Computing with Bifocals - More OS X System Preferences
- September 23rd, 2005
In my August 12, 2005 column I reviewed several aspects of the systems preferences specifically associated with Tiger. I would like to again pick up that topic, but today's preferences discussion will be more general OS X related.
There can be a lot of good stuff hidden away in the preferences that beginners just don't know about. I know because, as usual, I have learned about them the hard way.
I am teaching a class on this subject in a couple of days. For the uninitiated this is known as the blind leading the blind. On the other hand, sometimes the best teacher can be the one who has had to learn something from ground zero him or herself, because you know exactly where to start! Here are some of the things I have learned in the last few weeks of intensive review.
With this set of preferences I found a couple of items to be of particular interest. The first is one of convenience. You can choose where you have the scroll bar arrows on your scroll bar.
|Scroll Bar Arrows Both At Bottom
||Scroll Bar Arrows At Top and Bottom
Example of Scroll Bar Arrow Placement
To adjust the arrow placement select the Appearance Preference pane by choosing the Apple menu > System Preferences > Appearance. Then click your choice of arrow placement.
Appearance Preference Pane
Also of interest in the Appearance Preference pane is the ability to choose font smoothing. Your computer screen is composed of pixels, which can be defined as: The smallest discrete component of an image or picture on a computer screen (usually a colored dot); "the greater the number of pixels per inch the greater the resolution."
What appears to be a cursive "S" on your screen can't really be a cursive "S" because it is reproduced in dots (which actually are squares). Font smoothing is an effect on your Mac that makes it easier for you to read text on your screen. You will note that you are given the option to "Turn off text smoothing for font sizes for [specified size] and smaller" on the Appearance Preference Pane. The size options are 4 through 12, with a default of 8. This is the range of options because font smoothing is not necessary, or even desirable, for very small font sizes.
To see what a difference this makes, set the text smoothing for 12 and then try and read the text on your screen. Changes are, you will see a significant difference in the clarity of the type. Below are examples of a word typed in Helvetica font, size 9. The images have been blown up 800 percent for demonstration purposes. In the first image font smoothing is turned off. In the second, it is turned on.
|Font Smoothing Off
||Font Smoothing On
If you squint and look at the second image you should be able to note that the word seems to be solid while the word in the first image does not. That is the difference font smoothing makes.
Use the Mouse Pane to designate your preferred tracking speed, double-click speed scrolling speed, and, with the advent of Mighty Mouse, your primary mouse button (left or right).
Display Pane"Display is the center of operations for all your monitor settings. Here, you set your monitor's resolution, determine how many colors are displayed on-screen, and calibrate color balance and brightness." Source: Mac OS X : The Missing Manual, Tiger Ed by David Pogue (US$19.10 - Amazon).
What you see in this pane will depend on the kind of monitor you are using. The most typical listings are Resolution, Colors, Refresh Rate, Brightness and Contrast.
Displays System Preferences Displays Pane
Resolution is the measurement of the number of dots that compose the screen -- the higher the numbers, the more dots. The resolution options displayed will not exceed the capabilities of your computer, therefore the highest resolution is the one you probably want to use. The other options are there for you to use in special circumstances, such as when hooking up to an older projectors which only uses 800 x 600.
Choose color options between 256, thousands, or millions. The more colors you choose, the slower the processing time, so if you want to diminish the size and consequently the time necessary to display an image, you can use the 256 colors, bearing in mind the richness of the colors themselves will be diminished. That said, for any Mac capable of running Tiger, this isn't going to be an issue, and you can probably choose "Millions of colors" without a problem.
Refresh Rate is only applicable to CRT screens (not flat panels). It lets you adjust how many times per second your screen image is "repainted by your monitor's electron gun" to minimize flicker.
Adjust Brightness to make your screen look good in the prevailing light conditions. Contrast options are only on CRT monitors. Experts recommend that contrast control works best all the way up and brightness best near the middle.
Displays System Preferences Color Pane
The color pane offers a multiplicity of choices which can be overwhelming to the beginner. Fortunately, the Mac offers a build in help. Click the button next to "Show profiles for this display only" and all the options but one will disappear. That is the one most suited to your particular computer. Most likely it is already set as the default for your machine.
The Open Profile and Calibrate buttons are primarily used by professionals preparing documents for publishing or professional printing.
Keyboard and Mouse Preferences
Keyboard Shortcuts Pane
The Keyboard Shortcuts Pane of the Keyboard and Mouse System Preferences
There are numerous keyboard shortcuts associated with your Mac. The most frequently used are probably Apple Key + C to copy, Apple Key + V to paste, and Apple Key + X to cut. However, they are just a drop in the bucket.
(In fact, I put together a long list of keyboard shortcuts that you can access for free. You can get a copy of the list at my personal Web site.)
There may be times when you try to access a keyboard shortcut that won't work. This system preferences pane can help you find out why, and it lists all of the shortcuts programmed into your Mac.
A check box to the left of each item lets you know if it is turned on or off. You can also find out if a particular combination of keys has been assigned to more than one shortcut, which could explain why your shortcut wasn't working. This can happen without your knowledge when applications arbitrarily assign shortcut keys to fit their programs as shown in the example. The yellow triangle appears beside shortcuts that have more than one task assigned to the same set of keys. To correct this either turn off one of the shortcuts by unclicking the box, or assign a new set of keys to activate one of the shortcuts.
Energy Saver Preferences
I've mentioned this before, but it is important, so I would like to briefly review it again. When your computer "goes to sleep" the screen goes dark, the hard drive stops spinning, and the processor slows down to a crawl. It will wake up when you press any key. I am frequently asked if it is good to shut down a computer completely or put it to sleep at night. I particularly get this question from older users who think in terms of "wasting electricity."
The choice to shut down completely (at night) or to set your computer to periodic sleep cycles is a personal one. However, one consideration is that OS X undertakes a series of optimization and cleanup activities nightly between 3:15 and 5:30 a.m., local time.
If your Mac is shut down or in sleep mode during these hours, these activities will not occur. If these activities do not occur on a reasonable and regular basis, your operating system will become increasingly cluttered and the performance will slow down.
These activities can be run manually from the terminal, but doing anything from the terminal is NOT an activity for a beginner to undertake. Please get help if you want to use this option. Just take this information into account when you decide what you want to do about leaving your computer running or putting it to sleep.
More on System Preferences will come soon. Hope to see you back.
Copies of Nancy's book Tips, Hints, and Solutions for Seasoned Beginners Using Apple Macintosh Computers With OS X are available in PDF download versions for US$9.57 and in print version for $18.15 plus $4.00 shipping. To view sample pages and get ordering information visit the September 14, 2004 column.
|Check out Nancy's complete index of all her columns for the most complete list of tips anywhere. The list is categorized and is a great reference when you are looking for help!
Nancy has a Master's degree in Human Services Administration and prior to her retirement she worked for almost 30 years in field of mental health and mental retardation. She has been a Mac user for 11 years, and has recently developed an avocation of teaching basic computer skills in both group and one-to-one settings.
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