IN THIS CHAPTER
Navigating System Preferences
Locating specific controls
Customizing Big Sur from System Preferences
Remember the old TV series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea? You always knew you were on the bridge of the submarine Seaview because it had an entire wall made up of randomly blinking lights, crewmen darting about with clipboards, and all sorts of strange and exotic-looking controls on every available surface. You could fix just about anything by looking into the camera with grim determination and barking an order. After all, you were On the Bridge. That’s why virtually all the dialogue and action inside the sub took place on that one (expensive) set: It was the nerve center of the ship and a truly happenin’ place to be, just like the bridge of your favorite starship from an entire host of TV shows and movies.
In the same vein, I devote this chapter to the System Preferences window and the most commonly used settings within it. After all, if you want to change how Big Sur works or customize the features of your favorite operating system, you should head toward System Preferences. This one window is the nerve center of macOS and a truly happenin’ place to be. Sorry, there’s no built-in wall of randomly blinking lights — but you do find exotic controls just about everywhere.
The System Preferences window, shown in Figure 5-1, is a self-contained beast. You can reach it in the following ways:
When the System Preferences window is open, you can click any of the icons to switch to that pane. The entire window morphs to display the settings for the selected pane. Figure 5-2 shows the Sound pane, which allows you to set a system alert sound, configure your MacBook’s built-in microphone, and choose among several audio output options.
Many panes also include tabbed buttons at the top — in this case, Sound Effects, Output, and Input. You can click these tabs to switch to another section of the same pane. Many panes in System Preferences have multiple sections. This design allows our friends at Apple to group a large number of related settings in the same pane (without making things too confusing).
To return to the top-level System Preferences pane from any other pane, just click the Show All button (located in the top-left corner of the pane, bearing a grid of dots) or press ⌘ +L. You can also click the familiar Previous and Next buttons to move backward through the panes you’ve already visited and then forward again, in sequence. (Yep, these buttons work just like the browser controls in Safari. Sometimes, life is funny that way.)
Although the System Preferences panes are arranged by category when you install Big Sur, you can also display the panes in alphabetical order. To arrange the panes in this way, choose View ⇒ Organize Alphabetically. Note that you can also choose any pane directly from the View menu. Choose View ⇒ Customize, and you can hide specific icons from the System Preferences window. Just deselect the check box next to each icon you want to hide and then click Done. You can still reach hidden icons from the System Preferences View menu, so they’re not banished forever.
You won’t find an OK button that you have to click to apply any System Preferences changes. Apple’s developers do things the right way. Your changes to the settings in a pane are automatically saved when you click Show All or when you click the Close button in the System Preferences window. You can also press ⌘ +Q to exit the window and save all your changes automatically. This is one of my favorite shortcuts.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could search all the panes in System Preferences — with those countless radio buttons, check boxes, and slider controls — from one place, even when you’re not quite sure what you’re looking for?
Figure 5-3 shows exactly that kind of activity taking place. Just click in the System Preferences Spotlight search box (located in the top-right corner of the pane, with the magnifying-glass icon), and type just about anything. If you know part of the name of a particular setting you need to change, for example, type that. Big Sur highlights the System Preferences panes that might contain matching settings. And if you’re a switcher from the Windows world, you can even type what you might have called the same setting in Windows.
The System Preferences window dims, and the icons that might contain what you’re looking for stay highlighted. Slick.
If you need to reset the search box to try again, click the X icon that appears at the right end of the box to clear it.
It’s time to get down to brass tacks: Open the most-often-used panes in System Preferences to see what magic you can perform. I don’t discuss all the panes because I cover many of them in other chapters. In fact, you may never need to open some System Preferences panes, such as the Language & Region pane. This chapter covers just about all the settings you’re likely to use on a regular basis.
If you’re a heavy-duty gamer, or if you work with applications such as Keynote and Adobe Photoshop, you probably switch your monitor’s characteristics regularly. To switch easily, visit the Displays pane, shown in Figure 5-4.
This pane includes three sections:
Display: To allow Big Sur to choose the best resolution for your display, select the Default for Display radio button. To select a resolution manually, select the Scaled radio button and then select the resolution you want to use in the Resolutions list that appears. In most cases, you want to use the highest resolution.
Move the Brightness slider to adjust the brightness level of your MacBook’s display. If you like, you can enable the Automatically Adjust Brightness check box to allow your MacBook to select a brightness level.
