Advertisement

Over 15 Cool Ways to Personalize Your Mac

by

This Cyber Monday Tuts+ courses will be reduced to just $3 (usually $15). Don't miss out.

On days when I have nothing to do, I look around my Mac for cool features I haven’t tried before. I’m always learning more about what all those info screens in Activity Monitor mean, and you can never know enough about Terminal. Last time I had a look around, I discovered that holding the Command key and then dragging an icon on my menu bar would allow me to reorganize the order. This got me thinking: maybe there are some other cool ways to personalize things on OS X. In this article, I’ll go over a bunch of different ways that you can turn your Mac into a device that works for you.


Appearance

It’s always good to give things a different look. There are even whole websites dedicated to the theming of Macs. Instead of using third-party tools for different looks, let’s play with what Apple has already provided.

1. Automatically Change the Wallpaper Every Few Hours, or Days

Setting the wallpaper to change at intervals
Setting the wallpaper to change at intervals.

If you head to the Desktop & Screen Saver pane of System Preferences, you can set your desktop wallpaper. That’s the most basic of personal settings you can get on a Mac, but there’s actually more to it. Once you select a wallpaper that’s in a folder of others, you have the option to change it automatically. Check the box beside “Change picture” and then select which option you prefer. It can be anything from five seconds to one day, and there are even special options for when you wake your computer or log in.

Tip: Click the box beside “Random order” to shuffle your wallpapers.

To keep things organized, use a folder in iPhoto to store your wallpapers. The Desktop & Screen Saver pane always keeps them up to date, so you don’t have to worry about adding one when you download something new. Alternatively, you can use any folder on your computer, so long as it holds more than one image.

2. Use Hot Corners to Activate Your Screensaver and Other Things

Adding Hot Corners to the Mac for quick actions
Adding Hot Corners to the Mac for quick actions.

When you set up a screensaver in the Desktop & Screen Saver preferences pane, you may have seen the Hot Corners button in the bottom right corner. In a nutshell, this acts as a shortcut to a system feature. It uses all four of your screen’s corners to activate this feature. The options include starting and disabling the screensaver, opening Launchpad and Notification Center, showing the desktop, and more. When you move your mouse to the defined corner for a feature, it stays active until you do so again.

3. Add Spacers to the Dock

The dock can get cluttered, so why not divide things up? Spacers do just that, but not in the way you’d expect. Unlike that bar the dock already has, spacers are removable. They’re also invisible: like an icon, they take up space, but there’s nothing actually there.

Dock spacers are like white space on your dock
Dock spacers are like white space on your dock.

Because it’s not actually an OS X feature, you have to add one of these to your dock using Terminal. Copy and paste

defaults write com.apple.dock persistent-apps -array-add ‘{“tile-type”=“spacer-tile”;}’

into a new Terminal window, then type

killall Dock

to close and reopen the dock. Your spacer will appear right before the built-in divider on the right. It’s not a movable element, but you can delete it by right-clicking the empty space and selecting Remove from Dock.

4. Change the System’s Color Scheme

Changing up the color selection
Changing up the color selection.

Are you bored with all your selected text being blue? Maybe it’s time to change that. In the General pane of System Preferences, there’s an option for “Highlight color”. Change it to any color you wish. There are eight default options, but you can always use OS X’s color picker to choose a custom one.

Selected text can be different colors
Selected text can be different colors.

There’s another appearance options here, too. You can change the buttons, menus, and windows of all apps to a more monochrome option called Graphite. Sadly, there are no more than two options available here, but if you like a very dull look without those colorful close, minimize, and zoom buttons in your window bars, this may be perfect.

5. Add Dock Magnification, Hide It, and Change Its Position

Give your Mac character with dock magnification
Give your Mac character with dock magnification.

Out of the box, your Mac’s dock will not jump out at you like you’ve probably seen it do on your friends’ computers. That’s because magnification isn’t enabled. To switch it on, click the Apple in the top left corner of your screen, select Dock, and click Turn Magnification On. This menu also gives you the option to hide your dock, which can be nice if you like a lot of screen space. When hidden, you can show the dock by moving your cursor to the part of the screen it resides in.

Lastly, you can change the position of your dock and place it on the left or right side of your screen. The appearance of the dock will also change if you move it. It becomes more 2D and reminiscent of OS X Tiger.


In the Menu Bar

Most people don’t use the menu bar to their advantage. Some apps use it for extra information, but there are some other really creative things you can do with the system’s presence there.

6. Add Seconds and A Date to the Time

Personalizing the date and time appearance on OS X
Personalizing the date and time appearance on OS X.

It’s rather boring to just display the time when you can have so much more. Click the current time and select Open Date & Time Preferences to expand things. In the main tab you will find a place to set the date and time. If that’s correct, skip to the Clock tab. Here you can change the time from digital to analog (it’s hard to read at such a size), display seconds, flash the time separators, use a 24-hour clock, show or hide the AM/PM indicators, show or hide the day of the week, add the date to your menu bar, and even announce the time on the quarter, half, and full hour.

OS X has so many cool time options hidden away. It’s nice to have the date displayed in your menu bar, and seconds can be helpful if you’re hoping to be punctual. Also, don’t forget that you can change the date format in the Language & Text pane. I’ll talk more about that later.

7. Add Battery Percentage and Life Time

More info on the battery
More info on the battery.

If you have a portable Mac and your menu bar’s battery indicator is nothing more than an icon, we need to change that. When plugged in, click it and select Show Percentage to give you a reading charge. Then unplug your MacBook’s charging adapter and test things out.

There used to be an option to show how long your battery would last in current use, but it was removed in Mountain Lion. If you’re using an earlier version of OS X, click the battery icon and look for that option. Otherwise, a small third-party utility called Battery Time Remaining will bring back the depletion time. It’s available on GitHub.


Personal Preference

Everyone likes to adjust things to their own special presets. This is the section for the little things.

8. Change What Inserting a CD or DVD Does

Change what your computer does when you insert a disc
Change what your computer does when you insert a disc.

You don’t always want to have DVD Player launch when you insert a video disc — provided you even have a drive for that. To change the behavior, open the CDs & DVDs pane of System Preferences. Click whichever function you wish to modify and select “Open other application…” Or, to simply switch off the feature entirely, select Ignore. You can also run an AppleScript for a custom function.

9. Adjust What Spotlight Can Search Through and How It’s Ordered

Modify the way Spotlight displays results
Modify the way Spotlight displays results.

Do you have some private files that don’t need to be found when searching? You can exclude them from a full system Spotlight query. Here’s how:

  1. Launch System Preferences and click Spotlight.
  2. Click the Privacy tab.
  3. Click the + button to add a folder or entire disc you don’t want to be displayed.

You can also adjust the way Spotlight displays your search results. In the Search Results tab, deselect whatever category you don’t want to see, or drag them into your own personal order. Here you can change the Spotlight shortcut, too.

10. Change Your Default Dictionary

Add dictionaries that better suit you or help you in class
Add dictionaries that better suit you, or help you in class.

Apple’s Dictionary app is one of the most useful tools on the Mac. It’s simple and gets the job done. But if you’re like me, you enjoy looking up words in a true English dictionary: the British one. To enable an alternate language in the app, head to its Preferences window and check the box of whichever you wish to have in the main window. There are ten dictionaries and thesauruses included with your Mac, and two of them are more resources than dictionaries (the Apple one and Wikipedia).

11. Change App Icons

Be ironic with icon changes
Be ironic with icon changes.

The most fun you’ll have customizing your Mac will be changing all your app icons. There are utilities for this, but the process of changing an app’s icon manually is simple.

  1. Download an icon from the Internet. If it’s a standard .icns file, don’t worry about the next step.
  2. Select your .png or .jpeg icon and open it with Preview. Click Edit, Select All, and then copy the selection. Regular .png files do not work because they don’t always have transparent backgrounds.
  3. Find the app you wish to modify, select it, and click Get Info (CMD + I).
  4. Click the small icon in the top left corner of the app and paste your new one.
  5. To remove a custom icon, select the small one in the Get Info window and press the Delete key on your keyboard.

12. Make Finder Open in a Different Folder Than All My Files

Change Finders default landing page
Change Finder's default landing page.

New Macs show the All My Files directory by default when you launch Finder. Since not everyone likes that, there’s a way to change it. Head to Finder’s Preferences, select the General tab, and choose a folder from the drop-down menu below "New Finder windows show". Click Other to use any folder on your hard drive.

13. Region Options

Correct the region specifics to reflect your home country
Correct the region specifics to reflect your home country.

Living in the United States doesn’t mean your date must be formatted the same as the rest of the country. You can customize that, and other things, in the Language & Text pane of System Preferences. Once there, click the Region tab. Here’s a list of what you can do:

  • Make the week start on any day: If you like your calendar’s week to actually start on a Monday, then by all means tell the OS! Click the drop-down menu beside “First day of the week” to do this. You can select any day for your week to start on, so have fun with it.
  • Change the date format: Click the Customize button beside the Dates section and reorganize things the way you want them. Apple made things extremely simple so you can drag and drop the values and arrange them however you wish. There’s even an option to add the era, AD.
  • Change the time format: Milliseconds are part of time, so why not include them? Apple gives you a choice in the Customize screen of the Times section. Again, it’s a drag and drop process.
  • Modify currency separators and decimal characters: Some people like their decimals to be commas and commas periods. If that’s you, click Customize below the Numbers section and change things up. You can change the values to any character.
  • Move to a new currency or measurement unit: Last, but not least, there are options for the currency and measurement units you’re using. There are a lot of currencies, but the measurement units are only offered in US or Metric.

Finder

OS X’s file browser deserves to be made your own.

14. Organize Folders Automatically

OS X can reorder folders in Finder automatically
OS X can reorder folders in Finder automatically.

It’s annoying to see a folder completely disfigured due to bad organization. Finder has settings for such things, and they’re located in the toolbar. Click the button that looks like a small list of icons and then select whichever method of organization you wish to have. Name is the best to use because it always looks in place. However, you can do anything from kind to size and label. Alternatively, drag things off the grid to mess them up a bit.

15. Remove Mounted Discs From the Desktop

Maybe you don’t want to see your CD or external hard drive cluttering up your desktop. To disable it, open Finder’s Preferences and deselect one of the “Show these items on the desktop” options in the General tab. That will remove some unnecessary stuff from your desktop.

16. Bring Back the Status Bar

Get more information with the status bar in Finder
Get more information with the status bar in Finder.

There used to be a status bar at the bottom of Finder which displayed the size of a selection, number of files in a folder, and other useful information. It was removed in Lion, but you can always bring it back with a quick keyboard shortcut: Command + / Alternatively, click the View menu and select Show Status Bar.


What are Your Tricks?

I've shown you how to organize things, change your default dictionary, reorder Spotlight results, show off different wallpapers, and recover hidden features that were in older versions of OS X. Quite an extensive list, isn't it? Not really. There are actually a lot of other things you can do to your Mac, like change the dock's appearance drastically by theming it. The same can be done with the rest of the OS, though it does take a while to get things perfect. Have you found some cool customizations of your own that you'd like to share? Please do below!

Advertisement