Chapter 2: Sensational Setup

Chapter 2: Sensational Setup

(Or: Making your Mac work the way you want.)

As someone who's been using Mac OS X for a while now, you've probably used the System Preferences utility to customize your OS X preferences, and you've probably changed a few settings in applications, or maybe even in the Finder. Even if you just started using Mac OS X, you had to set up a few things when you first started your Mac (remember the Setup Assistant?). However, chances are there are still many settings you don't know exist, a few you don't quite understand, and ways of setting them up you've never even thought of.

System Preferences: Beyond the Basics

Most of the ways you can customize Mac OS X's built-in features can be found in the System Preferences application (/Applications/System Preferences), easily accessible from the Apple menu (Apple Menu System Preferences). Whereas in Mac OS 9 you had a folder full of individual control panels, System Preferences provides you with a smorgasbord of settings, all in a single window (Figure 2.1).

Click To expand Figure 2.1: The System Preferences application

Each icon and name represents a topic-specific collection of settings that you can customize; if you click an icon, the window will present that group of settings to you for editing. For example, click the Desktop icon and System Preferences will present you with system settings that relate to the appearance of your Desktop. Each of these topical collections of preferences is called a panel or pane (the two terms are used interchangeably).

While many settings throughout System Preferences are self-explanatory, many others are not; in addition, some options are less than obvious—unless you know to look for them, you might never even know they exist! For this reason, I'm going to spend a good deal of this chapter covering the System Preferences application, the various panels within System Preferences, and how to best take advantage of them. Although any user can access any pane, some sets of preferences are only modifiable by admin users; when I discuss each pane, I note the access level required to change settings. I'll also include ways to expand the number of options Mac OS X provides.

In addition, I'm going to talk about how to add preference panes to System Preferences, how to change preferences that aren't contained in System Preferences, and how to find and edit preference files directly.

The System Preferences Application

As I already mentioned, System Preferences is actually an application. When you launch it (either by selecting System Preferences from the Apple Menu, by clicking on the System Preferences icon in the Dock, or by manually launching it from your /Applications folder), you see it in the Dock just like any other application. It then provides you with groups of related preference settings, each represented by icon and name (e.g., Desktop, Displays, Mouse, Sound). However, as an application, it also provides you with other options than what you first see when you launch it.

View Alphabetically or by Category

By default, the various preference panes are arranged in categories that signify what part of your Mac they modify: Personal, Hardware, Internet & Network, System, and Other. (I'll talk about each of these categories, and the individual preference panels within them, in a bit.) While these categories can be helpful for some users, others are accustomed to looking for files alphabetically. Luckily, System Preferences provides that option, as well: select View Show All Alphabetically, and the categories disappear; the panes are then listed in alphabetical order.

Access Preference Panels Directly

If you'd rather not deal with icons at all, you can select any preference pane from an alphabetical list by choosing the appropriate panel name from the View menu. If a System Preferences window is already open, it changes to the appropriate pane; if you've closed the main System Preferences window, a new window appears with the chosen pane. This is also a helpful tip to use when switching between preference panes. Rather than having to click the Show All icon, and then choose another pane, you can simply choose the pane you wish to switch to and skip the middle step.

Pick Your Favorites and Customize the Toolbar

As you read this book, you'll find that most Mac OS X applications allow you to customize the toolbar—the area at the top of an application's window—and System Preferences is no exception. You can choose your favorite preference panes, and you can change how the toolbar appears.

Pick Your Preferred Panes

You'll notice that a few preference pane icons appear in the area to the right of the Show All icon. This area (the toolbar) in System Preferences is intended to be a place for you to put your most frequently used preference panes for easy access. To add a pane, simply select its icon from the main window and drag it to the toolbar; it will be added wherever you drop it (Figure 2.2). If you drag the icon between two existing icons, they'll spread apart to accommodate the new one.

Click To expand
Figure 2.2: Adding a preference pane to the toolbar

You can also rearrange your favorites in the toolbar by dragging them left and right; again, the other icons will move apart to let you place each icon where you want it.

If you decide you no longer want a particular pane in the toolbar (or you want to remove one of the default items that was there from the beginning), simply drag its icon from the toolbar down into the main window area. You'll see an animated puff of smoke to indicate that it has been removed from the toolbar (it will still be available from the main pane window, of course).

Customize the Toolbar's Appearance

Here's one of those hidden features I was talking about. In the upper right of the System Preferences window is a clear, capsule-shaped button (often called the "toolbar widget"). You may have clicked this button and discovered that it collapses the toolbar so that only the main list of preference panes is visible. However, it does more that just that. Command-click on the button, and you'll find that it cycles through various toolbar views: large icons and text; small icons and text, large icons only, small icons only, large text only, and small text only. This is a very handy feature if you tend to put a lot of your favorite panes in the toolbar, since you can make the icons or text smaller.

Other Ways to Access Preference Panes

One major difference between changing system-level preferences in OS X and changing them in OS 9 is that in OS 9 you could go to the Apple Menu and select the appropriate control panel directly; in OS X, you have to first open System Preferences, and then choose the set of preferences you wish to modify. Fortunately, enterprising software developers have provided solutions for this minor inconvenience. In addition, you can even create your own solution with a bit of work.

Access from the Apple Menu

User level:

admin to install, normal to modify

Affects:

one or more users

Terminal:

no

Users who have moved to OS X from OS 9 probably find themselves looking for control panels in the Apple Menu, sometimes even after weeks or months of use. Apple provided quick access to System Preferences in the Apple Menu, but, unfortunately, didn't provide the convenient sub-menu of settings panes you might expect. That can be easily fixed with the excellent shareware FruitMenu (http://www.unsanity.com/), which provides you with a System Preferences sub-menu (Figure 2.3). FruitMenu actually does much more than this, and I'll talk about it in several other places in the book.

Click To expand
Figure 2.3: FruitMenu provides a System Preferences sub-menu in the Apple Menu.
Access from the Menu Bar

User level:

admin to install, normal to modify

Affects:

one or more users

Terminal:

no

In addition to accessing individual preference panes from the Apple Menu, it's also possible to access them from a separate menu in the menu bar. My favorite utility for doing this is the shareware Snard (the menu version, http://www.gideonsoftworks.com), which provides a comprehensive menu with lots of features (again, one I'll talk more about later). One of those features is a hierarchical System Preferences sub-menu, sorted either alphabetically or by category. The freeware Menuprefs (http://ksuther.dyndns.org/software/) is another good choice, dedicated to doing nothing else but providing an elegant (and configurable) Preference Pane menu in the menu bar.

Access from the Dock

User level:

any

Affects:

individual users

Terminal:

no

While there used to be a number of utilities, called Docklings, that provided a System Preferences menu from the Dock, most of them no longer work—Apple discontinued support for Docklings as of OS X 10.2. However, it is still possible to get such a menu from the Dock. One way is by using the Dock version of Snard (the utility I mentioned in the previous section). But a free, though less elegant, method is also within your reach.

  1. In the Finder, create a new folder (File New Folder, or shift+command+N) inside your user folder, and call it System Prefs.

  2. Open the /System/Library/Preference Panes folder.

  3. Select all of the files inside the folder (they should all end in .prefPane).

  4. Hold down command+option, and drag the selected files into your newly created System Prefs folder. This will create aliases for each of these files in the System Prefs folder.

  5. Select the System Prefs folder and drag it to the right side of the Dock.

The folder is now part of the Dock; if you click and hold on the folder in the Dock, or control-click on it, you'll get a menu of the contents of the folder, which just so happen to be all of your preference panes. Select one from the menu, and System Preferences will immediately open to that pane.

I'll explain more about preference pane files like these later in the chapter. In addition, if you've installed any custom preference panes, as I discuss later in the chapter, you'll need to add their aliases to your new System Prefs folder, as well. But I'm getting ahead of myself. For now, this is just an example of the kinds of customization you can do in Mac OS X with a little understanding of how things work and a bit of creativity.

