Organize System Preferences in Lion


Organize System Preferences in Lion
Mac Tip #531, 11 April 2012

System Preferences is home to all kinds of very helpful settings, but Lion brings a couple of new features to the app. You can hide Prefs you never use, call up an easy-to-use list of all prefs or display them alphabetically. Here’s how.

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Quick start

  1. Click and hold on the Show All button in the Toolbar to call up a list of all Prefs.
  2. Choose Customize… from that list to select which items to show or hide.
  3. Select Organize Alphabetically or Organize by Categories from the View menu.
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System Preferences shows built-in and third party settings

When you get a brand new Mac and open System Preferences you see around 30 items that relate to settings for the machine and the software Apple supplied with it.

System Preferences in Lion.

System Preferences in Lion. The bottom row shows items that belong to apps and hardware I’ve added.

To call up System Preferences look under the Apple menu.

Sometimes you may also add software or hardware to your Mac that puts its settings in System Preferences too.

For example, instead of using a mouse with my MacBook Pro I use the built-in trackpad, but also a Wacom Intuos 4 graphics tablet. The settings for the tablet are accessible via System Preferences.

Display items by category or alphabetically

In my screenshot the items are arranged by category:

  • Personal
  • Hardware
  • Internet & Wireless
  • System
  • Other

Within each group they’re arranged somewhat randomly, though loosely alphabetical.

If you prefer, you can arrange them strictly alphabetically:

  1. Go to the View menu.
  2. Select Organize Alphabetically. The categories disappear and all items are arranged in alphabetical order across the rows.
All items are arranged in alphabetical order across the rows.

All items are arranged in alphabetical order across the rows.

Display a list of all items

To show all items (in alphabetical order):

  1. Click and hold on the Show All button in the Toolbar. After a moment a drop-down menu appears, showing all items in System Preferences.
  2. Select any item from the list to show its settings window.
Show All System Preferences and Customize the display.

Show All System Preferences and Customize the display.

Customize System Preferences in Lion

There may be some Preferences you just don’t want to see. For example, I never use MobileMe, so if you compare your System Preferences window with the one in my screenshots you should notice that item isn’t displayed in the 3rd row on mine, but it probably is on yours.

This may also be useful of you’re setting up a Mac for someone else and prefer to hide items you’d prefer them not to use.

  1. Click and hold on the Show All button in the Toolbar. After a moment a drop-down menu appears, showing all items in System Preferences.
  2. Select Customize… — the last item in the list. A checkbox is displayed beside each item.
  3. Check the box for items you do want to be displayed and uncheck it for items you wish to hide.
  4. Click the Done button in the Toolbar when you’re finished. Items whose checkbox was unselected are hidden from view.
Customize the view by hiding and showing items.

Customize the view by hiding and showing items.

Keep in mind that all you’re doing is choosing whether or not a Preference Pane is displayed in the window. This simply hides it from view; it doesn’t in any way prevent anyone from actually using the features the settings apply to. For that you need the Users & Groups System Preference.

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