macOS Big Sur For Dummies
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Whether you’ve purchased a new Mac with macOS Big Sur pre-installed or you’ve upgraded from a previous version of macOS, you’ll find that Big Sur makes your Mac easier to use and offers myriad improvements to make you more productive. Get additional information on things you should never do to your Mac; a compendium of useful and timesaving keyboard shortcuts; a discussion of when folders are too full and when (and when not) to create subfolders; recommendations for backing up data; and a short discussion of iDevices and continuity.

What Not to Do with Your Mac Running Big Sur

Treat your Mac and macOS Big Sur with care. To keep your work and leisure projects safe, never do any of these things with your Mac:

  • Never shut off your Mac by pulling the plug. Always use the Shut Down command from the Apple menu in Big Sur (or press the power button and then click the Shut Down button).

If you’re using a laptop, you can usually get away with pulling the plug while it’s running because the battery automatically kicks in. The only caveat is that if your battery is totally depleted, damaged, or missing entirely, you could suffer directory damage or data loss by pulling the plug. Just use the Shut Down command, and you’ll sleep well.

  • Never bump, drop, shake, wobble, dribble, drop-kick, or play catch with a hard drive while it’s running Big Sur. Don’t forget: Your desktop Mac has a hard or solid-state drive inside it, too.
  • Never get up from your Mac without saving your work. Just before your butt leaves the chair, your fingers should press Command+S (the keyboard shortcut in macOS that saves your work). Make it a habit.
  • Never keep only one copy of your important documents. Make at least two backup copies and keep one of them in another physical location. Period.
  • Never clean your monitor with a glass cleaner, such as Windex (or another product not designed to be used on a video display). And nix the paper towels or tissues, too. Use a soft cloth (microfiber is best) to avoid scratching the display.
  • Never pay attention to anyone who says that Windows is just like the Mac. Yeah, right. And a Kia is just like a Porsche.

Keyboard Shortcuts for macOS Big Sur

Make your work go faster with these macOS Big Sur keyboard shortcuts. Print this chart and refer to it while using macOS Big Sur.

Command Keyboard Shortcut
Add Selected Item to Dock Command+Control+Shift+T
Add Selected Item to Sidebar Command+Control+T
Close All Windows Command+Option+W
Close Window Command+W
Copy Command+C
Cut Command+X
Duplicate Command+D
Eject Disk Command+E
Empty Trash Command+Shift+Delete
Find Command+F
Get Info (on selected item or items)

Get Info Inspector (on multiple selected items)



Go to Recents Command+Shift+F
Go to Applications Folder Command+Shift+A
Go to Desktop Command+Shift+D
Go to Documents Folder Command+Shift+O
Go to Home Folder Command+Shift+H
Help Command+Shift+?
Hide Current Application Command+H
Hide Other Applications Command+Option+H
Log Out Current User Command+Shift+Q
Make Alias Command+L
Minimize Window Command+M
Mission Control: All Windows Control+Up Arrow (F3 on Apple keyboards)
Mission Control: Application Windows Control+Down Arrow (Control+F3 on Apple keyboards)
Mission Control: Show Desktop F11 (fn+F11 on laptops) (Command+F3 on Apple keyboards)
Move to Trash Command+Delete
New Finder Window Command+N
New Folder Command+Shift+N
New Smart Folder Command+Option+N
Next Window Command+`
Open Command+O
Paste Command+V
Quick Look (at selected item) Command+Y or Spacebar
Redo Command+Shift+Z
Select All Command+A
Show Original (of selected alias) Command+R
Show View Options Command+J
Show/Hide Dock Command+Option+D
Show/Hide Path Bar Command+Option +P
Show/Hide Sidebar Command+Option +S
Show/Hide Status Bar Command+/
Show/Hide Tab Bar Command+Shift+T
Show/Hide Toolbar Command+Option+T
Turn VoiceOver On/Off Command+F5 (fn+F5 on laptops)
Undo Command+Z
View Window as Columns Command+3
View Window as Gallery Command+4
View Window as Icons Command+1
View Window as List Command+2


Big Sur’s Save and Save As Sheets

In the expanded view of macOS Big Sur Save or Save As sheets, if you press the Tab key while the Save As field is active, it becomes inactive and the Tags field becomes active. Press Tab again, and the Search field becomes active. Press Tab again and the sidebar becomes active. And if you press Tab again, the Save As field will, once again, be active.

That’s because the Save As field, the Tags and Search fields, and the sidebar are mutually exclusive, and only one can be active at any time. You can always tell which item is active by the thin blue border around it.

