28 Insanely Useful Third Party Preference Panes for Mac

Regular apps and menu bar apps always get all the glory. They’re always there with you, always visible and grabbing your attention. But what about the more discrete apps, the ones that perhaps change the behavior of your computer or make something cool happen behind the scenes?

Today we’re doing a roundup of the most interesting Preference Pane apps that we could find (they are those little icons that reside on the bottom of your System Preferences). You’re bound to find some useful utilities that you’ve never come across before.

Tinkertool

TinkerTool

TinkerTool

TinkerTool is a PrefPane that opens up a bunch of “hidden” settings in your OS. With it, you can do things like mess around with Finder, disable the Dashboard or even add a stack of recent items to your dock. You can review all the settings it makes available here.

Even though the developer says that it is safe to use and nothing can go wrong with it, I’d rather not mess with shady settings that may slow down my machine even more or cause unexpected things to happen. But to each his own, and I might even try some of these myself!

Price: Free

Requirements: Mac OS X 10.6 or later

Developer: Marcel Bresink

MagicPrefs

MagicPrefs

MagicPrefs

MagicPrefs aims at making your Magic Mouse or Trackpad a lot more functional, by allowing you to create gestures which activate things like the Dashboard, or whatever you want it to do (even Tweet!). But it doesn’t stop there, it also lets you increase the speed of your pointer beyond what is allowed by default, among some other features.

I’m a supporter of a similar app called jiTouch which I really like, but when I heard about all the things that this one can do, and for free, I seriously thought about switching. And I might.

Price: Free

Requirements: Mac OS X 10.5 or later

Developer: Vlad Alexa

Hazel

Hazel

Hazel

Hazel is a very handy and unique PrefPane that allows you to set conditions for certain types of file actions. These are very flexible and you can do with them whatever you want. For example, you can make a condition that makes all the files of a certain type or with a certain extension move to a specific folder. Or you could find a million other creative ways to use this app, like applying labels to files that include a certain keyword in their name. You can read our review of it here.

Price: $21.95

Requirements: Mac OS X 10.4 or later

Developer: Noodle Soft

Total Finder

TotalFinder

TotalFinder

Although it is managed through a PrefPane, TotalFinder goes beyond that. You know how many people complain about Finder’s functionality? Well, I’m not one of them, but I could definitely use a few tweaks to it, like tabbed browsing. TotalFinder brings some extra features to your native Finder, making it a lot more easy to use. But it doesn’t stop at tabbed browsing, you can also see hidden System Files, using dual-screens, or even having a quick-access full screen button. You can read more about it in our review of it (the app has improved a lot after that review, by the way).

Price: $18

Requirements: Mac OS X 10.6 or later

Developer: Binary Age

HyperDock

Hyperdock

Hyperdock

Another app that does much more other than just being managed through a PrefPane, HyperDock makes your Dock more functional by adding some useful extra features to it (I’m starting to see a trend with PrefPane apps). It’s a little similar to Windows 7′s way of handling the main bar, as it makes your dock show previews of each open window once you hover through an app. That’s the main thing it has going for it, but it also does some other stuff, like keyboard shortcuts to handle your open applications, and window snapping. If only it supported tabs and not just windows (outside of Safari), this app would be perfect for me.

Price: $9.95

Requirements: Mac OS X 10.6 or later

Developer: Christian Boumgart

Magic Launch

MagicLaunch

MagicLaunch

Magic Launch is a PrefPane that lets you associate certain file extensions to the app that created them, instead of a default app that it may open in. It also lets you modify the default app for each extension and add some rules to them. But it doesn’t stop there, you can look at some other creative uses for this PrefPane in this review that we did about it.

Price: $19.95

Requirements: Mac OS X 10.6 or later

Developer: Metakine

Clusters

Clusters

Clusters

Clusters is the PrefPane that intrigues me the most, as it has the possibility to solve a problem that I have and hate. Clusters is advertised to “compress and optimize” files, as somehow it manages to compress the files that you tell it to, but also make them faster to access. I’m not sure how well it works as I’ve never used it, but I might give it a try to see if it really does work. And you should too if you have a small capacity hard drive disk, like me.

Price: $12.95

Requirements: Mac OS X 10.6 or later

Developer: Late Night Soft

GeekTool

GeekTool

GeekTool

GeekTool is a popular PrefPane that lets you display information on your desktop through certain plugins that it has. It has three plugins, that let you display files, scripts, or system information. You can do some very cool things with it, but you need to know what you’re doing (get started here). I guess it is very accurately described by the developer, “not an app for general Mac Users”. Even the name says it.

Price: Free

Requirements: Mac OS X 10.6 or later

Developer: Tynsoe

Growl

Growl

Growl

I probably don’t need to describe what Growl does for you, but I will anyway. Growl is the most popular notifications system available for Mac. It pretty much has universal support from almost every Mac app out there, and yes, it is pretty cool. It also is (or used to before it hit the Mac App Store) managed through a PrefPane that lets you tweak the themes and settings of the notifications.

Price: Free/$1.99

Requirements: Mac OS X 10.5 or later

Developer: Growl

Choosy

Choosy

Choosy

It recently became a big realization of mine that many people use more than one browser, at the same time. Everyone has different reasons for it, but it’s usually because certain browsers perform some tasks better than others. Choosy is a PrefPane that can help those people by letting them have more control over which browser opens their clicked links, whether it is based on which one is running, or by letting you choose which one to open your link with.

Price: $12

Requirements: Mac OS X 10.5 or later

Developer: George Brucklehurst

Default Folder X

Default Folder X

Default Folder X

Default Folder X is a PrefPane that adds a toolbar on the side of the Finder windows that open when you are trying to save a file. This toolbar puts at your disposal some quick access buttons to recently opened folders, favorite folders, current active Finder windows with folders in them, and much more. It also adds some extra keyboard shortcuts and a menu bar item. In general, it just does a great job at making it easier and faster to save files.

Price: $34.99

Requirements: Mac OS X 10.5 or later

Developer: St. Clair Software

JetLag

JetLag

JetLag

JetLag is a simple PrefPane that automatically changes your Mac’s timezone depending on the location. It uses local wifi networks to pinpoint your location so that when you move between different areas, your timezone is always up to date. It also notifies you through Growl about when your timezone changes.

Price: Free

Requirements: Mac OS X 10.5 or later

Developer: Oompha

Teleport

Teleport

Teleport

I have not used this as I do not have more than one Mac, but if I did and I had to deal with them simoultaneously (like say, using my laptop at the same time as my desktop computer), I would be totally psyched to use this PrefPane. Teleport lets you configure several Macs so that you can control them with the same mouse, switching from one to the other by going to the edges of the screens. But not only that, it also lets you transfer files and synchronize the pasteboards!

Price: Free (Donation-based)

Requirements: Mac OS X 10.6 or later

Developer: abbysoft

Witch

Witch

Witch

Witch is based on the assumption that window switching on Mac OS is slow and inconvenient, and there are many things to improve in it. When you install its PrefPane, it implements a quick-access window switching interface, similar to the Cmd+Tab one, but much improved with features like window previews and the ability to see more than one window of each app open. Along with this there are many, many other features that Witch brings to your computer, especially all the keyboard shortcuts that it has.

Price: $14

Requirements: Mac OS X 10.5 or later

Developer: Many Tricks

Automatic

Automatic

Automatic

Automatic is another way of reading RSS feeds. It gives you a fast and easy way to subscribe to any RSS feed in a very unique way, as once you subscribe, Automatic will continuously check for feed updates and download them right to your download folder, where you can get to them whenever you want. It might not be as convenient for blogs or any type of written content, but it is a very good idea for getting podcasts and TV shows right to your download folder, without even having to worry about dealing with annoying apps like iTunes.

Price: $19.95

Requirements: Mac OS (Universal Binary)

Developer: Coding Curious

Desktopple Pro

Desktopple Pro

Desktopple Pro

Do you have a constant struggle to keep your Desktop free of useless files that just ruin your wallpaper and make you less productive? Desktopple is a nice menu bar app that quickly hides all of these icons with the click of a button. The Pro version of Desktopple, along with a bunch of other features, gives you the ability of running the app from a PrefPane instead of the menu bar, and activating it from a keyboard shortcut.

Price: $17

Requirements: Mac OS X 10.5 or later

Developer: foggynoggin

Glimmer Blocker

GlimmerBlocker

GlimmerBlocker

GlimmerBlocker is sort of a install-it-and-forget-it ad blocker for Safari. I say this because it is advertised as an ad blocker that will never break or slow down your browser, and also because of the way it is setup, it won’t be affected by the updates that Safari gets. Now if only it were available for other browsers…

Price: Free

Requirements: Mac OS X 10.5 or later

Developer: Peter Speck

Smart Sleep

SmartSleep

SmartSleep

SmartSleep is a PrefPane that gives you more control over how your computer goes to sleep. It differentiates “sleep” modes by calling them sleep (where the content is kept on the RAM, consuming more battery) and hibernation (where the content is saved in the HDD and battery is preserved). It will let you choose between either, but it will also give you the ability to turn on “Smart Sleep”, which will choose which one is better for your computer depending on the current battery charge.

