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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

The Desktop and Finder Preferences

The desktop is, for all intents and purposes, a global Finder window that sits behind all the other windows on the system. You can copy files to the desktop, create aliases on the desktop, and so on. The primary difference is that the desktop is only available in the Icon View mode.


The contents of the desktop are also accessible from the Desktop folder contained within your home directory (path: ~/Desktop).

Like other Finder windows, the Desktop layout is controlled by the View Options located in the View menu. Use the Icon Size slider and arrangement settings exactly as you would adjust any other window within Icon View mode.

Desktop: System Preferences Panel

A more visually exciting change that you can perform on your Finder Desktop is changing the background image. To do this, you can access the Desktop panel within the System Preferences application (path: /Applications/System Preferences).

To open the System Preferences, you have a number of options:

  • Click the System Preferences icon in the Dock—it resembles a light switch with an Apple logo.

  • Choose System Preferences from the Apple menu.

  • Launch System Preferences manually. It is located in the system's Applications folder (path: /Applications/System Preferences).

After System Preferences is running, click the Desktop icon, located within the Personal category of the Preferences window. The Desktop Preference panel is displayed in Figure 3.29.


To quickly enter the Desktop preferences, control-click on the Desktop background and choose Change Desktop Background from the contextual menu that appears.

Figure 3.29Figure 3.29 Set your background image using the Desktop Preference panel.

To change the current background, drag an image file from the Finder into the image-well within the panel. Alternatively, you can browse Collections of images by choosing from the Collection pop-up menu and then using the horizontal scrollbar to move through the available files. A collection is nothing more than a folder of images. There are five preset collections: Apple backgrounds, Nature, Abstract, Solid Colors, Desktop Pictures, and Pictures. The Pictures option selects your personal ~/Pictures folder. To browse an arbitrary folder, pick the Choose Folder item, and then select the folder you want to use.

To have your desktop picture change automatically, click the Change Picture check box, and then pick a duration from the pop-up menu.


The Apple image collections are located within /Library/Desktop Pictures, and can be added to or modified by any administrative user on the system.

Finder Preferences

The Finder Preferences can be used to adjust a few more settings that control how you will interact with your desktop and icons. Open these settings by choosing Preferences from the Finder's application menu. The available options are shown in Figure 3.30.

Figure 3.30Figure 3.30 Finder Preferences control file extensions, Trash warnings, and more.

Use the Finder Preferences to configure these elements:

  • Show These Items on the Desktop—Choose whether or not different storage devices will be mounted automatically on the desktop. Use the check boxes beside Hard Disks, Removable Media, and Connected Servers to display the associated devices on the desktop. If an item is not mounted on the desktop, it will be accessible by moving to the Computer level of the file system hierarchy.

  • New Finder Window Shows—Determine what location a new Finder window will open in. Choose Computer to open a window displaying all mounted storage devices or Home to start in your home directory.

  • Always Open Folders in a New Window—Clicking this option will force a new window to open each time a folder is double-clicked. This is the only way to make the toolbar-mode Finder windows behave like the traditional Finder.

  • Open New Windows in Column View—Force all Finder windows being opened into the Column view.

  • Spring-Loaded Folders and Windows—Choose the length of time a folder or window will wait before "springing open" while your mouse hovers over it. See "Moving Files and Folders" earlier in this chapter.

  • Show Warning Before Emptying the Trash—When emptying the trash can, Mac OS X will display a warning message. To bypass this dialog, deselect this check box. Alternatively, hold down Option when choosing Empty Trash to temporarily bypass the warning.

  • Always Show File Extensions—Turn this setting on to force all file extensions to be shown in the Finder and other windows. Most Mac users won't want to do this.

  • Languages for Searching File Contents—Choose the languages that will be indexed when indexing the contents of a folder. By default Mac OS X has several languages selected—you may want to deselect all but your primary language to speed up the indexing process.

Close the Finder Preferences window when you're satisfied with your settings.

A Simpler Finder?

I'd like to introduce my child (husband, wife, mother, father) to Mac OS X but they aren't ready for the Finder; what can I do? There is a Simple Finder mode that can be activated on a per-user basis within the Accounts System Preference panel. The Simple Finder removes much of the complexity (and feature set) of the standard Finder, but makes operating the computer much easier for those who just want to launch applications. See Chapter 11, "Additional System Components," for information on the Mac OS X System Preference panels.

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