When you want to switch to a different folder to save a file, click the folder in the sidebar or click anywhere in the file list box to make the file list active. The following tricks help you get a hold on this whole active/inactive silliness:

  • If you type while the file list box is active, the list box selects the folder that most closely matches the letter(s) that you type. It’s a little strange because you won’t see what you type: You’ll be typing blind, so to speak.
  • When the file list is active, the letters that you type don’t appear in the Save As field. If you want to type a filename, you have to activate the Save As field again (by clicking in it or using the Tab key) before you can type in it.
  • If you type while the sidebar is active, nothing happens. You can, however, use the up- and down-arrow keys to move around in the sidebar.
  • Pressing Shift reverses the order of the sequence. If you press Shift+Tab, the active item moves from the Save As field to the Sidebar to the Search box and back to the Save As field again.

iDevices and Continuity in macOS Big Sur

Continuity is the blanket term for a set of features in macOS Yosemite or newer and iOS 8 or newer that allow you to seamlessly move between your iPhone, iPad, and Mac.

At present, Continuity includes the following:

  • Handoff: Start working on an email or document on one device (your Mac, for example), and pick up where you left off on another Apple device such as an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch.
  • Instant hotspot: Use your iDevice’s cellular Internet connection to connect your Mac to the Internet.
  • Sidecar: Use a late-model iPad as a second screen for your late-model Mac.
  • Phone calling: Use your Mac, iPad, or iPod touch to make and receive phone calls using your iPhone.
  • Continuity Camera: Use your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch camera to take a photo or scan a document; it appears on your Mac almost immediately.
  • SMS: Use your Mac, iPad, or iPod touch to send and receive SMS and MMS messages (text messages) using your Mac, iPad, or iPod touch.

They’re a useful little quartet, but they work only with newer Apple devices. So, before you get too excited, peruse the system requirements for each feature.

Intro and system requirements

Handoff and Instant Hotspot are supported by the following Mac models and require Yosemite or later:

  • MacBook (2015)
  • MacBook Air (Mid 2012 and later)
  • MacBook Pro (Mid 2012 and later)
  • Mac (Late 2012 and later)
  • Mac mini (Late 2012 and later)
  • Mac Pro (Late 2013)

Instant Hotspot requires one of these iDevices with cellular connectivity and Personal Hotspot service through your wireless carrier:

  • iPhone 5 or later
  • iPhone 4s (sharing iPhone calls only)
  • iPad (4th generation), iPad Air, iPad Air 2, iPad Pro
  • iPad mini, iPad mini with Retina display, iPad mini 3, iPad mini 4
  • iPod touch (5th generation and later)

Phone Calling requires an iPhone with at least iOS 8 and an activated carrier plan and works with any iOS device that supports iOS 8 and any Mac that supports macOS Sierra or later.

SMS requires an iPhone with at least iOS 8.1 and an activated carrier plan and works with any iOS device with iOS 8.1 and any Mac that supports macOS Sierra or later.

If your gear isn’t listed, Continuity isn’t going to work for you. So, assuming you have at least two or more devices that meet those requirements, here is how to put these useful features to work for you.

How to use Handoff

Handoff lets you start a document, email, or message on one Apple device and pick up where you left off on another. It works with Apple apps including Mail, Safari, Maps, Messages, Reminders, Calendar, Contacts, Pages, Numbers, and Keynote as well as some third-party apps.

To use Handoff, do the following:

  1. Sign in to the same iCloud account on all of your devices.
  2. Turn on Bluetooth on all the devices you want to use. Make sure your devices are near each other. In this case, near means, in the same room, preferably within a few feet of each other.
  3. Connect all your devices to the same Wi-Fi network.
  4. Use one of the aforementioned apps on one of your devices. For the sake of this example, start a new presentation in Keynote on the Mac. When Keynote is open on your Mac, you’ll see an alert at the bottom of your iDevice’s multitasking screen.
    alert in Big Sur
  5. Tap the alert. Keynote launches on your iPhone, and you see the presentation you started on your Mac, ready for you to continue working on it.

Another way to open an app available for Handoff on your iDevice is to double-click the Home button and then tap the app (Keynote in this example) in the multitasking display.

Going the other direction, if you had started the presentation on your iDevice, you’d see a Keynote icon on the right side of your dock, as shown. Click the icon to launch Keynote, which will open the presentation that’s currently open on your iDevice.

Big Sur keynote

You can also use Big Sur’s app switcher (Command-Tab) to open an app that’s displaying a Handoff icon in your dock.

If you decide you want to disable Handoff:

  • On your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch: Tap SettingsGeneralAirPlay & Handoff, and turn off Handoff.
  • On your Mac: Open System Preferences, click the General icon, and uncheck Allow Handoff.

Try using Handoff with Safari. If you start reading a web page on one device, as long as you don’t quit Safari you can pick up reading it on any of your other devices. You might find that you use Handoff more with Safari than with documents, messages, and email combined. Bottom line: Handoff is a sweet feature when it works.

