The System Preferences are where you customize, allow access and control how your system looks and behaves. You access them from either the Apple Menu or from the Icon in the Dock. They replace the Control Panels in "Classic" Mac OS. This page describes the preferences for OS10.3 (Panther), some of them have been combined and changed a bit from OS10.2 (Jaguar) which can be found here.
Some of the Preferences are only cosmetic and others are quite important and control internet and network connectivity. You can view them grouped (as below) or alphabetical, the option is available from the 'View' menu. To access any of the preference panels, click on the one you want to access and the window will change to open that preference. To view all of them again, click on the "Show All" button.
In the 'Other' section are 3rd party shareware additions I have made to my system and you will not have those unless you also install them.
Here you can make some personal choices of how things look and behave. Try some of the different options and see what is best for you.
Recent Items will be found in the Apple Menu and always available to open the applications and documents you have most recently used.
Font Smoothing helps to prevent fonts appearing jagged but often makes small fonts look worse. CRT displays are the bulky TV like displays and laptops are flat panel.
This is where you choose the background for your desktop. You can choose from the collections Apple included or from your Pictures folder or from any folder you would like which has jpeg or gif files.
You can choose to have your desktop change at a regular interval from a folder of images by checking "Change picture". Set the timing from the pop up menu and choose whether to see them in the order they are found in the folder or in random order.
From the Screen Saver tab you choose and set the timing of your Screen Saver. You can choose from the sets that Apple gives you or choose from your own folders of pictures. If you click on the Options button, you can make some choices for the transitions between the pictures. You can even choose a Hot Corner, if you put your cursor in a corner of the screen, the screen saver will begin. This can be quite useful to save your battery on a laptop or hide your work from a visitor.
There is a page devoted to the Dock here.
This feature is new with Panther and can be quite useful, especially if you work with multiple programs and/or windows.
All Windows (F9 by default) will create thumbnails of all the open (not hidden) windows and fit them on your screen, when you mouse over one, the title of the window will appear and you can click on any to bring it forward for your immediate use. By default the F9 key will activate All Windows, but you can set any F key and/or Hot Corner or mouse button to activate any of the Exposé functions. To return to where you were just press the same key or return your cursor to the same corner.
Application Windows (F10 by default) will create thumbnails of all the open windows of the application that is active so you can easily see all the windows you are currently working with and switch to another window if necessary.
Desktop (F11 by default) will move all windows to the very edges of the desktop so you can view your entire desktop. Very handy if you need to get to something which resides on the desktop.
Play with these, see just what they do and get used to using them as they are quite a time-saving feature.
Depending on the application you're using, you may be able to change the language shown in menus and dialogs. Click Language, then drag the language you most want to see in menus and dialogs to the top of the list.
Some applications cannot display their menus and dialogs in all languages. Applications that support the first language in the list will show their menus and dialogs in that language. If the application does not support that language, it will attempt to show the second language in this list, and so on.
If you don't see the Language you want or want to eliminate those you don't use, Click Edit and choose those that are appropriate for you.
The Formats tab allows you to make your choices for the format of Dates, Times, Numbers and Measurements.
Mac OSX allows you to use and change between languages along with the ability to use special characters very easily with a Menu Bar item. For more info see this page or click on the ? button at the bottom right of the window.
Be VERY careful using File Vault. The danger of data loss is greater than Apple admits. The items at the bottom of the page are not dangerous to use and can be of use if you need to protect your data from prying eyes.
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