The transition from Preferences to Settings

We should be getting used to transition periods now, but Ventura brings another: moving from System Preferences to System Settings, and app Preferences likewise. This article isn’t so much about the human interface or other issues within System Settings, and please don’t vent your frustrations in vitriolic comments, but more about practicalities.


For apps, including Apple’s (I’m looking at you iMovie), we’ll have to get used to a mixture of Preferences and Settings for some time to come. I’ve been testing third-party apps including my own and it’s going to take a while before they’re consistent.

Apps built using AppKit and Interface Builder in Xcode 14.1 adapt best of all. When run on Ventura, they default to using Settings, and on Monterey or earlier they use Preferences instead, which is really neat. That isn’t true, though, for similar apps built with Xcode 14.0, which stay with Preferences whether on Monterey or Ventura. As Xcode 14.1 is still in beta, it may be some time before we start seeing third-party apps which adapt to macOS in this way.

There’s also a danger here in that some apps will need additional code before they can adapt themselves, and any that are localised into non-English languages may need further localisation. That will vary depending on language: I suppose it’s possible that some might use the same word for Preferences and Settings, but I suspect most won’t.

Once menus have been adapted, apps which title their Preferences window using that word will also need to be fixed to switch to using Settings instead. So will Help books and documentation, so there’s plenty of work ahead before everything becomes consistent.

Note: I’m very grateful to Jeff Johnson @lapcatsoftware who explains that the differences seen between Xcode 14.0 and 14.1 are down to the SDKs they use. He has also written an invaluable article explaining how users and developers can return Settings… to Preferences… should they wish to.

Support material

Over the last few years, I have written well over three million words about Macs and macOS, most of them published here, and plenty more in each issue of MacFormat and MacLife magazines. Many of those refer to specific panes in System Preferences, like Sharing, Time Machine and Software Update. In System Settings, there are no panes of course, and those three have been subsumed within what I now refer to as System Settings > General.

A few settings have gone deeper still, such as control over the Input menu, formerly in the Input Sources tab in the Keyboard pane, and now to be found in the Settings > Keyboard > Input Sources > Edit… dialog. It’s easy to find simply by searching in System Settings for input menu, but I’ve lost count of the number of places I’ve given its old location.

When writing for publication, the annual watershed has been switching to using Apple’s new version of macOS as the default. When there were several Mac magazines in print, you could work out their lead times between submission of articles and appearing in print. At some time between the release of the new macOS and Christmas, all published screenshots changed to the latest Desktop, henceforth known as Wallpaper, much like the leaves change colour and fall.

This year, there’s a much bigger change in store, when directions like turning File Sharing on in the Sharing pane, change to refer instead to General > Sharing. Those still running Monterey or earlier will then be left confused, just as anyone running Ventura will be puzzled to see previous directions based on preference panes.

Documenting macOS has never been easy, but I’m afraid it’s just about to become a whole lot more difficult. Please bear with us during this transition.

Note: I’m very grateful to Matt Sephton @gingerbeardman for suggesting that one workaround could be to use deep link URLs instead of verbal paths. However, that may not work with System Settings and coverage seems partial. He’s investigating further, but for the time being I think the most generally useful method is to provide a suitable search term for System Settings, which is likely to work in System Preferences too. Except when it comes to changed terms such as Desktop and Wallpaper, although those are relatively infrequent.