How to use System Preferences settings on a Mac

Learn how to control and adjust your Mac's settings in every version of macOS up to High Sierra, with our guide to System Preferences


Sometimes to do what you need to do on your Mac will require accessing System Preferences. Those new to the Mac may be wondering "What is System Preferences on the Mac and where can I find it?" Others may be unaware of what System Preferences makes possible and how easy it is to make tweaks and changes to the way your Mac is set up.

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We aim to cover the whole of macOS/Mac OS X System Preferences in this article (now comprehensively updated to include the new features in macOS High Sierra). You can find the following:

Page 1: What is System Preferences, General, Screensaver, Dock, Mission Control, Languages, Security, Spotlight and Notifications

  • How to find System Preferences on a Mac
  • How to customise System Preferences
  • What you can do with General in System Preferences
  • How to change Desktop & Screen Saver
  • How to change the Dock using System Preferences
  • Using Mission Control in System Preferences
  • Languages and Regions in System Preferences
  • Security and Privacy in System Preferences
  • Configuring Spotlight in macOS Sierra
  • Changing Notifications settings in macOS Sierra

Page 2: Displays, Energy Saver, keyboard, mouse, trackpad, printers and sound

  • Mail and Messages in System Preferences
  • How to configure the CD / DVD drive in System Preferences
  • How to control the keyboard input using System Preferences
  • How to alter the display using System Preferences
  • How to configure the mouse and/or trackpad
  • Printers and scanners in System Preferences
  • Controlling Sound in System Preferences
  • Using the Ink preferences
  • Configure network settings in System Preferences

Page 3: iCloud, Internet Accounts, Extensions, Bluetooth and sharing, Network Settings, Touch ID, Users and Groups, Parental Controls, Dictation and Speech, Date and Time, Disk Utility, Time Machine, Accessibility

  • Configuring iCloud on the Mac
  • Setting up Internet accounts in macOS Sierra
  • Extensions in macOS Sierra
  • Bluetooth settings in macOS Sierra
  • Sharing in macOS Sierra
  • Network settings in macOS Sierra
  • Setting up Touch ID
  • User and Group settings in macOS Sierra
  • Parental controls in macOS Sierra
  • Dictation and Speech in macOS Sierra
  • Date and Time in macOS Sierra
  • Startup Disk in macOS Sierra
  • Time Machine in macOS Sierra
  • Accessibility

Read more: How to use Settings in iOS and macOS tips.

How to get to System Preferences/Settings on a Mac

The System Preferences application (basically, the settings on your Mac) is found in your Applications folder. It is also available from the Apple menu at the top-left of the screen (click the Apple logo). It may also be in your Dock at the bottom of the screen - the icon is a set of interlinked cogs, like the image above.

If you want to add System Preferences to your Dock here's how:

  1. Search for it by pressing Cmd+Space and start typing System Preferences.
  2. Drag and drop the icon from the search result into the Dock below.

Now when you want to access System Preferences it will be there in your Dock.

When launched, System Preferences provides access to a number of panes that deal with various aspects of how your Mac works, appears and behaves, such as screen resolutions, wallpaper images, input device shortcuts, parental control settings, and internet accounts.

How to use System Preferences on a Mac

When System Preferences is first launched, you'll see rows of icons, each corresponding to a specific group of related options. Click on any icon to access the relevant pane.

If when you open System Preferences it isn't showing the below interface, click on the button containing 12 dots to get to it.

Alternatively, you can jump to settings for a particular thing just by click-hold, Ctrl-click or right-click -ing on the System Preferences Dock icon. Then you will see a contextual menu, as below. At the top of the menu you'll see the name of the currently active pane.

If you're not sure exactly what you're looking for, use the built-in search in the top right corner of System Preferences. Click in the search field (or press Cmd+F) and start typing.

As you type, the number of subjects in the results list will be filtered to match your search term, and spotlights will appear, highlighting potentially relevant panes that might offer what you require. Use the cursor keys to navigate the results list and the spotlight will become more vivid over the option you're about to choose. Pressing Return or clicking a results list item will confirm.

How to customise System Preferences

There are two different kinds of customisation worth noting with system preferences: the panes that are installed and the panes that are visible. By default, macOS High Sierra and earlier versions of OS X will provide you with just under 30 panes (the exact number is determined by the hardware you're using - for example, if you've no optical drive, 'CDs and DVDs' will not be shown), but third-party products may also install into System Preferences. Such panes are placed at the very bottom of the window.

A third-party System Preferences pane can be removed either by the pane's own uninstaller (if it has one) or by Ctrl/right-clicking it and selecting 'Remove…'

You can reorder the panes by using the View menu, which provides options for organising panes by category or listing everything alphabetically.

Click View > Customize to enable changes to be made. When you select this option, checkboxes appear next to each pane. Deselect any pane's checkbox and click Done and the pane will be hidden, but it will remain accessible from the View menu and when performing searches. Revert a pane's visibility by using View > Customize, selecting its checkbox and clicking Done.

Read next: Which Mac do I have: How to identify model, year and serial number and How to check your Mac's tech specs

General Settings on a Mac

The General pane is a grab-bag of options related to appearance, scroll bars, document behaviour and the number of recent items shown in the Apple menu.

The Appearance menu determines the button, menu and window theme for your Mac, enabling you to switch between Blue and Graphite. This affects default buttons in dialogs, selected menu items, and also the close/minimise/full-screen buttons at the top-left of most app windows. With the Graphite theme, all of these are grey. In the Blue theme, you get the familiar 'traffic light' buttons at the top-left of windows and blue buttons/selected menu items elsewhere.

New in Yosemite was the Use dark menu bar and Dock checkbox. This turns the menu bar and Dock black, rather than white, to better fit in with some professional applications that have dark interfaces and help tone things down so that the menu is less distracting. This option also adjusts Spotlight's appearance. Read: Turn on the Macs's Dark Mode

New in El Capitan was the Automatically hide and show the menu bar setting. When active, this option hides the menu bar unless the cursor is at the top of the screen, in a similar manner to how you can show and hide the Dock (which you can do by right clicking on the Dock and clicking Turn Hiding On).

Highlight colour enables you to change the colour of highlighted content such as selected text in documents, as below. Apple provides a list of colours you can choose from, but you can define your own by selecting Other and using the standard Mac colour picker. Read next: How to customise your Mac's desktop

Sidebar icon size gives you alternate options for the size of icons in Finder's sidebar. Medium is the default, Large is good if you find it hard to accurately click the existing icons, and Small is the best choice if you've a small display or like squinting a lot. Note that the setting you define here also affects the sidebar in Mail.

Show Scroll Bars adjusts how scroll bars in macOS/OS X behave. By default, they are not visible, but show automatically when you move your mouse or trackpad over them, their visual appearance in part defined by the input device. You can adjust this so that they only show when scrolling regardless of the input device (akin to how scrolling works on iOS), or always show when content is too big for the viewport. The last of those options provides much thicker scroll bars than what you usually see when scrolling; instead, their appearance is like when you hover over a MacOS/OS X scroll bar and it widens for drag-based interaction.

The Click in the scroll bar to setting changes how macOS/OS X jumps to content when you click inside a scroll bar. With Jump to the next page selected, content jumps in screen-heights or pages, in the direction of your click; with Jump to the spot that's clicked, it instead jumps to the point in the document relative to the location clicked on the scroll bar. The first option is less abrupt but slower. If, for example, you were looking at the top part of a very large list in Finder and then clicked the bottom of the scroll bar, Jump to the next page would take several clicks to reach the bottom of the list, but with Jump to the spot… it would take only one.

The Default web browser menu is a setting that usually exists in a browser's preferences, but you can now define in System Preferences whether Safari or another browser should launch when you, for example, click a link in an email.

The next group of options deals with document behaviours. Ask to keep changes when closing documents and Close windows when quitting an application do much as you'd expect. In the former case, it's worth noting that changes are automatically saved when documents are closed: by turning on this option, you instead get the choice regarding whether to save the changes or revert the document to how it was when last opened. If you leave Close windows… unchecked, open documents should reappear as they were when you last closed an application. Check this option and applications will launch without any open documents, unless they have their own built-in settings to override macOS/OS X's default behaviour.

The Recent items option defines how many items appear in the Recent Items menu in the Apple menu. By default, up to 10 of each type (applications, documents, servers) are shown, but other options are provided. Note that any setting chosen also affects recent-item Dock stacks. You can create one of those by typing the following in Terminal and then hitting Return:

defaults write persistent-others -array-add '{ "tile-data" = { "list-type" = 1; }; "tile-type" = "recents-tile"; }' ; killall Dock

Allow Handoff between this Mac and your iCloud devices determines whether the Mac has the capability to send/receive in-progress documents to/from iCloud devices running compatible versions of macOS, OS X or iOS. Unless you've a compelling reason to turn it off, don't.

Finally, the LCD font smoothing option makes text appear in a slightly more pleasing manner in macOS/OS X. Again, there's no compelling reason to turn this off, so we suggest you leave it on.

Have some geeky fun with these Terminal tricks and projects for the Mac

Mac Desktop & Screen Saver settings

The Desktop & Screen Saver pane in System Preferences is where you adjust your desktop background image and/or the screen saver that kicks in after a user-defined period of time.

Switching the desktop image doesn't in fact require a trip to System Preferences. In Finder, you can Control-click any compatible image and choose Set Desktop Picture (in the Services sub-menu); similarly, Control-click an image in Safari and you may be able to select Use Image as Desktop Picture, depending on how the site is set up. You can also simply right click on the desktop and choose Change Desktop Background to jump to the settings screen. However, the System Preferences pane provides a much greater degree of control, along with a central area to access collections of images. (You can also access this pane by right clicking on your desktop and choosing Change Desktop Background.)

In System Preferences > Desktop & Screen Saver click the Desktop tab to access desktop settings. This will display a thumbnail of the current background image, alongside which will be its title. From the pane on the left, you can select collections of images. By default, you'll see two under the collapsible 'Apple' list (Desktop Pictures and Solid Colors), and your iPhoto and/or Photos albums appear under relevant headings. The next item is a collapsible list called Folders, to which you can add custom folders by using the + button. (Sneaky tip: Apple includes a bunch of folders in /Library/Screen Savers/Default Collections, which are otherwise only used for screen savers. They're worth adding if you like wildlife, space and landscape shots.)

To change the desktop background, select a collection and then click any of the images within. Alternatively, you can drag an image to the well from Finder. (Dragging from Photos doesn't work, but you can use the Share button in that app to set a selected item as your desktop image.) If the image is of a suitable size and aspect ratio for your display, it will be resized automatically. If not, a menu will appear enabling you to define whether the image should fill the screen, fit to the screen as best it can, stretch, be centred, or tile.

It's also possible to have your desktop background change at regular intervals. To do this, select a collection and then tick 'Change picture'. In the pop-up menu, define how often you'd like the background to change; options provided range from 5 seconds to daily, along with login/wake-up. If necessary, define how the images will fill the screen using the aforementioned pop-up menu. Your desktop background will at the appropriate times subtly cross-fade to the next image in the collection; if you instead want each change to be randomised, tick 'Random order'.

In OS X Mavericks, there was a lumped-in option to disable the translucent menu bar, turning it a solid light grey. This disappeared from OS X Yosemite, which moved transparency settings to Accessibility > Display, where they remain in El Capitan and macOS. This is a useful option for increasing legibility.

Change and manage your screen savers on a Mac

Click Screen Saver to access the screen savers pane. To the left is a selection of built-in screen savers; select one to choose it as the currently active screen saver (or choose Random to have one be selected at random whenever the screen saver is activated), and use the Start after menu to determine how long your Mac remains idle before the screen saver starts. Optionally, a clock can be overlaid on the screen saver, by checking Show with clock.

Depending on the screen saver chosen, you may get options. For the various photography-based screen savers, you'll see a Source menu, enabling you to define a source folder of photos to use. On choosing a new source, the screen saver preview will update accordingly. Checking Shuffle slide order randomises the presentation from the selection of images.

For other screen savers, you'll get a Screen Saver Options button that when clicked provides in-context settings for that particular screen saver. For example, Apple's own Flurry enables you to adjust how many streams of colour appear on the screen, how thick they are, and how fast they move.

To the bottom-right of the pane is a Hot Corners… button. The options are shared with Mission Control and provide the means to trigger various macOS functions when you move the cursor into a screen corner. The first option is Start Screen Saver, and is a very quick means of activating the screen saver. This can be especially useful if you've also used the Security & Privacy pane to demand a password be entered to exit the screen saver.

It's also possible to install third-party screen savers. Once installed, these appear below the built-in options. If you later decide you want to delete a screen saver, Control-click it and select Delete.

Change the Dock using System Preferences

Many of the Dock's preferences can be adjusted by Control-clicking the thin line that divides apps and folders and choosing from the various options. However, the Dock pane in System Preferences is worth exploring, because it provides a very clear visual overview of all your Dock's settings.

Size and Magnification determine the size of the Dock icons and how much they expand when the cursor is over them. Magnification is best used when you've so many Dock icons that they're not easy to pick out unless zoomed; if you don't like the effect, you can disable magnification entirely.