Handoff still isn’t robust for some users. Apple will surely get it sorted out in a future iOS or Big Sur update. Meanwhile, if it stops working (or never started working), you might have some luck by disabling Handoff, logging out of iCloud on all devices, and then restarting all the devices. Finally, reenable Handoff on them all. It’s a pain but it works more often than not (assuming all your gear meets the requirements).

How to use Personal Hotspot

Another Continuity feature allows you to use the Personal Hotspot on your iPhone or cellular iPad to provide instant Internet access to other iDevices.

Some cellular operators and data plans don’t include Personal Hotspot. If you don’t see a Personal Hotspot in Settings→Cellular Data on your iDevice, contact your wireless operator.

The first thing to do is enable the hotspot on your cellular device by tapping Settings→Cellular Data and enabling the Personal Hotspot switch.

Now, to get Internet access on your (non-cellular) device:

  1. Sign into iCloud using the same Apple ID used on the cellular iDevice.
  2. Tap Settings→Wi-Fi and select the name of the iPhone or iPad with the Personal Hotspot.

To get Internet access on your Mac:

  1. Click the Wi-Fi icon in the menu bar.
  2. In the menu that appears, select the name of your iPhone or iPad with the cellular connection.

And that’s all there is to it!

The data consumed by the non-cellular devices comes from the cellular device with the Personal Hotspot’s data plan. If your data plan is unlimited, you’re golden. For those who pay for data by the gigabyte: Keep an eye on your cellular data usage to avoid unpleasant surprises on your next bill.

How to make phone calls with Continuity

With Continuity, you can make and receive cellular phone calls from your iPad, iPod touch, or Mac when your iPhone is on the same Wi-Fi network.

To make and receive phone calls on your Mac, iPad, or iPod touch:

  1. Sign in to the same iCloud account on all your devices, including your Mac.
  2. Make sure all devices are on the same Wi-Fi network.
  3. Make sure all devices are signed in to FaceTime using the same iCloud account.
    This means that any device using this Apple ID for FaceTime will receive your phone calls. See the instructions for turning off iPhone cellular calling later in this section to disable phone calls on a device.
  4. Tap Settings→Phone. If you see Wi-Fi Calling, turn it off.

Now that you have everything configured, here are some details on making a call from your Mac, iPad, or iPod touch:

  • Tap or click a phone number in Contacts, Calendar, or Safari, or tap a phone number from a recent contact in the multitasking display of iDevices.
  • To answer a call on your iPad or iPod touch, just swipe to answer.
  • On a Mac you’ll see a notification when you receive a call on your iPhone. You can then click to answer the call, send it to voicemail, or send the caller a message.
  • To disable iPhone cellular calls on your iPad or iPod touch, tap Settings→FaceTime→Calls from iPhone and then tap the switch to disable it.

SMS and Continuity

With Continuity, all SMS and MMS text messages that you send and receive on your iPhone appear on your Mac, iPad, and iPod touch, even if the person on the other end is less fortunate and doesn’t use an iPhone or a Mac.

Furthermore, you can reply from whichever device is closest to you, including your iPad, iPod touch, or Mac.

To use Continuity for SMS and MMS with your iPhone and your Mac, iPad, or iPod touch, all of your iDevices need iOS 8.1 or higher and your Macs need macOS 10.10 Yosemite or higher. And all devices need to sign in to iMessage using the same Apple ID.

Now enable SMS on your iPhone by taping Settings→Messages→Send & Receive→You Can Be Reached by iMessage At and enable the check boxes for both your phone number and your email address.

Finally, tap Settings→Messages→Text Message Forwarding and enable the devices you would like this iPhone to forward SMS messages to.

Each device you enable will display a code; just enter the code on your iPhone to verify the SMS feature and you’re done.

Creating Subfolders in macOS Big Sur . . . or Not

How full is too full? When should you begin creating subfolders in Big Sur? That’s impossible to say, at least in a one-size-fits-all way, but having too many items in a folder can be a nightmare — as can having too many subfolders with just one or two files in each one.

If you find more than 15 or 20 files in a single folder, begin thinking about ways to subdivide it. On the other hand, some of your biggest subfolders might contain things that you don’t often access, such as a Correspondence 2001 folder. Because you don’t use it often, its overcrowded condition might not bother you.

Here are some tips to help you decide whether to use subfolders or just leave well enough alone:

  • Don’t create subfolders until you need them. That way, you avoid opening an empty folder when you’re looking for something else — a complete waste of time.
  • Let your work style decide the file structure. When you first start working with your Mac, you may want to save everything in your Documents folder for a while. When a decent-size group of documents has accumulated in the Documents folder, consider taking a look at them and creating logical subfolders for them.

10 Favorite Websites for macOS Big Sur Users

To learn about all things Macintosh and macOS Mojave, hop onto the web, check out these sites, and stuff your brain with Mac information:

  • The Mac Observer offers insightful opinion pieces in addition to the usual Apple news and product reviews. The quality and depth of the writing at The Mac Observer is superior to most other sites covering the Apple beat.

