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Chapter 4. System Preferences > Using System Preferences

4.1. Using System Preferences

The System Preferences application, as seen in Figure 4-1, contains many individual preference panels, each represented by its own icon in the application's main display window. Long-time Mac users will recognize that most of the panels in the System Preferences application are similar to the Control Panels found in earlier versions of the Mac OS. For a listing of the differences between Mac OS X and earlier versions of the Mac OS, see Chapter 3.

Figure 4-1. The System Preferences application

The System Preferences are divided into four categories: Personal, Hardware, Internet & Network, and System. There is also a toolbar at the top of the window. If you find yourself using a particular System Preference often, drag its icon to the toolbar. Likewise, if there is one you use rarely, or can add a menu item for (such as the Displays panel), drag the icon away, and the icon disappears in a puff of smoke, similar to what happens when you remove an icon from the Dock.

System Preferences' Default Toolbar

As seen in Figure 4-1, the System Preferences window has a toolbar at the top of its window, which by default contains four panel icons: Displays, Sound, Network, and Startup Disk. These are Apple's best guess at the four items you'll need the most. However, after using Mac OS X for a while, you may find that having Displays in the toolbar is useless because you can make its controls available via a menu extra. For example, system administrators might want to have Accounts, Network, Software Update, and Sharing as a useful set of toolbar icons for System Preferences.

You can launch the System Preferences application by:

  • Clicking on its icon in the Dock; the System Preferences icon is the one that looks like a light switch with a gray Apple logo next to it.

  • Selecting →System Preferences in the menu bar.

  • Double-clicking on its icon in the Finder (found in /Applications), as shown in Figure 4-2.

Figure 4-2. The System Preferences application, as found in the Finder

There is one undocumented way to launch the System Preferences application. If you hold down the Option key and hit one of the volume controls on your keyboard, the System Preferences application will launch and quickly go to the Sound preferences panel.

When you click on one of the icons, the window changes to reflect that particular panel's settings, but the toolbar remains in place. To hide the toolbar, click on the transparent button in the upper-right corner of the window. To go back to the main view, click the Show All button (View→Show All Preferences, or -L). You can also select View→Organize Alphabetically; this menu option changes the view of the System Preferences window to that shown in Figure 4-3.

If you Shift-click on the Toolbar button, System Preferences' toolbar will hide and reveal itself slowly. You won't gain anything by this, but it's kind of fun to do once or twice.

Figure 4-3. The System Preferences, listed alphabetically

Each panel is really a separate application, found in /System/Library/PreferencePanes; however, they are designed to work exclusively within the System Preferences window rather than as standalone programs. Add-on preference panels, such as Apple's Hardware panel (installed as part of the CHUD tools), or those for Adobe Creative Suite's VersionCue or Wacom's Pen Tablet software, are stored in /Library/PreferencePanes.

To open a panel, click once on its icon, or select its name from the View menu. This causes the System Preferences window to change into an interface for that particular panel. To return to the main System Preferences window, click the Show All icon in the upper-left corner of the window's toolbar or select View→Show All Preferences (-L).

When you've completed setting your Mac's preferences, you can quit System Preferences by selecting System Preferences→Quit (-Q) or by simply closing the System Preferences window, using Window→Close (-W).

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