TinkerTool: Tom's Mac Software Pick

Discover Secret System Preferences

TinkerTool
Courtesy of Marcel Bresink

TinkerTool from Marcel Bresink Software-Systeme gives you access to many of the hidden system preferences that are available in OS X.

I really enjoy tinkering with OS X's preference settings. There are a number of system preferences that aren't exposed to the casual user via the Mac’s System Preferences. To make use of these additional settings usually requires using the Terminal app and the default write command to set a value within a preference file.

Over time, I've posted many articles here on About: Macs that show you how to use Terminal to make changes to your system, such as changing the file format used for taking screen shots, viewing hidden folders, and using Terminal to make you Mac talk, and even sing.

The problem with using Terminal to perform the task of setting preferences is that you have to spend a great deal of time investigating all of the various system preference files, just to discover what preferences are available. And then you have to experiment with Terminal to see how you can make changes, and what, if any, side effects will be caused by making those changes.

That's where TinkerTool comes in. Dr. Marcel Bresink spent a great deal of time researching and developing TinkerTool, to give everyone access to these hidden features with an easy-to-use graphical interface that hides all of the complicated little Terminal commands from view.

Pros

  • Easy-to-use app that exposes many useful system settings.
  • You can reset preferences you've changed using TinkerTool back to either the original default conditions, or the condition they were in before using TinkerTool.
  • Organizes preferences by the apps or services they affect.
  • Very safe; only affects your user account and not anyone else’s.
  • Free.

Cons

  • The only con I came up with is I wish it could do more.

TinkerTool, currently at version 5.32 at the time of this review, is designed for use with Mavericks and OS X Yosemite. Because Apple usually makes changes to existing system preferences, adds new preferences, or in some cases, removes preferences, TinkerTool should be matched to the version of OS X you're using. You can find other versions of TinkerTool on Marcel Bresink’s web site if you’re using an older version of OS X.

Using TinkerTool

TinkerTool installs as a standalone app that resides in your /Applications folder. A straightforward installation is always a plus in my book because it's both easy to do and makes uninstalling the app, should you wish to, a breeze. Simply drag TinkerTool to the trash and be done with it.

One note about uninstalling TinkerTool: Since the app just makes changes to various system preference files, uninstalling the app won't cause any of the preferences to revert to their previous state. If you wish to revert any changes you made, you should use the Reset tab within TinkerTool before you uninstall the app.

OK, with the uninstall process out of the way, let's move on to the fun part: exploring and changing preference settings.

TinkerTool launches as a single-window app composed of a toolbar along the top and a window that contains the various preferences you can change. The toolbar organizes the preferences by app or service, and currently contains the following:

Finder, Dock, General, Desktop, Applications, Fonts, Safari, iTunes, QuickTime Player X, and Reset.

Selecting any of the toolbar items displays a list of associated preferences you can change. As an example, clicking on the Finder item brings up a list of Finder options, including our old favorite, showing hidden files and folders.

Most of the options are set by placing a check mark in a box to enable them, or removing a check mark to disable them. In other cases, drop-down menus allow you to select from multiple options. In many cases, changes you make won’t take effect until the next time you log in, or in the case of changes to the Finder, until you restart the Finder. Luckily, TinkerTool includes a button to restart the Finder for you.

Using TinkerTool is very easy. If you've used your Mac’s System Preferences to set the various system options, you'll be able to use TinkerTool without any problems.

Unexpected Issues When Setting Preferences

I mentioned that TinkerTool was safe to use, and it is, but remember that TinkerTool exposes system options that Apple chose to hide from the general user. Some of the items are hidden because they would only appeal to a limited audience; for instance, developers who need to work with hidden files. Some of the other preference changes can cause strange behavior, although I haven't seen anything that causes problems beyond being an inconvenience.

For instance, you can use TinkerTool to remove the title bar from QuickTime Player. This will give you more display space for watching movies, however, without the title bar, you'll have trouble dragging the player around, or closing a player window. You'll probably end up having to force quit the QuickTime Player; an inconvenience, but not something that will harm your Mac.

There are other subtleties that can occur. I recommend reading the TinkerTool FAQ before making any changes.

TinkerTool is free.

See other software choices from Tom's Mac Software Picks.

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