Best Mac apps for tweaking system settings: TinkerTool, Onyx, Cocktail, MacPilot

On the weekends, I bring you OS X Power Tips, which usually involve using the Terminal app and a command line to execute a feature or function of OS X that isn't normally exposed within the Mac's graphical user interface. If you're not big on Terminal, however, I'd like to bring your attention to some third-party apps that unlock a lot of these same features and more. The best news is for cheapskates: Some of these apps are free.


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Marcel Bresink's TinkerTool is a utility that gives you access to features and preferences built into the Mac that aren't obvious and that aren't accessible through System Preferences or tools in individual apps. There are a total of nine categories of apps and tools that TinkerTool manages: The Finder, Dock, general system settings, the Desktop, Applications, Fonts, Safari, iTunes, and QuickTime.

TinkerTool helps you access dozens of preferences that affect OS X system and app behavior, so if there are pet peeves of yours — for example, you hate the fact that Help windows are always in the foreground, or you'd really like to change the default fonts used in Safari, you can manage all these things (and much more) using TinkerTool.


Titanium Software's Onyx provides you with access to a lot of the same features and functionality that TinkerTool does, but it also gives you access to a lot more.

Onyx divides its activities into Maintenance, Cleaning, Automation, Utilities, Parameters, and Info. It also keeps track of its own actions in a log.

Maintenance lets you read and repair disk permissions; execute weekly maintenance scripts; rebuild caches; and more. Cleaning can delete caches used by the system; your web browser; fonts; and other features. Automation can force the execution of automatic scripts, while the Utilities feature delves in deep with main pages (the text-based help files included with many Unix utilities); showing and hiding disks and folders; managing screen sharing, network diagnostics and other tools; and more. Parameters lets you set a variety of features of commonly used apps.

There are specific versions of Onyx for each major release of OS X since 10.2 "Jaguar," so make sure to download the one that's right for your Mac.


Cocktail is commercial software developed by Swedish developer Maintain: It's long been a standby for individuals and system admins at big companies alike. You can use it to run scripts, purge memory, clear caches, repair disk permissions, tweak network settings, and manage hidden settings of Apple apps including Safari, Mail, and iTunes.

Cocktail is available as a downloadable demo; you must register and pay for it by its tenth launch or it deactivates itself. Family, business, and multipack licenses are available.


MacPilot sports a lot of the same features I've described in utilities elsewhere in this roundup, but adds a lot more too. Koingo Software says that MacPilot sports more than 1000 features designed to help tweak and customize your Mac use. You can download a trial version for free; student and household licenses are available, as well as business licenses.

There's also a MacPilot Lite version available for download from the Mac App Store, but Koingo had to extensively tailor it for release because of Apple's sandboxing restrictions for Mac App Store apps. Just go straight to the vendor's site for the latest version, unencumbered by Mac App Store restrictions.

Your pick?

I've had my say. What am I leaving off the list that you think is an excellent choice for tweaking OS X? Let me know in the comments.

Peter Cohen