New to Mac? Learn the basics of your System Preferences

System Preferences Category on Mac

One of the most important things you need to learn when you’re new to Mac is how to control your system. You have tons of settings and options on macOS from energy saving controls to security settings to gesture options. And all of this resides in your System Preferences.

If you’re new to Mac and haven’t yet taken a tour of these settings, we’re here to help you learn the basics of your System Preferences.

Access your System Preferences

You have some super easy ways to access your System Preferences on Mac. So, use whichever one works best for you.

  • Click the System Preferences button in your Dock.
  • Click System Preferences in Launchpad.
  • Click Apple icon > System Preferences from your menu bar.
  • Ask Siri to “Open System Preferences”.
  • Type “System Preferences” in Spotlight search.

Navigate the System Preferences window

When your System Preferences window opens, you’ll see almost 30 options. Obviously, you can click to open whichever one you need. But you also have other options.

  • Search: Use the Search box at the top to look for a specific setting quickly.
  • List/Grid View or Show All: Click and hold the grid button at the top to see your System Preferences options in a list. You can also click this button to Show All Preferences if you’re within an option.
  • Back and Forward Arrow: Once you are within a one of the System Preferences options, you can use these arrows to go back or forward.
  • Customize: Using the list view above, click Customize at the bottom. Then you can uncheck items you do not want to appear in the window. If you make changes, click Done when you finish.
System Preferences Grid List on Mac

System Preferences and the menu bar

When you have the System Preferences window open, you can also use actions by clicking the View button in your menu bar.

At the top, you’ll see options for Back, Forward, Show All Preferences, Customize, and Search, similar to the buttons in the System Preferences window.

You can choose to Organize by Categories, which is the default view you see when you open System Preferences. Or, select Organize Alphabetically if you prefer.

And then you’ll see a full list of the System Preferences options.

System Preferences View List on Mac

System Preferences options

With almost 30 System Preferences options, some are pretty obvious while others might not be. For instance, you likely know that to adjust your keyboard controls, you’ll click Keyboard. But we’ve summarized what you can find in each area for reference.

System Preferences Alpha on Mac
  1. Accessibility: Vision, hearing, media, and additional accessibility features.
  2. Bluetooth: Enable or disable, connect and select devices for Bluetooth.
  3. Date & Time: Date, time, time zone, and clock settings.
  4. Desktop & Screen Saver: Select desktop and screen saver images and timing.
  5. Displays: Settings for your monitor display including color and Night Shift.
  6. Dock: Controls for size, magnification, position, effects, and opening documents.
  7. Energy Saver: Sleep, dim, and Power Nap settings for when using the battery and power adapter.
  8. Extensions: Enable Apple and third-party extensions for things like sharing, Finder, and the Today screen.
  9. General: Simple settings for appearance, icon size, scroll bars, web browser, and similar basics.
  10. iCIoud: Enable and manage iCloud connections, account details, and your family.
  11. Internet Accounts: Set up and manage accounts for Mail, Contacts, Calendar, Messages, and other apps.
  12. Keyboard: Settings for keyboard, text, shortcuts, input sources, and dictation.
  13. Language & Region: Controls for language, region, and first day of the week along with calendar, time, and temperature format.
  14. Mission Control: Settings for Mission Control like spacing, switching apps, and shortcuts.
  15. Mouse: Settings for an external mouse including scrolling, speed, and clicks.
  16. Network: Enable and control Wi-Fi and other networks.
  17. Notifications: Notification settings for your Mac, apps, Do Not Disturb, and Notification Center.
  18. Parental Controls: Enable, set up, and manage Parental Controls for your Mac users.
  19. Printers & Scanners: Set up and manage printers and scanners.
  20. Security & Privacy: Controls for general security, FileVault, firewall, and privacy.
  21. Sharing: Settings for sharing internet, files, your screen, Bluetooth and more.
  22. Siri: Enable Siri and control keyboard shortcuts, language, voice, and feedback.
  23. Software Update: Check for macOS updates.
  24. Sound: Adjust sound effects, output, input, volume, and mute.
  25. Spotlight: Select apps and services accessible when using Spotlight search.
  26. Startup Disk: Controls for system start-up disk and target disk mode.
  27. Time Machine: Enable Time Machine backups, select the disk, and configure options.
  28. Trackpad: Settings for point & click, scroll & zoom, gestures, and Bluetooth trackpads.
  29. Users & Groups: Set up and manage user accounts for your Mac including password and login items.

Locked System Preferences

You may notice that when you want to make changes to certain settings in System Preferences, a small lock button in the bottom left-hand corner. Things like Security & Privacy, Users & Groups, and Parental Controls are a few.

Unlock Users and Groups on Mac

This lock keeps those settings safe from accidental changes. To make adjustments when you see that lock, just click it and then enter your Mac username and password. You can then click to lock it again when you finish.

Lock Users and Groups on Mac

Wrapping it up

Hopefully this tutorial is helpful for you as a new Mac user. You’ll be maneuvering those System Preferences on Mac like a pro in no time!

And if you’re struggling with something, like where a setting is or how to adjust a control, feel free to comment below or hit us up on Twitter!