Note 

Now that I've showed you the manual method to do this, I'm going to tell you that you don't need to do it that way—instead you can download the freeware Dockprefs (http://ksuther.dyndns.org/software/), by the same people who provide Menuprefs (mentioned earlier). For more on Dockprefs and Dock customization, see Chapter 6.

Problems Opening System Preferences?

You may eventually encounter a situation where the System Preferences application doesn't behave properly: the application refuses to launch; it crashes when you launch it; it launches but some preference panes don't appear, or some appear more than once; or the application just behaves oddly. One of the most common reasons for this sort of behavior is a corrupt System Preferences cache file or preference file. If you find yourself having such problems, quit System Preferences, and then delete the following two files:

  • ~/Library/Caches/com.apple.preferencepanes.cache

  • ~/Library/Preferences/com.apple.systempreferences.plist

There's a good chance that the next time you launch System Preferences the problem will be gone.

Now it's time to talk about the preference panes themselves. I've divided them into categories to mirror the default display of System Preferences (on an English-language system, to be perfectly accurate; on non-English systems they are arranged differently).

The Personal Preferences Category

Apple calls this category of preference panes "personal" because they include preferences that only affect your personal account. I find this name a bit misleading, however, because it implies that changes made in the panes not included in this category affect more than just your account; in fact, most of them do not. Nevertheless, most of those included here do seem to be personal in their nature.

Desktop

User level:

any

Affects:

individual user

Terminal:

no

The Desktop pane provides you with the ability to change the background of your desktop. You simply select a folder of images from the Collection pop-up menu, and then click one of the pictures in the preview list to change your Desktop to that image. You can choose from one of the folders of images Apple has provided, your own ~/Pictures folder, or any other folder of images on your hard drive (by selecting Choose Folder). OS X supports many different file types for Desktop backgrounds: JPEG, GIF, TIFF, PICT, even PDF files. Finally, by clicking the Change picture: box, you can choose to have your desktop picture changed automatically every login, every time from sleep, or at predefined time intervals. If you have multiple monitors attached, you will get a screen for each display to allow you to have different Desktop settings for each.

Tip 

To quickly access the Desktop preferences, control-click anywhere on the Desktop and select Change Desktop Background from the contextual menu.

There is also a hidden option here. If you select an image that is smaller than your screen (generally from a folder of your own choosing), you'll get a pop-up menu to choose whether the picture should be tiled across the entire screen; displayed at normal size in the center of the screen; fill the screen using its current aspect ratio; or stretched to fill the screen, not necessarily preserving its width/height ratio.

Tip 

If you select a custom folder for Desktop pictures, only photos at the top level of that folder will appear as options in the preview window; OS X will not look inside sub-folders.

Adding Permanent Folders to the Collection Menu

User level:

admin

Affects:

all users

Terminal:

no

If you frequently choose your own folder of pictures, the most recently used folder will remain in the Collection pop-up menu. However, once you choose another folder, the previous custom folder is removed and the new folder takes its place. What if you want to add your own folders to the Collection menu and have them remain there permanently?

The Apple Background Images (the default images) are actually JPEG image files located at /Library/Desktop Pictures. The images included in the Collection menu are the folders of images installed by Mac OS X into that directory (Abstract, Nature, etc.). You would think that by simply creating a new folder inside, it would add that folder to the Collection menu. Unfortunately, it's not that easy. You actually need to edit a hidden file inside the Desktop preference pane itself, and you need root access to do it. While it's possible to edit this file with a text editor, we're going to use the developer tool Property List Editor, located at /Developer/Applications/Property List Editor (here's where installing the Developer Tools comes in handy).

First you're going to back up the existing file:

  1. In the Finder, navigate to /System/Library/PreferencePanes/DesktopPictures.prefPane.

  2. Control-click on Desktop Pictures.prefPane, and select Show Package Contents from the contextual menu.

  3. In the resulting window, navigate to /Contents/Resources.

  4. Copy the file Collections.plist to your user folder (option-drag it to copy it).

Now that you have a safe, unmodified backup of the file, we're going to edit the original to include a new folder. For this example, I'm going to include a folder called "Shared Desktop Pictures," located inside the Shared user folder.