Position on screen determines the screen edge the Dock sits on. Under OS X Mavericks, the Dock displayed as a flat rectangle at the left or right edge, and as a metal shelf at the bottom of the screen. Under OS X Yosemite, the Dock became a semi-transparent rectangle.

The Minimize windows using menu provides two effects for when windows are minimised to the Dock: Genie and Scale. The former appears to 'suck' the window into position, whereas the latter is a much simpler zoom that's less taxing on older Macs and also a lot faster.

Read: 12 Tips for using the Mac Dock

The 'Prefer tabs when opening documents' menu enables you to state whether new documents should always open in tabs, open in tabs only when an app is in Full Screen mode, or only open in tabs manually (the default). Note that not all apps are compatible with tabs. Those that aren't ignore this setting.

The remaining options adjust various behaviours of the Dock: Double-click a window's title bar to... enables you to select between zoom and minimise when making that action; Minimize windows into application icon sends minimised windows to the relevant app icon in the Dock rather than to the Dock's right-hand side; Animate opening applications makes apps bounce while launching; Automatically hide and show the Dock makes the Dock disappear from view when not in use, and demands you move the cursor to the relevant screen edge to show it; and Show indicator lights for open applications places a little black dot beneath the icons of apps that are currently running.

Using Mission Control in OS X

The Mission Control pane is the place for adjusting how Apple's window overview works. On newer Macs, F3 is a Mission Control key - press it and you see all your open windows (in OS X Yosemite these were grouped by app and badged with the relevant icon, icon; as of OS X El Capitan, the older Exposé behaviour returned and you can see all your open files at once). In this screen, you can also create multiple desktops (which Apple refers to as 'Spaces') that you can switch between.

In the System Preferences > Mission Control pane, the first five options determine aspects of how Spaces appear. The first option rearranges spaces based on recent usage, rather like the Command+Tab app-switcher. The second option when active automatically switches you to a space with an open window for an app when the app itself is switched to.

The next two options set whether windows are grouped by application (turn that on and Mission Control groups app windows alongside the app';s icon), and whether displays have separate spaces. With the latter option active, distinct workspaces can be created for each of your displays. (Apple also notes that should you at any point need to have a single app window span multiple displays, you should turn off Displays have multiple Spaces.)

Finally, the Dashboard menu enables you to set Apple's 'widgets' screen as a space, as an overlay, or turn it off entirely. As an overlay, you'll need to click the Dashboard app icon or use a keyboard shortcut - F12 by default - to activate it. Note that much of Dashboard's functionality now exists within Notification Center's Today view, so see if that works for you before turning Dashboard back on.

The second section, titled Keyboard and Mouse shortcuts, provides a centralised area to define shortcuts for activating Mission Control and the 'Application Windows' feature (which shows only the windows of the currently active app), and showing the Desktop or Dashboard. For any keyboard shortcut, you can define a function key or a modifier (a specific Shift, Control, Option or Command key), although the latter option isn't usually a good idea, because it makes the chosen modifier unavailable elsewhere. You can, however, combine a modifier and a function key: for example, to set Shift+F1 to activate Mission Control, hold Shift, open the Mission Control menu, and click F1.

It's worth noting that if your Mac keyboard includes a Mission Control icon on its F3 key, modifiers can be used in conjunction with that key in order to access Mission Control functionality: Command+F3 shows the Desktop, and Control+F3 activates the 'Application Windows' feature.

Finally, The Hot Corners button has been mentioned previously in our overview of System Preferences, and it works identically here - any one of the four screen corners can be used as a trigger for Mission Control, 'Application Windows', showing the Desktop, or opening Dashboard (among other commands, such as showing Notification Center or Launchpad). Reverting any of the menus to the '-' option deactivates the hot corner entirely.

How to set the Language & Region in System Preferences

This pane controls the language shown in menus and dialog boxes, and the formatting of dates, times and currencies. It will by default use the language you stated you wanted to use when you set up your Mac, along with the most appropriate formatting for your location.

You can add or remove languages from the Preferred Languages list by using the + and - buttons. On adding a new language, macOS will ask whether you want to use it as your primary language. If you confirm this is the case, it will be moved to the top of the list, and dialog boxes will change to the selected new language. The addition of a new language will also add a 'List sort order' menu, which you can use to adjust how names are sorted in Finder, if a language offers an order other than the Universal default. Some other aspects of macOS may require you to logout and login for changes to fully take effect.

To the right of the Preferred Languages list, you can update your region setting using the Region menu. If you change it (for example, switching between United Kingdom and United States), you'll see how other settings are automatically updated to match the region's conventions. Should you want to, specific elements can be overridden, using the menus: the first day of the week, the calendar used, and whether the time format is 24-hour; and whether the temperature is displayed in Celsius or Fahrenheit. With Time format unchecked, the macOS clock will use the 12-hour format typically preferred in the USA.

Any elements adjusted here may impact on apps elsewhere in macOS although some apps also have their own internal settings for certain things, and so you cannot rely on your System Preferences changes to always filter through.

The two buttons at the bottom of the window are Keyboard Preferences and Advanced. Keyboard Preferences takes you to the Input Sources tab within the Keyboard System Preferences pane, where you can define keyboard types for your machine (for example, adding one that's more suited to a particular language you often work in). Advanced opens a sheet that provides the means for editing a number of more detailed display options for your chosen region.

For the most part, these settings should be left alone, but if you have very specific set-up needs, they're worth investigating. Under General, you can change the format language for dates, times and numbers, and the number separators used for grouping and decimals. English uses, respectively, a comma and period for grouping and decimals (for example, 1,000.00), but if you're working in a language that uses something different, you can adjust the relevant settings here; similarly, currency and its relevant grouping/decimal options, can be defined, along with default measurement units for the system (Metric or US).

The Dates and Times tabs both offer a set of fields where you can drag individual date or time elements to design custom formatting. In Dates, for example, the 'short' date on a British English system would read 05/01/2014 for the fifth of January, but you can adjust this to suit your own preferences, add elements (such as the era or specific characters) or remove them entirely, clicking OK when done.

Be aware that changes made here can impact on apps throughout the system, and making major adjustments can have unintended consequences. If you decide you'd like to return to OS X's system defaults, go back into the relevant tab and click Restore Defaults (which is initially greyed out, but becomes a clickable button when any changes are made). At any point, when you return to the System Preferences pane, you'll see a brief overview of your settings under the Temperature or List sort order menu, depending on whether you have the latter visible.

How to set up Security and Privacy in System Preferences

When it comes to System Preferences panes, Security & Privacy is perhaps the most intimidating; it's therefore no surprise many Mac users avoid it entirely. However, it's crucial to understand the settings within, especially when you work with apps that require control over your computer, or if your Mac happens to be in a fairly open or public environment. In order to make changes to the settings within this pane, you'll likely have to click the padlock and input an admin username/password. Read: How secure is Mac OS X?

The first tab is General. The settings here are broadly split into two sections, the first dealing with logins and the second with the ability to install downloaded apps.

You can use the Change Password button to alter the password for the currently logged-in user. Click the button and you access a sheet, into which you type the old password, then the new one and a recovery hint; clicking 'Change Password' confirms.

Note that should you be using an iCloud password to login on versions of OS X that allow this (macOS Sierra does not), you'll get a dialog that gives you options to use a separate password, cancel, or change your iCloud password.

The three checkboxes are designed to secure your computer during your absence. The first when ticked makes it so your login password is required to exit sleep or the screen saver; the time limit can be set to one of seven pre-set values, including 'immediately' and the likes of '5 seconds', to ensure you aren't forced to input your password if you accidentally trigger the screen saver yourself. Note that if you later disable this option, your Mac will warn you and ask whether you want to carry on using iCloud Keychain.

The next checkbox enables you to add a message to the lock screen for anyone who tries to login while the screen saver's running. The third checkbox enables you to disable automatic login, and requires you to define a default account for the Mac, along with inputting the relevant password.

Read: Best Mac antivirus software.

The second section within the pane determines what types of app the user can download and install. This defaults to App Store and identified developers; leave the setting alone unless you've compelling reasons to change it - for example, installing a very trustworthy app that just happens to not have been released by an identified developer.

Under such circumstances in OS X El Capitan, change the setting to 'Anywhere' and then back again post-install, for best security. As of macOS Sierra, the Anywhere option is absent. However, you can launch unsigned apps in Finder by Control-clicking them and choosing Open.

The next tab is FileVault. This automatically encrypts your data - in fact, it encrypts the entire volume. With FileVault active, a password is required when booting the Mac to unlock the drive. Without the account password (or a recovery key provided during set-up), you'll permanently lose access to your data, so take care if you decide to use FileVault! Read how to change the admin password on your Mac.

Turning FileVault on is simply a case of clicking the sole button on the pane. Note down the recovery key, and you can also optionally enable the key to be stored with Apple, guarded by security questions. The drive encryption process can take minutes or hours, depending on the size of the drive and the data on it.

Note that FileVault is only protection for your data when the Mac's turned off. When you're logged in, it does nothing, and so is best used in tandem with the previously mentioned password for exiting sleep or the screen saver. If using FileVault, you should also encrypt back-ups in the disk-selection sheet of Time Machine.

To later disable FileVault, click the 'Turn Off FileVault' button in the FileVault tab.

The Firewall tab is for activating and tweaking your Mac's firewall, designed to prevent unauthorised apps, programs and services from accepting incoming connections. Click 'Turn On Firewall' to turn it on, and then 'Firewall Options' to configure it. In the pane, you can allow or deny incoming connections for listed items or add your own using the + button. By default, signed (trusted) software can receive incoming connections. You can also enable stealth mode, which means your Mac won't respond to any attempts to access it from uninvited traffic.

It's worth noting that if you're on a private home network, chances are your router already has a hardware firewall that's on and in use; firewalls are generally more important when on public networks. However, it's also unlikely to cause any major performance issues if you do activate the firewall. Should you have connection issues from other devices or to/from online services, it's worth investigating whether the firewall is the cause, though.

The Privacy tab is for defining which apps have access to certain services. Such requests are made for various reasons: for example, a calendar app might require access to your calendars in order to work; additionally, apps that control the computer (such as window managers and launchers) will need the means to do so, and permission is provided in the Accessibility section within this tab. There's also a Location Services section, for apps that want to determine your location.

In all cases, select from the list on the left and use checkboxes on the right to determine the apps that have access to the relevant service. Only deny access for an app you no longer use or that you're certain you no longer want to communicate with the item it requested access to. You can of course change your mind later if you find functionality on your Mac impaired by any decision you make in this tab.

Finally, at the foot of the page is the Advanced button. Click it to open a sheet with yet more options for securing your Mac: the means to log out after a defined period of inactivity; a requirement for an administrator password in order to access system-wide preferences that have been locked; and a setting for disabling commands from an infrared receiver. The Pair button can be used to pair the computer with an available remote.

How to change Spotlight settings in System Preferences

The Spotlight System Preferences pane enables you to define the kind of results that appear in Spotlight, along with the content Apple's search system happens to index. You can also amend the shortcuts used for Spotlight, by clicking 'Keyboard Shortcuts…', which takes you to the Shortcuts tab in the Keyboard pane within System Preferences. (Note that when changing shortcuts for Spotlight, ensure your choices do not clash with commonly used shortcuts elsewhere. You're most likely to need to amend the Spotlight shortcuts if you often work with multiple languages. Command+Space is also used by default to switch input sources.)

As of OS X El Capitan, it's no longer possible to reorder search results categories. Spotlight alone now determines relevance. However, you can still omit entire categories by unchecking their checkboxes. Note that some options require an internet connection. For example, if you're not online, you won't be getting Bing Web Searches, results from the iTunes Store, or live currency conversions.

Underneath the scrolling categories pane is the option Allow Spotlight Suggestions in Spotlight and Look up. This is a switch for Spotlight's capability for accessing smart results, such as sports scores, and those based on location, including nearby restaurants, cinema times and weather reports. Disable the option and these kinds of results will not be available. (Apple notes privacy implications for Spotlight Suggestions on its website, if you're concerned about your search data being sent to various online services.)

We've got some related advice in Tips for using Spotlight on Mac.

Click the Privacy tab and you can prevent Spotlight from searching specific locations. To add a folder, click + and then choose the location from the sheet that appears. Note that you can block entire volumes/drives from being searched by selecting the location drop-down menu and going up to its top level, which includes any attached drives.

In particular, we strongly recommend adding any drives that include back-up clones taken with the likes of Carbon Copy Cloner or SuperDuper! This is because otherwise Spotlight may return multiple results for essentially identical objects, and you might end up opening the wrong document in error (as in, the one from a back-up drive), editing and saving it, only for it to be overwritten during the next backup.

You can also drag items from Finder to this list; to later remove any item, select it and click the - button.

On a related note, you may be interested to read 8 great alternatives to Finder and Spotlight on the Mac.

