How to Customize Your Mac: Useful Tips

There a few ways that you can customize your Mac, such as changing the Dock and Finder windows, for example. These tips will allow you to customize the way your Mac looks and operates. You can pick a new desktop image, or install complex techie tools, which can alter almost every aspect of your computer. However, be warned, as you can damage your Mac and violate all sorts of warranties by bypassing the safety rules and hacking your hardware.

How to Customize Your Mac

How to Customize the Desktop

The most common customization is to change the default desktop scene with something of your own choosing. This can be done very easily. First, open Desktop & Screen Saver from System Preferences. Alternatively, you can right click the desktop and then select Change Desktop Background. There you’ll find a bunch of Apple-supplied pictures, as well as direct access to your iPhoto Library and albums. You can also go to Choose Folder…, which is an option that allows you to pick an image from anywhere on your computer. You can cycle through a folder of images, add a Wallsaver, or place a battery meter on the desktop.

You can tinker with your desktop icons by clicking on the desktop and hitting the Command Key + J o open View Options. Here you can pick the icon size and sort the icons. You can also choose what will appear on the desktop, for example, a hard drive icon, discs available and more. All these modifications can be made by opening Finder Preferences via the Finder menu.

Note that you can add lots of useful on-screen alerts and notifications by downloading Growl which allows you to view the new panel that appears in System Preferences.

How to Customize Windows

You can change the View Options and Sidebar in Finder windows, and make other modifications to how your windows will look on your Mac. Right-click the toolbar to see a few options, including Customize Toolbar. This option will reveal a palette of buttons that you can drag onto the top of your windows.

The same procedure works in many applications.

A few other modifications, including the color of highlighted text labels, scroll button layout, and more, can be performed under Appearance in System Preferences.

Menu Bar

The menu bar can quickly fill up with notification icons, and other symbols and menus. Each one can be switched on and off in the preferences panel.

However, the easiest way is to hold down the Command key and drag them off. You can also put them in the order of your preference while holding down the Command key.

If you want to add something to your menu bar, you can look in the relevant pane of System Preferences, or the preferences panel of the application the item relates to, for a check box to reinstate it.

You can enhance the menu bar with certain downloadable customization apps.

Screen Savers

These are animated displays that kick into action after your Mac has sat unused for a set period. They were first developed as a practical way to stop static images from “burning” into old-style screens. Today, screen savers are used mainly for fun, though they can also be used as a security tool, as you can set OS X to request a password when awaking the machine after displaying a screen saver.

To choose from the various screen savers that are installed on your Mac, open System Preferences, then click Desktop & Screen Saver. There are some amazing screen savers, including RSS Visualizer, which displays headlines from any website newsfeed you’ve subscribed to using Safari.

You can find hundreds of screen savers online, free or pay-to-use, and ranging in concept and style from the sublime to the ridiculous. You can install a screen saver for yourself, or for all user accounts on the machine. Depending on your choice, OS X will drop the screen saver in either the Library – Screen Savers folder of your home folder, or the Library – Screen Savers folder of Macintosh HD. To uninstall a screen saver, you should go to one of these two folders, find the screen saver you want to uninstall, and drag it to the Trash.

Serious Customization

To make a more serious customization, you’ll need to download extra tools. In fact, there are all kinds of customization utilities out there. If you want something to look different, there is probably a way to change it. A word of warning though: some customization tools may let you make deep system changes that should be handled with care..

How to Customize Icons

High-resolution and scalable icons can make your OS X very appealing. All the icons are completely customizable, and you can replace any icon with one that you prefer, or even one that you’ve made yourself. Thousands of icon sets can be downloaded for free, making it very easy to either subtly change the style of your set-up, or to fully convert your set-up into a shrine to anything from retro-design to power-tools.

How to Change Icons

  • To replace an icon with a new one, select the file or folder whose icon you want to change.
  • Click the Command key + I to bring up the Info panel.
  • Click the icon at the top of the panel.
  • Press the Command key + C to copy the icon.
  • Select the file or folder where you want to use the copied icon and press the Command key + I.
  • Click the icon at the top of the info panel.
  • Press the Command key + V to paste the copied icon into place.

Note, however, that this approach will not work on System icons, such as the Trash and new folders. You can also edit those icons, but some in-depth technical know-how will be needed. Otherwise you’ll have to use tools such as Candybar, which let you change not only icons, but also toolbar buttons in Finder, Mail, and other apps. Icon managers also exist, which help you manage a large archive of downloaded icons. These icon managers can help you browse the collection of icons, create custom icon sets, save iContainers (packages of icons that can be installed with just a double-click), and perform other operations.

If you change your mind, there’s a one-click restore switch to put everything back again.

How to Make Your Own Icons

It’s rather easy to make a basic icon. You can create a 128 x 128 pixel image with any decent graphic app. You can draw your icon and save it as a JPEG, PNG, or TIFF file. The resulting file will have an icon bearing the picture you drew. Now you can copy and paste it to any other file.

However, creating a slick-looking icon with a transparent background is more complicated. You can add an alpha-channel mask to your icon in Photoshop, then import the result into Icon Composer (part of Xcode, which can be installed from Applications – Installers). You can use an icon-creation tool which can be found anywhere in the net along with more icon software..

Tips for Customizing Your Mac

To quickly remove an item from your Finder windows toolbar, press the Command key while dragging.

To customize many OS X keyboard shortcuts in various System Preferences panels you can use Menu Master, a paid app that you can download.

To drag Apple’s items (not third-party items) around on the menu bar, hold down the Command key. The same works on Finder window toolbars and elsewhere on OS X.

If you want your screen saver to appear, but your Mac goes to sleep before it has time, you should adjust the Put the computer to sleep… setting within the Energy Saver preferences pane.

The Screen Savers list also holds options for using pics from your iPhoto Library as slide-show-style screen savers, and for subscribing to some screen savers from other sources.

If you want to instantly activate the screen saver by moving the mouse pointer to a corner of the screen, click the Hot Corners… button within the Screen Saver preferences pane. In fact, this option is more useful when your screen saver serves a function beyond looking pretty (news feed, clock with different time zones, etc.).

Generally, screen savers let you make various tweaks as to how they look and work. To adjust the screen saver, select the screen saver, and click Options… in Screen Savers System Preferences.


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