Everything you need to know about Mac system preferences

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Apple Mac computers offer many settings, preferences, and options, all organized in one place: System Preferences. Accessible from the Apple menu, it is the main hub for all your basic settings in macOS. Everything you can hope for or want to configure can be done here. There are settings for everything from Bluetooth to Siri, including settings for your keyboard, printer or mouse. Do you want to change your wallpaper or change the position of your dock? This can also be done in System Preferences. Here’s everything you need to know about macOS System Preferences.

System preferences layout

The first thing to know about System Preferences is its layout. The application is organized into four separate sections.

Understanding Mac System Preferences

1. The upper left corner is basic and just your name plus a preset logo.

2. At the top right of the screen are two icons that lead to the Apple ID and Family Sharing options. Click on Apple ID to open another window in which you will see all the settings for your Apple ID and your iCloud account. This includes what is currently syncing with iCloud, existing payment options related to the App Store, and resetting or changing your Apple ID password.

3. Moving further towards the middle, two sections of icons.

  • The first covers the more personal settings you will need for your Mac. This includes things like system language, dock settings, choosing a wallpaper, setting up Internet accounts, adding additional users and more.
  • The second is more focused on how your Mac interacts with hardware or software. This includes things like setting up external displays, adjusting your keyboard settings, or adding new Bluetooth devices like a keyboard. You will also find settings here for Time Machine backups.
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4. Finally, the fourth section at the bottom of the preferences screen is where you will see all third-party applications that have a preferences pane.

If this layout seems confusing, and it can often be, you can choose to display the preferences window in another way. Go to “View -> Organize in alphabetical order” and you can see all the parameters in alphabetical order. This has the secondary benefit of making the app slightly more compact and less overwhelming for new Mac users.

Setup options

Mac System Preferences Dock SettingsMac System Preferences Dock Settings

Each preference window includes a new set or sets of options that can be changed, changed, or changed. For example, if you go to the “Dock” pane, you will find options to change the size of the Dock, move it to the left or right of the screen rather than down, and what happens when you minimize a window. You can also choose to hide the dock so that it only appears when you move your mouse to the bottom of the screen. As you can see from the choices in Dock preferences, each pane has a variety of options.

Mac System Preferences Admin LockMac System Preferences Admin Lock

Some shutters have locks, as indicated by a closed golden lock. Administrator access is required to make changes. A good example of this goes to “System Preferences -> Users and Groups -> Connection Items”. This settings pane allows the Mac owner to change the applications that start each time the Mac is restarted. To make a change here, the user or owner must know the administrator password. Any option that requires an administrator password is also grayed out so that it cannot be clicked without entering the unlock password.

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Search options

Mac System Preferences Dock SearchMac System Preferences Dock Search

Chances are, especially for new Mac owners but also for experienced users, that you may not know where a setting option resides. In this case, the search box at the top right of the preferences window is your best friend. Any option that matches your search will also appear as a list in the preferences pane where it is located. While the search function may seem redundant, it’s actually a great resource for helping you jump straight to a tab rather than rummaging through a variety of windows.

When you see a red badge

Mac System Preferences Red BadgeMac System Preferences Red Badge

Oh no, a red badge appears on the System Preferences application icon on your dock. What does it mean? There is nothing to worry about. Apple will provide a red badge indicator in case you haven’t fully configured iCloud. Alternatively, if you have a macOS software update to complete, a red badge will also appear indicating that the computer needs to restart or start the update.

Remove unwanted preferences

In case the System Preferences window is too overwhelming or if you only want to see the options that you use the most, you can delete the unwanted options. Cleaning the menu will allow you to leave only the desired settings. To start, open System Preferences by clicking on the Apple menu at the top left of the screen and then clicking on “System Preferences”.

1. Start by clicking on “Display” at the top of the screen, then select “Personalize” from the drop-down list.

Mac System Preferences View CustomizeMac System Preferences View Customize

2. Uncheck the menu options that you do not need or do not want to access.

Nine System Preferences Hidden Mac Settings CustomizeNine System Preferences Hidden Mac Settings Customize

3. These options can be added at any time, so their deletion is not permanent.

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The Mac System Preferences menu is your reference tool for any changes or adjustments you want to make to your Mac. Getting to know it, especially for new Mac users, is essential to getting the most out of your Mac purchase. Once you are familiar with System Preferences, the next step is to understand how system folders work.


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