  1. Quit System Preferences if it is running.

  2. Using your favorite utility, open Property List Editor as root (as described in Chapter 1).

  3. In Property List Editor, select File Open and navigate to /System/Library/PreferencePanes/DesktopPictures.prefPane/Contents/Resources/Collections.plist. Open this file.

  4. You'll see a window with a Property List; the only one listed is Root. Click the disclosure triangle next to Root to display the properties contained in it. The resulting properties are the selections in the Collection menu in the Desktop preferences pane. You can click each property's disclosure triangle to see the various properties contained within it. We're going to create a new property for our folder.

  5. Click Root, then click the New Child button in the toolbar. A new property will be created, probably with the number 0 as its name. In the Class column, select the menu for line 0 and choose Dictionary (Figure 2.4).

    Click To expand
    Figure 2.4: Creating a new property in the Desktop Pictures Collections menu

  6. Click the disclosure triangle next to line 0. (Don't worry if you don't see anything after doing this; there's nothing there yet.) Highlight property 0, and click the New Child button. Change the name of the new property from New item to identifier (double-click the field if it isn't already editable). Make sure the Class is String. Change the value of the property to Shared Pictures (or whatever you would like to name your new collection—this is the name as it will appear in the Collection menu).

  7. Click the line you just edited, and then click the New Sibling button in the toolbar. This will create another property at the same level as the previous one. Change the name of the property to path, make sure its Class is String, and change the Value to the path to the folder of pictures (in my case, /Users/Shared/Shared Desktop Pictures).

    Warning 

    If you add a folder to the Collections menu, you're actually altering the Desktop preferences pane. Therefore, the new folder must be accessible by all users; don't use a folder inside your home folder.

  8. If you'd like to see the Fill/Stretch/Center/Tile menu for the pictures in this collection, add one more sibling (click the path property and click the New Sibling button). Change the name to showScalingPopUp, make sure it's a String class, and change the Value to YES.

  9. When you're done, choose File Save to save your changes.

The next time you launch System Preferences and select the Desktop pane, your folder of images will be listed in the Collection menu. You can add and remove pictures at will, making this one of the most convenient ways to get quick access to custom images.

Using iPhoto Albums as a Revolving Desktop

User level:

any

Affects:

individual user

Terminal:

no

As I mentioned earlier, you can choose any single folder of images on your computer and then click the Change picture box to have OS X automatically rotate your Desktop between the pictures in that folder. Albums you've created in iPhoto would seem to be the perfect match for such a feature except that iPhoto stores your pictures in myriad folders, all with incomprehensible names, inside the ~/Pictures folder. In addition, OS X will only use pictures present at the top level of any selected folder, so since iPhoto stores photos in many different sub-folders, it wouldn't work even if you knew which top-level folder to choose.

Luckily, when iPhoto creates an album, it creates a new folder for that album (using the album name as the folder name) inside ~/Users/shortusername/Pictures/iPhoto Library/Albums, and places aliases to each photo in the album inside. If you want to use one of your albums for a rotating Desktop, select the appropriate album folder in the Albums directory, and you'll be up and running with your latest vacation album doing the slideshow thing on your Desktop.

Note 

If you have a newer Mac that supports the Quartz Extreme graphics technology of OS X 10.2 and later, when Desktop pictures change they'll fade in and out beautifully. On older Macs, the pictures will simply switch. To find out if your video card supports Quartz Extreme, check out http://www.apple.com/macosx/jaguar/quartzextreme.html.

