Essential configuration of OS X

Getting a comfortable environment

Every year or so, I get a new Mac/MacBook and have to set it up. I created this page as a checklist of things to do.
This is a personal cheat sheet to configure OS X to my liking. Your needs are probably very different from mine.
Make the dock smaller and turn on mouse-over magnification:
Set this from System Preferences > Dock.
Pick your favorite wallpaper.
Set this from System Preferences > Desktop & Screen Saver. Why did Apple get rid of their collection of abstract patterns as wallpaper? I find photo backgrounds too distracting and solid colors a bit too boring.
Turn the Caps Lock key to a Control key

NOBODY NEEDS A CAPS LOCK KEY! Make it function like a Control key instead.

Open System Preferences, select the Keyboard and then select the Keyboard tab. Click on the Modifier Keys... button on the bottom-right part of the window. Change the Caps Lock modifier to be ^ Control and press OK.

Show character viewers in the menu bar
I often need to enter special characters (e.g, greek letters, math symbols, arrows) or need a reminder what some of the keyboard modifiers do. Open System Preferences, select the Keyboard and then select the Keyboard tab. Check the Show Keyboard, Emoji, and Symbol Viewers in Menu Bar box.
Customize character lists
Click on the Keyboard/Emoji/Symbol viewer in the top menu bar (it's the rectangle with the Apple command symbol on the right). Click onthe gear box on the top right of the window that opens and select Customize List.... Check:
  • Arrows
  • Bullets/Stars
  • Currency Symbos
  • Digits - All
  • Dingbats
  • Emoji
  • Enclosed Characters
  • Letterlike Symbols - All
  • Math Symbols
  • Parentheses - All
  • Pictographs
  • Punctuation - All
  • Sign/Standard Symbols
  • Technical Symbols
  • European Alphabetic Scripts
    • Greek
    • Latin
Enable URL display
As of OX X Yosemite, Safari no longer shows the address of a web page by default. In Safari, go to Preferences. Click on the Advanced tab (far right). Select “Show full website address” in the Smart Search Field label at the top.
Show all file extensions in the finder:

There are two reasons I set this. First, I don't need the mystery of hidden text in my file names. Second, OS X is forgiving if an extension is missing. For example, you can open a jpeg file even if it doesn't have a .jpg suffix. This will really confuse Microsoft Windows if you move the file to that system.

Enter the Finder (click on the leftmost icon in the dock or on the Macintosh HD icon). Then select Finder > Preferences > Advanced and check show all filename extensions.

Reduce the desktop icon size
Even on my 27" and 30" monitors, I like my desktop icons a bit smaller (ditto for the dock). Right click (control click) anywhere on the screen and select Show View Options. I resized mine to 36x36 but that's just a personal preference. With the touchpad on a notebook, you can change the desktop icon size dynamically by pinching or unpinching the touchpad with the mouse focus on the display.
Show the remaining battery life in the menu bar
Click on the battery icon in the menu bar. Select Show > Time.
Name your machine
Go to System Preferences and select Sharing. The name entry box is on the top.
Enable root access

A lot of people recommend against enabling the root account, and suggest using the sudo command instead. I use root access too often and don't have the patience to type the extra characters before everything that needs to run as root.

See Enabling and using the "root" user in Mac OS X.

  1. Choose System Preferences from the Apple menu
  2. Choose Users & Groups from the View menu.
  3. Click the lock icon on the bottom left of the window and authenticate.
  4. Click Login Options at the bottom of the list of users.
  5. Click the Join... button next to Network Account Server:
  6. Click on OpenDirectory Utility... in the window that pops up.
  7. Select Enable Root User on the Edit menu.
  8. Choose and enter a root password in both the Password and Verify fields, then click OK.
Enable the right mouse button

Make sure that right clicking is enabled on your mouse. It probably is, so you can skip this step. If you're using an Apple Magic Mouse, open System Preferences, select Mouse, and make sure the Point & Click tab is selected. Make sure the Secondary click item is checked.

If you're using a generic two-button mouse (or scroll mouse), System Preferences, select Mouse. The Primary mouse button is typically set to Left.