How to change Notification settings in System Preferences

The Notifications System Preferences pane provides the means to manage and tame macOS Sierra's notifications system, which can be very helpful but also a huge distraction if you've loads of notifications coming in all the time. Read more about Notification Centre on the Mac.

The first option is Do Not Disturb. Select that and you can define a time period when notifications won't bother you. Optionally, you can also turn on Do Not Disturb when mirroring your Mac's display to a TV or projector, which is likely to occur when watching a film or during a presentation. Note that when Do Not Disturb is active, the Notification Center icon at the far-right of the menu bar will turn grey. Your System Preferences settings can be manually overridden at any point by opening Notification Center and flicking its Do Not Disturb switch.

Below Do Not Disturb in the sidebar, you'll find a list of apps.

Select an application and you'll get a set of options, and the default settings are designed to best suit the specific application they belong to; however, they're worth investigating, especially if you're getting deluged with notifications.

The first section defines the alert style, from which you can pick None, Banners (which appear in the upper-right corner and vanish after a few seconds) and Alerts (like banners, but require a user action to dismiss them). Simply click an option to select it, and its title will take on a blue lozenge as its background.

Below, you'll see up to four options. 'Show notifications on lock screen' defines whether notifications will appear when the Mac is locked, and is worth disabling on public Macs. Show in Notification Center allows you to adjust how many items for the app are displayed: 1, 5, 10 or 20. For the likes of Calendar, showing upcoming events, you might want a longer list, but the item number for many apps can be reduced without impacting your workflow.

The Badge app icon option determines whether a red badge appears on an app's icon when notifications occur (for example, unread emails for Mail). 'Play sound for notification' will make a noise when a notification appears.

Mail and Messages have an additional option: Show message preview, and this can be set to 'when unlocked' (the default) or 'always'; the second of those is not recommended for Macs in public places, unless you don't mind anyone potentially seeing a preview of your incoming messages. Twitter also has an additional option, a Notifications button that enables you to fine-tune what type of Twitter communications macOS Sierra notifications are displayed for; by default, Direct Messages are included, but you can also be notified about mentions and replies from people you follow or anyone who happens to contact you.

At the bottom of the window, there's a sort menu. You can set this to sort your notifications by recent notifications (Recents), recent notifications by app (Recents by App), or Manually by App. Bafflingly, there's no alphabetical sort option.

Although macOS Sierra has yet to get quite as notification-happy as iOS, we recommend taking some time to manage this section of System Preferences. Turn off banners and get apps out of Notification Center if you don't need notifications from them; and for those things you do need notifications from, minimise them whenever possible. If you're easily distracted but get a lot of email, for example, it's a smart move to stop Mail notifying you with a banner every time a new message comes in, but you could always leave the app icon's badge setting active, to provide an at-a-glance indication of how many unread emails you have.

Page 1: What is System Preferences, General, Screensaver, Dock, Mission Control, Languages, Security, Spotlight and Notifications

Page 2: Displays, Energy Saver, keyboard, mouse, trackpad, printers and sound

Page 3: iCloud, Internet Accounts, Extensions, Bluetooth and sharing, Network Settings, Touch ID, Users and Groups, Parental Controls, Dictation and Speech, Date and Time, Disk Utility, Time Machine, Accessibility

This is page two of our System Preferences article. Here's what you'll find elsewhere in the article:

Page 1: What is System Preferences, General, Screensaver, Dock, Mission Control, Languages, Security, Spotlight and Notifications

Page 2: Displays, Energy Saver, keyboard, mouse, trackpad, printers and sound

Page 3: iCloud, Internet Accounts, Extensions, Bluetooth and sharing, Network Settings, Touch ID, Users and Groups, Parental Controls, Dictation and Speech, Date and Time, Disk Utility, Time Machine, Accessibility

Display settings

The options you'll see within the Displays pane are in part reliant on your Mac hardware. At a minimum, you'll see Display and Color tabs for, respectively, setting resolutions and colour profiles. If you've multiple displays, that will add an Arrangement tab; some displays will also provide an Options tab.

Within the Display tab, you'll see an image representing your display (or the closest Apple equivalent), Resolution options, a Brightness slider, and some other settings that are determined by your hardware set-up. Under Resolution, 'Best for display' sets your display to the most optimal choice. Click Scaled to instead select from other supported resolutions. Hold Option when clicking Scaled and you'll get a larger list of resolutions. Some of these may not be supported well by your display, so use caution. Holding Option and clicking Scaled a second time reverts the list to recommended resolutions for your machine.

Resolution: On non-Retina Macs, specific resolutions will be listed (such as 1920 x 1200); on Retina Macs, you instead get pictorial representations of what your selection will achieve, labelled with the likes of 'Larger Text' and 'More Space'. Clicking an option will immediately change your display's resolution.

The Brightness slider adjusts the display's brightness setting more rapidly than using your keyboard's media keys (F1 and F2), and on notebooks you'll have an optional checkbox for automatically adjusting brightness; this is worth keeping on at all times unless you find it doesn't work well for you.

Other options you may see are as follows:

Rotation: Adjusts the rotation of the screen to 90, 180 or 270 degrees.

Refresh rate: Adjusts the refresh rate for the display.

Gather Windows: In multiple-display set-ups, you will get a separate Displays pane on each screen. Clicking this button gathers them all on to one screen.

Detect Displays: If you've multiple displays connected and the Arrangement tab does not appear, hold Option and click Detect Displays to give the pane a nudge.

AirPlay Display: This mirrors the display to another compatible screen, such as your television via an Apple TV. This option can be more easily accessed by checking 'Show mirroring options in the menu bar when available'. This gives you a drop-down AirPlay menu alongside the likes of Spotlight and your menu-bar clock.

Note that should you own a Retina Mac and/or want a more traditional resolution switch in the menu bar, consider installing the free but capable Display Menu, the user-friendly Resolutionator, or the extremely versatile SwitchResX.

The Color tab is something typical users will never need to visit, but if you work with photography and design, you may need to calibrate your display. Unchecking 'Show profiles for this display only' will list some popular profiles you can choose from. 'Open Profile' loads the current profile into the ColorSync Utility app, so you can delve into its details in the ICC file format. Delete Profile deletes any selected custom profile but will not remove those that are preloaded on to your machine.

The Calibrate option loads the Display Calibrator Assistant, a wizard for calibrating your display and creating a new bespoke profile for your particular set-up. The initial screen includes an 'Expert Mode' checkbox for users who require additional options beyond the defaults.

The aforementioned Arrangement tab appears when multiple displays are connected. If two displays are mirrored (denoted by the 'Mirror Displays' checkbox), basic representations of them will be overlaid. When this option is not selected, you can drag the displays around to change their positions. Typically, it's common to place one next to the other, providing a logical pathway for your mouse cursor to use, but you can place one on top of the other, if you wish. One of the displays shown in this tab will have a menu bar on, and that can be dragged to another to make it the primary display; however, as of OS X Mavericks, every display has its own menu bar anyway.

If you have an Options tab on your macOS install, its settings are specific to that display, such as using the display power button to sleep/wake the Mac or power down/power up the display, or disabling its own brightness controls. You'll need to click the lock and authenticate with your username to make changes.

The Night Shift tab can be used to define a schedule for adjusting your display's colours after dark. The idea behind Night Shift is to automatically remove blues and increase warmth, which may help you sleep better.

Our sister site in the US investigated this back in 2016 and concluded that Night Shift probably won't have much direct effect on you, and is perhaps best thought of as a placebo or a reminder to start winding down your time in front of a screen. Still, some people do find warmer colours are less likely to cause eye strain when working late - just ensure you disable Night Shift when working on colour-critical work!

Energy Saver options in macOS Sierra

The Energy Saver pane is designed to adjust power settings based on user-defined criteria, which can be especially useful when eking out extra minutes from a notebook. You may need to click the lock and login to make changes.

Again, there are variations on this pane, depending on the hardware you own. Desktop machines get a single pane with separate sliders for defining how long the Mac should wait before sleeping the computer and display. Further options enable you to sleep disks when possible, wake the Mac for network access, and to start-up your Mac automatically after a power failure. 'Enable Power Nap' is also available for Macs with newer processors; when selected, this option enables your Mac to perform basic tasks while sleeping, such as backing up to Time Machine and making iCloud updates.

The Schedule button provides further control, enabling you to define a start-up/wake time and a sleep time. These can each be set to run daily, only on weekdays, only on weekends, or only on a specific day of the week.

The Energy Saver pane on notebooks make some changes to these options, providing the means to define different settings for battery power and when you're using a power adapter. The Battery tab logically removes automatic restart after a power failure and waking for network access. You can also show your current battery status in the macOS Sierra menu bar by clicking 'Show battery status in menu bar'.

The MacBook Pro with Retina display makes further adjustments, removing the 'Computer sleep' option and adding the means to prevent the computer from sleeping automatically when the display is off.

In all cases, Restore Defaults will revert your Mac's settings to factory defaults.

CD & DVD settings in macOS Sierra

The CDs & DVDs pane only appears if you have an optical drive for your Mac. This doesn't need to be a built-in drive - just one that's attached to and recognised by your system. (Remote Disc does not count.)

The five menus are all broadly similar, enabling you to set a default action when certain types of optical media are discovered by your Mac, namely the insertion of: a blank CD; a blank DVD; a music CD; a picture CD, and; a video DVD. If the option is set to 'Ask what to do', you'll get a dialog box on inserting a relevant disc.

Alternatively, you can define a specific application or script to run, or tell your Mac to do nothing by selecting 'Ignore'.

Keyboard settings

The Keyboard pane provides a great deal of control over keyboard input.

The Keyboard tab has controls that change how your hardware works. The Key Repeat and Delay Until Repeat sliders, respectively, determine how rapidly a character repeats when its key is held down, and the delay that occurs before the repeating starts. Not all keys repeat. Although you can create a row of hyphens by holding '-', holding a letter will instead bring up a pop-up with related alternate characters, such as à or ä when holding 'a'; typing the adjacent number to any of these makes a selection without using the mouse. Read: Keyboard shortcuts for Macs.

Using Terminal, you can revert to older OS X behaviour (repeat for all keys) by entering the following command and restarting your Mac:

defaults write -g ApplePressAndHoldEnabled -bool false

Switching 'false' for 'true' reverts. Note that this command no longer works as of macOS Sierra.

The awkwardly named first checkbox in the Keyboard pane, 'Use all F1, F2, etc. keys as standard function keys', determines whether the top row of keys on your keyboard performs actions such as adjusting brightness and switching tracks in iTunes, or literally sends function-key-presses. The latter is often helpful in design software. Tick the checkbox and special features will require you to also hold the 'fn' key to activate them.

If you're using an older keyboard with a newer Mac, certain functions may not be available via special keys, but FunctionFlip enables you to remap keys to the likes of opening Launchpad (F4 on newer keyboards). However, you'll need to approve its use in Security & Privacy.

The second option enables you to access the Keyboard Viewer and Emoji & Symbols from the menu bar; these appear under a single menu extra. If you also have multiple input sources (see later), this menu extra will likely display as a flag. If not, the icon resembles a small keyboard with a Command icon.

Underneath these checkboxes are two buttons: one to set up a Bluetooth keyboard, which brings up the standard OS X discovery window, and one to change how Modifier Keys work. Using the menus in the drop-down sheet, you can turn off modifiers (Caps Lock, Control, Option/Alt, Command, Function), or swap them round. Unless doing so for accessibility reasons, they're best left alone. 'Restore Defaults' in this window restores factory settings.

The Text tab provides a wealth of auto-correction features. To the right are checkboxes for automatically correcting spelling, and, as of macOS Sierra, automatically capitalising words and adding a period with a double space (like on iOS). The Spelling menu provides the means to select a language (automatic by default).

Software will sometimes override any defined system default, and require you to specifically turn on such changes in Edit > Spelling and Grammar/Edit > Substitutions, or equivalent settings.

Below the Spelling menu are options for automating smart quotes/dashes, and also for setting the formatting of smart quotes.

The Replace/With table is for adding specific corrections, which is useful for regular typos you make that macOS does not correct or spellings it erroneously updates. It can also be used as a basic text expansion tool, for example expanding 'omw' to 'On my way!'. It's also possible to add multi-line entries in the With column by holding Option/Alt when hitting Return for a new line.

Your shortcuts should be shared using iCloud and can be especially handy on iOS where typing's typically slower. (We say 'should' rather than 'will' because this aspect of macOS and iOS alike remains oddly flaky.)

For shortcuts, it's important to not use text strings that could be accidentally triggered. One way of doing this is to end shortcuts with a double-comma. For example, you could have the likes of 'fivestar,,' expand to five unicode stars, or 'address,,' become your full address. (Double comma is a good 'trigger', because it's a pairing you're unlikely to use elsewhere when typing, and the comma key is readily accessible on all platforms.)

The Shortcuts tab houses system-wide and custom app-specific shortcuts, which are user-definable. These are categorised in sections, selected from the pane on the left; click one and you'll see all associated shortcuts on the right. Below the right-hand pane is a Restore Defaults button that reverts any changes for the current category alone.

