How to Get Mountain Lion Help

One of the best features about all Macs is the excellent built-in help, and OS X Mountain Lion doesn’t cheat you on that legacy: This system has online help in abundance. When you have a question about how to do something, the Help Center is the first place you should visit.

Clicking the Help menu reveals the Search Help field at the top of the menu and the Mac Help item, which opens the Mac Help window.

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The keyboard shortcut for Help appears on the Help menu as cmd+?, but you really need to press Shift+cmd+? to open Help using the keyboard.

To use Mac Help, simply type a word or phrase in either Search field — the one in the Help menu itself or the one near the top of the Help window on the right side — and then press Return or Enter. In a few seconds, your Mac provides you one or more articles to read, which (theoretically) are related to your question.

Usually. If you type menus and press Return, for example, you get 17 help topics.

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As long as your Mac is connected to the Internet, search results include articles from Apple’s online support database by default. Click the magnifying-glass icon to the left of the Search field if you want to disable this feature.

Although you don’t have to be connected to the Internet to use Mac Help, you do need an Internet connection to get the most out of it. That’s because OS X installs only certain help articles on your hard drive.

If you ask a question that those articles don’t answer, Mac Help connects to Apple’s website and downloads the answer (assuming that you have an active Internet connection). These answers are the Support Articles, denoted by a plus sign (as shown at the bottom of the window).

Click one of these entries, and Help Viewer retrieves the text over the Internet. Although this can sometimes be inconvenient, it’s also quite smart. This way, Apple can update the Help system at any time without requiring any action from you.

Furthermore, after you’ve asked a question and Mac Help has grabbed the answer from the Apple website, the answer remains on your hard drive forever. If you ask for it again — even at a later date — your computer won’t have to download it from the Apple website again.

Finally, here’s a cool feature, automatic visual help cues. Here’s how they work:

  1. Type a word or phrase in the Help menu’s Search field.

  2. Select any item that has a menu icon to its left (such as the Secure Empty Trash item in the following figure).

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    The automatic visual cue — an arrow — appears, pointing at that command in the appropriate menu.

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