TinkerTool 5.51: Access Mac's Hidden Preference Settings

Make your Mac work the way you want it to with these hidden options

Marcel Bresink
What We Like
  • Able to set many of the Mac’s hidden preferences.

  • Can reset to system defaults, or restore to condition before your last edits.

  • Settings well organized by app or system component affected.

  • Indicates when selected change will take effect.

  • Can export preference settings for use on another device.

What We Don't Like
  • Poor documentation, other than an online FAQ.

TinkerTool from Marcel Bresink is a utility you can use to customize how your Mac looks and works. OS X has quite a few hidden features and preference settings that are locked away from the average user. I’ve written a few tips showing how to access these hidden system switches using the Terminal app. And while I don’t mind using Terminal, others find it a bit underwhelming in its user interface. They're also perhaps a bit intimidated by the raw power available in Terminal and worried they may accidentally delete important data or harm some part of the Mac system by using it.

TinkerTool, on the other hand, provides access to many of the same hidden preferences as Terminal does, but without the need to memorize obscure text commands. Instead, TinkerTool lays out most of the available OS X preferences in a user interface that's easy to navigate and understand.

Advantages of TinkerTool

TinkerTool has been one of our favorite utilities for getting our Macs to work the way we want them to. Its easy-to-use interface, comprised mostly of checkboxes, radio buttons, and drop-down menus, makes it clear what most changes will do.

The other chief advantage of TinkerTool over some competing apps that manage hidden system preferences is that it only allows you to change existing preferences; it doesn't install any type of code, create background processes, or in any other way interfere with how your Mac operates. It has no cleaning or monitoring options, and it doesn’t try to outguess what the system does on its own, such as when to run certain cleanup scripts or clear out system caches. This makes TinkerTool one of the more benign of the system preference setting utilities available; it's also not as likely to cause irreversible damage if used incorrectly.

Installing TinkerTool

TinkerTool is downloaded as a disk image file; double-clicking the .dmg file will open the image file to reveal the app and a link to the online FAQ. As mentioned in the cons for TinkerTool, the FAQ is the extent of the help available. Although the FAQ is not a replacement for a manual, I do recommend taking a few minutes to look the FAQ over.

Installation is accomplished by simply moving the TinkerTool app from the image file to your Mac’s Applications folder. Once that's done, you can close the image file and move it to the trash.

Using TinkerTool

TinkerTool opens as a single-window app with a tabbed toolbar. Each tab represents a category for changing system settings. Currently, there are 10 tabs:

  • Finder
  • Dock
  • General
  • Desktop
  • Applications
  • Fonts
  • Safari
  • iTunes
  • QuickTime X
  • Reset

Each tab contains system settings appropriate to the listed category. As an example, you can select the Finder tab, place a checkmark in the box for Show hidden and system files, and achieve the same thing that I show you how to do with Terminal in the View Hidden Folders on Your Mac Using Terminal article.

However, while TinkerTool has many of the most often-used hidden system preferences, it's missing a few, such as the ability to add a Dock Spacer to your Mac.

One very helpful feature of TinkerTool is that in the bottom left corner of each tabbed window, you'll find a note indicating when changes you make will take effect. For instance, any changes in the Applications tab won’t take effect until the next time you log in or restart your Mac. So, be sure to check for when the change will actually occur, so you won't think it didn't work.​

The developer deserves special thanks for including Reset, the final tab. TinkerTool can restore changes you make back to either the original default settings that were present when a fresh install of OS X happened or to the condition the system preferences were last in before you got a hankering to tinker with TinkerTool. Either way, you have a quick and easy way to extract yourself from any trouble you get yourself into, which is a very nice feature for an app to have.

Final Thoughts

TinkerTool is easy to use and provides access to many of your Mac’s hidden system settings. It doesn't install any background apps to monitor or run special cleaning routines, which can affect system performance; it simply does what its name implies: lets you tinker with your Mac’s settings.