Rotate Photos from Multiple Folders

User level:

any

Affects:

individual user

Terminal:

no

While Mac OS X by itself doesn't allow you to rotate Desktop photos from multiple locations, and it doesn't browse sub-folders for enclosed pictures, you can do these things quite easily with third-party software. My personal favorite is the freeware ChangeDesktop by Brian Bergstrand (http://www.classicalguitar.net/brian/software/changedesktop/). In addition to doing everything Mac OS X's Desktop preference pane can do, it allows you to pick any number of folders full of pictures and enable or disable them from the rotation at will. It also lets you "publish" your desktop picture to the web or any FTP server, and has extra options for things like iPhoto archives. Even better, it also provides the option to add a menu item to the menu bar for easy access.

There is actually one more, really cool, Desktop tip that I have to tell you about, but I'm going to save it until I talk about the Screen Effects preferences.

Dock

The Dock pane is where you customize the appearance and behavior of the Dock. Because I dedicate an entire chapter to the Dock (Chapter 6), and because my editors don't want me to repeat myself too much, I'm going to simply refer you to that chapter for all the nitty-gritty.

General

The General pane of System Preferences is a bit of a hodgepodge of settings. The settings here are ones that don't seem to fit anywhere else. Most are fairly self-explanatory: the colors of buttons and menus, the color for highlighted text, the behavior and look of scroll bars. However, a few deserve a quick mention, and a couple others can actually be modified to a greater extent than the General panel would have you believe.

Number of Recent Items

The Number of Recent Items settings actually refer to the Recent Items sub-menu in the Apple Menu. The numbers here are the settings for how many recently used applications and documents, respectively, show up. You can also clear the menu by choosing Apple Menu Recent Items Clear Menu.

Get Better Scroll Arrows

In the General preferences pane, you're given two options for the scroll bar arrows. One option is "At top and bottom," which really means one on each end (up arrow at the top of a vertical bar, down arrow at the bottom, left arrow on the left side of a horizontal bar, right arrow on the right). The other option is "Together," which actually means up/down arrows together and left/right arrows together, with both sets grouped in the bottom-right corner of each window.

I don't know about you, but I'd prefer to have a combination of the two—left/right grouped together on both the left and the right, and up/down grouped together at both the top and the bottom! In fact, this layout is actually an option in the Mac OS, but you don't have any way to access it—or do you?

Actually, you do, and this will be my first mention of one of the best utilities available for OS X, TinkerTool (freeware, http://www.bresink.de/osx/). What makes TinkerTool unique is that it really doesn't do anything other than allowing you to access existing options, preferences, and features of Mac OS X that, for whatever reason—most likely a fear of confusing new users—Apple has decided to hide. Using TinkerTool, you can choose to have scroll arrows "Together at both ends" (Figure 2.5).

Click To expand
Figure 2.5: Using TinkerTool to improve your scrollbar arrows

You'll find that as you read through the book, I mention TinkerTool many, many times.

Better Font Smoothing

One of the reasons Mac OS X's Aqua interface looks so beautiful is that text is anti-aliased, which means that rough edges are smoothed out. However, since not all monitors (or eyes) are created equal, what looks smooth to one person might look blurry to another. In addition, the smaller the font, the more difficult it is to read if it is smoothed too much—at some point, different for everyone, "smooth" becomes "blur." The font smoothing area of General preferences lets you decide how much smoothing of fonts you want OS X to do, and at what size text you want it to stop smoothing altogether.

Beginning with OS X, Apple has made the setting for smoothing style easier by including examples: Standard is recommended for CRT monitors, while Medium is best for Flat Panel displays. However, you may not want to take Apple's recommendation as law—I actually find that I prefer the Standard setting for my flat panel displays. You should test the different levels of smoothing on your own system until you find the best one for you. Likewise, change the font size setting until you find the one that makes larger text smooth while maintaining the readability of smaller text.

If you really just hate font smoothing altogether, luckily there's TinkerTool. In Tinker-Tool's Font Smoothing tab, you'll find settings to disable font smoothing altogether.

Tip 

Font smoothing actually requires a good chunk of processing power. If you have an older Mac, you may find that it feels faster if you turn off font smoothing for as many sizes as possible or if you disable it altogether using TinkerTool.

