15 More System Preferences Items A New Mac User Should Know About

mac preferencesIn part 1 of this article, I covered some basic items in Apple’s Snow Leopard System Preferences. In this second part, we’ll cover a few more basic items””and for some Mac users, perhaps a couple of hidden items which are not regularly used. I’m skipping over the Internet & Wireless items in System Preferences””namely because I assume if you’re reading this that you have your Internet connection set up properly.

MakeUseOf has also published a few other articles on wireless connections that you might find useful. Those include “How to Share the Internet Connection Between Mac and PC” and another article on sharing file between Mac and Windows computers. There’s also an article on setting parental controls on your Mac. Not to be missed, MakeUseOf’s handy PDF guide: The Mac Manual.

Here are the preference items we’ll be looking at.

mac preferences

Energy Saver

Though computers are nothing more than machines, they still need their rest — not only to maintain performance but also to save energy. In Energy Saver, you can set controls for when to put your computer to sleep, as well set times for it to shut down and start back up (click the Schedule button to set shut-down and restart times). I personally only restart my computer about once a week, but I do make sure it automatically put to sleep when not in use.

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Software Update

One of the best ways to keep your computer in tip-top shape is to keep it backed up and updated with the latest versions of software. When Apple releases the latest version of its operating system or software, it will send a notice to your computer to download and install that update. If you want to find out whether you missed one or more updates, click on the Check Now button and it will verify if you need to update the operating system or other Apple software installed on your Mac. Note, however, that it will not check for third party applications.

Clicking on the Installed Software button will reveal what versions of Apple software are already installed on your computer. You can also run this check by clicking on the Apple icon in the upper-left corner of your Mac”˜s menu bar and selecting Software Update.

Text to Speech

MakeUseOf has already covered the Speech Recognition feature of System Preferences, but there’s also a feature called Text to Speech which is a handy tool for having your computer read aloud text. I have often use this feature for when I’m too tired to read articles or when I”˜m editing my writing. It’s of course also useful for Mac users with impaired eyesight.

If you want to use this feature, you can set a keyboard shortcut to activate it. After doing so, select some text in any application, such as Mail, and then hit your assigned keyboard shortcut. The computer will read the text aloud.

Also, if you want or need additional computer voice assistance, click on the Open Universal Access Preferences for several useful features.

Date & Time

No doubt by default, you already have the date and time clock set up on your Mac; it can be done automatically. But if you ever need an audio timer, such as for work purposes, you can set one up in Date & Time, in which your Mac will announce the time on the hour, every thirty or every fifteen minutes. This is not a feature you will run 24/7 but it’s a quasi built-in timer that might come in handy.

Time Machine

I know of no better and easier back up system than Apple”˜s Time Machine. If you’re not using it, you should. All that is required is an external hard drive, of say 500 or more gigabytes. Attach it to your computer and open the Time Machine item in System Preferences. From there, click the Select Disk button to do the initial setup. You can click the Options button to selectively exclude data on your computer that you don’t want backed up. Read this article for additional information about Time Machine.

Startup Disk

If you ever need to troubleshoot your Mac or test out some questionable software on another hard drive, use the Startup Disk feature. You will need to have a bootable backup drive connected to your computer to use this feature.


If the last section, Other, of your System Preferences is not very populated, you’re probably missing out on many useful plug-ins and enhancements for your Mac. One particular item that every Mac user will want installed in this area is the Growl notification program. This free plug-in literally works with hundreds of Apple and third-party applications.

If you ever need to remove items in this section, it can easily be done by right- or Control-clicking on the plug-in or application and selecting the Remove… button.

mac preferences

You may not open System Preferences on a regular basis, but knowing about its powerful features can enhance what you do on your Mac. Let us know about overlooked features in System Preferences that you think should have been covered in our two-part article.

Again, if you’re a new Mac user, check out MakeUseOf’s handy PDF guide on how to overcome the fear of switching and a couple of Mac apps you have to try – The Mac Manual.

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