“Tinker, v.: attempt to repair or improve something in a casual or desultory way, often to no useful effect.”
If I could get back just some of the time that I have spent tinkering with computers over the years, I think I might be able to extend my lifetime quite significantly. One of the great things about OS X is that it actually requires little tinkering (and yes, some systems do require quite a lot of it!).
If you simply hand over control to the operating system, things will generally run quite smoothly. This does, though, also mean giving up on some choice, and so some freedom.
There are many apps available that help you to change various aspects of your Mac’s appearance and the way it generally runs. One of the best, and widest known, is Marcel Bresink’s TinkerTool. Join us after the jump as we explore what this app can do for you.
First Things First
Before we even get started, here’s step one of Mac Use 101: go make a backup of your system before you even install TinkerTool. Better yet: make two – a Time Machine backup and an image of your hard-drive with either SuperDuper! or Carbon Copy Cloner.
Okay, done that? Then let’s continue…
TinkerTool presents you with a tabbed interface with 11 sections. Each of these allows you to tweak various aspects of your setup, from relatively minor, aesthetic settings, to in-depth, arcane ones.
The first tab, as its title suggests, lets you fine-tune aspects of the Finder. Here you can make relatively minor changes like altering animation settings, disabling sound effects or enabling the display of hidden files, or major changes like turning off your Mac’s Desktop features.
Think carefully before you do this – and, uh *cough*, you did make a backup, right?
A nice thing to do on this page is turning on the display of transparent covers when using Quick Look to inspect folders, which lets you quickly see what’s inside a folder:
Transparent Quick Look
It’s not very useful, actually, but it sure is pretty!
This tab lets you change various aspects of your Dock, such as forcing it into 2D display mode rather than the 3D glassy appearance that is standard in Snow Leopard:
Simple 2D Dock
You can also use this section to add a ‘recent items’ stack to the right of your Dock, and can put in place certain restrictions, like making it impossible for users to resize the Dock, or to alter it in any way. This is very useful if you’re managing an environment in which various people are accessing a number of Macs.
The General tabs lumps together everything that doesn’t fit anywhere else, so it covers a pretty broad range of settings, from specifying where scroll arrows appear to setting the format for screenshots and the default location they’re saved to.
You can also decide to turn off the Dashboard, or to put it into Developer Mode, which allows you to drag widgets out of Dashboard and run them as ordinary apps.
Under Applications, you will find a few settings to do things like display the diagnostic menu in Address Book and control what alerts (if any) are displayed on those (hopefully rare) occasions that applications crash.
You can also choose here to add an ‘Eject’ button to your menubar if you’re more of a mouse-user than a keyboarder.
Menu Bar Eject
This tab lets you change settings specific to Snow Leopard, disabling some new features or rolling back behaviour to the way things were before upgrading from OS X 10.5.
Snow Leopard Preferences
A recent addition to the app are some useful settings for iTunes – adding the ability to give half-star ratings, among other things.
Here you can set your system-wide default fonts – not all applications will respect your choices here, but most will.
As you’ll see, I’m a bit of a Helvetica man! If you want to have a play with different settings to see what suits you best, it’s easy to reset everything to the default fonts.
By the way, Droid Sans, one of the fonts you’ll see I use, is a particularly nice sans serif produced by Google – it’s available for free download here.
This tab lets you specify the size at which OS X’s font smoothing operates, and the style in which it is applied – which relates to different forms of display:
Here you can alter the list of applications or helpers that run automatically when you log into your account. A nice feature here, which isn’t available in the Login Items section under User Accounts in System Preferences (another place you can adjust what runs when your machine starts up), is the ability to deactivate an item in the list without needing to completely remove it.
Use this section to tweak a few aspects of Safari: whether PDFs are displayed within the browser window or fed through to your default PDF viewing application, whether or not you receive a warning when you close a page with un-submitted form information, and a couple of things to do with how your browser records and displays the History of sites you’ve visited.
On this tab you can make some changes to the appearance and behaviour of QuickTime, as well as fine-tuning a couple of things to do with editing video in QuickTime.
Advanced QuickTime Settings
This is an important tab: it lets you reset any tinkering you’ve done, so that you can return to the default, pre-tinkered settings – very helpful if anything goes a little haywire…
So that’s a quick walkthrough of the various sections of TinkerTool. Everything that you can do with TinkerTool can be done in other ways – there are other apps that can help you change the appearance and behaviour of your Dock (Candybar, for instance), and a quick Google search will turn up Terminal commands to accomplish this and just about everything else TinkerTool can do.
But since TinkerTool does all these things in a single app, and since it’s free, there’s no reason not to add it to your arsenal. It’s a fairly polished app, with a responsive developer, and there’s a whole lot to like about it.
Or… You could simply accept that Apple have put a lot of thought and care into the default settings, and just give up on that little bit of freedom and let them take care of things. And that might just free you up to get on with other things, and spend a little less time tinkering!