Price: $3.99

Requirements: Mac OS X 10.6 or later

Developer: Jinx

Perian

Perian

Perian

Perian is a free Quicktime video component that resides as a PrefPane in your Preferences. Once you install it, it will add support for many, many file formats including AVI, DivX, FLV, MPEG4, and a bunch of other formats that you probably haven’t heard of.

Price: Free

Requirements: Mac OS X 10.4.7 or later

Developer: Perian Project

Widget Manager

Widget Manager

Widget Manager

Widget Manager is a free Preference Pane that does exactly what it says: help you manage your widgets. With it, you can remove, disable, and inspect any Widget that you have installed, even the Apple default ones. It will also show you handy information for each widget like the size and the updates

Price: Free

Requirements: Mac OS X 10.5 or later

Developer: Downtown Software House

PasteBot Sync

Pastebot Sync

Pastebot Sync

Pastebot Sync is a PrefPane companion to an iPhone app called Pastebot. It lets you automatically sync copied items from your iPhone to your Mac and viceversa.

Price: Free

Requirements: Mac OS X 10.5 or later

Developer: Tapbots

Precipitate

Precipitate

Precipitate

Precipitate is a very, very cool PrefPane that synchronizes your Google Docs, Bookmarks and Picasa with Spotlight, so that you can make searchable all of your information from those services, right from your handy Cmd+Spacebar shortcut.

Price: Free

Requirements: Mac OS X 10.5 or later

Developer: Link

Dictionary Cleaner

Dictionary Cleaner

Dictionary Cleaner

While the developer’s page is not working anymore and the app is probably not getting past the 1.5 update, you can still get this app from a few sources. It’s a simple PrefPane that lets you add and remove words from the built-in dictionary of your Mac, even in multiple languages.

Price: Free

Requirements: Mac OS X 10.5 or later

Developer: Two AM Software

StartUpSound

StartUpSound

StartUpSound

This is a PrefPane that lets you control the volume of the sound your Mac does when you start it. It lets you disable it, or make it play at a lower volume than the current output sound level of your Mac.

Price: Free

Requirements: Mac OS X 10.6 or later

Developer: Arcana Research

Preference Cleaner

Preference Cleaner

Preference Cleaner

Preference Cleaner is a PrefPane that does exactly what its name suggests: it lets you get rid of Application or System Preferences that may be corrupt or that you may no longer need.

Price: Free

Requirements: Mac OS X 10.5 or later

Developer: Echo Mist

Air Display

Air Display

Air Display

It isn’t exactly a PrefPane app, but depending on where you install it from, it can be used as a PrefPane. AirDisplay lets you turn any of your Apple devices into a monitor for your Mac. You can use your iPad or iPhone, or another Mac as a second screen with this app.

Price: $9.99 iOS / $19.99 Mac

Requirements: Mac OS X 10.6 or later

Developer: Avatron

Flip For Mac

Flip4Mac

Flip4Mac

Flip For Mac is a PrefPane Quicktime plugin that makes your Mac compatible with WMV formats, not just to play them but to convert them, import them and export them. It works with a number of apps, like browsers, iWork apps, and of course, Quicktime.

Price: Starts at $29

Requirements: Mac OS X 10.6 or later

Developer: Telestream

jiTouch

jiTouch

jiTouch

jiTouch is one of my favorite apps. It runs as a PrefPane and it makes a whole new world of multitouch gestures available in your Mac. It even lets you tweak them and change the functions that each of them performs. It works with trackpads and Magic Mouses, and you should definitely try it out.

Price: $6.99

Requirements: Mac OS X 10.6 or later

Developer: jitouch

Conclusion

Before getting into this article, I didn’t really understand the appeal of Preference Panes, as I had pretty much had no experience with them except for Growl and JiTouch. But as I started researching these apps I realized how many of them are out there and how useful some of them are. There was stuff that I didn’t even know I needed, and ended up really liking some of these apps, like TinkerTool.

What is your take on Preference Panes? Do you think, maybe a couple of your menu bar apps could work better as PrefPanes? I think they’re a great way of having the functionality of an app without having it be intrusive all the time. I like how some of these apps make the PrefPanes work along with the menu bar. What do you think of them? Which ones do you use, did we miss any? Discuss!


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  • Guy

    Nice list.
    One small remark: Grown and GeekTool are no longer preference panels, but rather full Apps. They did that to get into the App Store, and to monetize a little bit (growl).

  • Jason Burns

    Don’t forget Blacktree’s Secrets preference pane. http://secrets.blacktree.com/

  • jan

    default folder should be part of the system. i’m using it since many years and can’t work without. perfect for open-edit-save-jobs ;-)

  • http://www.katskinner.com Kat Skinner

    I use Hyperdock and TotalFinder – and honestly I can’t stand using a mac without them installed! They are more than life savers; the coders are absolutely amazing.

  • Jeff

    Total Finder & Hazel are the two I can’t live without.

  • http://pixelsnsounds.blogspot.com victor

    hey…did anybody find a way to get a white menubar in lion … like in snow leopard? can’t find a solution for that…

  • Daniel

    Nice list. woul like to see someting like this more often here.

    Few comments.
    Instead of Desktopple pro try Camouflague from Briksoftware
    http://briksoftware.com/products/camouflage/

    Instead of MagicPrefs try Better touch tool from Andreas Hegenberg, it lets you to do your custom gestures and keyboard shortcuts and even has build in window snap tool for window resizing and a very nice app switcher simillar to “Witch”
    http://blog.boastr.net/
    He also has a great tool for locking your keyboard, Keyboard cleantool. it´s a must have for all households whit cats :)

    -The Air Display host software runs well on Lion, except for Mac models with an NVIDIA GeForce 9400M or 9600M video adapter.

  • carles

    Just me or Geektool takes a lot of memory?

  • http://drperil.com Dr. Peril

    It’s no longer a pref window (so I suppose it doesn’t entirely count) but Better Touch Tool http://blog.boastr.net/?cat=4 but it will do all of the mouse / trackpad related things the above mentioned tools will, as well as enable Cinche (or Win7) styled window snapping :)

  • Jim Craig

    Similar to automatic, but free: http://tvshowsapp.com

    It saves me a lot of time :)

  • Félix

    Nice list.

    I’d add FunctionFlip => http://kevingessner.com/software/functionflip/

    just for the convenience of mapping a F-key to open Lion’s launchpad

  • Jacob Elias

    How did you get that background clock on the geektool pic it looks amazing!

  • Tim

    Why are you calling all of these Preference Panes? Why not just utilities?
    Many of them are simply apps.

  • MattJonesIsAlive

    Great roundup. Being relatively new to Mac, I forgot all the functionality that could be added! Thank you!

  • http://pinoyteens.net Kevin Paquet

    JiTouch. The app I just can’t live without.

  • http://henrymaxm.com/ henrymaxm

    Great Article! Great Selection!

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  • Tom

    FYI – Startup Sound is not compatible with Lion.

    • Niclas

      your right :( is there a different tool, which is compatible with lion and got the same function?

  • andrewbriden

    I’m not running Lion but I assume it’s menubar is translucent ….try creating a custom desktop picture with a white strip at the top edge to sit behind the translucent menubar.

    • Serenak

      @Victor – the translucent menu bar is turned on/off in System Prefs > Desktop

      Interesting article – just a few points…

      Flip4Mac is free to use unless you require the advanced features.

      Tinker Tool is not a Preference Pane, and nor is Growl anymore

      Perian is great,

      and Teleport is just an awesomely useful tool if you have more than one Mac on your desk (yes like a laptop and a desktop Mac)

  • Andy

    Hi, recently I got my early 2011 Macbook Pro fixed, following a vodka spill on the keyboard… Cost me around 500$ to get two boards replaced.. however my worries are far from over.
    The keyboard is totally messed up, and random keys are pressed again and again.
    the Command keys, control key and the ’0′ key do not work and i have to rely on the on-screen keyboard.

    I need an application that would disable my keyboard altogether, allowing me to use a USB one, without having to attach a new monitor because closing the lid after attaching a monitor is the only way to disable the keyboard.

    Please help!! :(

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  • Dominic O’Brien

    Just wanted to say “Default Apps” from http://www.rubicode.com/Software/RCDefaultApp/ is one of the first things I install on a new mac because I can tell it which file type to open with which app. Not as sophisticated as magic launch but for free. Otherwise good list. I noticed that I use about 1/2 of what you list here. The other half gave me some neat ideas on improving work flow. Cheers.

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