Ready to stream content to your TV directly from your MacBook — without cables? You can use Big Sur’s wireless AirPlay Display feature to send the display from your MacBook to your HDTV. AirPlay requires an Apple TV unit that supports this feature. You can also send the audio from your MacBook directly to an AirPlay-enabled receiver or speaker system. To make it easier to control AirPlay, select the check box titled Show Mirroring Options in the Menu Bar When Available. (Note that the icon will appear on your menu bar only when an Apple TV unit is within range.)
Night Shift: If your MacBook was built in 2012 or later, the Night Shift feature allows Big Sur to automatically adjust your display to provide warmer colors during nighttime operation. Click Schedule to choose either Sunset to Sunrise operation, or create your own custom schedule. You can also turn on Night Shift manually by selecting the Turn On Until Tomorrow check box. Finally, adjust the Color Temperature slider to increase or decrease the warmth of colors on your display.
If you connect your MacBook to one (or more) external monitors, don’t be surprised to see the Arrangement section appear as well. You can drag the output to a different monitor, drag the menu bar to another screen, or mirror the same output to all displays connected to your MacBook.
No offense to the awesome Big Sur mountainous default background, but what if you want to choose your own background? And what about one of those nifty Apple screen savers? You can change both the background and screen saver by using these options in the Desktop & Screen Saver pane.
The settings on the Desktop panel, shown in Figure 5-5, are
The settings on the Screen Saver tab are
Hot Corners: Click the Hot Corners button and then click any of the four pop-up menus in the four corners of the screen. Doing so designates that corner as an activation hot corner for several functions within Big Sur. When you move your cursor to that hot corner, the function you specified is triggered automatically.
For additional security, check out the Security & Privacy pane in System Preferences, where you find the Require Password After Sleep or Screen Saver Begins check box. When you select this check box and choose a delay period from the drop-down menu, Big Sur requires your user account password before allowing anyone to turn off the screen saver (a great idea for use when you’re traveling, as you can imagine).
Figure 5-6 shows the Mission Control and Spaces settings you can configure in this group. You can use Mission Control to view all the application windows you’re using at one time so that you can select a new active window, or you can move all windows aside so that you can see the Desktop.
The settings are
Keyboard and Mouse Shortcuts: From each pop-up menu, set the key sequences (and mouse settings) for Mission Control, Application Windows, Show Desktop, and Show Dashboard.
You’re not limited to keyboard and mouse shortcuts in the pop-up menus. Press the Shift, Control, Option, and ⌘ keys while a pop-up menu is open, and these modifiers appear as menu choices! (Heck, you can even combine modifiers, such as ⌘ +Shift+F9 instead of just F9.)
Hot Corners: Click the button in the bottom-left corner of the pane to specify your hot-corner settings. These four pop-up menus mirror those of the Desktop & Screen Savers pane, allowing you to control the operation of the screen management features within Big Sur. Click one menu to designate that corner as one of the following:
Note that you can also set the Screen Saver Start and Disable corners from the Hot Corners pop-up menus, as well as put your display to sleep or lock it.
The talented General pane, shown in Figure 5-7, determines the look and operation of the controls that appear in application windows and Finder windows. It looks complex, but I cover each option in this selection.
The settings are
I’m an environmentalist — it’s not surprising how many techno types are colored green — so the four sections of the Battery pane (shown in Figure 5-8) are pretty doggone important. When you use them correctly, you not only conserve battery power but also invoke the features of Big Sur to automatically start up and shut down your laptop whenever you like!
Click the Usage History item to display both your Battery Usage and your Screen On usage (the amount of time you’re actually using your MacBook). You can switch between the last 24 hours and the last 10-day period.
Click the Battery item to make changes that apply when your MacBook is running on battery power. You can choose to display your battery level as an icon in your Finder menu bar by selecting the Show Battery Status in Menu Bar check box. To choose a delay period for blanking your screen, drag the Turn Display Off After slider to the desired period (or choose Never to disable display sleep). Enable the check box titled Slightly Dim the Display While on Battery Power to save additional power by reducing the brightness of your MacBook’s screen. (I can hardly notice the difference, but your laptop’s battery will thank you!) Click the check box titled Enable Power Nap While on Battery Power to allow Big Sur to download updates, update iCloud data, and check for new mail and messages while your MacBook is closed. (Note that the Power Nap feature causes your laptop to use significantly more energy in sleep mode, and it’s possible for the battery to drain completely.)
