Mac OS X - System Preferences

System Preferences is the main control center for all system settings and options in OS X. It’s much like the Control Panels in Windows and earlier versions of the Mac OS. A student user in labs can access System Preferences in the Apple menu, but they can only change basic settings such as the desktop picture and screen saver. (And the settings are reset to the standard settings upon logout.)

Each configuration option in the System Preferences (i.e. Appearance, Dock, Security, etc.) is called a Pref Pane.

Mac System Preferences 1


This panel allows the user to specify general appearance options, such as the placement of scroll arrows and the color theme of OS X.

Desktop & Screen Saver

Here is where you pick a nice desktop background (also called “wallpaper”). The lab image is set to cycle through some relaxing abstract pictures once every hour. This is also where the screen saver is chosen.


The Dock is the icon bar at the bottom of the screen in OS X. It contains frequently used applications, as well as shortcuts to the lab application list and the trash. This panel allows you to adjust the size, magnification, and position of the Dock.


Exposé is a feature of Mac OS X 10.3 which allows you to manipulate windows with hot keys or active screen corners. The settings are configurable in this pref pane.


This allows you to change the default language for the system. We tend to leave everything set to U.S. English.


This is where you can enable and disable automatic log in, require password on screen saver, and set automatic log out times.

CDs & DVDs

This panel determines what happens when a CD or DVD disc is inserted into the computer.


Displays lets you control the resolution, depth, contrast, and brightness of the screen. (Note that the F14 and F15 keys also allow you to control the brightness. Hold F14 to dim the screen for dark room presentations, or F15 to bring the brightness back up.)

Energy Saver

This panel controls how long the computer sits idle before the screen shuts off, and also how long before the computer goes to sleep.

Keyboard & Mouse

You can change the key repeat rate and other keyboard stuff here, as well as set keyboard shortcuts. Also, it controls the tracking and double click speed of the mouse.

Print & Fax

Offers the ability to set-up new printers, choose how OS X remembers which printer to use, and sets default page size. Also, this panel provides options for setting the Mac up for faxing.


Lets you choose a pretty system beep.


This is where you set up iDisk accounts and enter your .Mac membership information. Unnecessary in labs.


This is a frequently-used panel that allows users to adjust how their computer connects to the network. It’s also the easiest way to find the computer’s IP address.


This panel controls Quicktime behavior, and how fast Quicktime thinks it’s connected (for optimum movie buffering).


Controls file sharing, firewall, and internet service settings.


This is where administrators can create, delete, and manage other accounts, as well as their own.


This is the panel that controls the Classic (OS 9) environment. The Classic environment is a little bit like an emulator, running OS 9 programs within the larger OS X system. If a Classic program crashes, it’s likely that the whole Classic environment will be taken down with it. OS X and its programs, however, will not be affected. Classic can be restarted from this preference panel, or by opening a Classic application.

Date & Time

This panel controls (surprise) the Date and Time of the computer. It also allows you to change what time zone the computer thinks it’s in, how the clock is displayed in the menu bar, and what network time server the computer syncs with. The default time server for Luther computers is

Software Update

Controls how often the system checks for software updates.


Controls what voice the Mac talks with. Also lets you turn on/off speech recognition.

Startup Disk

This panel allows you to choose which system you want to start up the computer with.

Universal Access

Lets you adjust the zoom settings, among other things.

Sophos Anti-Virus

Opens up the control panel for Sophos.