International

User level:

any

Affects:

individual user

Terminal:

no

Here's where you decide how your Mac handles different languages, character sets, and punctuation. If English is your only language, and you live in the United States, you may think you never need to touch this group of settings. However, there are a few neat things to be found here, even for English-speaking Americans.

Language Tab

Unfortunately, while the Mac OS itself may be multilingual, many applications are not, or if they are, they don't necessarily support the languages you'd like them to. In earlier versions of the Mac OS, if you selected a foreign language, such as Spanish, for your preferred language, there was no way to tell your Mac what to do if an application did not provide language support. In Mac OS X, you can actually prioritize your languages. First, click the Edit button in the Languages tab and check only those languages you understand or want to keep as options (it's actually pretty amazing how many are there!). When you click OK, the Languages window will now only list those you selected. Here's the neat part: rearrange them in your preferred order, and Mac OS X will use these languages (in the Finder and in applications) in that order, provided applications support them. For example, if you select Español, Italiano, and English, in that order, the next time you launch an application, OS X will check to see if that application supports Spanish; if it does, it will run as a Spanish-language application. If not, OS X checks to see if it supports Italian, and so on down the list until a supported language is found.

The bottom of the Languages window provides you with an opportunity to select text behavior (sorting, case, dictionaries, etc.) for each type of script supported by Mac OS X. For example, if you select Roman script, the Behaviors pop-up menu will present all the possible behaviors (in this case, languages) supported for that script. Choose the one that is the most appropriate for the language you use with your Mac.

Date, Time, and Numbers Tabs

Different countries, and sometimes even different regions within a country, use various methods for writing the day and date, the time, and even numbers. Mac OS X has many formats built-in, and you can select these from the Region pop-up menu of each tab. In addition, you can customize each, or create your own using the settings in each tab's window. The small shaded area at the bottom of each window provides an example of how your selected preferences will look.

Note 

In pre-Jaguar versions of OS X prior to 10.2, the only place you could switch between 12-hour and 24-hour clock formats was in the International preferences. Many users complained that this setting belonged instead in the Date & Time preferences. Apple responded by putting the setting in Date & Time and leaving it in International, as well. This is, as far as I know, the only non-administrative setting in all of Mac OS X that can be changed via two entirely different preference panes.

The Numbers tab even lets you choose the currency symbol and whether you want to use Metric or Standard (U.S.) measurement systems.

Input Menu Tab

If you use multiple languages on your Mac, you may find that at different times you need access to non-English keyboard layouts. If you select more than one language in this tab, an input menu (that looks like a sheet of paper with text) will appear in the menu bar that lets you quickly switch between keyboard layouts.

In addition, in what is a very cool of OS X 10.2 and later feature, if you select Character Palette, the input menu will include a new item, Show Character Palette. Choosing this item will show the new palette as a window that floats over the top of other applications (Figure 2.6). You can view characters from any input type, and characters are grouped by type. You can then insert the chosen character into any text field (or add it to your "favorite" character list if it's one you access frequently). The disclosure triangle at the bottom shows you the font(s) the character is available in, the Unicode code for the character, and examples of related characters.

Click To expand
Figure 2.6: The Character Palette lets you choose any character in any font.

All in all, this is a great feature that most people never realize exists.

Login Items

The Login Items pane allows you to automatically launch applications and open documents at login. I cover this preference panel in detail in the next chapter when I discuss the login process.

My Account

User level:

any, if not limited by an admin

Affects:

individual user

Terminal:

no

Using this pane, each user can change their login picture (by choosing a picture from the list, by clicking the Choose Another button to navigate to a picture, or by dragging a picture onto the picture field), as well as their password. In addition, by clicking the Edit button next to My Address Book Card, they can edit their personal address book entry.

I briefly mentioned this pane in Chapter 1 when I discussed user accounts. If you are an admin user and you decide to edit a user's account in the Accounts pane of System Preferences, you're basically editing the exact same things as the user themselves would edit via My Account. In addition, you can limit each user's access to this pane via the Capabilities button in Accounts; you can choose to prevent them from accessing this preference pane at all, or just from changing their password.

Screen Effects

User level:

any

Affects:

individual user

Terminal:

no

This preference pane controls one of Mac OS X's "almost useless but very cool" features: the screen saver. I say almost useless because the truth is that nowadays most screens don't suffer the same "burn-in" effect that spurred the development of screen savers 10 or 15 years ago. I say very cool because OS X's screen saver takes advantage of the graphics technologies of OpenGL and Quartz to allow for some very cool effects.

In the Screen Effects tab (yes, Apple used the same name for one of the tabs as they did for the panel itself—making tech writers everywhere pull their hair out), you can select a screen saver, configure it, and then test it. If a screen saver can be configured, the Configure button will bring up an options screen. The Test button simply shows you a full-screen example of what your configured screen saver will look like (simply moving the mouse or pressing a key will make it go away). If you're an admin user or a normal user with access to all preference panes, you can also open the Energy Saver preference pane by pressing the Open Energy Saver button.

The Activation tab lets you decide how much idle time (no mouse or keyboard activity) you want before the screen saver starts. In addition, while the screen saver will normally disappear as soon as you move the mouse or keyboard, you can require that your account password be used to get rid of it. While this isn't foolproof security, it's at least a good way of making sure that others don't access your account (without requiring you to log out) when you're not sitting in front of your computer.

Finally, the Hot Corners tab gives you two options that most people don't seem to use but that can be quite useful. If you click on a corner checkbox repeatedly, it will cycle through a check symbol, a minus symbol, and a blank box. The check means that if you place your cursor all the way in that corner of the screen, the screen saver will start immediately. This is useful if you've enabled password protection on the screen saver and are about to step away from your desk, or if you need to quickly hide the screen. The minus means that if you place the cursor in that corner, the screen saver will never start up, even if your computer is idle for longer than your preferred time. This is a great feature if you're doing something, like watching video on the Web, that doesn't require any mouse/keyboard input—otherwise the screen saver would start up while you were watching.

Tip 

When I talk about system security in Chapter 12, I'll show you how to immediately lock your screen behind a password-protected screen saver, regardless of your settings here.

In addition to the stock features of the Screen Effects pane, you can also use the screen saver as a very nice slide show application, add custom screen savers, and even animate the Desktop.

Use Screen Effects as a Slide Show

User level:

any

Affects:

individual user

Terminal:

no

One of the built-in screen saver modules is called Pictures Folder. This saver takes images from the top level of your ~/Pictures folder and presents them as a slide show. However, you can customize this slide show in many ways using the Customize screen. You can drop a folder of images onto the Slide Folder icon, or select one by pressing Set Slide Folder. You can also configure the Display Options to control cross-fades, zooms, cropping, position, and slide order. In addition to being a neat screen saver, you can use this screen saver to show off pictures to friends and relatives (and watch them be impressed by the stylish transitions Mac OS X is capable of).

Tip 

If you or someone you know has a .Mac account (formerly iTools), and has published a public slide show (I'll talk more about that in Chapter 7), you can instead select the .Mac saver, which is exactly the same as the Pictures Folder saver except that it accesses .Mac slide shows over the Internet. Simply click the Configure button, and then enter the person's .Mac member name in the appropriate field. If you've entered more than one .Mac slide show, you can select which ones you want to view by checking or unchecking the box next to each in the Configure window.

Install New Screen Savers

User level:

any

Affects:

individual user or all users

Terminal:

no

Mac OS X comes with a good variety of screen savers, some simple, some quite impressive. However, there are many other good screen saver modules floating around the web that you can install, and doing so is quite easy.

  1. Quit System Preferences.

  2. Find a screensaver you want to install (if you don't have any yet, check out "Fave Savers" below, or do a search for "saver" on Version Tracker (http://www.versiontracker.com/macosx/) or MacUpdate (http://www.macupdate.com/)The name of the file should end in .saver.

