System Preferences on the Apple Mac are the equivalent of Control Panels in Windows. They are a collection of settings/options relating to applications (programs), hardware and software and the MacOS operating system (i.e. Sierra). They can be used to change the Display Size, Desktop Colours, the Mouse and Mouse Pointer actions, the Printer setup, the Audio/Video options, Network and Internet features among other things.
This section will only familiarise you with a brief explanation of what each System Preference does because the rest of this category, and other parts of this website, will explain and example in more detail some of the more common, important, features of a certain system preference.If you have not read this page before continue reading it, from top to bottom, as normal. Otherwise you can click on a subject below to get near/on the subject you was reading before. Also worth reading is the Uninstall An Application section (under the Software Installation category).
The ACCESSIBILITY System Preferences allow you to change Accessibility options, similar to the Ease Of Access feature (control panel) in Windows. You can change settings/options relating to Voice/Speech, the Desktop (B/W and Contrast), Zoom (Magnify), Keyboard Keys, the Mouse Pointer and Buttons, Alerts and Flash Warnings.
The BLUETOOTH System Preferences allow you to enable/disable bluetooth connections, make your computer discoverable to other bluetooth devices, configure bluetooth devices and change file sharing options.
The CDSs & DVDS System Preferences allow you to change what happens when you insert a cd or dvd with a certain type of media on it. This is the equivalent to the AUTOPLAY feature (control panel) in Windows. For example: You can programme these settings to use a certain media player software when a music cd is inserted into the cd/dvd drive. You could also programme them to use a certain dvd player software or simply 'Do Nothing' when a cd/dvd is inserted.
The DATE & TIME System Preferences allow you to change the Date, Date Format (i.e. 12 or 24 hour clock), Time, Time Zone (i.e. GMT +1), Time Server (the external website whose computer is used to synchronise the world time with your computer's time and date) and the City where your computer is located.
The DESKTOP & SCREEN SAVER System Preferences allow you to change the Screen Saver settings (settings for the animation that is played when the computer sleeps) and Desktop settings; its Background Colour, Background Image and Slideshow settings. The slideshow is the alternate background images shown when the computer sleeps. You can adjust the 'Switch ON Time' (START AFTER setting), if you need the slideshow switched on of course.
The DICTATION & SPEECH System Preferences allow you to change the settings/options relating to Speech Recognition and Text To Speech. This is similar to the Speech Recognition and Sound control panels in Windows. With these features you can have your computer speak words within documents back to you and also tell specific applications what to do using voice prompts/commands. These system preferences, together with the UNIVERSAL ACCESS system preference (below), can be of benefit to those with hearing and/or visual difficulties.
The DISPLAY System Preferences allow you to set up an externally connected LCD TV / Monitor display so that you can switch between it and your computer's natural (internal) display. This is good when you want to broadcast your computer's desktop screen on a bigger, external, monitor/tv screen. You can also change the screen resolution (colours and size) displayed on the monitor/tv screen.
The DOCK System Preferences allow you to change the size of The Dock (the equivalent of The Taskbar in Windows), how it animates its icons, where it's positioned on the desktop screen and so on. This is one of those preferences you will play with when first using it, but then get tired of it and leave it on certain settings. In other words, it's not a system preference you will use every now and then - Once you have made your changes you will generally leave them set.
The ENERGY SAVER System Preferences allow you to change the power (electric) settings and battery settings in order to give your battery power, desktop screen and computer in general a better performance and better life. These system preferences are equivalent to the POWER OPTIONS control panel in Windows.
The GENERAL System Preferences allow you to change the colour used for Highlighting certain items, when to display scroll bars on windows (i.e. always or only when you move the mouse pointer over a scrollable area), how many recent items to show in 'lists of recent items', whether or not to use smooth scrolling and so on. You can leave most of these settings (preferences) alone as they don't really do anything exciting or worthwhile.
