How to Set Up a New MacBook Pro or MacBook Air
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How to Set Up a New MacBook Pro or MacBook Air



People who received a new MacBook as gift or for themselves will need to set things up for peak performance. Let us offer some steps to get things running and to help avoid paying Best Buy or Staples to tweak settings and install software. Users can do it easily without the wait. Apple offers personal setup help with a new computer, but why wait in line or waste time at the store.

This may sound strange, but start by enjoying the unboxing experience. Apple spends a lot of time engineering the packaging process for a smooth and even elegant unboxing experience. See the video below to watch a MacBook Pro unboxing.

Follow the steps in the video to prepare to first start-up the computer by removing plastic. Plug in the MagSafe connector that magnetically connects to the left side of the MacBook and charge it up while performing these steps. Press the start button to let it launch for the first time.


First Startup of a New MacBook

The first startup asks users to decide things like operating system language and keyboard, Wi-Fi or Ethernet and restoring content from another source. Pick a user interface and keyboard language and connect to Wi-Fi with the password on your network. Then choose to either set up the MacBook as a clean start or restore from one of the following:

  • Another computer – use this if you own another Mac.
  • Time Machine backup – use this if you backed up another Mac using Time Machine.
  • Another hard drive – use this if you removed a hard drive from another Mac and want to use it plugged into a USB adapter like the one here.
  • Windows PC – use if you’re switching from a Windows computer and want to transfer personal files and data.

After restoring content, enter an Apple ID/password or create a new one. Here’s one big decision to make. Many users actually use two Apple accounts. They share one with the family so everyone can use the apps purchased through the account. They create a separate Apple account for iCloud to back up personal information like contacts, calendar, email and settings like bookmarks and Internet accounts. Choose to either use one account for everything or separate accounts for situations like the one described here.

For those using two accounts, pick the one intended for personal information and iCloud backup and enter that during first boot, not the one for buying apps and media. Enter the other information later.

Set up Find My Mac to help if the Mac gets lost or stolen. Agree to terms of service twice and then create a new user account on the computer. This is different from the Apple ID used for either iCloud or buying media and apps. This user account creates a folder on the storage drive to hold personal files, programs and customizations for this computer. A password protects the content and the user will enter the password when he or she logs onto the computer. We suggest using something like your name.

The system then lets the user set time zone info and whether to use iCloud Keychain. Click here to learn more about the Keychain and how to set things up. We recommend using the backup and sync service which saves, backs up and syncs personal data, photos and online passwords. People worried about security concerns may want to avoid it, but we trust it and use it on our systems.

Choose to register the computer if desired. We recommend it.

Apple demonstrates natural scrolling. Learn how to scroll using what some call a “backwards” method of scrolling. It takes some getting used to, but does make sense on Trackpads. It behaves like an iPad or iPhone when swiping up or down on a webpage.

apple natural scrolling setup

Change the way scrolling works in OS X using System Preferences and the Mouse or Trackpad applet.

Customization of OS X Features

Now play around with the computer to get used to the way things work. After doing so, we recommend making a few settings changes to get things looking and working the way a user will want them. To do this launch System Preferences. Users can get to System Preferences using the Apple menu in the top left. Click on the Apple logo. Choose System Preferences from the drop down menu. Also, there’s a Dock icon that opens System Preferences. The Dock sits at the bottom of the screen by default and includes icons to run programs or access files in a folder.

With System Preferences open, click the various apps and look around at the customizations possible from this window (see below).

System Preferences

Inside each app there’s a help button, usually in the lower right corner, that looks like a questions mark. Click it to learn what all the features do in each preferences app. Here’s one example below that changes the way the Dock works.

dock preferences

Make sure to place this window so that the Dock is visible below the window. Change the size slider to the preferred size. Choose whether to use Magnification, which makes the Dock icons look bigger when the user mouses over them. If a user like this, then check the box. Change how big the icons get with the slider. Test it to judge if its set to your liking.

dock magnification

Notice how the Dock icons grow larger as the user places mouse cursor over them.

Look at the other customizations and settings in System Preferences by clicking Show All at the top of the window and then click other icons. We like to add keyboard shortcuts in the Keyboard app and to change the way the mouse and/or trackpad works in those apps.

keyboard shortucts

Learn more about OS X System Preferences from the Apple website.

Set Up a Printer

Apple offers a simple How To for setting up a printer. For most users, connecting the printer’s USB cable will start the process. Open System Preferences and choose Printers & Scanners. Click on the plus icon in the lower left corner of the list on the left. Follow Apple’s instructions depending on the kind of printer.

ad printer and fax

Many printers require installing the printer driver software first. If that’s the case, find the software on the printer’s web site. Most manufactures offer a Support page with a download link. Find the printer model name and number and search for that printer’s Mac OS X 10.9 Mavericks software. Download it to the Downloads folder and run it using the manufacturer’s instructions or follow Apple’s instructions.

