t go quite right, don’t worry. You won’t break anything, there are no stupid questions, and learning new things takes practice and a little patience. You don’t have to be a graphic artist, professional photographer, or video editor. With your Mac and its software by your side, you don’t have to be! All you “have to be” is ready to have fun and learn.

Part 1

Buying and Setting Up Your Mac

IN THIS PART …

Evaluating and buying Mac computers and software

Choosing the right location for your new Mac

Turning on your Mac for the first time

Navigating your Desktop with your mouse or trackpad

Creating and changing accounts and passwords

Chapter 1

Buying a Mac

IN THIS CHAPTER

Know What Your Mac Can Do

Understand Hardware and Software

Choose a Desktop or Laptop

Know How Much Computing Power Is Too Much

Choose a Price Range

Select a Monitor

Compare Processors, Memory, and Hard Drives

Decide Which Software You Want

Buy Online or at the Apple Store

Shopping for a Mac can leave you dazzled by a long list of features, functions, acronyms, and assorted hoohah. This chapter is here to help explain what to look for and why while you’re shopping, especially if this is your first Mac.

The best part? I wrote it in common English, with the smallest amount of technobabble possible. (That’s my job!)

In this chapter, I show you

Tasks and work that your Mac can perform

Differences between hardware and software

Differences among the models in Apple’s Mac computer line

Features you should look for while shopping for a monitor

Specifications you should look for when comparing the central processing unit (also known as the CPU — the computer’s brain) and memory

Know What Your Mac Can Do

I would bet that you already know why you want a computer. You have an idea what you want to do with a Mac, but you may not know all the things you can do with a computer.

To help get you excited about owning a Mac, here’s a (very) short list of only a few of the most popular uses for a computer these days. See whether any of these uses reflects what you want to do or you see any tasks that you want to learn more about:

The Internet:

You knew I would start with the web and email. Now you can also add online games, instant messaging, social media (like Facebook and Twitter), shopping, banking, and Internet radio and video streaming to the mix. The Internet literally expands in front of your eyes, and your Mac can be your doorway to the online world.

Digital media:

Whether your interest is photography, video, or music (making it or listening to it), your Mac comes with everything you need to get started.

Data collection:

If genealogy is your passion — or collecting baseball cards, or cataloging stamps — your Mac can help you enter, organize, and present your data.

Productivity stuff:

Oh, yes! Your Mac can work hard as well, with productivity programs such as Microsoft Office and Apple’s productivity application suite (Pages, Numbers, and Keynote), along with online applications like Google Docs. Compose documents, create spreadsheets, and build professional-looking presentations on your Mac with ease.

This list offers only a few high points. The more time you invest learning about your Mac and the software that’s available, the more you’ll get from it.

Understand Hardware and Software

First-time computer owners often become confused about what constitutes hardware and what should rightly be called software. It’s time to clear things up!

In the computing world, hardware is any piece of circuitry or any component of your computer with a physical structure. Your Mac’s monitor is a piece of hardware, for example, as is your keyboard. So are the components you normally can’t see or touch (the ones buried inside the case), such as your Mac’s hard drive. And even your computer’s case is technically a piece of hardware, even though it’s not electrical.

Figure1-1 illustrates a common piece of hardware: an Internet router that connects a DSL or cable Internet connection with a home network.

FIGURE 1-1

The other side of the computing coin is the software you use. Software refers to programs (also called applications) that you interact with onscreen. Examples include a word processing application that displays your typing and a chess program that enables you to move pieces onscreen. Figure1-2 shows Apple’s Photos image editor, a photo editing application that helps you see and organize digital photos.

FIGURE 1-2

Essentially, computer hardware and software work together so that you can do various tasks on your computer.

When you hear folks discussing a software upgrade, patch, or update, they’re talking about (you guessed it) another piece of software! However, the upgrade-patch-update program isn’t designed to be run more than once; rather, its job is to apply the latest features, fixes, and data files to a piece of software that’s already installed and running on your Mac, to update it to a new version. (Virtually all software developers refer to successive editions of their software, such as Version 1.5 or Version 3; the later the version, generally the more features the software includes.) In Chapter 18, you find out how to maintain your Mac with updates.

Choose a Desktop or Laptop

First, some quick definitions: A desktop Mac is designed to sit on your desk, and uses a separate monitor, keyboard, and mouse. Examples are the iMac, Mac mini, and Mac Pro. The iMac is a special case: It’s an “all-in-one” computer, with the monitor and computer both housed in the same case to save space. However, the keyboard and mouse (or trackpad) still reside separately from the iMac’s “picture frame” case.

On the other hand, a laptop Mac is portable. You can carry the whole package with you because laptops have a built-in keyboard, a trackpad (the square pointing device that takes the place of a mouse), and an attached monitor. MacBooks are laptop computers. Laptops are as powerful as most of the Mac desktop line, and MacBooks offer desktop-type features, such as high-resolution graphics, up to 15.4" screen displays, large hard drives, and wireless networking.

So should you buy a desktop or a laptop Mac? If portability is a requirement — maybe your job or your lifestyle demands travel — you want to opt for a laptop, such as a MacBook, MacBook Air, or MacBook Pro.