Shortcuts are edited by double-clicking the zone to the right of a shortcut's name and then holding your preferred key combination. For example, select Screen Shots in the left pane, then double-click to the right of 'Save picture of screen as a file' and hold Ctrl and §. This will update the shortcut for taking a screenshot from the standard Shift+Cmd+3. Should you create a custom shortcut that clashes with another, you'll be informed (a warning triangle will be displayed, and also highlight the relevant category where the clash has occurred) and should then change one of them.

In App Shortcuts, you can create your own shortcuts for menu commands that don't have them, or ones you want to change.

Click +, choose an application (or 'All Applications' if you want your shortcut to apply across all apps with the same command), type the exact menu title, and then add your shortcut. Click Add to continue.

For example, if you'd like a quick shortcut for exporting PDFs from TextEdit, you'd choose TextEdit in Application, type 'Export as PDF…' in Menu Title, and then click inside Keyboard Shortcut and add your shortcut (such as Cmd+E). Note that the ellipsis is required in Menu Title; that can be typed using Opt+;.

Be careful to not override existing shortcuts within applications when adding custom ones, and note that you cannot revert this entire section to factory defaults; instead, you can select individual shortcuts and use the '-' button to delete them.

At the foot of the window, you can adjust how the Tab key works. By default, it will switch the cursor focus between text boxes and lists. So in Safari, for example, pressing Tab switches you between input boxes on a web page, but if 'All controls' is active, Safari tabs and web-page buttons are added to the cycle. In Mail, instead of only tabbing between panes and search, 'All controls' adds buttons and the 'Sort by' menu to the cycle. Generally, the defaults are fine and faster, but 'All controls' is a useful accessibility aid; you can also use Ctrl+F7 to toggle this command in an ad-hoc manner rather than triggering it in System Preferences.

The Input Sources tab enables you to add different keyboard layouts that you can switch between, such as ones that aid input in alternate languages, or the Dvorak 'simplified keyboard', which rearranges the keys in an attempt to increase typing rates and decrease errors. On selecting a keyboard, a preview of the layout is shown.

Optionally, you can choose to show the input menu as a menu extra, whereupon you'll see a flag or icon (as appropriate) in the menu bar to denote your current keyboard. Click it and choose a source to switch to it. You can also from this menu select the Character Viewer and Keyboard Viewer.

Shortcuts > Input Sources will appear on adding a second input source. This enables you to definea shortcut to switch to the next/previous source (Cmd+Space by default, which clashes with Spotlight, so it's best to change that to something else). The final checkbox enables you to automatically switch input source when you've chosen an input source for a document. The setting remains active only until the document is closed. For example, if you were working in two documents, one in English and another in Icelandic, you would choose Icelandic as the input source for the latter. Then as you switched between documents, OS X would toggle your input source between English and Icelandic keyboards without you having to do so manually.

The Dictation tab, when available, provides access to the interface for setting up dictation functionality. You choose an input source from the menu under the mic icon, select a language from the 'Language' menu, and choose a shortcut for activating dictation (Fn twice by default) from the 'Shortcut' menu.

Within the 'Language' menu, you can add further languages by selecting 'Add Language…' and choosing from the options in the sheet that appears - but note each may lead to a download.

When dictation is active, a little microphone pop-up appears and you can start talking. If you're using enhanced dictation (which is on by default in macOS, but may require a download when activated for older systems), words will appear roughly as you speak. If not, you'll have to occasionally pause to let your text upload, get translated and then download to your Mac.

While dictation accuracy isn't perfect, you can improve your resulting text by manually stating punctuation and styles (such as 'comma' and 'new paragraph'); rather oddly, the system understands 'smiley face' and 'frowny face', too. You can also use the keyboard to edit text while you speak.

Using your shortcut again will turn off dictation, or you can click the Done button on the pop-up.

Mouse options in macOS Sierra

The Mouse pane is where you define settings for a mouse connected to your Mac. The pane's appearance can vary greatly, and is fully contextual, the options presented depending on your hardware. Read: How to use a mouse and trackpad on a Mac

On opening the pane without a mouse connected, it will show an image of Apple's Magic Mouse, and state your Mac's searching for a mouse. The pane will update when a Bluetooth mouse is found and you can then (if relevant) start the set-up process; alternatively, you can just plug in a USB mouse. Regardless of the hardware you add, Set Up Bluetooth Mouse remains a button option at the bottom-right of the pane; adjacent, if relevant, will be your Bluetooth mouse's battery level. Apple provides a support document on pairing Bluetooth accessories with a Mac.

Plug in the most basic possible mouse and you'll see 'Tracking speed' and 'Double-Click speed' sliders, which, respectively, enable you to adjust how far the cursor moves across the screen when you move your mouse, and how quickly you need to double-click the mouse button for that action to be registered by macOS. Only set either value towards Slow if you're a relative newcomer or require slower responses for accessibility reasons; otherwise, tend towards Fast, especially with tracking. Doing so means you can cover more screen space with smaller mouse movements. Read: Best Mac mouse.

With more powerful/capable mouse hardware, you're likely to see more options. Plug in a two-button mouse and you can define the left or right button as the 'primary' one for click events (the other being reserved for the contextual menu); mice with scroll wheels will add a 'Scrolling speed' slider. Multi-button mice, such as Apple's old Mighty Mouse, may provide the means to assign actions to specific buttons, for example triggering the application switcher.

With Apple's original Magic Mouse, you get a significantly different Mouse pane, split into two tabs: Point & Click and More Gestures. Each of these houses a small number of options, and also videos of each option in use; these automatically play back when you hover the mouse cursor over the relevant item - you don't need to click.

Point & Click includes a Tracking slider, and also checkboxes for 'Scroll direction: natural', 'Secondary click' and 'Smart zoom'.

'Secondary click' when active enables you to use the right-hand side of the mouse as a virtual right-click button; the option can be switched to the left of the mouse by using the pop-up menu under the item's label.

The other two options when active echo iOS devices. 'Smart zoom' enables you to double-tap in Safari to zoom the content the mouse cursor is over; a second double-tap reverts. When active, 'Scroll direction: natural' scrolls content in the direction you move your finger, like you're pushing or pulling it. Turn off this setting and macOS will behave as older versions of OS X did, with your drags essentially controlling scrollbars rather than directly manipulating content. (So dragging downwards would scroll content upwards.)

In More Gestures, you can activate commands for swiping between pages with one or two fingers, swiping between full-screen apps with two fingers (assuming the previous option is not set to use two fingers), and accessing Mission Control with a two-finger double-tap. Read: How to use gestures to control your Mac.

Trackpad options in macOS

The Trackpad pane enables you to define functionality for your notebook's built-in trackpad, or for a Magic Trackpad connected to a desktop machine via Bluetooth. Like the Mouse pane, if no trackpad is found, you'll see an image of Apple's Magic Trackpad and the pane searching for one; again, there's a set-up button and you can refer to Apple's support document for pairing advice. Available options will vary depending on the hardware you have available.

The Trackpad pane provides three tabs: Point & Click; Scroll & Zoom; More Gestures. Many of the options can bring macOS inputs closer to what you experience on iOS. Hovering the cursor over any of the options provides a video that's representative of the hardware you're using.

Point & Click's options are all about moving the cursor and manipulating on-screen content. With 'Tap to click' active, you only need to tap your trackpad for a click event, rather than pressing down until the hardware physically clicks; we recommend this setting unless you accidentally trigger clicks all the time. 'Secondary click' enables you to bring up context menus with a two-finger tap, or alternatively (via the menu options) by clicking in the bottom-right or bottom-left corner.

If Look Up & data detectors is active, you can three-finger tap on a word and a pop-up will provide its dictionary definition.

The 'Tracking speed' option enables you to adjust how far the cursor moves in relation to your gestures (in much the same way as the equivalent option in the Mouse pane). On hardware that supports it, you will also be able to define the click pressure and toggle Force Click and haptic feedback. (This being used when performing gestures such as Quick Look with a more forceful click.)

In Scroll & Zoom, there are four optional settings: Scroll direction: natural; Zoom in or out; Smart zoom; Rotate. Zoom in or out and Rotate are two-finger gestures (respectively, pinch and rotate) that ape iOS equivalents, zooming or rotating documents in compatible apps. Scroll direction: natural, as per the Mouse pane's setting, 'pulls' scrolling content in the direction your finger moves, like it does on a touchscreen; and Smart zoom intelligently zooms and unzooms a section of a web page in Safari.

The final tab, 'More Gestures', provides a raft of options: Swipe between pages; Swipe between full-screen apps; Notification Center; Mission Control; App Exposé; Launchpad; Show Desktop. In each case, activating the option will enable you to trigger the labelled action by performing the associated gesture, for example accessing Launchpad by pinching with a thumb and three fingers. In the case of the swipe settings, Mission Control and App Exposé, there are alternate gestures available, although if you select a setting that clashes with an existing one, the new choice will be activated and the other will be disabled.

Note that relatively modern Apple hardware is significantly more nuanced in terms of its capabilities than the settings you find within System Preferences. BetterTouchTool is worth checking out if you want to experiment with additional and more complex gestures for controlling your Mac via its trackpad.

Read next: How to use the trackpad on a Mac

Printer & Scanner options

The Printers & Scanners pane is used to set up printers and scanners, define default settings for use, and to access options for a selected device. The default options are defined using the two menus at the foot of the window, and enable you to choose a printer ('Last Printer Used' or a specific device) and paper size. The initial selection for the latter of these will differ by region (US Letter, A4, and so on).

Otherwise, this pane will begin life empty. Clicking the + button enables you to start adding a printer or scanner. The process of installation may vary by model and type of connection.

For reasonably modern hardware, you may find macOS is capable of very quickly installing a wireless printer that you've already connected to your network. In such cases, the printer can be added by selecting it from the list (although networked printers will sometimes take a few seconds to appear after the window is first opened) and clicking Add. If necessary, macOS may ask permission to download software for your printer; click Install if such a dialog appears.

When working in an office set-up, you may need to use the IP or Windows tabs instead. The former gives you fields for entering the IP number of a printer and the protocol to use, along with the name and location of the printer. The Windows tab is for accessing printers installed in a Windows workgroup environment. Note that if you have virtualisation software installed, you may find instances of your existing printer within this tab. There is obviously no need to install it a second time.

Once a printer is installed, select it from the list and you'll see its information (name, kind and status). The 'Open Print Queue' button opens the printer's jobs window; 'Options & Supplies' will give you details about the printer, enabling you to change its name under the General tab, and access ink levels under Supply Levels. Some printers may offer further buttons, including website links, Driver (for details about the printer driver that's in use) and Utility, which opens a separate printer app.

Towards the foot of the window is a checkbox for sharing the printer on the network. Select it to do so.

If your device also happens to be a scanner, you will see separate Print and Scan tabs. The latter provides an Open Scanner button that launches the standard macOS scanning interface.

Read next: How to make any printer work with AirPrint | How to print from an iPhone or iPad | Best printer for Mac | How to set up WiFi printing from a Mac

Sound options

The Sound pane is where you define system alert sounds, and settings for audio inputs and outputs. Accordingly, it has three tabs: Sound Effects, Output and Input.

The largest section of the Sound Effects tab enables you to select an alert sound. Funk is the default; Sosumi will likely be a fun alternative for Mac veterans, given its Mac OS roots. You can add your own alerts by placing custom AIFFs into ~/Library/Sounds (for just your own account) or /System/Library/Sounds (for all accounts). You'll need to restart System Preferences to access custom sounds from the menu.

Below this pane are settings that affect the alert sound. 'Play sound effects through' enables you to define through which output you'd like alerts played. This defaults to your choice of sound output device, but can be overridden by selecting an alternate option (for example if you want alerts to play through your Mac's speaker and not a headset you're using for gaming).

The alert volume level can be adjusted to suit, using the slider; and with the checkboxes, you can define whether user interface sound effects are played (such as dragging something to the Trash) and whether you get audio feedback when changing volume using the keyboard's media keys (F11 and F12)

At the foot of the window is a global volume slider and mute checkbox (F10 is the keyboard alternative), along with a button for displaying the Volume menu-bar extra, which enables you to change the volume by clicking it and dragging the slider.

The Output and Input tabs enable you to select a device, respectively, for audio output (such as headphones, USB headsets and devices, and Apple TVs over AirPlay) and input (line-in, microphones, and so on). On selecting an output device, those that support it will provide a Balance slider to adjust where the centre of the stereo image is positioned; for a selected input device, you can adjust the input volume while simultaneously seeing the input level.

Depending on your recording software, this pane is worth being mindful of if you find recordings too quiet (input level too low) or distorted (too high). When using the internal microphone, you'll also get an option to use ambient noise reduction, which attempts to reduce background noise. Leave this on, unless you've a good reason to disable the option.

It's also worth realising that macOS isn't always especially intelligent regarding whatever you've plugged into your Mac. With USB audio devices, it will attempt to correctly identify them and display their names within System Preferences. However, if you use a standard stereo minijack lead to connect external speakers or output your Mac's audio to an amp via the Mac's headphone socket, macOS has no way of knowing this, and so that output will simply be called 'headphones'.