The ICLOUD System Preferences allow you to set up synchronization options for your Online Apple Mac Account (Synchronization/Storage account), if you have one - @icloud.com (iCloud) accounts have now replaced the old MobileMe and @me.com accounts. With these preferences you can select which applications use iCloud (i.e. you can synchronize contacts, e-mails and photos by putting a tick next to their respective applications). You can also view your iCloud details.
The KEYBOARD System Preferences allow you to enable/disable functions keys and assign those function keys to other functions (features). For example, you could set the F-Keys to work as standard function keys instead of them being assigned (used) by MacOS. F-11 for example is used by MacOS to clear/show the desktop screen. You could let F-11 be a standard function key that a piece of software (application) could then use. These preferences also allow you to set the speed of key presses and set up keyboard shortcuts.
The LANGUAGE & TEXT System Preferences allow you to change the locale (location, language, date, time and currency) settings for your apple mac computer. Warning! Changing these settings can have unwanted side-effects, especially in relation to online software subscriptions, website usage and security softwares. Meaning, if you are in the United Kingdom for example and then change your location to the United States of America some of your security settings might go back eight hours in time, therefore leaving you unprotected. Or some of your online subscriptions to whatever might be dictated by your location and therefore affect your, future, buying rights and reservations for example. In other words, these settings should only be used once to set up your computer.
The MAIL, CONTACTS & CALENDARS System Preferences allow you to configure e-mail accounts for use with E-Mail, Address Book and Calendar applications. You can also select which applications synchronise with your iCloud Account.
The MISSION CONTROL System Preferences allow you to change the keyboard keys that control functions such as exposing (clearing) the desktop (like the Show Desktop button/feature in Windows) as well as configuring the feature that lets you programme what happens when you move the mouse pointer into any one of the four corners of the desktop (known as: Hot Corners). For example. You could programme the top-left corner of the desktop screen to show the launchpad window (it allows you to view all of your apps and launch one of them) - Moving the mouse pointer back into that corner would bring the desktop back into view. Mission Control basically allows you to organise your windows and control certain keyboard shortcut keys.
The dashboard feature of Mission Control is similiar to Windows Gadgets. You can use the Dashboard as a solid, or transparent, screen (known as: a Space) to add or remove a gadget (known as: a Widget on the mac). Example widgets would be the Calculator, Weather, Sticky Notes and the Dictionary.
Just like Microsoft's online Gadget Library, Apple also have the Widget Library. As well as the Dashboard screen (space) you can also create separate spaces (desktop screens) with Mission Control whereby you can drag a certain open application window (i.e. Microsoft Word) into a particular space; therefore creating a space for all your word documents. You could create another space for your social networking applications and another space for your web design softwares. Look at spaces as separate desktop screens.
The MOUSE System Preferences allow you to configure the mouse buttons in terms of how fast they click and scroll. You can also set up a Bluetooth mouse with these preferences.
The NETWORK System Preferences allow you to set up your Wireless, Internet and LAN Networks. Together with the SHARING System Preferences (below) you can also set up Windows File Sharing (share files between an apple mac computer and a windows computer). Although these preferences have built-in installation/setup wizards (guides) to help with the basics of setting up an internet connection for example, these preferences will be too technicals for the absolute beginner and therefore should not be touched in general.
The NOTIFICATIONS System Preferences allow you to configure the way notification messages (alerts) appear on your computer from certain applications such as Mail, Safari, Calendar and Google Chrome. This works in a similar way to the notifications configuration on an iPad for example.
The PARENTAL CONTROL System Preferences allow you to set up protection for the child/children using your computer. You can limit access to the types of website they view/visit, limit their use of social media activities (including e-mail and instant messaging) and game activities, limit their time (hours) on the computer and much much more. This is very similar to the Windows Parental Controls control panel.
The PRINT & SCAN System Preferences allow you to set up a wired or wireless printer as well as all-in-one units (copier, scanner, printer and fax). Even when you have added your printer drivers to the system you may still need to use these preferences to actually add the printer as a recognised device.
The SECURITY & PRIVACY System Preferences allow you to change the Screen Saver password and enable/disable certain security services and features such as the Firewall, Virtual Memory encryption, Log-Out timer and FileVault master password. Don't worry if you did not understand most of the just mentioned services/features as you were not supposed to!! Meaning, many of those services/features will have default (standard), but advanced, settings which should not be touched by the absolute beginner.