If you’re sitting on the fence, and portability is a lesser requirement, I generally recommend getting a Mac desktop system, for these two important reasons:

MacBooks are more expensive than desktop Macs of similar capability.

My friend, you pay dearly for that portability. If you don’t need it, jump to the desktop side of the fence. It’s as simple as that.

Laptops cost much more to repair.

All Mac computers (both desktops and laptops) require the attention of a certified Apple repair technician if an internal component breaks. However, part of the MacBook portability stems from the computer industry practice of shoehorning all hardware onto one circuit board to save space. So if one piece malfunctions, you have to take apart (and perhaps replace) the whole thing, which isn’t an easy (or inexpensive) task.

Bottom line, if portability isn’t important, opt for a desktop — a Mac mini, iMac, or Mac Pro — depending on the processing power you need (as described in the following section) and the desk space you have available.

Know How Much Computing Power Is Too Much

Take a moment to consider which tasks your Mac will be used for — not only now, but also a year or two down the road. If you plan to try your hand at any of the following tasks, feel free to label yourself a power user:

High-resolution photography, audio and music production, or video editing:

If you want to edit high-resolution digital photography (images from a 24-megapixel camera, for example), record or edit professional audio, or do any type of video editing (including using the free iMovie application), you need a Mac with horsepower. Think of serious hobbyists or professional photographers, musicians, or videographers.

Running resource-hogging software:

The perfect example is Adobe Photoshop, a program you use to work with high-resolution images that demands the highest level of horsepower your Mac can deliver, along with requirements for more system memory (or RAM). Today’s cutting-edge 3-D games also require a powerful Mac to run well.

If the preceding points apply to you, you need a powerful iMac desktop, Mac Pro desktop, or MacBook Pro laptop.

If you know the specific programs you’ll be running, check the requirements for that software on the manufacturer’s website or the program’s packaging (typically, on the side of the box). That way, you can gain a better idea up front whether you need to invest in a more expensive, more powerful Mac Pro or MacBook Pro.

On the other side of the coin, these activities require less computing power:

Surfing the web

Sending and receiving email

Keeping track of a large digital music library

Using programs such as Microsoft Word and Pages for tasks such as creating documents

Storing and sharing digital photos and videos of friends and family members

If the preceding tasks are more your speed, any Mac in the current product line would suit you, including the significantly less-expensive Mac mini or standard MacBook.

If you have a large library of digital audio and video — say, 120GB to 500GB — you should note that some MacBook models have a relatively small amount of storage, so you’ll need an external hard drive to hold all that stuff.

Choose a Price Range

If you’re working on a limited budget, and you want a new Mac computer (rather than having to search for a used machine), your choice becomes simpler. The least expensive Mac — the Mac mini — is no pushover, and it handles the Office and Apple productivity suite programs that I mention in the preceding section (with aplomb, even).

Part of the reason why the Mac mini is inexpensive is that it doesn’t come with a keyboard, mouse, or monitor. Yup, you have to buy those items separately. (The same is true of the super-powerful Mac Pro.) If you’re lucky, you can scavenge a flat-panel monitor, keyboard, and mouse from an old computer or from a friend who has spare computer hardware on hand.

The least expensive iMac also fits into a smaller budget, and it includes everything you need, including its built-in monitor. On the laptop side, the standard-issue MacBook provides plenty of punch for those same productivity programs.

Power users, you have few choices: If you’re going to run top-of-the-line software that requires top-of-the-line performance, you’re limited to the most expensive iMac, Mac Pro, or MacBook Pro. ’Nuff said.

Table 1-1 illustrates price ranges for each model in the Apple line as of this writing.

TABLE 1-1 Macintosh Computer Price Ranges

Computer Model

Best Suited For

Price Range

Pros & Cons

Mac mini desktop

Entry level to typical home computing

$499–$999

No monitor, keyboard, or mouse

iMac desktop

Midrange to power user

$1,099–$2,299

Built-in monitor

Mac Pro desktop

Power user

$2,999–$3,999

No monitor, keyboard, or mouse

MacBook laptop

Typical home computing

$1,299–$1,599

Fewer ports for external devices

MacBook Air laptop

Entry level to typical home computing

$899–$1,199

Least expensive MacBook

MacBook Pro laptop

Midrange to power user

$1,099–$2,499

Most powerful (and heaviest) MacBook

Apple controls its hardware prices quite closely, so you won’t find a huge price difference between ordering directly from Apple.com (or an Apple Store) and from an independent store like Best Buy.

When you order a Mac from Apple.com, you can tweak these prices by a significant amount by using the Configure feature. You might save $200 on the price of an iMac by opting for less storage capacity, for example. (On the other hand, if you’re looking to improve the performance of your pick, you may decide to spend more on a faster video card than the standard model sports.) See the later section “Compare Processors, Memory, and Hard Drives” for more information about these options. (Naturally, the more you can invest in your Mac’s storage, memory, and processor, the longer it’s likely to handle the applications and operating systems of the future.)

