Customizing the Mac OS X Desktop

Although the default Mac OS X desktop is very nice to look at, you will probably want to customize it to suit your preferences. You can customize the appearance of your desktop in many ways, including the following:

  • Change the clock

  • Change the mounted disk behavior

  • Change the desktop icon size

  • Change the desktop icon arrangement

  • Set desktop pictures


You can also change the menu bar by adding icons to it, such as the Displays icon, the Volume icon, the AirPort icon, and others. These icons are discussed in the related sections of this book. For example, you will learn about the Displays menu bar icon in the section on configuring monitors using the Displays pane of the System Preferences application.

Changing the Clock Display

By default, Mac OS X provides a clock in the upper-right corner of the desktop. You can also configure the clock to be shown in a window that floats on the desktop if you prefer. You can control the appearance of the clock by using the System Preferences application:

  1. Open the System Preferences application.

  2. Click the Date & Time icon.

  3. In the Date & Time pane, click the Clock tab (see Figure 4.20).

    Figure 4.20. The Clock tab of the Date & Time pane of the System Preferences application enables you to customize the clock on the desktop.


  4. To hide the clock, uncheck the "Show the date and time" check box. The clock is removed and all the clock options are disabled.

  5. If you want the clock to be displayed on the right end of the menu bar, click the Menu Bar radio button. If you want the clock to appear in a floating window, click the Window radio button.

  6. If you prefer the time to be displayed in digital format, click the Digital radio button; to see it as an analog clock, click the Analog radio button.

  7. If you chose the menu bar clock, check the "Display the time with seconds" check box to include the seconds in the display.

  8. If you want the AM/PM indicator to be shown, check the Show AM/PM check box.

  9. If you have selected the menu bar clock, click the "Show the day of the week" check box to include the day in the clock display.

  10. If you want the colon between the hour and minutes to be displayed, check the "Flash the time separators" check box.

  11. If you want to use a 24-hour clock, check the "Use a 24-hour clock" check box.

  12. If you chose the window display, use the Transparency slider to set the transparency of the window. Because the window floats on top of all the others, making it less transparent can block the view of underlying windows.

  13. If you want the time to be announced, check the "Announce the time" check box. Then select the time interval on the pop-up menu. Finally, click the Customize Voice button to select the voice used to announce the time.

  14. Quit the System Preferences application.


As in previous versions of the OS, you can click the menu bar clock to briefly display the date. The menu on which the date appears also enables you to change the view option (analog or digital) and open the Date & Time pane of the System Preferences application.

Changing the Desktop's Appearance

You can customize other aspects of the appearance of the desktop using the following steps:

  1. Select Finder, Preferences or press graphics/mac.gif-, to open the Finder Preferences window.

  2. Click the General tab.

  3. Check the check boxes for the mounted items you want to appear on the desktop. Your choices are "Hard disks," "CDs, DVDs, and iPods," and "Connected servers." If you uncheck the boxes, you don't see the items on your desktop; you can access these items through the Computer folder or within any Finder window. If you check the boxes, the items appear on the desktop.

  4. Close the Finder Preferences window.

  5. Click on the desktop.

  6. Press graphics/mac.gif-J to open the View Options window for the desktop.

  7. Use the View Options controls to configure how icons on the desktop appear, such as size and grouping.

    To learn about the details of these options, see "Customizing Finder Window Views," p. 74.

  8. Close the View Options window.

  9. Open the Desktop & Screen Saver pane of the System Preferences application. This pane has two tabs. The Desktop tab enables you to set your desktop picture, whereas the Screen Saver tab enables you to configure the screen saver.

  10. Click the Desktop tab (see Figure 4.21). The Image well shows the desktop picture currently being used. In the left pane of the window, the Source pane shows the available image collections. The right pane shows the images contained in the selected source.

    Figure 4.21. While writing a book, I use the ever exciting Sold Grey Light desktop picture.



    If you just want to replace the current image with another one, drag the image you want to use onto the well. It replaces the image currently shown there and appears on the desktop immediately.

  11. Select the source containing the image you want to apply to the desktop. You have the following options:

    • By default, Mac OS X includes three image collections (Apple Background Images, Nature, and Abstract); these appear at the top of the Source pane.

    • You can select the Solid Colors source to apply a solid color to the desktop.

    • The Pictures folder is the Pictures folder in your Home directory.

    • Desktop Pictures is the Desktop Pictures folder included in the Library folder (basically, all the default Apple background images, but you can add images to this folder to be able to select them).

    • Select Folder enables you to select any other folder to use as a source of images.

    • The lower part of the pane contains iPhoto collections. You can select your Photo Library to choose any image in your iPhoto Library or select any photo album to use its images.

    • Except for the Choose Folder option, when you select an option, the images contained in the location appear in the preview pane in the right part of the window.

      If you select the Choose Folder option, you can use the resulting sheet to move to and select a folder. When you do so, the images contained in that folder are shown in the preview pane.

    • When you select a folder, including the predefined ones, only the images at the root level of that folder are available on the preview pane. For example, if you select your Pictures folder, only the images that are loose in that folder are available. Any images contained within folders that are inside the Pictures folder are not available.

  12. Apply the image to the desktop by clicking it on the preview pane. It appears in the Image well and on your desktop.

  13. If you want to change desktop pictures automatically, check the "Change picture" check box. The image in the well becomes the "recycle" icon to show that you have selected to have the system change images periodically.

  14. Use the pop-up menu to select the time at which you want the images to be changed. The options include "when logging in," "when waking from sleep," and a time interval from every 5 seconds to once per day.

  15. To have the images selected at random, check the "Random order" check box. If you uncheck this, the images appear in the same order as they appear in the selected source (for example, alphabetically).

  16. Quit the System Preferences application when you are done making changes.

You can use just about any graphic file as a desktop image, such as JPEG, TIFF, and PICT files.

If you want to install images in the Mac OS X Desktop Pictures folder so they appear by default, just place them in the location macosx/Library/Desktop Pictures/, where macosx is the name of your Mac OS X startup volume.

This folder contains the collections of images that appear on the Collection pane. You can add your images to the default folders, and they will appear in those collections. Unfortunately, you can't add collections to the menu by creating folders within the Desktop Pictures folder.


If you use more than one monitor, each monitor has its own desktop picture. A Desktop Picture pane appears on each desktop. You use that pane to configure the desktop images on each monitor.


If you want to change the image that is shown when the login window is displayed, name an image file "Aqua Blue.jpg" and copy it to the following location Mac OS X/Library/Desktop Pictures/ where Mac OS X is the name of your startup volume. You will be prompted to replace the existing file. Do so. The next time the background image is displayed, such as when you log out, the new image will be shown. (If you will want to use the default image, save a copy of the file before you replace it.)

    Part I: Mac OS X: Exploring the Core
    Part III: Mac OS X: Living the Digital Life