The General Controls control panel governs some basic functions and elements of the Macintosh work environment. Portions of it were already around as early as System 1.

Under Mac OS X, it has evolved into the General panel of System Preferences. The name "General" was removed beginning as of Mac OS X 10.3 "Panther".

System 1

Portions of the original System 1 Control Panel contained what would later be the General Controls control panel.

  • The date and time options remained (nearly) exactly what they would be in the General Controls control panel. These options formed part of the General Controls control panel until System 7.1.
  • The menu icon with a blinking selected option would become the menu blinking part of the General Controls control panel. It would last in the control panel until the very end of the Classic Mac OS -- Mac OS 9.2.2.
  • The blinking cursor icon would become the rate of insertion point blinking option of the General Controls control panel, also to last until Mac OS 9.2.2.
  • What appeared to be checkerboard along with a desktop (with the menu bar at the top) was an area for drawing your own desktop pattern. This would last until System 7.5, and would disappear as a freeform palette (to be replaced with a pop-up menu of different, preconfigured patterns) on the Performa system versions.
  • The speaker volume slider would remain in the General Controls control panel until displaced by System 7.

System 3

RAM cache was added as an option in the still one-window only, one-pane only Control Panel of System 3. All settings now had descriptive text labels, and were re-organised.

System 4.2

System 4.2 put the General part of the Control Panel into space. Options in the System 4.2 version included:

This layout persisted through System 6 before being altered by System 7.

System 7

System 7 kept the same options as System 6, but removed the RAM cache switch. Under System 7, RAM Cache became disk cache, and was activated all the time.

The General Controls control panel also enabled, on colour Macs, the option to paint the desktop pattern in up to 8 different colours.

Performa System

With Macintosh Performas until System 7.5, the only variation from the "mainstream", pre-System 7.5 version of the System 7 General Controls control panel was that the user could pick twelve Performa patterns in the Desktop Pattern area. A clickable palette was not available.

System 7.1

System 7.1 introduced the Date & Time control panel. This potentially meant that the date and time settings of the General Controls control panel were moved into the new control panel.

System 7.5

The General Controls control panel got a significant change in System 7.5. Only the Insertion Point Blinking and Menu Blinking options survived; the rest were moved into different, and separate, control panels.

The six portions of the System 7.5 General Controls control panel were:

  • Desktop: Allowed you to show or hide the Desktop when it was in the background, and allowed you to show or hide the Launcher at system startup. These features were directly derived from the Performa system software, which was separate until System 7.5.
  • Shut Down Warning: This allowed the Mac to show the user a warning at system startup if the Mac was restarted using the interrupt switch or shut down by pulling the plug (or having suffered a power failure).
  • Folder Protection: This, too, came from the unique Performa control panel of the Macintosh Performa system software. It protected (or disabled protection for) the System Folder and the Applications folder.
  • Insertion Point Blinking: This survived, largely unchanged, from previous versions of the General Controls control panel.
  • Menu Blinking: This, too, survived unchanged from previous versions of the control panel.
  • Documents: When the user saved a document, the user has to save it somewhere. The destination largely depended on the selection made in this portion. The user can choose to save the document in the folder which contains the application, the last folder used in the application, or in the Documents folder. This, too, came from the Performa system software.

Mac OS 8.5

There was no change in the control panel interface itself, but beneath the hood, Mac OS 8.5 included one vast improvement. If the Shut Down Warning option was checked (i.e. enabled), a hard drive check-up would occur automatically at startup following a cold restart or a power failure. The significance of this test would not be inscribed on the interface of the control panel itself until Mac OS 9.1.

Mac OS 9

The control panel was given, in Mac OS 9, a rearrangement (it is now larger vertically than horizontally), but no options were altered.

Mac OS 9.1

The Mac OS 9.1 version of the General Control control panel removed the Folder Protection options. The Shut Down Warning was reworded to say "Check Disk" instead.

Mac OS X

Not a single option from the classic General Controls control panel made it, untouched or unmoved from its original control panel, into Mac OS X. The Mac OS X version contained, at first, only two settings: appearance and highlight colour, and an option on where a click in the scroll bar would jump or scroll to.

As of Mac OS X 10.2 "Jaguar", options from the Apple Menu Options control panel of the Classic Mac OS started pouring into this preference pane. It now also controlled the number of recent items. Finally, it now enabled the user to choose between four different levels of text anti-aliasing (first introduced with Mac OS 8.5, and optimised greatly in previous versions of Mac OS X). A complement to this was the option to turn off smoothing when the font size was particularly small, such as 10 points.

The General pane of System Preferences lives on, despite a name change in Mac OS X 10.3, which officially heralded the end of the General pane/General Controls control panel. The new name is Appearance.

In the Classic Environment

The Classic version of the General Controls control panel, however, is still available and can even be opened in the Classic environment in Mac OS X. However, the following options are permanently on and cannot be switched off (they appear dimmed):

  • Show Desktop when in background
  • Check disk if computer was shut down improperly

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