Note that you needn't access System Preferences just to perform quick switches of output and input audio sources. With the aforementioned menu-bar extra activated, Option-click it and instead of the volume slider, you'll see a list of available output and input devices; to switch to one, just select it in the menu. AirPlay devices will be badged with the familiar icon, differentiating them from other sources. Read: Best Mac for musicians

Ink options in macOS

Relatively few Mac users will ever see the Ink System Preferences pane, because it requires a graphics tablet that uses a pen-like stylus. Once such a peripheral is attached to the Mac, the pane appears after Sound. When opened, you can turn on handwriting recognition, or use four tabs (Settings, Language, Gestures, Word List) to define options.

When handwriting recognition is on, the Ink window appears, with buttons for toggling 'write anywhere' and your Mac's cursor, selecting function keys, opening and closing Ink's pad (which itself has writing and drawing buttons at the bottom left), activating Help, and returning to the Ink pane in System Preferences.

In Settings, you specify your handwriting spacing and whether you want Ink to work in any application (rather than just Ink's pad). Pen options enable you to pause to switch back to mousing mode, or to only Ink when a specific button is held. (This may clash with your tablet's settings, at which point you'll be prompted to make relevant changes.) You can also set an alternate font for Ink's pad (choose from Apple Casual, American Typewriter Bold, Didot and Monaco), and define whether to display the Ink window and menu bar extra.

Click the Options button and you access further settings, to define how rapidly handwriting is recognised, the distance the pen moves before you begin inking, and how long the cursor must remain still before reverting to mouse mode.

The other three tabs have rather fewer settings. Language defines the language Ink is set to recognise; Gestures outlines gestures you can use to perform system actions or insert characters, which can be disabled or activated by clicking the checkboxes; and Word List enables you to add uncommon words that Ink is then supposed to recognise (but, during testing rarely managed).

Page 1: What is System Preferences, General, Screensaver, Dock, Mission Control, Languages, Security, Spotlight and Notifications

Page 2: Displays, Energy Saver, keyboard, mouse, trackpad, printers and sound

Page 3: iCloud, Internet Accounts, Extensions, Bluetooth and sharing, Network Settings, Touch ID, Users and Groups, Parental Controls, Dictation and Speech, Date and Time, Disk Utility, Time Machine, Accessibility

This is page three of our System Preferences article. Here's what you'll find elsewhere in the article:

Page 1: What is System Preferences, General, Screensaver, Dock, Mission Control, Languages, Security, Spotlight and Notifications

Page 2: Displays, Energy Saver, keyboard, mouse, trackpad, printers and sound

Page 3: iCloud, Internet Accounts, Extensions, Bluetooth and sharing, Network Settings, Touch ID, Users and Groups, Parental Controls, Dictation and Speech, Date and Time, Disk Utility, Time Machine, Accessibility

iCloud options

Using the iCloud pane, you manage your details for Apple's iCloud service and also the components that are activated on your Mac. If you haven't signed in, the pane will simply be two fields - Apple ID and password - and a Sign In button.

Once signed in, you'll see your avatar, username and iCloud email address to the left of the pane, along with Account Details and Set Up Family/Manage Family buttons.

Click Account Details and type in your password to gain access to a sheet that enables you to edit the following: your name (under the General tab); email addresses and other means of contact, primary postal and email marketing preferences (Contact); security details, including your birthday, password, security question, and rescue email address for an emergency account reset (Security); Apple equipment using this Apple ID (Devices-requires verification to access); and primary payment method (Payment).

Set Up Family/Manage Family, respectively, enable you to set up or manage family sharing. In the Family Members tab, use the + button to add new family members by sending them an email invite. For a child without an account, you can create a new Apple ID for them.

To remove a member from sharing, select them and click the - button. You can also stop family sharing entirely by clicking Stop Family Sharing and then confirming this choice in the sheet that appears.

The My Apps & Services tab is new to macOS High Sierra, and enables you to fine-tune how apps and services are shared. In each case, select a category from the sidebar, and make your adjustments accordingly.

The four categories are Purchase Sharing, Apple Music, iCloud Storage, and Location Sharing. iCloud Storage is notable, because it enables family members to share iCloud space, rather than everyone paying individually. And although location sharing isn't new, it is new to the Mac - previously, permission for this was granted in iOS apps.

Back in the pane itself, the larger right-hand area enables you to activate or deactivate various services and data types iCloud can share between your devices: iCloud Drive (click Options to see an apps list); Photos; Mail; Contacts; Calendars; Reminders; Safari (bookmarks and open tabs); Notes; Siri; Keychain (passwords and payment data); Back to My Mac; Find My Mac.

Underneath, a bar details the status of your iCloud storage, for which Apple provides 5 GB for free (and, we think, could do with being a bit more generous). If you need more space, click Manage and you can delete existing back-ups from iOS devices, or specific app data.

Alternatively, click Buy More Storage and select an option to change your iCloud storage plan. For 79p monthly, you get 50GB in total; £2.49 gets you 200GB; for £6.99, you get 2TB. You can later downgrade if you no longer need the extra storage. Depending on your location, you may receive a partial refund for any time left to run on your current subscription plan.

If you decide you don't want to use iCloud at all on your machine, click Sign Out. However, if you're using an iCloud account and password to log in to your Mac, you'll then have to click Stop Using iCloud and create a new password specifically for the Mac.

Internet Accounts options

The Internet Accounts pane defines your online accounts at the system level, enabling services and apps to hook into them with your permission, potentially saving you typing in the same usernames and passwords time and time again. If you've set up iCloud already on your Mac, it will appear in the sidebar. To the right, you'll see a list of popular services you can add an account for.

To add a new account, click on a logo and a sheet will ask for information that's relevant for that particular service (usually a username and password, but sometimes other details too). On adding your details and clicking Next, you may see an overview regarding what the service will be allowed to do with your data. For example, signing into Twitter allows you to post photos and show links from your timeline in Safari; sign into Facebook and data will be integrated with Contacts and Calendar.

Once accounts are created, they can be selected in the aforementioned sidebar. Doing so loads their information into the area where the service buttons are otherwise displayed, enabling you to update their configuration. For example, Facebook provides the means to disable the account or just its connection to Contacts and Calendars, along with buttons for grabbing new profile photos and updating your password and account description. Twitter has a button for updating details in Contacts, and text fields for updating your password and account description.

Any configured email accounts give you settings for updating the name, description and password, and apps the account is used with; behind an Advanced button, there's the means to update other aspects of the account's details, such as its IMAP hostname, the port used, and whether the account uses SSL.

To delete one of the accounts entirely, select it in the sidebar and click the '-' button. Be aware that in many cases, deleting an account may remove data from relevant applications. Facebook offers a more nuanced approach: you get the choice of deleting Facebook contacts or keeping them, even if the account itself is removed.


Extensions enables you to control and enable/disable installed Apple and third-party extensions that can be used to customise your Mac. You select a category (All, Actions, Share Menu, and so on) from the left-hand side of the pane, and relevant items are then listed on the right-hand side. Each can be activated or disabled, respectively, by checking or unchecking its checkbox.

Available categories and extensions will depend entirely on what applications you have installed on your Mac. A new Mac will lack third-party extensions. However, install the likes of Dropbox and Fantastical and you'll see additional options. Photos lists installed extensions for editing photos.

The item categories are straightforward. All lists all installed extensions and groups them by app. Actions lists content extensions, such as Apple's own Markup, used for annotating imagery in compatible applications (like Mail and TextEdit) when you hover the cursor over an image and select Markup from the pop-up menu. Finder lists extensions that directly integrate with Apple's file manager, such as Dropbox. Share Menu enables you to control what appears in the Share menu found in supported apps, like Safari and Finder. And Today determines which widgets are available in Notification Center's Today view.

In all cases, disabling an extension in System Preferences immediately makes it unavailable system-wide. Note that app-specific extensions, such as those for Safari, are not yet listed in this pane.


The Bluetooth pane is used for controlling any Bluetooth devices your Mac is paired with. Using the button under the huge Bluetooth logo, you can turn Bluetooth on your Mac on and off; when it's active, your Mac's name is displayed under the button. (You may need to know it when trying to connect certain hardware.)

The main part of the panel lists devices paired with the computer and their current status. Hover the cursor over an item and a cross button appears, which when clicked removes the item from the list. Note that if you remove an item and then want to use it later, you'll need to pair it again with your Mac.

At the bottom of the pane is a checkbox that enables you to show Bluetooth in the menu bar. This menu extra provides a faster means of turning Bluetooth on and off, along with enabling you to connect/disconnect hardware and ascertain its battery level. It can also be used to send files to connected devices and browse files already on them.

The Advanced button provides a few further options: opening Bluetooth Setup Assistant if no keyboard is detected at startup; doing the same if no mouse or trackpad is detected; and allowing Bluetooth devices (such as a keyboard or mouse) to wake the computer.


The Sharing pane opens up various aspects of your Mac to other computers on the network. The top of the pane shows the computer's name, which is editable, and the left-hand section lists services available for sharing. Tick a checkbox to activate the service. On selecting a service (regardless of whether it's active), its options appear to the right.

DVD or CD Sharing enables you to share a built-in or connected optical drive across the network. This is useful if you've a new Mac lacking a drive but an older one that happily takes CDs and DVDs. Note that data sent between machines is not encrypted and you can have the computer alert when someone else tries to use the drive.

Screen Sharing enables the Mac's screen to be shared. The 'Allow access for' section of the main pane provides control over who can access the shared screen: all users, or specified users and groups, added or removed using the + and - buttons. The 'Computer Settings' button provides access to allow anyone to request access, and to allow VNC users control with a specified password. When Screen Sharing is active, the shared Mac can be found under 'devices' in the Finder sidebar of other machines; clicking 'Share Screen…' begins the sharing process.

Here's how to manage Macs on a Windows-based network.

File Sharing activates a Mac's Public Folder, which has a Drop Box into which anyone on the network can drop files. (Once sent, said files are not visible to the sender.) The 'Options…' button in the System Preferences pane opens a sheet with settings for activating or deactivating connection types, and the 'Shared Folders' and 'Users' panels, respectively, optionally enable you to share additional folders and provide various access types to specific users or groups. Connect via Finder (select the computer in a networked Mac's Finder sidebar, then click 'Connect As…') with relevant username/password credentials and you can navigate all of the files/folders for the relevant account.

Printer Sharing provides the means for sharing a connected printer across the network. Aside from a button to open the Printers & Scanners pane, there are panels for printers you can share and to state which users are allowed access.

Remote Login enables someone to log in to the Mac from another computer on the network, using SSH and SFTP. Again, you can define access privileges for individuals or groups.

Remote Management works with Apple's Remote Desktop, and is designed for people having to manage a network of Macs. There's the familiar field for setting user access, but it has an additional Options button (also seen when Remote Management is activated), which enables you to select tasks remote users are allowed to perform. Click 'Computer Settings…' and a sheet provides checkboxes for: showing Remote Management status in the menu bar; determining whether anyone may request permission to control the screen; and stating a password for VNC viewers. Four fields can have information added for display in a System Overview report.

Remote Apple Events, when activated on a Mac, allows applications on other Macs to send Apple events to it. An event is a task being performed on a Mac, such as opening a document or printing. So with this option activated, an AppleScript running on another Mac on the network could potentially open and print a document on your Mac.

Internet Sharing makes it possible to share a Mac's internet connection from the source selected in the menu to another Mac's port, the type outlined in 'To computers using'. (Sources, such as Wi-Fi and Ethernet will vary by Mac.) This can be useful for computers lacking connectivity, for example, sharing your Mac's Wi-Fi connection over Ethernet to an old or damaged machine.

With Bluetooth Sharing active, the Mac can share files with other Bluetooth enabled devices. The first two menus determine what happens when files are received (Accept and Save, Accept and Open, Ask What to Do, or Never Allow), and where accepted items are saved. The second set of menus determines what happens when other Bluetooth devices browse the Mac. You can choose from Always Allow, Ask What to Do and Never Allow, along with selecting a folder others can browse.

Content Caching is new to macOS High Sierra. It's designed to save bandwidth by storing local copies of specific content types (including app and OS updates - Apple provides a full list), which can subsequently be shared locally with 'client' devices (other Macs, and also iOS devices).

To turn on Content Caching, click its tickbox in the Sharing sidebar. In order to share content to iOS devices, you'll also need to tick 'Share Internet connection'. Note that the USB devices will need to be connected to the Mac via USB. (Apple also recommends the Mac sharing content be connected to the internet via ethernet, and be plugged into the mains.)

Click the Options button to determine how large the cache size can get (it defaults to Unlimited, which you might want to reduce if your Mac hasn't got tons of space to spare). The cache location also starts out as your boot volume - and is best left that way - but you can select alternate volumes if you wish.

Network settings in macOS Sierra

The Network pane is where you define network settings, enabling you to connect to the likes of wireless routers or corporate ethernet. It's one of the more intimidating System Preferences panes, due to the sheer number of available settings and its relative complexity. However, the vast majority of users will rarely if ever have to venture into it, since more often than not just typing in a Wi-Fi password is all the networking effort most need to make.

