Mac Basics: Applications, files, and folders (OS X Lion)

Learn about applications and how files and folders are accessed and organized in Finder. Also, learn about getting applications from the App Store.

This article has been archived and is no longer updated by Apple.

An application is a computer program that gives you the tools to accomplish specific tasks. For example, you're probably using the application Safari right now to read this webpage. Other applications include Mail, iTunes, Pages, TextEdit, and many more.

Accessing an application

To open an application, click the Launchpad icon in Dock or click the application's icon in Dock (if it's there). Depending on the application, it may display an interface window, palettes, tool bar, or other interface components, or it could display nothing at all until you open a file or create a new one.

Your Mac's applications can be accessed from the Launchpad icon in the Dock

To quit an application, choose Quit from the application menu or press Command-Q. Keep in mind that closing a window (by clicking the round, red button) will typically not quit the application.

Getting more applications

You can purchase and install applications for your Mac from App Store, which is included with OS X Lion and Mac OS X v10.6.6 and later. To start browsing software from App Store, click the App Store icon in the Dock. You can use the search field in the upper-right corner of the App Store window to search for applications.

App Store window
You can use App Store to find, install, update, and view purchased applications

  1. Featured - Click to browse new and noteworthy applications.
  2. Top Charts - Click to browse the most popular applications.
  3. Categories - Click to browse applications in specific categories, such as Photography. You can browse applications in a particular category by choosing an item from the All Categories pop-up menu in the Quick Links section. The Quick Links sections is located in the upper-right part of the window displayed when you click Categories.
  4. Purchases - Click to browse applications you have purchased.
  5. Updates - Click to browse updates to applications you have installed on your Mac.
  6. Search Field - Enter a name or type of application your looking for and press Return.

To use App Store, you need to sign up for an Apple ID. If you already have an iTunes Store account or other Apple account, you can use that Apple ID.

Accessing files

To access your files on your Mac, you use Finder. Finder allows you to see all files and folders on your Mac and search for them using the search field in the top-right corner of the Finder window. Once you find a file you want to open, simply double-click the file, it will open in the application that supports its file format.

To close a file, just click the round, red button in the upper-left corner of its window. Keep in mind that closing a file will not necessarily quit the application too. To quit an application, choose Quit from the application menu or press Command-Q.


Folders on your Mac are used to organize your file and applications.

Finder folder window
File appearances may differ a little from each other depending on what type of file they are and what they contain

Your Documents folder (in the Finder sidebar under Favorites) will contain all documents that you create. The Finder sidebar includes several other folders, such as Movies, Music, and Pictures, to help keep all your files organized by type. The Applications folder contains all your applications and the Desktop folder contains all the stuff that's currently on your desktop.

Organizing files and folders

If you want to add more folders to set up an organizational scheme, here's how to create a new folder:

  1. Make the Finder active (click the desktop, click inside any Finder window, or click the Finder icon in the Dock).
  2. From the File menu, choose New Folder; a new "untitled folder" icon appears in the active Finder window.
  3. Name your folder by simply typing a name in the highlighted text box next to the folder icon.

Or, you can simply press the Shift-Command-N key combination.

To organize your files and folders, drag any file, folder, or application that you want into your new folder, or drag the folder into any other folder to establish an organized hierarchy.

Important: Information about products not manufactured by Apple is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute Apple’s recommendation or endorsement. Please contact the vendor for additional information.
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