Yesterday I received my new work machine: A current generation 13" MacBook Air with 2GHz Intel Core i7, 8GB RAM and 256GB SSD. Coming from a 11" MBA the new machine feels huge, in particular the screen. I would have gone for a new 11" MBA, but this model is not available in my company. Likewise the 13" rMBP is not on the list, which would have been my #1 choice for 13". The 15.4" rMBP which is available was never been part of my considerations as it really does not suit my mobile lifestyle.
With a shiny, brand-new machine in front of me I started to debate whether I would simply restore from TimeMachine or go for a fresh install. Delegating the decision to my Twitter followers returned a very clear "fresh install".
The first thing I do when setting up a virgin machine is to install five essential tools that allow me to efficiently move my data over and get all other applications up and running fast. The below is my exact order of installation:
- Dropbox – Before anything goes, Dropbox does. Lots of key data, documents and – very important for this setup – application settings are sync'ed via Dropbox. So before I can do anything, I need my data synchronised onto the new machine. This can take a few hours and I wish there was an option in Dropbox to prioritise some files & folder, such as my 1Password keychain file.
- 1Password – Speaking about it, 1Password is number two on the list as it allows me to log into all key websites that I need and holds lot of other passwords and licence keys I need during installations. Installing the browser extensions for Safari and Chrome is just as important.
- TextExpander – I am a lazy bastard and many of the things I type are by now muscle memorised TextExpander snippets. My GoogleMail address has not been typed in full for years now as
!gmldoes it. I'd simply be stranded trying to get stuff configured without my snippets. They get ported over conveniently via Dropbox sync.
- Alfred 2 – Similar to TextExpander the Alfred hotkey is in my muscle memory and I am genuinely surprised every single time I sit in front of another Mac, hit the shortcut and nothing happens. While I still need to invest more time to exploit all features of Alfred, it is already pretty much my central command & control tool. When using the setting sync feature of Alfred make sure you first enable it on your old/main machine or you'll learn the hard way (like I did) that Alfred simply overwrites whatever is locally with the settings on Dropbox.
- Evernote - a number of installation instructions, mainly for some of my work stuff, as well as some tweaks (see below) are part of my Reference Material stored in Evernote. This is why Evernote is the last quintessential application to be installed right at the beginning together with the browser extension and this super-handy Alfred workflow. If you are not using Evernote yet, you are missing out and should learn "how-to" here.
The Little Helpers
The next step, before installing all the big applications, is to get all my little helper utilities up and running. Most of which live in the menubar or in the background. In no particular order, these are:
- Hazel – a lot of automatic clean-up and filing (including adding to Evernote) is done by Hazel. When moving from one machine to another, Hazel allows you to export all rules per folder and important them on your target machine.
- CloudApp – For quick file sharing and URL shortening.
- Moom – Best window management tool around. I mainly use it when my MBA is hooked up to my 27" Thunderbolt Display, but with the new 13" screen I can see me using it on the MBA itself as well.
- Caffeine – Hate when your laptop goes to sleep while presenting slides? Me as well. There is also a nice and simple Alfred workflow to trigger Caffeine.
- Crashplan – my current cloud backup solution, part of my overall backup strategy which also leverages SuperDuper for maintaining a full offsite backup clone.
- Fantastical – While it has not fully replaced other calendar application for me like it did for others (still appreciate a graphical representation of my week), I love Fantastical to pieces as my quick entry and calendar lookup.
- Tweetbot – of course.
- Bartender – After installing all my essential utilities, the little helpers and with the Mac OS X standard items I have a pretty cluttered menu bar. This is where Bartender comes in.
A Few Tweaks
Finally, just before the normal download and installation of the real work (or entertainment) applications start, I do a few minor, but important tweaks to Mac OS X:
Kill the Dashboard (I neither need nor use it) with this terminal command:
defaults write com.apple.dashboard mcx-disabled -boolean YES killall Dock`
Remove the Dock delay:
defaults write com.apple.Dock autohide-delay -float 0 killall Dock`
Set the save dialogue window to expanded by default in all applications:
defaults write -g NSNavPanelExpandedStateForSaveMode -bool TRUE
If you like a few more tweaks, I recommend this list of 50 useful terminal commands. It is a bit dated and some of the commands may no longer work with more recent Mac OS X versions.
Next to obviously changing System Preferences to my liking and requirements, I align some keyboard shortcuts across applications. The keyboard is my primary source of input and navigation, but at best my brain can remember one shortcut for one functionality. For example, I use numbered and bulleted lists a lot and hence I prefer to use the same keyboard shortcut for it in all relevant applications. Under 'System Preferences > Keyboard Shortcuts > Application Shortcuts' I therefore create/overwrite relevant shortcuts.
The Big Hitters
The list below contains all applications I use on a regular basis. I often have more installed for either testing purposes or a very specific/edge use case.
- OmniFocus (1 & 2) – surprise, surprise.
- OmniGraffle Pro & OmniOutliner Pro – My goto applications for conceptual work.
- Microsoft Office 2011 - I know, it is sad. But I work in a big corporate environment and PowerPoint & Co are the common denominator and de facto standard. While I own iWork, I presently do not have it installed. There are still incompatibilities with Microsoft Office and the only use case at the moment would be for myself. Very unfortunate, but the better application suite loses out in this case.
- MindNode Pro - Still the fastest, simplest and best looking mind mapping application on the Mac. If only they would finally update the application icon which not only looks outdated, but ugly.
- Byword – My (Markdown) plain text editor of choice in combination with Marked for previewing/rendering.
- MarsEdit – While I write long-form posts like this mainly in Byword, MarsEdit is still the best Wordpress publishing client around – its UI could do with a facelift, but other than that Daniel Jalkut keeps doing a great job!
- Unbound for Mac Beta – Dropbox and Unbound on Mac as well as iOS have fully replaced iPhoto for me
- Rdio – My secondary music source after iTunes (Match). Follow me on Rdio if you like.
- Google Chrome & Firefox - Some of my employer's internal websites are so old that they cause issues in Safari and I also need to cross-browser-test my website when I do tweaks. Firefox really only for use of the Firebug extension.
- DayOne – This application really got my into journaling.
- Espresso – for the little HTML & CSS editing I do.
- Pixelmator – any image or photo operation is done here.
- Sketch - My graphic design skills are a bit rusty, but sometimes I only vector draw a little to calm myself down.
- iBooks Author & ScreenFlow because I am still trying to work on my book project.
- Outbank 2 – an awesome banking and finance management application supporting German and European security and encryption standards. Apparently they are working on a version for the US market.
This setup might appear simply to some and a complex to others – milage varies and depends on what you create, produce, work or consume. Brett Terpstra's first applications on his Mac for example look different since he is more focussed on (genius) development work. For me, a few days in with this fresh setup, I am not missing anything.