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Setting Up Mac OS X - Wincent Colaiuta

by , 11:00 AM EST, March 24th, 2001

We begin a short series of tips for setting up your Mac OS X machine. These tips come from people who have been running Mac OS X since the release of Public Beta and some of the many builds that have since been leaked. After installing OS X the 10th time, you get to learn how to set it up just right rather quickly. Each of these articles will tell you how *we* like to set up our machines, so take what you like and use it as you want. Mac OS X is highly customizable, and there will be as many tastes as there are users.

Our first article comes from Wincent Colaiuta, coauthor of our own Hot Cocoa tip column, and the man behind

Basic setup

Setting up two users

When you install OS X you're asked to set up an administrator account. This is a powerful account in that it allows you to change the system settings, but the down side is that if you make mistakes you could adversely affect your machine. For that reason I generally like to set up a second account which I use most of the time, only switching to my administrator account when necessary. This protects me from making careless mistakes.

  1. Go to the "System Preferences" application.
  2. Click on "Users".
  3. Click on "New User".
  4. Fill out the fields, but do not check "Allow user to administer this machine".
  5. Click "Save".
Creating useful folders

Apple provides a number of folders in each user's "home directory." I like to add a few extras.

  1. In the Finder open a new Finder window (Command+N).
  2. Click on the "Home" button in the toolbar.
  3. Add directories by selecting "New folder" from the File menu.

The directories I add are, "Applications", "Incoming", "Archives". I find it useful to create a separate folder for Applications that only I will use. Any applications that are to be used by all users on the machine can be installed by the administrator in the system Applications folder (which you can reach from the shortcut in the Finder toolbar).

Customizing the Finder toolbar

Selecting "Customize toolbar" from the Finder's "View" menu allows me to add extra buttons to the Finder toolbar. I like to add buttons to the right end of the toolbar: first a separator, then a path popup menu, then a delete button. I also put a "Find" button somewhere in the middle.

You can do this to your own liking by dragging items to and from the tool bar. Click "Done" when you are finished.

Tweaking the preferences

You'll want to spend some time in the System Preferences application (found in the Applications folder) tweaking things to your liking. Some of the things I do include:

  • In the "Dock" panel, I turn off magnification and I reduce the size of the dock.
  • Under the "Login" panel I set up a list of applications that I would like OS X to start for me every time I log in – for me these include things like "Mail", "Fire" and "Terminal".
  • Under "Mouse" I set the mouse tracking speed to maximum sensitivity.
Installing useful software

It's worth a trip to to grab some useful software. Programs I always search for include OmniWeb, Fire, Rbrowser and DragThing.

Advanced setup

Enabling the root account

If you want to do anything advanced, such as compiling new software, then the chance are that you will need to enable the "root" account.

Open the "NetInfo Manager" (located in the Applications/Utilities folder).

2. Select "Authenticate" from the "Security" submenu (under the "File" menu item).

3. Select "Enable root account" from the same submenu.

Setting terminal transparency

Open up a terminal (located in the Applications/Utilities folder) and type in:

defaults write TerminalOpaqueness 0.85

From now on, new terminal windows that you open will have transparency (allowing you to see what's behind them at the same time as typing text into the terminal). This can be very useful, as well as looking pretty.

Changing the dock orientation

Occasionally it is useful to move the Dock to the side of the screen instead of having it along the bottom. broke the news about how it's possible to do this in the final version of OS X.

In a terminal window, change to the root user by typing "su".

2. Edit the dockmenus.plist file by typing:

Pico /System/Library/CoreServices/

3. Look for the text "1013" and just under it replace the text <key>command</key> with <key>menu</key>.

4. Do the same just under the text "1014".

From now on when you Control-click on the separator in the dock you'll get a pop-up menu that allows you to move the dock to any edge of the screen.

Installing the dev tools and building OpenSSH

Follow the instructions that came with OS X to install the developer tools and you'll be ready to build and install OpenSSH, the secure communications software which Apple was unable to include with OS X due to export restrictions.

I recommend the excellent step-by-step instructions at for installing OpenSSH. They can be found at:

Good luck and have fun!

Wincent Colaiuta

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