Click the Power Adapter item to specify settings that apply when your laptop is connected to an AC outlet. (Your MacBook automatically switches to the proper configuration — Battery or Power Adapter — when you plug in or unplug your laptop.) The Power Adapter settings closely mirror those in the Battery section, with a couple of exceptions:
Click the Schedule entry if you want to start up or shut down your laptop at a scheduled time. Select the desired schedules (the Start Up or Wake check box and the Shut Down/Sleep check box) to enable them. Then click the up and down arrows next to the time display to set the trigger time. Click OK to return to the Energy Saver pane.
I’ll come clean: I think the Dock is the best thing since sliced bread. (I wonder what people referred to before sliced bread was invented?) Click the Dock & Menu Bar item in the list on the left, and you can use the settings shown in Figure 5-9 to configure the Dock’s behavior until it fits your personality like a glove.
These settings are
Click any of the entries at the left of the pane to specify where you can quickly change settings for that feature from the macOS Desktop: the new Control Center display; the Finder menu bar; or (with some entries) you can even choose both! Each entry has its own panel that appears, as well as a visual representation of the location and its appearance in macOS. Note that some settings can appear only in the Finder menu (like the icons for the Clock and Time Machine).
So you’re in a neighborly mood and want to share your toys with others on your local wired or wireless network. Perhaps you’d like to start your own website or protect yourself from the Bad Guys on the Internet. All these fun diversions are available from the Sharing pane in System Preferences, shown in Figure 5-10.
Click the Edit button to change the default network name assigned to your MacBook during the installation process. Your current network name is listed in the Computer Name text field.
Each entry in the services list controls a specific type of sharing, including Screen Sharing, File Sharing (with other Macs and PCs running Windows), Media Sharing, Printer Sharing, Remote Login, Remote Management (using Apple Remote Desktop), Remote Apple Events, Bluetooth Sharing, Internet Sharing, and Content Caching (which stores updates and other content for later installation). To turn on any of these services, select the On check box for that service. To turn off a service, click its On check box to deselect it.
From a security standpoint, I highly recommend that you enable only the services you actually use. Each service you enable automatically opens your Big Sur firewall for that service. Here’s a Mark’s Maxim to remember:
When you click one of the services in the list, the right side of the Sharing pane changes to display the settings you can specify for that particular service.
MacBook users are thrilled with the Time Machine automatic backup feature that’s built into Big Sur. It has saved my stuff numerous times. You can easily configure how Time Machine handles your backups from this pane, shown in Figure 5-11. (Chapter 21 covers how to use Time Machine.) You need an external drive (or an AirPort Time Capsule wireless backup device) for the best backup security, of course. Note that Time Machine doesn’t work with a CD or DVD rewritable drive; you must use an external drive, a Time Capsule device, or a high-capacity USB flash drive.
To enable Time Machine, click the Back Up Automatically check box and then select a disk to hold your Time Machine backup data on the sheet that appears. Click Use Disk on the sheet to confirm your choice. (Your external backup drive should be at least twice the capacity of your internal drive, ensuring that your backup files have the elbow room they need.) If you have an external Time Capsule wireless unit, click Set Up (instead of Use Disk) on the sheet.
By default, Time Machine backs up all the drives on your system, but you may not need to back up some folders on your MacBook. To save time and backup-drive space, Time Machine allows you to exclude specific folders from the backup process. Click Options and then click the Add button (with the plus sign) to select the drives or folders you want to exclude. They appear in the Exclude These Items From Backups list.
If you’d rather not back up while your MacBook is running on battery power, click the Options button and disable the Back Up While on Battery Power check box, then click Save.
From the iCloud section of the Big Sur Apple ID Preferences pane, shown in Figure 5-12, you can specify which types of data are automatically pushed to your MacBook and iOS devices. If you haven’t created an iCloud account yet — or if you signed out of an existing account earlier — System Preferences prompts you to enter your Apple ID and password. Click Sign In to display the contents of the iCloud pane.
The check boxes for each category are
Find My Mac: Locate your MacBook from a web browser or your iOS device. You can also choose to lock your computer remotely — or even wipe your laptop’s hard drive to prevent someone from stealing your data.
Wiping your MacBook remotely is a drastic step that will prevent you from locating it in the future.
To display the storage currently being used by your mail, backups, documents, and application data, click the Manage button in the bottom-right corner of the pane. Apple provides each iCloud account 5GB of space for free, but you can elect to buy additional storage from the Manage sheet.
The Notifications pane is shown in Figure 5-13. Each application that can display notifications appears in the list on the left side of the pane.
Click an application in the list on the left side of the pane to configure its notifications. Different applications display different options, but the settings can include the following: