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Inside Leopard: System Preferences

Most of the touted changes in Leopard involve new features—such as Time Machine and Spaces—or improvements to applications such as Safari, Mail, or iChat. But there are changes throughout OS X 10.5 that are worth knowing about, even if they don’t garner quite the attention of the high-profile features.

Take the System Preferences panes, which have undergone significant changes. In fact, you might notice that System Preferences itself sports a new, wider window to fit the redesigned, wider layout of a number of preference panes.

In this article, I’ll run through the changes you can expect to see when you peruse System Preferences in Leopard, organized by group. On the next page, I’ll take a closer look at a preferences pane that makes its debut in OS X 10.5—Parental Controls, which features boosted functionality over the modest controls found in earlier versions of OS X.

The Personal Group

This group contains controls for appearance, the Dock, Spaces, Spotlight and more.

Desktop & Screen Saver This pane gets a couple of new features. In the Desktop view, Apple’s Desktop images, iPhoto albums, and manually-selected folders of images each get their own section in the list of images; you can minimize each group to avoid clutter. And unlike in previous versions of OS X, you can add more than one folder of images to the list.

The Screen Saver view has gained similar organizational capabilities. Apple-provided, photo-compilations and iPhoto albums, and third-party screen saver plug-ins each get their own collapsible item in the list of savers, making it easier to find one. You also get new Collage and Mosaic options when viewing photo screen savers—Mosaic is especially impressive—as well as the very welcome option to add a clock display to any screen saver. You can also choose to restrict the screen saver to the main screen if you have multiple displays.

Exposé & Spaces Looking for the Dashboard & Exposé pane? It’s been renamed Exposé & Spaces—although Dashboard settings are still found inside. The Exposé view is unchanged from Tiger, but a new Spaces view lets you enable and configure this new-to-OS-X virtual desktop feature.

International The main change you’ll notice in the International pane is support for additional languages and input methods. You also apparently lose the ability to allow a different input source for each document on which you’re working.

Security In the Leopard Security pane, Apple has taken the settings in the Tiger version and reorganized them into General and FileVault views. But the more significant change here is that OS X’s firewall settings have been moved from the Sharing pane in Tiger to a new Firewall view in Leopard’s Security pane.

The firewall’s settings have also changed considerably since Tiger. The new approach is easier to configure for less-advanced users: You choose between Allow All Incoming Connections (firewall is off), Block All Incoming Connections (firewall is on with maximum protection), or Limit Incoming Connections To Specific Services And Applications. With the last option, you can then configure individual applications separately. An Advanced screen holds options for firewall logging and Stealth mode (in which your computer never responds to external network requests).

On the other hand, this simpler configuration approach also removes the advanced settings that were accessible in Tiger. For example, there’s no way to open or close a specific port; to restrict network access to TCP or UDP; to configure the firewall for individual OS X services (such as File Sharing or Web Sharing); or to allow some types of connections by a particular application but not others. The advanced-firewall-configuration utilities that were popular in early versions of OS X just may make a comeback.

Leopard’s System Preferences

The Hardware Group

This row has the preferences for printers, displays, keyboards, and mice, as well as energy settings.

Bluetooth If you’re looking for Bluetooth file-sharing settings in the Bluetooth pane, you’re in the wrong place—the settings have been moved to, appropriately enough, the Sharing pane. The other major change here is visual: the Devices screen is much cleaner and the process of managing and configuring Bluetooth devices has been simplified.

CDs & DVDs The only change here is minor, though useful. On Macs with Front Row, you can now have your Mac automatically launch Front Row whenever you insert a DVD.

Keyboard & Mouse One convenient improvement here is that the Modifier Keys sheet—which let you change the behavior of the Control, Option, Command, and Caps Lock keys (great when using Windows keyboards with a Mac)—now lets you choose different settings for each keyboard. For example, if you use a Windows keyboard with your MacBook Pro at work, and a Mac keyboard at home, each can have its own modifier-key settings.

Print & Fax In the new version of this pane, clicking on the plus (+) button to add a new printer no longer opens Printer Setup Utility. In fact, Printer Setup Utility no longer exists; you set up and configure your printers directly from Print & Fax preferences. This is a less confusing approach, but it also means that you must access a few settings (for example, ColorSync setup) directly through the appropriate utility.

The Internet & Network Group

Here you’ll find only four panes, but important ones for controlling network and sharing settings, for example.

.Mac The .Mac pane is mostly unchanged, but reveals some new features added to .Mac itself. For example, you can now use .Mac to sync Dashboard widgets, Dock contents, Stickies notes, and preferences and settings between multiple Macs—a cool feature if you split your computing time between computers at work and home or a desktop and a laptop. The Account screen also displays an improved summary of your account: type, storage, expiration date, and more.

Also new to the .Mac pane is a screen to enable Leopard’s new Back To My Mac feature, which uses your .Mac account to keep track of your Mac’s location on the Internet, letting you access it from any other Mac—for things like file sharing or screen sharing—without having to worry about dynamic IP addresses, router port forwarding, or other technical obstacles.

Network Leopard’s Network pane, although functionally similar to the one in Tiger, is among the most visually different; it’s been completely redesigned to make it easier to use. Each network port configuration (AirPort, Ethernet, Bluetooth, and so on) in the current Network Location is listed on the left side, accompanied by a status display; select a port configuration, and its basic settings—the ones you’ll most likely need to access—are displayed on the right. An Advanced button provides access to more settings.

This is a vast improvement over the display used in older versions of OS X, which required you to choose network ports from a pop-up menu, and which displayed a confusing mix of basic and advanced settings all at once, separated into tabs. You also get a good number of additional advanced-configuration options in Leopard that simply weren’t available in previous versions of OS X.

Sharing Sharing is the other pane that has seen a major—and welcome—organizational overhaul. As previously mentioned, the Firewall tab is gone, its settings integrated into the Security pane. But Apple also eliminated the Internet tab, moving Internet Sharing to the main list of Sharing services. You configure most services, as in Tiger, by checking the box next to the service name and then, if necessary, choosing settings on the right. But there are a few notable changes here.

The new service that stands out is Screen Sharing, which lets other computers on your network (or over the Internet) access and control your Mac using virtual network computing, or VNC. Although not new to Leopard, this screen-sharing feature was in Tiger hidden away in the Access Privileges screen of Apple Remote Desktop, and as a result, it couldn’t be enabled without turning on Apple Remote Desktop. In Leopard, it gets its own service listing, where you can allow screen sharing, as well as standard VNC access, to anyone or just particular users.

Windows Sharing (SMB access), Personal File Sharing (AFP access), and FTP Access seem to have disappeared in Leopard, but they’ve simply been combined to form a new File Sharing service that can share your Mac’s files so that both Mac and Windows users can access them. But the bigger news here is that you can now easily share specific folders and volumes, to both Mac and Windows computers by simply adding them to the Shared Folders list and then choosing your sharing options; you can even control access to each share on an account-by-account basis.

A few other minor changes have also been made in the Sharing pane: you can enable and disable Printer Sharing here; Apple Remote Desktop has been renamed as Remote Management; and you can now configure both Remote Login (SSH access) and Remote Apple Events on a per-account basis. (In other words, you can choose to accept SSH connections and receive Remote Apple Events from only particular remote users.)

The System Group

Here is where you deal with accounts, speech, the new Time Machine, and more.

Accounts A new layout for the Accounts pane makes it much cleaner than Tiger’s, with only two screens of settings for your own account—Password and Login Items—and only a single screen, for changing the account password, for others.

Tiger’s account picture screen is gone, replaced by an iChat-icon-like image well on the Password screen. Click on the image and a pop-up grid of thumbnails will let you choose any of Leopard’s built-in account icons; or choose Edit Picture to choose and crop your own photo or any recently-used image. As with iChat’s icon-choosing dialog, you can even use a connected camera or built-in iSight to take a photo of yourself.

The Parental Controls screen is no longer in this section; as mentioned at the top of this article, it’s moved to its own self-titled pane (discussed on the next page). You can still enable Parental Controls from here, but you need to switch to the Parental Controls pane to configure the account settings.

You’ll also notice one additional change in the Accounts pane: a new Guest Account in the list of accounts. This account, when enabled, lets someone without an account on your Mac use it temporarily. This account doesn’t require a password and doesn’t have administrator access. Once the guest user logs out, all data and settings in that account’s Home folder are deleted—the account is wiped clean for the next guest user.

Finally, advanced users will appreciate one other new feature in Accounts: By Control-clicking (or right-clicking with a multi-button mouse) on an account in the list, you can access an Advanced Options screen for that account. Here you can change an account’s user ID, group ID, and login shell. You can also add account aliases. Perhaps the most welcome power-user feature is the ability to change the short username of your account and the path and name of your home directory. However, you shouldn’t change any of these options unles you know exactly what you’re doing—there’s a reason they’re hidden.

Date & Time Although this pane remains largely unchanged, one Tiger option is no longer available in Leopard—viewing the time and date as a floating digital or analog clock. Only a menu-bar display is available now.

Speech This pane is largely the same, but welcomes a new gentleman to the list of male voices: Alex. According to Apple’s outline of Leopard’s Universal Access features, Alex delivers “natural breathing and intonation, even at fast speaking rates.”

Time Machine This new preference pane is where you set up and configure Leopard’s Time Machine backup feature.

Parental Controls

Previous versions of Mac OS X allowed basic control—via the Parental Controls screen of Accounts preferences—over the functionality available to non-administrative users. For example, you could control what could be done in the Finder and to system settings, restrict access to particular applications, and manually choose the people with whom users could exchange e-mail and chat messages and the Web sites users could visit. You could also prevent Dictionary from displaying profanity.

In Leopard, Parental Controls gets its own Systems Preferences pane, which reflects not only the greater importance Apple has put on this feature in the latest version of Mac OS X, but also the extent of its capabilities—Parental Controls has outgrown its screen in Accounts preferences and needs a place of its own.

The Parental Controls settings for a particular account are divided into five screens; these settings can be applied to any non-administrator account, including the Guest Account. The System screen contains essentially the same options as the Finder & System configuration screen in Tiger—Simple Finder, a list of allowed applications, and restrictions on changing printer and Dock settings, burning discs, and changing the account password.

A new Content screen incorporates Tiger’s Dictionary and Safari restrictions, but the latter have been improved in two ways. First, a new option is available for limiting access to adult Web sites automatically; Leopard includes a content filter that intercepts Web pages on the fly and determines if each is “suitable for kids.”

As with Tiger, you can also create your own list of allowed sites, but Leopard makes the process much easier than before. Instead of having to log in to each controlled account and configure Safari with your list of allowed sites, Leopard gives you a dialog for entering the URLs (and names) of sites you want to allow—without having to leave your own account. This list of allowed sites overrides Leopard’s standard content filter for these sites, but uses the filter for all other sites.

The Mail & iChat screen combines the iChat- and Mail-account “whitelist” functions from Tiger, but provides a cleaner display and makes it easier to add allowed contacts for both types of electronic communication.

One of the features of the enhanced Parental Controls in Leopard is the ability to set when and for how long an account can use the Mac via a Time Limits screen.

A new Time Limits screen provides functionality that was previously available only through third-party software—the capability to restrict when and how long each user can use the Mac. You can set separate time limits for weekdays and weekend days, and you can also set restricted time during which the user can’t log in. For example, you can restrict an account to 2.5 hours per day of use during the week and 3.5 on weekend days, and block access completely from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. on school nights and from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. on weekends. (Unfortunately, you can’t set up multiple ranges, such as 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.)

The Logs screen lets you monitor the activity of a controlled account. You can view a list of all visited Web sites, as well as all blocked sites that the user attempted to access. You can also see which applications were used and with whom the user chatted using iChat. A pop-up menu lets you restrict the log view to the current day, or the past week, month, three months, six months, or year. You can also group the log display by date or by Web site.

(Keep in mind that any user on your Mac with administrator status can change settings and—perhaps more important—view logs in the Parental Controls pane. Although this is likely not an issue in a home setting where it’s OK for two or more adults to be able to keep an eye on controlled accounts, it could be a drawback in other situations—for example, if you’re using Parental Controls in an office or educational setting. This is another reason why you should give administrator status to accounts only when absolutely necessary.)

It’s easy to set up parental-controlled accounts for multiple users, thanks to the Copy Settings command in Parental Controls.

A useful option—available from the Action menu below the user list—is the ability to manage these controls from another computer. With this option enabled on a Mac, that Mac’s non-admin accounts will appear in the Parental Controls user list on other Macs on your home network, allowing you to configure those accounts’ Parental Controls setting over the network—a convenient option in a lab or home setting.

Tip: Transferring Settings Setting up parental-controlled accounts for multiple kids (or even adults)? If the accounts are going to have the same settings, first configure one of the accounts. Then click the action-menu button at the bottom of the accounts list and choose Copy Settings For “ user ” from the pop-up menu that appears. Finally, select another account and then choose Paste Settings To “ user .” This applies the first account’s Parental Controls settings to the second account, saving you the trouble of having to configure each separately. Even if you don’t plan on configuring each exactly the same, you can use this technique and then go back and make the necessary changes to each account; assuming you’re at least configuring the accounts somewhat similarly, this will still save you a lot of work.

[ Senior Editor Dan Frakes reviews low-cost software at the Mac Gems weblog .]

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