I recently went hunting for interesting OS X mods. For every useful item that turned up, I found lots of dead ends. Many items read by the OS X preferences system (through, for example, calls to CFPreferencesCopyAppValue) have little or no application to end-user needs. They're there primarily for the app's internal state or as remnants of Apple's development process.
I've curated a bit of a slush pile for items that are interesting enough to take note of, but haven't quite made the grade when it comes to utility. Here are five of my favorite "interesting, but not very handy" tweaks that I've encountered while scanning for defaults or, in the case of the System Preferences one, that I've stumbled over while using an app.
1. Reset the Dock
The OS X installer regularly leaves debris in your Dock. OS-promoted apps include such items as Mission Control, Safari, Photo Booth, iLife apps and so forth.
Now, with a simple system command, you can restore all those apps in the Dock that you laboriously removed at least once before. Tip to the wise: Make sure you back up com.apple.dock.plist in ~/Library/Preferences before applying this one so you have a reference guide of your prefs to help you move back to. In the Terminal app, enter the following.
defaults write com.apple.dock version -int 0 ; killall Dock
Once the Dock restarts, it returns itself to its newly installed default glory. Admire the jam-packed contents before spending the next 10 minutes editing it back to the way it's supposed to look.
2. Prevent edits to the Dock
If you're in a particularly evil mood and this is not your Dock, you might want to add this little default tweak. It prevents users from further editing the Dock contents.
defaults write com.apple.dock contents-immutable -bool yes ; killall Dock
To restore end-user editing, switch off the immutability:
defaults write com.apple.dock contents-immutable -bool no ; killall Dock
3. Reveal desktop background paths
This next tweak shows the paths for your desktop backgrounds on each of your screens. Why would you want to do this? One of my testers suggested it might help when you have a regularly rotating desktop background. For most people, it's not very handy at all.
defaults write com.apple.dock desktop-picture-show-debug-text -bool yes ; killall Dock
and going back:
defaults write com.apple.dock desktop-picture-show-debug-text -bool no ; killall Dock
4. Remove pane icons from the main System Preferences window
The System Preferences app consists of rows and rows of icons, which you tap to access individual settings panes. Did you know that you could tweak this presentation and remove items?
I have no idea why anyone would ever want to use this feature, but it's a standard part of the app. To choose which panes to view, select View > Customize. Uncheck any item to hide it. You can still access all the panes from the View menu.
Another option, View > Organize Alphabetically, replaces the category grouping with a large mash of alphabetically presented icons.
5. Add a useless debugging menu to iBooks for OS X
This tweak does just what it says on the wrapper. If you've ever dreamed of a special secret app menu, then this is the system mod for you. (Similar mods exist for several other apps, so Google around to find some other exciting suggestions.)
At the terminal, enter:
defaults write com.apple.iBooksX BKShowDebugMenu -boolean yes
And then launch iBooks. The new Debug menu appears to the right of other options.
And there you have it. Five obscure and not-very-handy tweaks.
Got any more tweaks you've stumbled across and want to share? Drop us a note in our tips line. We may cover your OS X mod in a future write-up.