The pane is essentially split in three. At the top is the Location menu, which defaults to Automatic, but which can be used to define specific set-ups for different places, such as home, work, or regular overseas haunts. The left-hand pane lists available connection types (or 'services' in Apple language), and the largest part of the pane outlines the status and settings related to the currently selected service. The foot of the window houses three buttons: 'Assist me…', Revert and Apply.

If you only ever use your Mac in one place, with one connection type, there's no need to use Location. However, if your Mac needs to connect to multiple networks with settings that are more complex than simply selecting a different Wi-Fi network from the menu bar, defining multiple locations makes sense.

To do so, select the menu and then 'Edit Locations…'. Use + to add a new location, - to delete an existing one, and the cog button to duplicate or rename the currently selected location. With more than one location defined, a Location menu appears in the system-wide Apple menu; selecting an option there is usually faster than using the equivalent menu in System Preferences.

As noted, the left-hand pane lists available services, such as Wi-Fi, Ethernet and FireWire. (The specifics will depend on your Mac's hardware.) A traffic light system denotes the status of a service: green for connected, red for off, and yellow for when on but not connected for some reason. On the last of those, text beneath the service's name may list a reason for the lack of connection.

The bottom of the pane has + and - buttons for, respectively, creating and removing services. On creating a new one, you choose an interface type and the service's name. Deletion is immediate but can be undone using the Revert button. The cog button enables you to duplicate or rename the selected service, or to make it inactive. You can set the service order, to prioritise certain connection types. The other options include the means to import and export configurations, and Manage Virtual Interfaces, for editing a list of such interfaces.

Any time one of the services is selected, its status and relevant configuration menus are listed in the large pane to the right of the services list. For example, select Wi-Fi and you'll see its connection status, a button for turning it on and off, and details regarding the network's name and the Mac's IP address.

Below this, there's a menu for selecting networks, a checkbox that determines whether the Mac asks to join new networks rather than connecting to known ones automatically, a checkbox for showing Wi-Fi status in the menu bar, and an 'Advanced' button. By contrast, select Ethernet and you'll get the service's status and the means to configure network settings. 'Using DHCP' is the default, but choosing 'Manually' provides fields for inputting IP address, subnet mask and router details.

The Advanced button opens a multi-tabbed sheet that enables you to drill down into the fine detail of network connections. Available tabs will depend on the selected service, but may include: Wi-Fi, TCP/IP, DNS, WINS, 802.1X, Proxies, Hardware and Bridge Status.

The Wi-Fi tab is the one users are most likely to need at some point. It enables you to reorder known Wi-Fi networks, and it's best to drag most-used ones to the top, to avoid your Mac wasting time first searching for the others when trying to connect.

You can select and delete any you no longer need (such as temporary airport, cafe and hotel connections you're unlikely to use again). The 'Remember…' checkbox when ticked makes it quicker to access a network previously joined (albeit with the potential to clutter the list, as already mentioned). Subsequent checkboxes are primarily concerned with restricting network meddling by users, and are only worth activating in locked-down environments or for accounts created for inexperienced users.

TCP/IP is the protocol used to connect your Mac to the internet. Generally, connections will be automatic. However, if you've been provided IP, subnet mask and router details to manually input, this is where you do so. The tab also includes a 'Renew DHCP Lease' button, which is worth knowing about, because it forces your Mac to renew your current IP address; this can be useful in circumstances when there are many devices on the network and there's a clash that kicks your Mac off of a previously stable connection.

DNS server details are generally provided automatically. DNS is how computers associate domain names (like with numerical IP addresses. Some people prefer to override default DNS settings with the likes of Google Public DNS ( and, which can under some circumstances be faster. There are also services for circumventing geolocation blocks through using specific DNS settings, thereby enabling you to access online content restricted to specific countries or get around blocking in certain territories. The DNS tab is where you'd add such settings.

WINS may be required if you connect to remote networks that use NetBIOS names; 802.1X is used to control access and beef up security, and network admins will advise when you need to add or amend a profile; and proxies can be used to filter internet traffic - again, something only likely to be required in corporate environments, with you being assisted by an admin. Hardware displays your MAC Address network identifier, and has a Configure menu that when set to Manually enables you to adjust the MTU (Maximum Transmission Unit) setting.

When any changes are made, click Apply to confirm them. Now imagine the next line is in three-metre-high neon letters with a klaxon blazing alongside: do not make any changes to your network settings - and especially the more esoteric ones - unless you know what you're doing. This isn't a pane to mess about in, and you could find your Mac rather rapidly disconnected from the web and very alone on your office desk.

Still, if things do go wrong, clicking 'Assist me…' might help. You get two options here: 'Diagnostics…' provides checks regarding your current settings, attempting to squash any network issues your Mac might have; and 'Assistant…' launches Network Setup Assistant, for walking you through the process of creating a new internet or local network connection. This option appears to be absent as of macOS High Sierra.

Setting up Touch ID in System Preferences

If your Mac has a Touch ID sensor (found towards the right of the Touch Bar on the 2016 MacBook Pro), a Touch ID pane will appear in the last row of System Preferences.

At the top of the pane are stored fingerprints - and you may already have one from when you set up your Mac. Regardless, 'Add a fingerprint' begins the process of adding another. Enter your admin password and follow the prompts - which mostly involve raising and lowering your digit. When everything's finished, click Done.

Up to three fingerprints can be stored. Any existing one can be renamed by clicking the label below it and typing something new. A print can be deleted by hovering over it, clicking the cross, and confirming your decision - which cannot be undone. We'd recommend adding your thumbprint and also a print for an index or ring finger: whichever can naturally and easily reach the Touch ID sensor when your hands are in a standard typing position.

Below the prints are tickboxes that determine when Touch ID can be used on your Mac; for unlocking it, using Apple Pay, and enabling purchases within iTunes, the App Store, and iBooks. Should you deselect any of these boxes, access/confirmation reverts to how it works on Macs without Touch ID, such as typing your password to unlock your Mac.

Users & Groups in System Preferences

The Users & Groups pane is where you create and modify accounts for the current Mac. Even if the Mac has only one user, the ability to create new accounts can come in handy for troubleshooting; however, for any Mac used by multiple parties, understanding Users & Groups is extremely important from a security and Mac maintenance standpoint.

The pane has a padlock at the bottom. In order to make any changes to the pane's settings, click it and enter an administrator's username and password.

Accounts are listed in the left-hand sidebar. The current user is displayed at the top, and the others beneath, in the section 'Other Users'. For each user, you're shown their login image, account name, and account type.

Select the current user's account; the right-hand section of the pane will offer two tabs: Password and Login Items. Click Password and you'll see the account's icon, which you can click to edit. A new image can be chosen from a built-in selection or from whatever you have in Photos.

Click the 'Change Password…' button if you want to update the account's password. If the account uses an iCloud password (which ceased to be an optionb in macOS Sierra, you'll get the option to use a separate password or to change the iCloud one; on updating a password, you'll need to enter the old one, compose a new one, verify the new one, and add an optional hint. Any hint should be quite vague - do not type in something too close to the actual password, if you want your Mac to remain secure.

At the bottom of this tab is a button for opening the Contacts card for the current account, and some checkboxes; these denote whether the user can reset their password using an Apple ID, whether the user can administer the computer, and whether parental controls should be enabled. These checkboxes will be greyed out (and therefore cannot be changed) unless the current user is an administrator.

Under the Login Items tab, you'll find items that automatically open when the account logs in. Quite often, background utilities will be found here. New items can be added using the '+' button and choosing an item from the sheet. Applications are the most common login items, although you can also select documents. Existing items can be removed by selecting them and clicking the '-' button.

Too many items in the list may result in slower Mac start-ups and potentially even system conflicts. If there's something in the list you don't recognise, search for it online and if you deem it unnecessary, delete it from the list.

When an administrator is logged in, they have some control over other accounts. On selecting one from the Other Users section in the sidebar, they can perform a password reset, allow admin accounts to reset the account password using an Apple ID, and toggle admin status/parental controls. Note that if another user's account is currently logged in, it cannot be selected in the sidebar.

Administrators also have access to the controls at the foot of the sidebar, which are for defining login options, and for creating/deleting accounts. Select Login Options and you will see a number of things that can be changed. Automatic login is on by default for a new Mac, but is best disabled for security reasons; doing so forces a password to be entered when logging in.

Beneath this is a setting for how the login window appears. The default shows a list of users, one of which is clicked before a password is entered. 'Name and password' is plainer and a little more secure, since you must enter both the username and password.

Five tickboxes then provide a range of further settings for the login window and account management.

Show the Sleep, Restart, and Shut Down buttons displays those buttons on the login screen; Show Input menu in login window displays on the login screen the menu that enables you to switch languages (and therefore also keyboards), which is useful if people using the Mac require and are used to different keyboard layouts; Show password hints determines whether hints are shown when a password is forgotten; Show fast user switching menu provides options to place a switching menu in the OS X menu bar, and this can be displayed as the account's full name, account name, or just an icon; and 'Use VoiceOver in the login window' is self-explanatory.

A button beneath the tickboxes provides the means for entering the address of an Open Directory Server or Active Directory Domain during login.

Creating & deleting accounts

Below Login Options are '+' and '-' buttons, which, respectively, are for creating and deleting accounts. Click '+' to open the new account sheet, in which you must first define the type of account: Administrator, Standard, Managed with Parental Controls, or Sharing Only.

In all cases, you need to provide a full name for the account, an account name (macOS will automate this - turning the likes of Name Surname into 'namesurname' - but this can be overridden; the result will be the name of the account's home folder), and decide on the password that's to be used. Prior to macOS Sierra, this could be either an existing Apple ID/iCloud password or Mac-specific one. As of macOS Sierra, only the latter is an option. Click 'Create User' and the account will usually be created within a few seconds. Creating a new account can also be a good idea if your Mac is being strange. Login to the account and see if the same issues occur; if not, they're most likely related to something on the original account; if so, some other problem is to blame (such as dodgy hardware or software).

Note that within the 'New Account' menu there's also a Group option, which only requires a name to be entered. On creating a group, you add existing users as members. You can then elsewhere assign shared file access privileges to the group.

To delete a group, select it, click the '-' button and then confirm your choice. To delete an account, select it, click the '-' button, and then decide what you want to do with the account's home folder that contains all of the user's documents and data. You can save it to a disk image, leave the folder in place, or delete it entirely. On making a decision, click Delete User and macOS will perform the chosen action.

Note that if you're backing up your Mac, deleting someone's home folder may remove it from the backup, and so only choose 'Delete the home folder' if you're certain you (and/or the account owner) no longer needs access to the data within.

Finally, the cog icon when clicked enables you to set a master password for FileVault, which can be activated in the Security & Privacy System Preferences pane. If the password is forgotten, encrypted data within FileVault will be inaccessible.

Parental controls

This System Preferences pane is for restricting accounts. Although it's primarily designed to limit a child's access to certain apps, the web, or the entire Mac, its various options have scope for wider use, for example with the guest account.

You'll need to click the lock and enter admin details to make any edits inside Parental Controls. Prior to working on an account, you can optionally check 'Manage parental controls from another computer'; this makes it possible to define any given Mac's parental control settings from the Parental Controls System Preferences pane on another Mac, assuming you have relevant admin details for the remote computer.

If there are no accounts to manage, you can create a new user account with parental controls or convert the current account. If the current account is the sole administrator, you will first be prompted to create a replacement account.

In theory, the pane should pick up existing accounts that can be managed, but if it doesn't, select the account in the Users & Groups pane, tick 'Enable parental controls', and then click 'Open Parental Controls'. You should now see the Parental Controls pane with accounts in a sidebar. If not and you still get the entry screen, quit and restart System Preferences and reopen Parental Controls.

From the sidebar, you can then select the Guest User account or any standard accounts on the Mac. Admin accounts cannot have parental controls assigned to them. If other networked computers allow controls to be managed remotely, they will be listed below the current computer's accounts.

Using the '+' and '-' buttons at the foot of the sidebar, you can add a new account or remove an existing one, just like in Users & Groups. The cog button provides access to a menu for turning parental controls on/off for the current account, copying its settings, or pasting previously copied settings.

On selecting an account, you will see six tabs: Apps, Stores, Web, Time, Privacy and Other.

The Apps tab's first option is Allow use of camera. This when disabled prevents the user accessing built-in cameras and also cameras in connected displays, but not those connected via USB.

The next two boxes, which are pre-checked, allow the user to join Game Center multiplayer games and add Game Center friends. Next, Limit Mail to allowed contacts when active restricts the user to contacting (via Mail) only specific approved email addresses. Click Manage to open a sheet for adding these contacts.

You can optionally check Send requests to and then type your email address in the adjacent field. On doing this, any attempts by the user to send an email to a non-approved email address will be sent to you. To populate the approved list, use the '+' button to add contacts. As you begin typing in a name, OS X will make suggestions based on people already in the Contacts app. Use the down cursor to select one such name and Return to confirm; alternatively, you can manually type a name and then tap Tab to add the email address. Once you have a list, select any name and hit '-' to remove it.

