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A macOS survival guide

I switched from Linux to macOS 4 months ago at the time of writing. This is my first time using macOS, so I didn’t know a lot of things a more experience user may already know. A lot of my friends are making the same switch, so I decided to write a blog post compiling a couple of tips and tricks about macOS.

Setting up your machine

Enable FileVault. It’ll encrypt your startup disk.

Keep your recovery key somewhere safe. Several copies. You’ll need it to recover access to your disk’s contents if you forget you password and need to reset it with macOS Recovery.

You can also enable password resets via Apple ID. This option is turned off by default. Go to Users & Groups, click on the Show Detail icon and enable ‘Allow user to reset password using Apple ID’.

Consequences of resetting your password

  • You’ll have to log into your Apple ID account again.

  • If you want to keep using TouchID, you’ll have to register your fingerprints again.

  • If you use an Apple Watch to unlock your Mac, you’ll have to enable that option again.

Shortcuts you should know

You can find a complete list of Mac keyboard shortcuts here.

These are the three most important keys on macOS:

  • ^: Control.
  • : Option.
  • : Command.

Clipboard management

  • Command + X: Cut.
  • Command + C: Copy.
  • Command + V: Paste.

Editing text files with nano

  • Control + O: Save your edits.
  • Control + X: Exit nano.

Window management

  • Command + Q: Quits an app. This will kill all processes related to that application. For example, if you have two Firefox windows opened and press Command + Q, that will close both windows.
  • Command + W: Closes an app window. This won’t kill processes related to that application, it will just close the currently active window. For example, if you just want to close one of two Firefox windows, you should click on the window you want to close and then press Command + W. This is also an useful shortcut to deal with Finder windows—Finder processes are so important to the functioning of macOS it will prevent you from killing them. If you’re hearing an annoying chime when you try to use Command + Q to close Finder, you may want to use Command + W instead.

Window decorations

macOS’ window decorations have three buttons: red, yellow, and green. Red closes a window (like the shortcut Command + W does). Yellow minimizes a window. Green opens an app in full screen—that will hide both the dock and the menu bar.


  • Command + Delete: Deletes an item.

Delete versus Forward Delete

I’ve been programming my own mechanical keyboards for almost two years. Thanks to QMK, I’ve learned there are two kinds of Delete keys: one called Forward Delete (which is the Delete key you probably already know and love) and one simply called Delete (which works as both Backspace and Delete on macOS).

If I assign Forward Delete to a key using QMK, I’m not able to use that key for deletion shortcuts. Some keyboards work around this by having a physical and/or virtual Windows and Mac toggle. If the Delete key on your keyboard isn’t working as expected on macOS, macOS is probably treating it as Forward Delete.

If you need to use a macOS keyboard on Windows or vice-versa

  • Control = Ctrl
  • Command = Windows key
  • Option = Alt

Installing applications

You can install applications through the App Store or download external applications on websites like GitHub and GitLab. You should know that:

  • When naming package files, some people may refer to macOS as Darwin.
  • If you’re using a Mac with Apple SoCs (such as M1 or M2), you should prioritize downloading and installing applications developed for “Apple Silicon”. (Some people may refer to that as “ARM”, too, but make sure that app is compatible with macOS—there are thousands of other computers with ARM processors.)
  • If you find no mention of a “universal macOS” package or “Apple Silicion” package, don’t worry: you can run x86 applications on M-family Macs. You need to download and install a compatibility layer called Rosetta 2. macOS will prompt you to do so if you try to install x86 applications.
  • Applications for macOS are distribuited either as .pkg and .dmg.
    • .pkg files usually guide you through a multi-window installation process just like Windows applications.
    • .dmg files are macOS disk images. They create a virtual disk attached to your computer and usually open a window asking you to drag the application icon to the Applications folder (which results in an .app file). You can safely eject the virtual disk once you’re done with the installation process.
  • Some developers may not sign their applications. If you absolutely need to run an unsigned application, you’ll need to authorized it through a prompt on System Settings > Privacy.

System operations

  • You don’t necessarily need to shut down your computer every time you want to transport it. Macs using the M1 and M2 families of SoCs are so power efficient it’s okay to just put them to Sleep instead.
  • Annoyed by the startup sound? You can turn it off on System Settings > Sound.

Using an iPad with a Mac

You can use an iPad as an extended display with Sidecar (Tip: Connect your iPad to your Mac with a cable, otherwise the response times will annoy you). You can also control an iPad with the same keyboard and mouse you’re using with your Mac thanks to Universal Control.

Favorite applications

  • Homebrew: The package manager you’re missing so much after switching to macOS from Linux.
  • Hand Mirror: A menu bar application that creates a shortcut to your camera feed so you can check your appearence before meetings.
  • Hovrly: A menu bar application that helps you see what time it is in different timezones. Very useful for international teams!
  • Shottr: An advanced screenshot utility.
  • Dropover: A drag-and-drop assistant.
  • Rectangle: Window management. Offers Windows-like snap areas.