The SHARING System Preferences, together with the NETWORK System Preferences (above), allow you to share files across a wireless network or wireless device. You can setup Bluetooth file sharing, Windows file sharing, Print sharing and so on with these preferences. As an absolute beginner though you should not touch them. Leave these technicals to your local computer engineer. The NETWORK and SHARING System Preferences are equivalent to the WINDOWS SHARING CENTER control panel in Windows.
The SOFTWARE UPDATE System Preferences allow you to manually and automatically, indirectly, check apple's online server (updates computer) for security updates, software fixes and so on. Although there are a couple of preferences you can change here you should leave this set of system preferences alone, on automatic.
The SOUND System Preferences allow you to set up your internal and external sound devices such as a microphone, headset and speakers.
The SPOTLIGHT System Preferences allow you to enable and disable certain folder locations, and other places, that are normally included in a spotlight search. So you could disable the MUSIC folder and CONTACTS list (address book) for example so that they are not used in any spotlight searches.
The STARTUP DISK System Preferences allow you to select which device (i.e. hard drive, dvd drive or network volume) you want to start the computer with on its next restart or shutdown boot-up. There is also an option to reboot in Target Disk Mode - This allows you to use apple mac computer #2 as an external hard drive on apple mac computer #1, which is ideal if you want to transfer settings from computer #2 to computer #1 (i.e. when installing a new apple mac computer).
The TIME MACHINE System Preferences allow you to set up the feature called Time Machine, which is similar to System Restore in Windows, but more visual. This feature basically allows you to backup your important system files and personal files so that in the event of them being accidentally deleted or corrupted, for whatever reason(s), you can simply go back to a time when they were on the computer and working fine.
The TRACKPAD System Preferences allow you to enable and disable the finger gestures associated with the trackpad - Finger gestures are made by placing 1, 2 3 or 4 fingers on the trackpad in such a way as to emulate a mouse click, a finger tap, a motion swipe, a rotation, a drag, a zoom or a scroll. If you use an iPad or iPhone for example you will have already used some sort of finger gesture!
The USERS & GROUPS System Preferences allow you to change the picture associated with your user account, list the other user accounts on the computer, change login options, add/delete user accounts and restrict access to the computer via parental controls.
To launch (run/execute) the System Preferences application and therefore bring up its window simply click on its application icon located on The Dock - In other words, click on its "Docked Icon".
Fig 1.0 Click on the SYSTEM PREFERENCES application icon, located on The Dock, to continue.
If the System Preferences application icon is not on The Dock you will need to launch the System Preferences application itself (the System Preferences.app file), directly from within the APPLICATIONS folder. To do this; Begin by clicking on the FINDER docked icon (Fig 1.1) to bring up the Finder window (Fig 1.2).
Fig 1.1 Click on the FINDER docked icon to continue
Fig 1.2 The Finder window - Click on the APPLICATIONS folder to display the content of the Applications folder
When the Finder window appears (above) it will normally be displaying the content of the last folder you opened, which is normally the Documents folder and not the wanted Applications folder, so to continue click on the APPLICATIONS folder (link) to open the Applications folder.
Fig 1.3 The Applications folder is now open - Locate and double click on the System Preferences application icon
With the Applications folder now open, locate the System Preferences application icon (above). You might have to scroll down, through the content of the Applications folder, in order to find the System Preferences application icon (above) but when you do double click on it to launch (run/execute) the actual System Preferences.app file. Doing so will then open the System Preferences application window.
Fig 1.4 The System Preferences application window is displaying the, MacOS, System Preferences (Control Panels).
Do not worry if your System Preferences do not have all the icons as displayed in my system preferences because not all system preferences are exactly the same. Meaning. All system preferences have the standard OS X settings/icons but if you install a third party piece of software, such as Java, that software might add its own icon/link to System Preferences. Therefore, technically speaking, you would no longer have a standard set of OS X system preferences.