Select a Monitor

No matter how powerful your Mac may be, if it’s hooked up to a low-quality monitor, you see only chunky, dim graphics. Not good. Hence this section, where I tell The Truth about the two most important specifications you should consider while shopping for a monitor: resolution and size.

If you decided on an iMac (desktop) or a MacBook (laptop), you can skip this section, because those computers have built-in monitors. Keep in mind, however, that you can hook up external (add-on) monitors to any Mac, so if you expand your system, you may want to return here.

Resolution: Your video system’s monitor resolution is expressed in the number of pixels displayed horizontally and also the number of lines displayed vertically. (A pixel is a single dot on your monitor.) A 1024 x 768 resolution, for example, means that the monitor displays 1,024 pixels horizontally across the screen and 768 pixels vertically. (Any resolution less than 1280 × 800 is barely usable these days. Higher resolutions start at about 1440 × 900 and extend to the stunning 5120 × 2880 resolution of the latest 27-inch iMacs.)

The more pixels, the higher the resolution. And the higher the resolution, the more information you can fit on the screen, but the smaller that stuff appears, which I find to be a strain on my older (read: wiser and more mature) eyes. The good news is that higher resolutions make graphics look crisper.

Only you can determine the best display resolution. The decision is completely personal, like choosing a keyboard that feels “just right.” While shopping for a monitor, try a wide range of resolutions at a local electronics store to see which one suits your optic nerves.

Size: Monitors come in several sizes, starting at approximately 11 inches (for the most compact MacBook models). All monitors are measured diagonally, just as TVs are. You can easily find monitors that are 27 inches and even larger.

In general, the larger the monitor, the easier it is on your eyes. At the same resolution, a 19 inches monitor displays the same images as a 17 inches model, but the image is bigger and the details stand out more clearly.

For general desktop use, a 17 inches monitor is fine. If you prefer to view larger text and graphics, do graphics-intensive work for several hours at a time, or plan to do a lot of gaming, I would point you toward a 21 inches monitor at minimum. (As my editor says, picking out a monitor size is much easier if you visit your local electronics store and “stare to compare,” just as you would when shopping for an HDTV. Check out which monitor sizes are easiest on both your eyes and your budget.)

And what about that old CRT (cathode ray tube) monitor that you once used with your PC? Is it worth rescuing? To be honest, I recommend that you get rid of a CRT monitor in favor of a flat-screen LCD or LED monitor. Older CRT monitors can’t handle the high resolutions offered with today’s Macs, and they use far more power than a modern LED monitor.

Compare Processors, Memory, and Hard Drives

When you hear Mac owners talk about the speed and performance of their computers, they’re typically talking about one of four components (or all these components as a group):

System memory or random access memory (RAM):

The more memory your Mac has — and the faster that memory is — the better your computer performs, especially on

OS X El Capitan

(pronounced oh-ess-

ten,

not

ex

), which is the operating system on today’s Macs. I’m sure that you’ve heard of Windows, the operating system used by virtually all home PCs. Well, El Capitan does the same job in the Apple world that Windows performs in the PC world.

Central processing unit (CPU): Macs now use either an Intel Core i5/i7 processor or its faster cousin, the Xeon. A processor performs all the millions of calculations required for both your software and OS X to work. The speed of your processor is measured in gigahertz (gHz) — and, of course, the faster your processor, the faster your Mac performs.

Each core that’s built into your processor provides a significant performance boost, so a quad-core processor is faster than a dual-core processor.

Hard drive space:

The higher your hard drive capacity, the more documents, programs, songs, and movies you can store and use. (Most current Mac laptops and desktops can be ordered with

solid-state drives,

which are lower in capacity but faster and more reliable than traditional hard drives.)

Graphics processing unit (GPU):

This item is the graphics chip used in your Mac’s video hardware. The more memory allotted to your video chip and the faster it is, the smoother and more realistic your 3-D graphics are.

For a typical home Mac owner, a minimum of 4 gigabytes (GB) of RAM and a Core i5 processor should provide all the power you need. Power users shouldn’t settle for less than 8GB of RAM and the fastest processor that Apple offers for your specific model. (Mac Pro owners can even opt for a monstrous 12-core system. Talk about supercomputing!)

Decide Which Software You Want

When you buy a Mac directly from Apple, you can immediately purchase a few Apple extras for your new system. I especially recommend the following two:

External DVD SuperDrive:

Virtually none of today’s Macs have an internal DVD drive, so you can connect one to your Mac’s USB port. Currently, the SuperDrive runs about $80. A DVD drive is a requirement for enjoying your library of DVD movies, and it comes in especially handy for creating audio CDs for your car’s stereo system.

AppleCare:

AppleCare is the Apple extended warranty and service plan. I strongly recommend AppleCare for any MacBook owner because your laptop tends to endure quite a bit of road-warrior treatment while you’re traveling. (Prices vary according to the type of computer.)

Buy Online or at the Apple Store

Should you spend your money online? In my opinion, the short answer is yes, because online shopping has two important advantages:

You don’t need a nearby Apple Store:

Some of us aren’t lucky enough to live within easy driving distance of an Apple Retail Store or Apple reseller, but Apple.com is open 24/7, and shipping is free for new Mac computers.

Apple.com is a premiere web store: