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Using the Mac's Appearance Preferences Pane

Change the Basic Look of Your Mac

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Appearance - Using the Appearance Preferences Pane

The Appearance preferences pane.

The basic look and feel of your Mac’s user interface can be customized in many ways. The Appearance preferences pane, which is found in System Preferences, is the logical place to begin.

Open the Appearance Preferences Pane

  1. Click the ‘System Preferences’ icon in the Dock, or select ‘System Preferences’ from the Apple menu.

  2. Click the ‘Appearance’ icon in the Personal section of the System Preferences window.

The Appearance preferences pane is broken into four sections. Each section deals with items related to specific aspects of your Mac’s user interface. Jot down the current settings before making any changes, just in case you decide you want to go back to the original configuration. Other than that, have fun making changes. You can't cause any problems by using the Appearance preferences pane.

Appearance and Highlight Color

The Appearance and Highlight Color settings allow you to change the basic theme of the Mac interface. You can choose between two basic themes: Blue and Graphite. At one time, Apple was working on an advanced theme management system, but for some reason, it never made it into any of the release versions of OS X. The Appearance dropdown menu in the Appearance preferences pane is all that's left of the themes Apple once considered.

Appearance Dropdown Menu

  • Blue. This is the default selection. It produces windows and buttons with the standard Mac color scheme: red, yellow, and green window control buttons.

  • Graphite. Produces monochrome colors for windows and buttons.

The other control in this group is Highlight Color. You can use the Highlight Color dropdown menu to select the color to be used for highlighting selected text. The default is ‘Blue,' but there are seven additional colors to choose from, as well as 'Other,' which lets you use the Apple Color Picker to make a selection from a large palette of available colors.

Windows Scrolling and Minimizing

The windows scrolling and minimizing section of the Appearance preferences pane allows you to decide how a window will respond to scrolling, as well as where the scroll arrows should be placed in the window.

Place Scroll Arrows

  • Together. If you select this option, both the scroll up and scroll down arrows will be placed at the bottom of a scroll bar. You'll only need to move the mouse a very short distance to move up or down in a window.

  • At top and bottom. Historically, Apple always placed the scroll arrows at the top and bottom of a window. This was certainly a common sense approach; what could be more natural than clicking at the top of a window's scroll bar to go up, and clicking at the bottom to go down?

Click in the Scroll Bar to

  • Jump to the next page. This option allows any click within the scroll bar to move the view by a single page.

  • Jump to here. This option will move the view in the window in proportion to where you clicked within the scroll bar. Click at the bottom of the scroll bar, and you'll go to the last page of the document or web page displayed in the window. Click in the middle, and you'll go to the middle of the document or web page.

Bonus tip. No matter which ‘Click in the scroll bar to’ method you choose, you can hold down the option key when you click in a scroll bar to switch between the two scrolling methods.

Use Smooth Scrolling

Placing a check mark here will cause window scrolling to move smoothly when you click in the scroll bar. Leaving this option unchecked will cause the window to jump to the position you clicked.

Minimize When Double-clicking a Window Title Bar

All windows already have a minimize button (the yellow button in the middle of the trio of buttons in the top left corner of a window). A check mark in this option provides another way to minimize a window to the Dock. Long-time Mac users remember when a window's title bar served as a shortcut for minimizing the window.

Number of Recent Items

The Apple menu contains a ‘Recent Items’ entry that, when selected, will display the most recently used Applications, Documents, and Servers. The Recent Items list is a handy way to quickly return to an item you were working with earlier.

This section of the Appearance preferences pane lets you select the number of Applications, Documents, and Servers that should be listed in the Recent Items list. There are three dropdown menus, one for each category. You can select anything from None, which prevents that category from displaying any recent items, to 50, which is probably more items than anyone would want to display. The default for each category is 10 items.

Font Smoothing Style

The Font Smoothing Style dropdown menu lets you decide how best to display text on your Mac's monitor. Font Smoothing uses anti-aliasing to smooth out the jagged edges a large font can produce. The Font Smoothing Style dropdown menu lets you choose between five different styles, based on the monitor you have and the amount of smoothing to apply.

The options in the dropdown Font Smoothing Style menu are:

  • Automatic - best for main display. This is the default. It will apply enough anti-aliasing to ensure text looks smooth for the type of display you're using.

  • Standard - best for CRT. If you're using a CRT-based monitor, this will force font smoothing to a minimum, which usually looks best on CRTs.

  • Light. A step above the Standard setting for font smoothing.

  • Medium - best for Flat Panel. The standard level of font smoothing used for LCD displays.

  • Strong. This is the highest level of font smoothing available.

The last item under Font Smoothing Style is a 'Turn off text smoothing for font sizes XX and smaller’ dropdown menu (the default size is 4 points). Small fonts can look terrible when font smoothing is applied; this dropdown menu lets you choose a cutoff point for font smoothing. For most users, a font size of 8 is a reasonable choice, but if you find that small text is looking poorly on your monitor, try raising this number.

All font smoothing options take effect only after an application is launched. You will need to close and relaunch an open application before you'll see the effects of your changes.

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