An Introduction to Your iMac’s System Preferences Window

By Mark L. Chambers

The System Preferences window on your iMac (as shown in the following figure) can become your best friend. The System Preferences window is a self-contained beast, and you can reach it in a number of ways:

  • Click the Apple menu and choose the System Preferences menu item.

  • Click the System Preferences icon on the Dock.

  • Click most of the Finder menu status icons and then choose the Open Preferences menu item. (This trick works with the Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Display, Input Source, Time Machine, Modem, and Clock icons.)

    The powerhouse of settings and switches: System Preferences.

    The powerhouse of settings and switches: System Preferences.

When the System Preferences window is open, you can click any of the group icons to switch to that group’s pane, and the entire window morphs to display the settings for the selected pane. For example, the next figure illustrates the Sound pane, where you can set a system alert sound, configure your iMac’s built-in microphone, and choose from among several output options.

The Sound pane, proudly showing off the Sound Effects panel.

The Sound pane, proudly showing off the Sound Effects panel.

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

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

If a System Preference pane is locked, you can’t modify any of the settings on that pane unless you unlock the pane. If that’s the case, click the padlock icon (lower left) and, if prompted, type your admin-level account password to unlock the pane. After you finish your tweaking, you can protect the settings from inadvertent changes by clicking the padlock icon again to close the pane.

Your changes to the settings in a pane are automatically saved when you click Show All or when you click the Close button on the System Preferences window. You can also press the Command key+Q to exit System Preferences and save all your changes automatically … a favorite shortcut of mine.

If you see an Apply button in a pane, you can click it to immediately apply any changes you make, without exiting the pane. This is perfect for some settings that you might want to try first before you accept them, like many of the controls on 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, and your tweaks are accepted.