Limit Applications on this Mac, when active, provides the means to restrict the selected account's access to apps. Said apps can be defined in the Allowed Apps list.

Web is about defining website access restrictions. 'Allow unrestricted access to websites' makes no changes at the system level. 'Try to limit access to adult websites automatically' attempts to do what its description says, and enables you to use 'Customize…' to always allow or never allow specific sites. We should note that automated filters are problematic, and often end up with false positives while letting many sites through the net. For younger children, supervise their web-browsing sessions, or make use of 'Allow access onto only these websites', which blocks anything not on the list below. This is predefined with a number of safe sites, but you can remove any of them and/or add your own.

Stores provides the means to individually disable the iTunes Store, iTunes U and iBooks Store. Further settings make it possible to restrict specific types of media: music with explicit content; movies up to a defined age rating (U, PG, 12, 15, 18); TV shows, Apps (4+, 9+, 12+, 17+), and books with explicit sexual content. Be mindful that Apple can be quite conservative with app ratings - apps that enable web browsing often end up as 17+; and so you may be better off using the Apps section to specify which apps the user has access to.

Time is for defining access to the Mac as a whole. Using the checkboxes, separate usage limits can be set for weekdays (Monday through Friday) and weekends (Saturday and Sunday), and these are initially, respectively, three and five hours. 30 minutes is the minimum setting for both, and eight hours is the maximum. With the Bedtime checkboxes, you can prevent access during defined hours for 'School nights' (Sunday night through Thursday night) and 'Weekend' (Friday night and Saturday night).

Privacy limits access to the user's data. The 'Manage Privacy' button takes you to the Privacy tab within Security & Privacy. The 'Allow changes to' checkboxes let you lock existing settings for specific data types and services, preventing apps from making any changes to them.

Other is a grab-bag of functions and features you can turn on or off, depending on the user and your own preferences. 'Turn off Siri & Dictation' blocks enabling Dictation in the Dictation & Speech System Preferences pane and Siri in the Siri pane. If 'Disable editing of printers and scanners' is on, the user cannot adjust printer and scanner settings. 'Block CD and DVD burning in the Finder' stops the user burning a CD or DVD - as if any kids would want to do that these days anyway.

Restrict explicit language in Dictionary is one for the purists, blocking so-called 'inappropriate' content in the Dictionary app and related sources OS X may leverage, such as Wikipedia. 'Prevent the Dock from being modified' stops the user changing the Dock in any way.

And Use Simple Finder gives the user a simplified desktop, aimed at the young or inexperienced. This disables windows in Finder, and only allows access to apps you define within the Apps tab of Parental Controls. The Dock is restricted to three folders: My Applications; Documents; Shared. A user whose account is set up to use Simple Finder can only switch to the full version of Finder via Finder > Run Full Finder when armed with admin details.

Finally, the 'Logs…' button opens a sheet that details app and web activity. Said activity can be shown for 'today', 'all', or time periods ranging from a week to a year. The two tabs, 'Applications' and 'Web', provide access to relevant lists and charts. Selected items can be opened using the 'Open' button.


Siri was introduced to the Mac with macOS Sierra. It enables you to talk to your Mac and have it perform basic tasks. In the System Preferences pane, Siri can be enabled or disabled using the 'Enable Ask Siri' checkbox under the large Siri logo.

To the right, options exist for fine-tuning how Siri works, and how you interact with the feature. You can change the keyboard shortcut used to trigger Siri, and switch to a different voice input, depending on what microphones are available.

Under 'Language', you can switch to a different language. By default, this setting will be based on the language chosen for your Mac, and the same is true for Siri Voice. However, you can temporarily - or permanently - select a new language at any point, and many of these offer variants. For example, there are four versions of Chinese, three of German, and a whopping nine of English.

On selecting a language, the Siri Voice menu updates automatically to list suitable choices. With English, you can switch between British, American and Australian voices, each of which offers a male and female variant.

The final two options determine whether Siri offers voice feedback (as in, spoken responses - with this off, you just get written answers), and whether the Siri icon is displayed in the menu bar.

You also have the option of selecting which apps Siri can learn from, by clicking 'Siri Suggestions & Privacy'. Click 'About Siri & Privacy' to learn more about Apple's policy in this area. The short of it is much of Siri's learning is done on-device, and any information sent to Apple's servers is anonymised. However, if you're feeling a bit tin-foil hat, you can disable the learning checkboxes, at the likely expense of Siri being increasingly personalised as time goes on.

App Store

This pane determines the behaviour of apps you've installed from the Mac App Store. If you're not using an admin account, you'll need to click the lock to make any changes.

Within the pane are six tickboxes. 'Automatically check for updates' does what it describes, and when active enables you to turn on or off the next four checkboxes. The first downloads newly available updates in the background (keep this on unless you're somewhere with a data cap, in which case temporarily disable it). The next three are for installing app updates, macOS updates, and system data files/security updates.

The other checkbox is for automatically downloading apps purchased on other Macs. This is useful if you use the same apps across a range of Macs, but again beware of bandwidth considerations and also storage if you happen to work with apps that take up a large amount of space.

At the foot of the window you'll see when the most recent check for updates was made, and a button to 'Check Now'. If the Mac knows updates are available, you'll get a 'Show Updates' button, which loads the Updates tab of the App Store app.

Note that if you're subscribed to the macOS beta program, you'll see a line stating your computer is set to receive updates. If you don't want beta updates to be shown, click Change and then the relevant button.

Date & Time

The Date & Time pane is where you adjust your clock, date and time zone. As of El Capitan, you need to add an admin password to edit its settings.

Under the Date & Time tab, you'll see a calendar and clock, above which is a checkbox. If the checkbox is ticked, your Mac's time and date will be set automatically, using the Apple server selected in the menu. If, for whatever reason, you want to override this (such as during a battery issue, which is causing your date to keep reseting), untick the checkbox and use the menus to change the time and date settings. A button at the bottom of the pane sends you to the Language & Region pane, for amending date and time formats across your system.

Under Time Zone, you get a world map and an outline of your currently selected timezone. If the checkbox in this tab is selected, your timezone will be chosen automatically, based on your current location. Again, this can be overridden - untick the checkbox and then tap a point on the map. macOS will estimate the location. If you want to fine-tune it, you can type a place into the 'Closest City' field.

Most of what you find in the Clock tab is for adding the date and time to the menu bar. Turn on the clock by ticking Show date and time in menu bar and use the radio buttons below to choose between digital and analogue options. The latter is quite small and therefore not especially clear when in the menu bar; when selected, it also greys out all subsequent menu-bar clock options.

The digital clock has more settings, enabling you to optionally display seconds, flash the time separators, and use a 24- or 12-hour clock. If you decide on a 12-hour clock, you can optionally show AM/PM indicators.

You can also add the day and date to the digital clock, using the checkboxes to the right of Date options. The day is shown in abbreviated form - for example, 'Fri' for Friday; and the date is also abbreviated, to the likes of '17 Dec'. The final option is Announce the time, which is done hourly, half-hourly, or every 15 minutes. Using Customize Voice…, you choose a voice, speed and volume level for this feature.

Using Startup Disk on a Mac

Using Startup Disk, you can determine the disk used to startup your Mac. What 'disk' means in practice is a partition, drive or volume with a viable operating system installed. You can also use this pane to restart your Mac in Target Disk mode, which effectively turns it into an external drive that can be connected to another Mac, whereupon you can copy across data and perform diagnostics and disk repairs.

On opening the pane, your Mac will locate and display disks that are potential candidates for restarting from. You'll see the name of each disk, and the operating system installed; standard Macicons will differentiate between local and externally connected disks. In order to see any further information or make changes, you will need to unlock the pane with an admin password. Hold the cursor over any icon and you will also see the build number of the relevant operating system.

In the displayed image, the Mac in question has an internal drive, and an old external back-up drive from an archive is connected, which has on it an older Mac operating system (be it a previous version of macOS or OS X). Depending on your set-up, you may see additional external drives, or partitions from your Mac's drive, each of which may have different versions of macOS or OS X installed. In any case, selecting one of these and clicking Restart will cause the Mac to attempt to startup from that disk.

Having started up from another disk, be mindful it's like using an entirely separate Mac. If you're using an old back-up/clone, Save dialogs will default to that disk and not your 'standard' one; additionally, systems on external drives may have significantly longer startup times than you're used to and be relatively sluggish to respond, due to the throughput speed from the hardware they're housed on. However, starting up from external disks can be useful. For example, you can use software or an old set-up that's no longer supported by the current version of macOS; alternatively, if your main disk dies and gets replaced, you can startup from a backup/clone and copy its contents back to your Mac.

Should you need to, it's also possible to change your startup disk during your Mac's boot process, rather than using the Startup Disk pane in System Preferences. To do so, hold the Option (Alt) key as soon as you turn on/restart. The Mac will scan for connected drives and present you with a list of options. Select one (use the cursor or left/right keys and Return) and the Mac will start from that disk.

The other option in the pane itself is clicking the Target Disk Mode button. Do so having connected your Mac to another via Thunderbolt or FireWire and it will, as previously noted, effectively become an external drive. If the Mac has a display, it will show the Thunderbolt or FireWire symbol. Target disk mode can also be triggered during startup/restarts by holding the T key.

Using Time Machine to back up a Mac

Apple's Time Machine system is designed to safeguard your Mac's data by backing it up to an external disk. If you've not done anything with Time Machine to date, the System Preferences pane will be in its default state. To the left is a checkbox to determine whether Time Machine is used automatically. On the right is a button used to select a backup disk, some information about what Time Machine does, a checkbox that determines whether Time Machine is shown in the menu bar, and an Options button.

Turn Time Machine on and it will list suitable disks for use. Generally speaking, the location you're copying to should have more free space than the capacity of the disk you're intending to backup. If you're unsure what size disk your Mac has, go to the Apple menu, select About This Mac, and click Storage. An overview will be provided that outlines the size of your disk (and those connected).

For lots of related advice, read How to back up a Mac using Time Machine and How to transfer a Time Machine backup to a new Mac.

Bear in mind that if the disk is partitioned and you only intend to backup the one partition, the external drive only has to be larger than that rather than the entire disk. (So, for example, if a Mac's 500 GB disk has been evenly split in two, the external drive would need to be larger than 250 GB, not 500 GB - although the more space you have, the more versions of documents and data Time Machine can store.)

On selecting a disk, you can choose whether to encrypt your backups via the checkbox; clicking Use Disk then gets everything started. Back in the main Time Machine window, you'll see a countdown to the next backup, and details of the oldest and latest backups (which will start out as 'None').

When a backup is taking place, you'll see how much data is being backed up, how much is left to go, and approximately how long this will take. Your first backup will probably take quite a long time, but subsequent ones should be faster, since less data will be copied.

Using Select Disk, you can update the disk used for backups, or even use multiple disks. With the Options button, you can exclude items from your backup. Click the '+' button and then select a document or folder. Its size will be listed, showing the impact on the entire backup.

Generally, there's not much point in omitting anything from backups, because that data will not be available if you later need to restore. The Options sheet also includes a checkbox so you can choose whether you are notified when old backups are deleted; on notebooks, there will also be a setting for whether Time Machine should backup while on battery power.

The final setting is the checkbox for showing Time Machine in the menu bar. The menu extra details the current backup, if one is active. In fact, the icon provides an at-a-glance view, once you know what to look for. When idle, it will be a block with a circular arrow around it, but when a backup is in progress, a second arrow is added; if an error occurs, the clock will become an alert icon.

The menu also enables you to skip the current backup and to enter Time Machine. The latter won't be much use immediately, but access it once you've been running Time Machine for a while and you'll be able to access previous versions of Finder windows, select old versions of documents and then restore them.

Should a much bigger disaster befall your Mac, you can restore your entire Mac from a Time Machine backup. Hold Cmd+R during a restart, select Restore from Time Machine Backup, and click Continue. Select your backup disk and click Continue, and then the most recent backup, before clicking Continue again. The Mac will restore (which may take a while) and restart. The subsequent Time Machine backup may then be a full one.

Accessibility settings

Many Mac users never venture into the Accessibility pane in System Preferences, but although it's primarily designed to assist people with specific vision, hearing and motor requirements, plenty of the available options can be beneficial to a far wider range of users.

The pane is split in two. From the sidebar on the left, you select the section you wish to access. Sections are grouped into five distinct categories, to make finding everything simpler: General Vision, Media, Hearing, and Interacting. On clicking one of the sections, its options appear in the right-hand side of the pane.

General details the accessibility shortcut (Command+Option+F5) that brings up a system-wide window for turning on and off accessibility features. It also provides checkboxes for determining what features are listed in said window.

The window provides access to: enabling zoom; enabling VoiceOver; enabling Sticky Keys, Slow Keys and Mouse Keys from the Mouse & Keyboard settings; and Display's 'Invert display colours' checkbox. Buttons provide access to the Keyboard System Preferences pane ('Keyboard Shortcuts…') and Accessibility ('Preferences…'), while Done (or tapping Escape) closes the window.