Show the date and time on the top menu bar

Apple's time display doesn't show the date by default. If you just want to see the time with the day and date displayed, click on the date and select Open Date & Time Preferences.... Select the Clock tab. Under Date options, select Show date.

If you'd like to see a monthly calendar when you click on the date and have options to configure the display of the date and time, there are several programs that do the job. I use Mowglii's itsycal.

Since these programs replace the clock, you need to disable OS X from showing the clock. Run System Preferences and select Date & Time. Then select Clock in the list of buttons on the top. Uncheck Show date and time in menu bar.


Itsycal is a tiny menu bar calendar that shows a monthly calendar when you click the clock.

Download the itsycal zip file: here.

Navigate to your Downloads folder and and drag to Applications/Utilities.
Click the program to run it.
Click on itsycal's date icon and select Preferences from the gear icon on the bottom right. Check "launch at startup".
Click on Appearance and enter the set the datetime pattern field to your preferences. Instructions for formats are here. I use: E MMM d h:mm a.

  • Now go to System Preferences, select Date & Time, click on the Clock tab, and uncheck "show date and time in menu bar". This disables Apple's clock display.
  • Change Mail's copy address behavior
    Starting in OS X 10.6, Mail's Copy Address copied the name together with the address in angle brackets. To just copy the email address onto the clipboard, run this in Terminal:
      defaults write AddressesIncludeNameOnPasteboard -bool NO
    Install Onyx
    Go to Titanium's Software and download Onyx. This is a useful utility for cleaning out caches and running maintenence scripts (particularly useful if you shut your machine off to keep scheduled jobs from running). There are other similar tools out there but this one is free and seems to be at least as good as the others.
    Bring the shell to the dock:

    I use the shell (a.k.a. Terminal) a lot. If you don't then this is useless to you.

    Open the finder. Select Applications/Utilities. Click and drag (or just Terminal if you don't show all extensions) to the dock.

    Have the terminal close when you exit the shell cleanly:
    Launch Terminal. Select Terminal>Preferences>Settings>Shell. Select Close if the shell exited cleanly for When the shell exits:.
    Create a .bash_profile
    If you use a shell, you'll want a .bash_profile in your home directory. What you put in your profile is really up to you. Among other things, I stick in an
     export BC_ENV_ARGS=-q
     PS1="\h|\W: "
    The first keeps bc from printing a copyright notice. The second sets the prompt to the hostname|base_name_of_current_directory:. If you don't use bc (or the shell), then you won't care.
    Install gcc and other useful tools

    You can't survive without a compiler. Go to the App Store and search for Xcode. It's almost a 3GB download, so be patient. After you download it, run Install (under /Applications) to install Xcode and then delete Install

    Install Dropbox
    I keep a lot of key shared stuff on dropbox. Get it from here.
    Install Microsoft Office
    Still a de facto standard. I get it from Office 365. If you have a non-subscription version installed, copy:
    	copy /Library/Preferences/
    from a computer that already has MS-Office installed.
    Move Microsoft User Data out of Documents.

    If you install Microsoft Office, you'll notice that running any of its applications causes a directory called Microsoft User Data to be created under Documents. This, IMO, wasn't a great design decision. The Documents directory in general holds things that you care about, not system configuration files. Move this directory to Library/Preferences under your home directory:

    mv ~/Microsoft\ User\ Data ~Library/Preferences

    If, by the way, you want to make the Library directory visible in the finder, run this shell command:

    setfile -a v ~/Library

    To make a file invisible to the finder, use setfile -a V.

    If you want to make all hidden files visible in the finder, run this command:

    defaults write AppleShowAllFiles TRUE

    and then restart the finder with:

    killall Finder

    Change the last parameter to FALSE to undo this. I choose not to do this because I don't want extra clutter in my finder view and hidden files are rarely of interest to me.

    Install Evernote
    Get it from the App Store. You can also use Microsoft One Note, Apple Notes, Google Keep, etc.
    Install additional software
    Other software I use:
    • Adobe Creative Cloud (Photoshop & Lightroom)
    • OmniDiskSweeper
    • iWork
    • OmniGraffle Professional
    • iBooks Author
    • Printopia
    Disable automatic playing of songs during import on iTunes
    defaults write play-songs-while-importing FALSE


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