Disclosure: I’m proud to be a columnist at The Mac Observer, and even prouder to have been doing it for nearly two decades.

  • The Apple support site and Apple support communities are treasure troves of tech notes, software update information, troubleshooting tips, and documentation for most Apple products.
  •, the site formerly known as VersionTracker, is the place to go to find freeware, shareware, and software updates for macOS. If this site doesn’t have it, it probably doesn’t exist.
  • Macworld describes itself as, “Your best source for all things Apple,” and it’s not far from the truth. Macworld is especially strong for comparative reviews of Mac and iPhone/iPad products. If you want to find out which inkjet printer or digital camera is the best in its price class, probably has feature comparison charts and real-world test results.
  • TidBITS bills itself as “Thoughtful, detailed coverage of everything Apple for 28 years” but there’s much more to TidBITS than just news. You can also find thoughtful commentary, in-depth analysis, and detailed product reviews, written and edited by pros who really know the Apple ecosystem.
  • Six Colors is Jason Snell’s magazine on the web. The former editor for Macworld magazine for over a decade, he and his team provide daily coverage of Apple, other technology companies, and the intersection of technology and culture. Six Colors has been around for a few years, and the writing continues to get stronger, more opinionated, and even more fun to read.
  • Wirecutter is where I go to see what experts consider the best peripherals, tech tools, and toys. Now a New York Times company, Wirecutter has the resources to objectively evaluate many products in a category and declare one of them the “best.”
  • Other World Computing is my favorite maker of accessories and peripherals for Macs. They have a wide array of storage upgrade kits and memory upgrades that are guaranteed for life, as well as great documentation and instructional videos.
  • DealMac is the place to shop for deals on Mac stuff. With a motto like “How to go broke saving money,” this site is often the first to find out about sale prices, rebates, and other bargain opportunities on upgrades, software, peripherals, and more.
  • Working Smarter for Mac Users is here, frankly, because one more site was needed to make ten. So, visit the home of my productivity-oriented blog and Insiders newsletter, and discover my vision of how to use your Mac to work smarter so you can do more work in less time and have more time for things you love.

Dr. Mac’s Backup Recommendations

When working in macOS Big Sur, would you like to ensure that you won’t lose more than a little work no matter what happens — even if your office burns, floods, is destroyed by tornado, hurricane, or earthquake, or robbed? If so, you might want to follow the setup described here.

I am continually testing new backup solutions, so the software I use can change from month to month. I’ve tried most of the popular backup solutions and many of the more obscure ones, but before I say anything about my current setup, here is what I’m trying to accomplish (at a minimum): I want at least three (reasonably) current backup sets with copies of all my files.

I update two of them every day and keep the third somewhere offsite, such as in a safe deposit box at the bank. Every month or two, I swap the offsite backup for the latest backup from home — and then reuse the older backup disk.

Note that after I set up the following programs, they run automatically in the background with no further action on my part. Think of this as a “set and forget” feature.

  • My first line of defense is macOS’s excellent Time Machine. There’s no excuse not to use it. But although Time Machine maintains multiple copies of files, they’re all stored on the same disk. If something’s worth backing up to one place, it’s worth backing up three times.

Note that you can add a second or third backup disk (or more) to Time Machine if you like. Just click Select Disk in the Time Machine System Preferences pane, select the disk, and choose Use Both (or All) in the dialog that appears so that Time Machine rotates among the disks. Alas, even if you have two or more Time Machine backup disks, they’re still all stored in the same room.

  • And so, in addition to Time Machine, I use the excellent Backblaze ($6 per month for unlimited cloud storage). I use it to back up everything that matters, so I have a copy in the cloud, just in case. I consider it a bargain at $6 per month.
  • Every night at midnight, Carbon Copy Cloner ($39.99) clones (duplicates) my startup disk to another hard drive, which provides me a bootable backup I can use with almost any other Mac.
  • Finally, I use Dropbox to synchronize current projects among several Macs and my iPhone and iPad, giving me additional backup copies of important files as well as ensuring that the most current version of the file is available from all my devices.

One last thing: I test the integrity of each backup regularly, and so should you. Just restore a few files and confirm they’re usable. Carbon Copy Cloner has a setting that checks every file for corruption, which I use once a month to ensure that the files in my backups aren’t corrupted or damaged and can be restored successfully.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Bob LeVitus has written nearly 100 reference books on Apple technologies. He’s the author or coauthor of macOS For Dummies, iPad For Dummies, and iPhone For Dummies, among others.

Dwight Spivey probably wrote the rest of the For Dummies books on Apple products, including iPhone For Seniors For Dummies, iPad For Seniors For Dummies, and Apple Watch For Seniors For Dummies.

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