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Snow Leopard System Preferences: Personal

There are many new features and tweaks in Snow Leopard and this is the first of a four-part look at the changes that have been made to System Preferences. Go to the Apple menu in the top left corner of the screen and select System Preferences. The System Preferences is where you can configure the look and feel, options and settings for OS X. It is divided into four sections - Personal, Hardware, Internet & Wireless, and System. (You may have a fifth section for other applications that you install yourself, but we're just looking at OS X here.)

In this part the focus is on the items in the Personal section.

Appearance

Select Appearance and you can change the look of OS X and customise it a bit. Down at the bottom of this preference pane used to be a pop-up menu with several different font smoothing options to choose from. This has changed and there is now just a simple tick box to use LCD font smoothing when available, at least on this 2007 MacBook. There are fewer options than previously in Leopard, but the screen display is as good if not better than before, so the default smoothing is OK.

Desktop & Screen Saver

Click Desktop & Screen Saver and you can select the wallpaper for the desktop (a slightly modified Leopard night sky is included), and choose the screen saver you want to use. Select the Screen Saver tab and look below the list of screen savers. There are now plus and minus buttons. Click the plus button and a menu appears that enables you to select a folder of pictures on the hard disk drive, a MobileMe gallery (click it and enter a MobileMe user's name) or an RSS feed (click it and enter the RSS feed URL). The plus and minus buttons weren't there in Leopard's Desktop & Screen Saver.

Another change in Snow Leopard is the addition of a Shuffle option at the start of the Pictures section. It basically chooses a random screen saver from the list of items in the Pictures section - a bit like choosing the shuffle option on your iPod. When you select it a list of items is displayed and you can choose the ones you want to include in the shuffled screen savers collection. You can choose to cross-fade between slides, zoom back and forth, crop slides to fill the screen and keep slides centered.

Dock

Select Dock and you can customise the look and behaviour of the Dock at the bottom of the screen. A new option has been added in Snow Leopard and there is now a tick box to minimise windows into the application icon. What does this mean?

The easiest way to see this in action is to open two or three Finder windows. With the option turned off (as it is in Leopard), when you minimise the windows they are added to the right-hand side of the dock as separate icons. Turn the option on and when you minimise the windows they don't appear in the Dock. That's because they are added to the application icon, which is Finder in this example. Ctrl+click the Finder icon in the Dock and in the menu that pops up you will see the minimised windows listed as menu items. You can select a window on the menu to open it again.

Whether you prefer windows to be added to the right side of the Dock as separate icons or added to the application icon's Ctrl+click menu is up to you. You can tell one window from another from the icons in the dock and this is useful, but putting them on the application is neater and tidier. It's your choice.

Expose & Spaces

There don't appear to be any changes to the configuration options in Expose & Spaces, but Expose itself has been improved. When you press the hotkey to activate Expose the windows are displayed as live thumbnails that update as the content in them changes. Minimised windows are displayed as smaller thumbnails below a horizontal line in the lower half of the screen, which is extremely useful. It's a handy way to switch from one application to another when you have a mixture of open and minimised windows.

Ctrl+click the Expose icon in the Dock, or click and hold until the menu appears, and you can choose to show Expose, which is just like pressing the hotkey to activate it, or you can select the option to show application windows. Finder is not an application, so Finder windows do not show in Expose when this option is selected and you just see thumbnails of your applications. That's a useful option too.

Language & Text

This used to be called International in Leopard's System Preferences, so it has got a new name and also lots of new features too. The Input Menu tab is now called Input Sources and the list of input methods has been simplified. The Input Type and Script columns have been removed, so it's now just a simple list of languages without confusing information you don't need to know about. A search box has been added so you can quickly jump to a particular language.

Also, Character Palette and Keyboard Viewer, which were two separate items in Leopard, have been combined into one item. It adds an icon (that's been redesigned) to the menu bar and you can chose to show the Character Viewer or the Keyboard Viewer.

There are options to use the same input source for all documents or to allow a different one for different documents, which is a new option in Snow Leopard. This could be useful if you regularly use more than one language.

A new tab has been added to Language & Text and this is the Text tab. It adds symbol and text substitution and spell checking as a core OS X service. Applications can make use of this, but they have to be designed to do so. What's more, you might have to turn on the feature too.

Load TextEdit, for example, and type (c). Now watch as it is automatically replaced with the copyright symbol as you type. It's just one of the substitutions available and changing quotes into smart (proper) quotes is another. Some apps dop this straight off, but some don't. Mail won't do this by default if you try typing out a new email message. However, if you go to the Edit menu and select Substitutions, Show Substitutions, a small window of options is displayed and you can choose to enable Text Replacement, Smart Quotes, Smart Dashes and so on. Then when you type, for example, (c) in an email you'll get a proper copyright symbol.

At the moment only Apple applications are likely to feature this, but you can expect other applications to incorporate it in the future. And if it's not working, turn it on on the Edit, Substitutions menu.

Security

Your Mac can now tell where in the world it is located. (Not always - this is a poorly implimented feature that doesn't always work. You must be connected to the internet, you must have AirPort turned on, and you must be within spitting distance of a hotspot that the system recognises. If you have a wired connection or you're using a WiFi access point that's not one of the few that the system recognises, it won't be able to tell where in the world you are located.) An extra option has been added to Security to disable these location services provided by OS X. This will prevent any applications you run from using the service to find out where you are currently located. It's hard to think of a situation where you would want to hide your location, but the option is there if you need it.

The Firewall tab has been significantly changed and the new version is much simpler. In fact, all that there is in the window is a Stop button or Start button depending on whether the firewall is currently on or off. By default, all incoming connections are blocked and this means that file sharing, iChat, iTunes, and similar things won't function properly. To enable them to work you need to click the Advanced button and clear the tick against Block all incoming connections. When you do this you get a similar window to the old Leopard firewall. You can add applications to a list and set whether they are allowed or blocked.

There's a tick box to automatically allow signed software to receive incoming connections, so basically Apple apps and Apple approved apps should work without problems, but you may have to add other apps manually, as with the old firewall. The option to enabled firewall logging has gone from here and has been either deleted or moved elsewhere.

Spotlight

There doesn't appear to be anything new in Spotlight, at least not in System Preferences and it looks the same as it did before.

 


Part 1: System Preferences - Personal section
Part 2: System Preferences - Hardware section
Part 3: System Preferences - Internet & Wireless section
Part 4: System Preferences - System section

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