The four sections within Vision are VoiceOver, Zoom, Display and Speech.

VoiceOver provides spoken/brailled descriptions of items on the screen. Turn on VoiceOver using Command+F5. A prompt will then provide the means to learn more (press Space) or skip the intro (V). Use VoiceOver and Turn Off VoiceOver buttons act as 'continue' and 'cancel', respectively, for the feature.

Zoom is a tool for zooming in and out of the display, thereby assisting people with certain vision problems. With Use keyboard shortcuts to zoom turned on, the listed shortcuts can be used to toggle zoom, zoom in, zoom out, and toggle smooth images. Use scroll gesture… instead has you work with a user-defined modifier key and mouse/trackpad gestures (for example Control and a two-finger vertical swipe) to zoom. Smooth images smooths visuals when zooming.

Zoom follows the keyboard focus ensures the zoom follows whatever you're doing with the keyboard. By way of example, turn this on and if you press Command+Tab, visual focus would move to the task switcher; but if this option was turned off and you happened to be zoomed into the top-left of the screen before pressing Command+Tab, you might not even see the switcher.

New to macOS High Sierra is Speak items under the pointer. This defaults to 'Only when zoomed' but can alternatively be set to work 'Always'. As you might expect, the feature has your Mac read aloud whatever's under the pointer when it stops (such as a back button), and you can adjust how long your Mac takes to speak by using the 'After delay' slider.

If you decide to use zooming, you should make time to explore Zoom Style, which provides the choice between the entire screen zooming in and out ('Fullscreen'), or just zooming a section within a window that follows the pointer rather like a floating magnifying glass ('Picture-in-pcture').

The More Options… button opens a sheet with settings for the chosen zoom style. When using Fullscreen, you get sliders for maximum and minimum zoom levels. Show preview rectangle when zoomed out places a black border on the screen, showing the portion you'll zoom into. The radio button group enables you to choose how and when the zoomed-in screen image will move: with the pointer, only when the pointer reaches the edge of the zoomed area, or so the pointer remains near the screen centre.

With Picture-in-picture, you get a magnification slider, options for the window's position - stationary, following the cursor, or tiled along the edge. The last of those splits the screen vertically. On the left, you get the magnified view, and the standard view remains on the right. Each scrolls independently. If you have a vestibular condition, be aware that this can be a motion/vertigo trigger (as, indeed, can some other aspects of zooming).

Cursor style provides the means to switch the standard pointer for a crosshair. The other options are for inverting the colours (specifically within the zoomed area), enabling zoom temporarily by holding the Control and Option keys, and speaking items under the mouse after a delay. With Adjust Size and Location, the area the tiled view takes up can be fine-tuned.

Display starts off with six checkboxes: 'Invert colors' (reverses all screen colours); 'Use grayscale' (uses only grey shades for everything on-screen); 'Differentiate without color' (adds shapes alongside - or instead of - colour, in order to convey status); 'Reduce Motion'; 'Increase contrast'; and 'Reduce transparency'.

Those last two options will be of particular interest if you've had problems since Yosemite's visual refresh. They're both designed to bring extra clarity to what you see on screen - Increase contrast darkens some colours, makes window controls more distinct, and removes transparency from window sidebars, toolbars and menus.

If that effect is a bit too fierce for you, instead just check Reduce transparency. Colours then remain unaffected, but system transparency effects will all disappear, resulting in solid menus and toolbars; this means in the likes of Maps, the actual maps won't affect the colour of the toolbar as you scroll the page.

Reduce Motion arrived with macOS Sierra and is, like on iOS, designed to reduce potentially dizzying animations peppered throughout the operating system. By example, the animations for entering and exiting full-screen, Launchpad and Mission Control are replaced by crossfades. Switching between full-screen apps and desktops also no longer animates by way of sliding, although pages in Launchpad do. Clearly, this is a feature on which Apple will build, and so if you use it and find issues, email with your concerns.

Two sliders are found below the checkboxes. Display contrast is distinct from Increase contrast. It changes the contrast of all on-screen elements, in a manner similar to on a television or in a graphics package. Even a slight adjustment has a big effect; at maximum levels, OS X becomes essentially unusable. 'Cursor size' is more useful, increasing the size of the pointer. 'Normal' is the standard setting; 'Large' is even bigger than a standard Dock icon.

New to macOS, the Speech section is essentially a streamlined take on the Text to Speech tab of the now mothballed Dictation & Speech System Preferences pane.

Here, you choose settings for having your Mac read back text to you. Under the System Voice menu, choose a voice, or select Customize… to download a new voice.

Note that macOS has plenty of variants for some languages. For example, you can download male and female French voices, but there are separate Canadian French options. For English, there's a massive range to choose from, including voices with American, British, Australian and Indian accents. Be aware, though, that each download may take several hundred MB of space on your Mac's drive.

Back in the main pane, use the 'Speaking Rate' slider to determine the rate of speech and click the 'Play' button to preview. ('Normal' can be a bit tardy, but too fast can result in unintelligible output.)

Below, check Enable announcements if you want your Mac to speak alerts, and click Options to fine-tune. Within the sheet, you can choose the voice and phrase that begins said alerts (customising the latter, if you wish), and the delay before they are spoken.

The next checkbox, Speak selected text when key is pressed… allows you to create a shortcut for speaking selected text that can, broadly speaking, be used throughout macOS. Click Change Key… if you want to change this from the default, taking care not to pick a shortcut that may clash with others in applications you use. (Option/Alt + § is a good bet.)

In most applications, pressing the shortcut will result in your Mac speaking from the start of the current text field/document if nothing is already selected. Select a piece of text and only that will be read back. Press the shortcut a second time and your Mac will be silenced. The text-to-speech system is extremely handy for proofing text, since it's easy to miss errors when reading but they tend to stick out when spoken to you.

(Note that certain apps use non-standard windows and may only read the window title rather than the text. This is rare, and the only workaround is to copy text to a well-behaved app, have it read there, make your changes, and then copy it back again.)

In the Media category are two sections: Descriptions and Captions.

With Descriptions, you get a single checkbox, which plays video descriptions when they're available. In Captions, you define settings for closed captions and subtitles. Three styles exist initially: Default, Classic, and Large Text. You can create your own using the '+' button, whereupon you choose a name, background colour and opacity, text colour, font, and text size. In all cases, you can determine whether the video can override your choices when necessary. The checkbox at the bottom of the window when ticked will ensure closed captions/SDH are used rather than standard subtitles, when available.

The Hearing category has one section: Audio. This has two settings. The first adds a screen flash when an alert sound occurs, and this can be tested by clicking the 'Test Screen Flash' button. This has broader uses than just assisting people who are hard of hearing - if you're Mac's muted at night, it can be a great way of attracting your attention when an alert occurs. 'Play stereo audio as mono' adjusts all audio output to mono. This is particularly useful for users with poor hearing in only one ear when they're listening through headphones.

The Interaction category has five sections: Dictation, Keyboard, Mouse & Trackpad, Switch Control and Dwell Control.

Dictation provides further means to fine-tune dictation settings for your Mac. The single button, Dictation Commands…, opens a sheet that lists commands, categorised into Selection, Navigation, Editing, Formatting and System. Items can be enabled or disabled using the checkboxes, and selecting one displays accepted speech input in order to trigger the relevant command.

At the bottom of the sheet is a checkbox labelled Enable advanced commands. This adds new sections to the list: Application, Document and User. The last of those is designed for you to add custom commands. To do so, click the '+' button, and then input a term, select the app the command should work in (or use 'Any Application'), and then choose an action from a pre-defined list: Open File; Open App; Run Workflow; Paste Text; Paste Data; Keyboard Shortcut. Select a custom command and click '-' to delete it. Commands included by default cannot be removed.

In macOS High Sierra, there's now a Siri section. At present, this merely enables you to activate 'type to Siri' by clicking the checkbox. With this feature active, you type in your requests to Siri, rather than speaking them.

The Keyboard section is about helping anyone who may have difficulties typing and using keys. When Enable Sticky Keys is on, modifiers (Shift, Control, Command, Option) remain active, and their icons are displayed at the top-right of the screen. A sound also plays to denote the activation of one of these keys. Press the same modifier a second time and it's highlighted. Press a third time and it's cancelled. Modifiers also disappear when a keyboard shortcut is activated. (For example, press Shift and S and that triggers Save, thereby turning off the modifier.)

The Options… button provides further settings. You can toggle Sticky Keys by pressing Shift five times, turn off the audio alert, and change the screen corner in which the key icons appear.

Enable Slow Keys is all about adjusting the amount of time between when a key is pressed and when it's activated. Click Options… and you can toggle key sounds and adjust the acceptance delay. Having sounds on with Slow Keys is a good idea if you use an especially long delay, because it provides extra confirmation regarding key presses. This may not be necessary when typing, but it's useful when using keyboard shortcuts.

Mouse & Trackpad starts off with Enable Mouse Keys. When active, you can use an extended keyboard's number pad to control the pointer. On keyboards lacking a number pad, you use 'I' for the mouse button and the keys around it - 7, 8, 9; U, O; J, K, L - for directions. However, standard key usage is disabled while Mouse Keys is active, and so we recommend getting an extended keyboard when using this feature.

Click Options… and you can choose to press Option five times to toggle Mouse Keys, ignore the built-in trackpad when Mouse Keys is active, and define the delay and maximum speed. Those last two options need careful tuning to individual users. If the delay and speed is too slow, it will be frustrating to navigate using Mouse Keys; too fast, though, and the user may often miss their targets.

The rest of the pane is concerned with adjusting the behaviour of your mouse or trackpad. With Double-click speed, you can reduce the speed required for that action, thereby making it accessible to anyone who cannot click a button twice in succession quickly enough. Similarly, the spring-loading delay (for example, when dragging a document over a folder) can be adjusted to suit. A final checkbox, which isn't always displayed, is a setting for ignoring the built-in trackpad when a mouse or wireless trackpad is present.

At the foot of the pane, there are two buttons, providing quick access to, respectively, trackpad and mouse options. For trackpads, you can adjust the scrolling speed, set scrolling to be with or without inertia, and enable dragging without drag lock, with drag lock and as a three finger drag. For mice, you just get to change the scrolling speed.

Switch Control is explained in more detail on Apple's website, but is essentially all about performing actions simply by clicking a switch. Switches can be all kinds of devices; examples include a keyboard key, a mouse button, a joystick, or a specialised adaptive device.

The Switch Control options are divided into three tabs. General turns on Switch Control, which launches the Home row window. You press a switch (such as Space on your keyboard) to cycle through ('scan', in Apple's terminology) the options and then a second time to make a selection.

Depending on the selected option, subsequent selections will also be made by pressing the switch. (For example, select Menu Bar, and the selection will flick back and forth between the menu bar menus and menu extras; select the former and the system will scan through the menu titles and then, after another selection is made, items within that menu.)

Other options within General include the means to hide the panel after a period of inactivity, and to access the Panel Editor, designed to program a new switch or device into the system.

In the Switches tab, you can define and assign switch inputs using the '+', '-' and cog keys, and adjust the timing of switch usage. Under Navigation, there are further settings for changing how scanning operates. Another timing button is included here, but for navigation elements. Here, you can determine how rapidly scanning moves, and how long (if at all) the system pauses on the first item.

Dwell Control arrived with macOS Sierra but appears absent in High Sierra, and allows the mouse pointer to be controlled using head or eye-tracking technology. When enabled and the cursor remains stationary for the amount of time specified in the Settings tab, the defined action will be performed. (By default, this is three seconds for a left-click.) You can also set a zoom timer (two seconds, so the screen zooms in before a click).

Like Switch Control, Dwell Control when active offers an on-screen panel for easier access to key actions. A checkbox in the General tab enables you to hide this after a defined amount of time, and the Open Panel Editor button provides an editor for configuring the panel.

As a final note regarding Accessibility on Mac, some settings you're likely to want to have quick access to are available by way of an overlay window. Press Option+Command+F5 and you'll see 'Accessibility Options', and the rest of the screen will dim. The window provides access to: toggling how zoom is controlled (by keyboard shortcuts or scroll gestures); enabling VoiceOver; enabling Sticky Keys, Slow Keys and Mouse Keys from the Mouse & Keyboard settings; and Display's 'Invert display colours' checkbox and 'Adjust contrast' slider. Buttons provide access to the Keyboard System Preferences pane ('Keyboard Shortcuts…') and Accessibility ('Preferences…'), while Done (or tapping Escape) closes the window.

Also in this feature:

Page 1: What is System Preferences, General, Screensaver, Dock, Mission Control, Languages, Security, Spotlight and Notifications

Page 2: Displays, Energy Saver, keyboard, mouse, trackpad, printers and sound

Page 3: iCloud, Internet Accounts, Extensions, Bluetooth and sharing, Network Settings, Users and Groups, Parental Controls, Dictation and Speech, Date and Time, Disk Utility, Time Machine, Accessibility