  3. If you're a normal user, or an admin user who only wants the screen saver to be available for your personal use, drop it in ~/Library/Screen Savers. If you're an admin user and you want the new screen saver to be available to all users, drop it in /Library/Screen Savers.

The next time you launch System Preferences, the new module will be available in the Screen Effects pane.

Create Your Own Slide Show Savers

The Pictures Folder module will cycle through the pictures in your ~/Pictures directory. But what if you want to create your own slide show of pictures? You can do it very easily.

  1. Create a new folder.

  2. Copy any pictures you want in the slide show into the folder (you can even use aliases to the pictures if you like).

  3. Rename the folder name.slideSaver, where name is the name you want to appear in the Screen Effects list of modules. You'll be asked if you're sure you want to use the .slideSaver suffix; yes, you really do.

  4. Drag the new folder into one of the /Screen Savers folders described in the previous tip.

The next time you launch System Preferences, your new slide show will be listed in the Screen Effects pane; you can even use the Configure screen to choose the presentation options.

Tip 

You can also create a new slide show screen saver by dragging a folder of images onto /Library/Image Capture/Scripts/Build slide show. This handy little app will create a new module called Recent Photos.slideSaver inside your personal ~/Library/Screen Savers directory (you can rename it something more meaningful in the Finder).

Animate the Desktop

User level:

any

Affects:

individual user

Terminal:

no

Have you ever liked a screen saver so much that you wished you could watch it even while you were working? Evidently someone at Apple has. OS X 10.2 and later includes the ability to enable any screen saver module as not just a window, but as your entire Desktop—you can even choose the incredible Marine Aquarium and see fish swim across your Desktop. Instead of selecting a Desktop picture, you simply enable what are called Desktop Effects. You can do this using Terminal, or using a third-party utility.

Using Terminal
  1. Open System Preferences and select the screen saver you want to use as your Desktop in the Screen Effects pane. My favorite is the Galaxy saver I mentioned in "Fave Savers."

  2. Open Terminal and type /System/Library/Frameworks/ScreenSaver.framework/ Resources/ScreenSaverEngine.app/Contents/MacOS/ScreenSaverEngine -background & <RETURN> (all on one line).

This will start the Desktop Effect using the screen saver you selected. Terminal will also present a number after you enter the command. This is the process ID (PID) of the command (it will be different each time). To stop Desktop Effects, simply type kill PID <RETURN>.

Using Third-Party Utilities

A number of utilities can enable Desktop Effects. My favorite at the time of this writing is the shareware xBack (http://www.gideonsoftworks.com/xback.html). It provides a universal menu in the menu bar that allows you to start and stop Desktop Effects, as well as the ability to quickly choose which saver to use.

Note 

Desktop Effects are only possible if your video card supports Quartz Extreme. In addition, they are very processor intensive, so if you're doing work that requires a lot of processing power, you're better off with a Desktop picture instead.

The Hardware Preferences Category

The Hardware category of System Preferences is filled with settings that affect how users interact with the Mac's hardware. Unless their accounts have been restricted by an admin, normal users can access every pane, and can change settings for all but the Energy Saver screen (which can only be used by admin users).

Bluetooth

User level:

any, if not limited by an admin

Affects:

individual user

Terminal:

no

The Bluetooth pane lets you configure your settings for OS X's new short-range, wireless networking system. The panel only appears if you have a Bluetooth adapter or other Bluetooth hardware connected to your Mac. I'll talk more about setting up this pane in Chapter 9.

CDs & DVDs

User level:

any, if not limited by an admin

Affects:

individual user

Terminal:

no

In this panel each user can decide what they want OS X to do when they insert different kinds of media. For example, when you insert a music CD, you have several options. You can have OS X automatically open iTunes for you; you can have another application launch (perhaps another audio program or player); you can tell the OS to run an AppleScript; or you can tell it to do nothing, and the CD will simply mount in the Finder. The AppleScript option is the most intriguing, because with a little bit of practice using AppleScript, you can do things you never imagined. For example, you could create a script that does the following: opens



 
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