Set Up iCloud

icloud setup

iCloud will save a user’s personal data in the cloud to back up or sync the data with another Mac or iOS device. It works with…

  • Mail
  • Contacts
  • Calendars
  • Reminders
  • Notes
  • Safari (bookmarks, reading lists, shared pages and website login data)
  • Keychain
  • Photos (syncs iOS device images and other Mac images into iPhoto or Aperture)
  • Documents & Data (saves documents created in supported apps like Pages, Keynote or Numbers)
  • Back to My Mac (lets users control their Mac from another system over the Internet)
  • Find My Mac (helps an owner find a lost or stolen Mac)

Open the iCloud app from System Preferences. Add the Apple ID for the chosen iCloud account and the password or click Create new Apple ID to get a new one. Now click Sign In.

The next screen offers two options. The first turns on iCloud for personal information like Mail, Contacts, Calendars, Reminders, Notes and Safari data. The second one turns on Find My Mac. We recommend using both, unless this makes someone nervous since they prefer not to send personal data to Apple. Click Next.

The user will need to enter the User ID and Password again. Click Allow to let Find My Mac find the computer using network information.

icloud keychain approvalThe next screen forces the user to authenticate their identity with an iOS device or another Mac using Request Approval. The user will see the screen blow on their iPad or iPhone. Otherwise have Apple send the user a code via another device.

icloud keychain approval on ipad

Once the iCloud Keychain finishes setting itself up, the user can change settings in iCloud. For example, I use Google Calendar instead of iCloud, so I turn that off. Also go into the Options next to the items for Photos and Documents & Data to change those settings. I keep them all checked, which is the default.

Set Up the Mac App Store

Open the Mac App Store, which sits in the Dock or in the Applications folder, also on the Dock. Another way to find the App Store is to use the Apple Menu in the upper left.

The Mac App Store has applications and software that developers submit to Apple and Apple approves for sale and download in the store.

app store sign in

Sign into the App Store using the Apple account that holds all of your apps and media. Many user use one account to share with a family, so keep it separate from the Apple ID used for iCloud in the previous step, if that’s the case.

Apple updates OS X via the Mac App Store. Notice the button on top that says Updates. Click it to find available updates. Updating takes awhile.

If a user already owns a Mac with the Mac App Store, then the Purchases button will show software they already own. Download the apps wanted. New Mac users will see an empty list.

Use the other buttons at the top to find other software to install.

Set Up iTunes


Launch iTunes, which the user will find in the Dock or the Applications folder. Log into an an existing Apple account by clicking on the Store menu and choosing Sign In.

For those who already own some iTunes content – music, apps, movies or books – can download the content or keep it in the cloud. To do this the user must subscribe to iTunes Music Match to save music online. Learn more about iTunes Music Match and iTunes Radio by reading those past posts. iCloud handles online storage for apps and movies.

itunes show sidebar

We like to turn on the Sidebar to easily see our library content. Click on View and Show Sidebar.

iTunes Radio helps users listen to and discover new music. From the Library listed on the left side in the Sidebar, choose Music. Click on the Radio tab. It will show stations after the user signs in or it will ask the user to sign into their iTunes account. This only works for iTunes Match customers. This costs $25/year.

Make It Your Own

This step includes changing the Desktop background, Screensaver and rearranging Dock icons. The last one is as simple as drag and drop or right-click.

remove from dock

The Dock houses most used applications. Apple’s idea of “most used” and mine differ. So remove unwanted applications by right-clicking their Dock icons. Choose Options and then Remove from Dock. To get one back or add another app, open the Applications folder, which sits on the right side of the dock, and run an app that should stay in the Dock. Drag the icon to another spot on the Dock and the icon will stay there even after the program closes. If the user doesn’t move the icon, then it won’t stay on the Dock when closed.

Right-click on the Applications and Downloads folder to change their look and behavior. We change the Sort by option to Name and the View content as option to List. Try each of them out to see which works best for you.

To change the Desktop and Screensaver look, right-click on the background and choose Change Desktop Background. This launches the Desktop app from System Preferences. Pick what you like and close it. To change the screensaver choose that tab and select from those available.

Other Useful Tips

We also recommend setting up some parental controls for the family computer or for a computer used by young kids. Apple shows users how at their site. Users can set up more than one account to keep their user experience the same even if someone else uses the system. See Apple’s support article for details.

Last, install software and have fun using the new MacBook Air or MacBook Pro.



  1. Linda

    07/20/2014 at 6:53 am

    I am setting up a second airbook Mac notebook myself. I want to read this site a couple more times before doing the setup. I have a question about the first Mac airbook I bought. Here goes….
    The first one I bought from staples and paid to have them set up has a name and password that I cannot use to logout. They told me what it he password should be but it isn’t. Any clue on how to change this myself?

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