Navigating the Help Menu in Mac OS X Lion

2 of 8 in Series: The Essentials of Getting Around the Mac OS X Lion Screen

One of the best features about all Macs is the excellent built-in help, and Mac OS X 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 Command+?, but you really need to press Shift+Command+? to open Help through 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.

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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. 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, automatic visual help cues work like this:

  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).

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

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The Essentials of Getting Around the Mac OS X Lion Screen

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