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Understanding System Preferences

System Preferences allow you to customize system wide settings for various aspects of OS X and your computer. The System Preferences window is organized alphabetically or by categories: Personal, Hardware, Internet & Network, and System. Each category contains preference areas that you can change to customize the way OS X works. Only an administrator can change system settings that affect every account.


General. Change the look and feel of buttons, selected items, and scroll bars. See page 98.

Desktop & Screen Saver. Change the desktop background or select a visual screen effect to hide your desktop. See pages 100-101.

Dock. Change the location of the Dock, adjust the size of icons, set magnification, or hide the Dock. See pages 86-87 in Chapter 4.

Mission Control. Set keyboard shortcuts or mouse positions to show or hide all your windows at one time, or create unique spaces for projects. See page 90-91 in Chapter 4.

Language & Text. Change your computer to read or write with other languages and substitute text. See pages 104-106.

Security & Privacy. Protect your computer and the information on it, and adjust firewall settings to protect your computer from access over the Internet. See pages 393-394 in Chapter 16.

Spotlight. Select the categories and priority order you want used in Spotlight searches. See pages 64-65 in Chapter 3.

Notifications. Change general and application specific options for the Notification Center (New!). See pages 378-379 in Chapter 14.


CDs & DVDs. Set startup options when you insert a CD or DVD. See pages 111 and 318.

Displays. Set the screen size, resolution, color settings, and arrange multiple screens. See page 456-457 in Chapter 18.

Energy Saver. Set the computer to sleep and conserve power, and schedule automatic shutdown and startup. See page 108-109.

Ink. Set the computer to write text using a graphics tablet and stylus, recognize the ink, and turn it into words. (Available only if a graphics tablet or ink device is installed.) See page 126.

Keyboard. Change the speed of your keyboard, and customize universal keyboard shortcuts or application shortcuts. See page 453 in Chapter 18.

Mouse. Change the speed of your mouse, primary mouse button, or scroll wheel zoom. See pages 454 in Chapter 18.

Trackpad. Change the options related to using your internal or external trackpad. See pages 455 in Chapter 18.

Print & Scan. Add a printer, monitor print jobs, set up to receive scans and faxes, and share printers and a fax modem with other users. See pages 198-203 in Chapter 8.

Sound. Change computer sound volume, effects, and sound input or output devices. See pages 112-113.

Internet & Wireless

iCloud. Create an online iCloud account and set access options. See pages 344-354 in Chapter 13.

Mail, Contacts & Calendar. Setup and manage accounts for internet services. See page 258 in Chapter 10.

Network. Create and manage network and Internet connection settings. See page 412 in Chapter 16.

Bluetooth. Control how to send and receive files between your computer and other Bluetooth devices. (Available if Bluetooth is enabled). See pages 413-415 in Chapter 16.

Sharing. Set sharing services for files, web, printer, internet, and bluetooth with others. See pages 404-407 in Chapter 16.


Users & Groups. Set up accounts, access privileges, and log in and out settings to share your computer with others. See pages 387-388 in Chapter 15.

Parental Controls. Set limits on computer use, including content, Mail and Messages, and time, and create logs. See pages 388-389 in Chapter 15.

Date & Time. Set your computer’s date, time, and time zone, or use a network time server. See pages 102-103.

Software Update. Set a schedule or options to check for updates automatically on the Internet. See pages 432-433 in Chapter 17.

Dictation & Speech. Set the computer to take dictation as typed text (New!), speak the text on the screen, or use spoken commands to control your computer. See pages 114-117.

Time Machine. Set options to back up everything on your computer. See page 478 in Chapter 20.

Accessibility. Set options (New!) for the visual or hearing impaired to make it easier to use the computer keyboard, mouse & trackpad, and screen. See pages 118-125.

Startup Disk. Select the disk or drive you want to use to start up your computer. See page 110.

Adding or Removing Third-Party System Preferences

You can also add other System Preferences developed by third-party companies. To install a third-party preference, download the preference, double-click its icon, and then follow the on-screen instructions. To uninstall a third-party preference, use the method provided by the developer, or hold down the Control key, click the Preference icon, click Uninstall, and then follow the on-screen instructions.

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Last Update: November 17, 2020