From Mac Guides
System Preferences is an application bundled with Mac OS X that is used to alter global and user-specific preferences.
The main window of System Preferences shows many icons; when clicked, they load their corresponding preference pane. System Preferences is an application that can be kept in the Dock; it can also be launched by selecting "System Preferences..." in the Apple menu.
In the Tiger version of System Preferences, Spotlight integration adds the ability to quickly find a setting just by typing keywords. This sometimes works in several ways as you can type "desktop picture" or "wallpaper" to change your desktop's background (the latter being a more Windows-centric term). Previous versions allowed for customization of the toolbar so users could have quick access to their most often-used preference panes but did not have any keyword search.
System Preferences includes several sections, each containing several preference panes. Portions of some preference panes, and other preference panes entirely, may not appear the same on your system, depending on your hardware configuration. For example, Bluetooth will not appear unless you have a compatible Bluetooth module connected to your computer.
As of Tiger, System Preferences includes the following sections and their related preference panes:
These settings deal with options specific to the current user. This section includes, among others, Appearance, Desktop & Screen Saver, Dock and International.
Lets you choose between Blue and Graphite versions of the Aqua user interface in OS X — Blue is the default, and Graphite is a very muted variation included to appease graphic designers and others who feel that Blue is too distracting. Also lets you change some basic appearance aspects of Aqua, including where the scroll arrows go, how the scroll bar behaves, and the text-selection highlight color. Settings for font smoothing and the number of Recent Items in the Apple menu are also here
Dashboard & Exposé
Lets you choose Active Screen Corners and Keyboard shortcuts to activate the Dashboard and the three different Exposé actions. Default keyboard shortcuts for Exposé are F9 for all windows, F10 for application windows, and F11 for Dekstop; the default for the Dashboard is F12. Active Screen Corners for Screen Saver options can be set here also.
Desktop & Screen Saver
The Desktop tab lets you pick your desktop image or pattern (same as the wallpaper in Windows). You can set different size options, pick a solid background color, choose from Apple's included images and patterns, or you can use your own. Access to your Pictures Folder as well as your entire iPhoto library is included. You can also choose a different folder to browse or you can set your desktop from within iPhoto. Desktop images can automatically be changed by the system from a set of images at time intervals, on login, or wake from sleep. The Screen Saver tab lets you select from Apple's default screen savers and also from slideshows generated from iPhoto or folders of images. Any user-installed screen savers will also show up here. You can set options of each screen savers if available, preview them, test them, set an idle time to start a screen saver, and set Hot Corners (Active Screen Corners) for always and/or never starting the screen saver. Exposé and Dashboard options can also be set in this Hot Corners [sheets|sheet]. This preference pane allows different settings for each attached display.
Lets you chose the Dock size and magnification with sliders and turn magnification on and off. Also lets you choose the Dock's position (left, bottom, or right), set either the Genie Effect or Scale Effect for minimizing windows to the Dock, whether or not to animate (bounce) applications while opening, and whether or not to automatically hide and show the Dock. Many of these options can also be set from the Apple menu as well as control-clicking or right-clicking on the Dock's separating line.
The Language tab lets you take advantage of OS X's many included language localizations, ranking them in preferred order. The Formats tab controls date, time, calendar, number, currency, and measurement preferences. The Input Menu tab lets you select different keyboard layouts, character input methods, and character palettes, and can enable keyboard shortcuts and a menu bar item for switching among your favorites.
Lets you set a master password for the entire computer, require a password to wake from sleep or screen saver, disable automatic login, lock secure system preferences, auto log out after a set interval of inactivity, use secure virtual memory, and turn FileVault protection off and on. FileVault secures your home folder by placing it completely inside an encrypted disk image that mounts at login. Enabling or disabling FileVault on or off requires that you temporarily have at least as much free space on your hard drive as your home folder takes up.
Lets you set the keyboard shortcuts for the Spotlight menu and window. The Search Results tab lets you rank categories into the order you would like to see them in Spotlight results lists and lets you deselect any of those categories. The Privacy tab lets you tell Spotlight where not to search.
This section deals with hardware related settings, and includes sections such as CDs & DVDs, Keyboard & Mouse and Sound. Many of the options in these preference panes in particular may vary depending on hardware configuration.
The Settings tab lets you power off or on to internal Bluetooth modules, and select whether you want your computer to be discoverable, automatically open Bluetooth Setup Assistant if no input devices are present at startup, allow Bluetooth devices to wake this computer, and show the Bluetooth menu bar item. The Devices tab shows recent and favorite devices and lets you organize that list, configure those devices, and set up new devices. The Sharing tab lets you toggle Bluetooth file transfer off and on, designate a folder for other devices to browse, and set other options related to file sharing over Bluetooth.
CDs & DVDs
Lets you set a default action to run upon inserting blank CDs and DVDs as well as music CDs, picture CDs, and video DVDs. Possible actions include opening the Finder, opening another app such as iTunes, iPhoto, iDVD, or Disk Utility, choosing another application, running a script, having the computer prompt you each time for what to do, or to ignore the disc.
The Display tab lets you select a resolution, the number of colors, a refresh rate (if applicable), and the brightness of your display. It also lets you place a displays menu in the menu bar. The Arrangement tab shows up if you have more than one display connected and your video card supports spanning across displays. It lets you pick where the two displays meet virtually and which one is the main display, and it also lets you toggle display mirroring off and on. The Color tab lets you select a display color profile and calibrate a new display profile. The Options tab shows up for certain displays like Apple Cinema Displays and lets you set display-specifc settings here, such as the action associated with the display's power button. This preference pane allows different settings for each attached display.
Lets you select from presets for different energy use settings. On portables, each setting has two sub-settings for the battery and the power adapter. Lets you schedule startup/wake and shutdown/sleep at certain times. Under Show Details, you can see the settings for each preset and adjust the settings to create a custom optimization. Settings under the Sleep tab include if/when the computer, hard drive, and/or display are put to sleep after a period of inactivity. Settings under the Options tab include wake on modem ring, reducing the brightness of the display when using this power source (specific to portables), automatically dimming display before sleep (specific to LCD displays), restarting automatically after power failure, and showing battery status in the menu bar (again specific to portables). Sometimes processor performance can be set here, e.g., Automatic, Highest, and Reduced speed.
Keyboard & Mouse
The Keyboard tab lets you set the key repeat rate and delay until repeat with sliders. On portables, it lest you set options related to the F1-F12 keys. You can also re-map the modifier keys here. The mouse tab lets you set tracking, double-click, and scrolling (if supported) speed, as well as mapping buttons to specific functions on multi-button mice. The Trackpad tab (portables only) lets you set tracking, double-click, and scrolling (if supported) speed. It also lets you set many other options in relation to scrolling (newer trackpads), clicking, draggind, drag lock, and ignoring the trackpad while typing and when using a mouse. The Bluetooth tab shows battery level for a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard, and settings to show Bluetooth status in the menu, allow Bluetooth devices to wake the computer, and new Bluetooth device setup shortcut. The Keyboard Shortcuts tab lets you change, add, and subtract from the list of system-wide shortcuts, as well as restore the defaults. It also toggles full keyboard settings off and on, which allows you to tab the keyboard focus between text boxes and lists or all controls.
Print & Fax
The Printing tab lets you add and subtract printers using Printer Setup Utility and gives you access to individual print queues as well as printer-specific settings. It also lets you select a default printer for all print dialogs or automatically use the last printer used. And it lest you pick a default paper size. The Faxing tab lets you receive faxes on a computer with a modem and choose related settings like the number of rings before answering, where to save, e-mail, and print faxes. It also lets you set up a fax modem for outgoing faxes and show fax status in the menu bar. The Sharing tab lets you share one or more of your printers with other computers using Bonjour, and also lets other send faxes through your computer.
Lets you set the output volume and show a volume menu. The Sound Effects tab lets you choose an alert sound and volume, where to play sound, whether to play interface sound effects (copying files, throwing files away, etc.), and whether to play feedback when changing volume. The Output tab lets you choose a device for sound output. It also lets you choose settings specific to the chosen device, such as balance adjustment. The Input tab lets you select a device for sound input, monitor the input level, and adjust the input volume.
Internet & Network
This section contains network and internet related settings and includes .Mac, Network, QuickTime and Sharing.
Lets you set many options for your .Mac account, if you have one. The Account tab lets you enter your member name and password once here for many different apps (like Mail); it also tells you how many days are remaining till you have to renew. The Sync tab consolidates functions that were formally found in the .Mac portion of iSync; it lets you choose whether you want your bookmarks, calendars, contacts, keychains, and various Mail info synced with .Mac and how often. It also lets you place a sync menu in the menu bar. The iDisk tab shows your current used and total storage and provides a link to buy more. It also lets you toggle iDisk Syncing on and off, and whether it happens automatically or manually, and it lets you set access options for your iDisk's Public folder. The Advanced tab lets you see which computers are being synchronized with your .Mac account, unregister any or all of them, and reset the online sync data.
Lets you set up and select different networking settings and locations for every available network port, including AirPort, Ethernet, and Modem. For each port, there is a tab to set TCP/IP options (DHCP or manual IP address, etc.), PPPoE options, AppleTalk options, and Proxy options. Some ports, like AirPort and Modem, also have additional tabs for AirPort network joining options and dialing options respectively.
Lets you set many options for QuickTime. The Register tab lets you register with your paid QuickTime Pro code. The Browser tab lets you choose to play movies automatically and save movies in disk cache when viewing QT movies in a Web browser. The Update tab controls updating QT software and installing 3rd-party QT software and codecs. The Streaming tab lets you set the streaming speed and other streaming options related to video buffering. The Advanced tab lets you choose settings for the default synthesizer, the transport setup, MIME settings, and Media Keys, as well as toggling kiosk mode off and on.
Lets you set many options for sharing, including your Computer's name as it appears to Macs and non-Macs. The Services tab lets you toggle off and on sharing services such as Personal File Sharing, Windows Sharing, Personal Web Sharing, Remote Login, FTP Access, Apple Remote Desktop, Remote Apple Events, Printer Sharing, and Xgrid; you can also choose additional settings for some of these services here. The Firewall tab lets you control OS X's built-in Firewall; you can toggle it on and off and set up specific rules for specific ports. Any services you turn on in the Services tab will automatically be opened up in the Firewall tab. If you are running a third party firewall or have manually edited the UNIX ipfw that OS X uses, this tab will be visible but disabled. The Internet tab lets you toggle Internet Sharing off and on; it essentially turns your computer into a network router, sharing a connection from one port to another (e.g., an AirPort connection to connected Ethernet clients). Sharing a connection to computers using AirPort will also turn your computer into a very basic AirPort base station.
These settings are system wide, ie they affect all users. This section includes Accounts, Classic, Date & Time and Startup Disk.
Lists all accounts on the computer, labeling them as Admin, Standard, Network, and Managed. Lets you set add and subtract users and set global Login Options, such as automatic login, login window display, password hints, and fast user switching. Selecting an account in the list will present you with options in tabs. Selecting the account labeled My Account presents you with a Password, PIcture, Login Items, and Parental Controls tab — selecting accounts labeled Other Accounts gives you only Password, Picture, and Parental Controls. If any of these accounts are currently logged in, you may not change their settings. The Password tab lets you select your long name and change your password, as well as opening your Address Book card and toggling whether to allow this account to be an administrator account. The Picture tab lets you select your picture for the login window, Address Book card, and default iChat picture. This picture can be taken with an iSight. The Login Items tab lets you pick applications, documents, or server volumes to open automatically at login. Parental Controls lets you turn on and configure limits on a user's access to only certain parts of the system; Parental Controls turn a Standard user into a Managed one and cannot be set for an Admin.
The Start/Stop tab lets you start, stop, restart, and Force Quit the Classic Environment, do so at login, select a system folder to use, warn before starting Classic, and showing the Classic menu. The Advanced tab lets you start Classic with extensions off and emulates other Classic startup keyboard shortcuts. It also lets you keep Mac OS 9 preferences separate for each user, set a sleep interval for Classic Sleep, and rebuild the Classic desktop file. The Memory/Versions tab gives memory use and other info about currently running Classic apps.
Date & Time
The Date & Time tab lets you set the time and choose to use a time server to set it automatically. The Time Zone tab lets you pick your time zone and the closest city. The Clock tab lets you turn on and format the menu bar clock.
The Update Software tab lets you set preferences for the Software Update application; you can check for updates automatically on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, manually check for updates, and have Software Update download important updates in the background before notifying you they are available. It also tells the last time Software Update ran. The Installed Updates tab lists the name, date, and version of previously installed updates.
The Speech Recognition tab lets you toggle Speakable Items off and on and change related preferences. The Settings sub-tab choses and calibrates the microphone, change the listening key and listening method, enable and set a keyword, and enable a spoken acknowledgment of a command. The Commands sub-tab lets you select and configure command sets for different applications and open the Speakable Items folder. The Text to Speech tab lets you chose a voice and speaking rate of the system voice, and whether or not to announce alerts, when applications require your attention, speak selected text at a keystroke, have the clock announce the time, and change VoiceOver settings.
Lets you choose from available system folder to use to start up the computer. On machines that can boot into OS 9, this will contain OS X and OS 9 systems. It also lets you choose Network Startup from a NetBoot volume, restart the computer, and restart into Target Disk Mode.
Lets you choose from many accessibility options, including enabling access for assistive devices. The Seeing tab lets you toggle VoiceOver off and on and open the VoiceOver Utility. It also lets you turn on and configure display zooming and other display enhancement settings such as grayscale, enhanced contrast, and Black on White/White on Black. The Hearing tab lets you control whether the screen will flash when an alert sound occurs. The Keyboard tab lets you turn Sticky Keys off and on and configure them, and also can set a delay to ignore accidental keystrokes. The Mouse & Trackpad tab lets you use the numeric keypad in place of the mouse, add a delay or maximum speed to the mouse pointer, and change the size of the mouse pointer.
This section lists all third-party preference panes. Third-party preference panes can be installed for individual users as well as all users on a system — at ~/Library/PreferencePanes and /Library/PreferencePanes respectively. If none are installed, this section is not shown (and those directories above may not exist).