How to Set Your MacBook’s System Preferences

The System Preferences window on your MacBook is a self-contained beast. It gives you many options for making your Mac be exactly the way you want it to be. You can reach it in a number of ways:

  • Click the Apple menu and choose System Preferences.

  • Click the System Preferences icon in the Dock — it’s a collection of gears.

  • Click the Apple menu, choose Dock, and then choose Dock Preferences.

  • Click the Time and Date display in the menu bar, and then choose Open Date and Time. (In fact, you can also click most of the other menu status icons — including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Display, and Modem — and then choose Open Preferences.)

  • Right-click any uninhabited area of your Desktop and choose Change Desktop Background.

  • Last, but not least, click the Launchpad icon in the Dock, and then click the System Preferences icon.

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When the System Preferences window is open, you can click any of the group icons to switch to that group’s pane. The entire window morphs to display the settings for the selected pane. For example, the Sound pane, which allows you to set a system alert sound, configures your MacBook’s built-in microphone, and lets you choose from several different output options.

Many panes also include a number of tabbed buttons at the top — in this case, Sound Effects, Output, and Input. You can click these tabs to switch to another section in the same pane. Many panes in System Preferences have multiple sections. This design allows our friends at Apple to group a large number of related settings in the same pane (without things getting too confusing).

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To return to the top-level System Preferences pane from any other pane, just click the Show All button (at the upper left) or press ⌘+L. You can also click the familiar Previous and Next buttons to move backward through the panes you’ve already visited and then forward again, in sequence. (Yep, these buttons work just like the browser controls in Safari. Sometimes life is funny that way.)

Although the System Preferences panes are arranged by category when you first install Mavericks, you can also display the panes in alphabetical order. Doing so makes it easier to choose a pane if you’re unsure what group it’s in.

To arrange the panes in this way, choose View→Organize Alphabetically. Note that you can also select any pane directly from the View menu. Choose View→Customize, and you can hide specific icons from the System Preferences window. Just deselect the check box next to each icon you want hidden, and click Done. You can still reach hidden icons from the System Preferences View menu, so they’re not banished forever.

In fact, you can right-click the System Preferences icon in the Dock to jump to any pane from the shortcut menu. Wowzers!

You won’t find an OK button that you have to click to apply any System Preferences changes. Apple’s developers do things the right way. Your changes to the settings in a pane are automatically saved when you click Show All or when you click the Close button in the System Preferences window. You can also press ⌘+Q to exit the window and save all your changes automatically.

Some third-party applications and media plug-ins can actually install their own panes in your once-pristine System Preferences window. You see them arranged at the bottom of the window. (For example, Adobe’s Flash Player adds an icon.) These work the same way as any other pane in System Preferences. Click the icon, adjust any settings as necessary, and then close the System Preferences window to save your changes.

If you see an Apply button in a pane, you can click it to immediately apply any changes you made, without exiting the pane. This is perfect for settings you might want to try before you accept them, like many of the controls in the Network pane.

However, if you’re sure about what you changed and how those changes will affect your system, you don’t have to click Apply. Just exit the System Preferences window or click Show All as you normally would.

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