Just Like Starting Over (with a new Mac).

A new Mac brings new possibilities: a way to completely reconfigure how you use your computer. While desktop changes and software changes and all customizations can, of course, be done at any time, obtaining a brand new computer provides one with the best opportunity for starting fresh.

And when I obtained a new Retina MacBook Pro (13″, 8GB/256 SSD) a couple weeks ago, that’s exactly what I did.

Yes, the new rMBP is ridiculously thin for a non-MBA laptop. Forgive me the amateurish photo.


A longtime Apple user—since the days of System 7 on my LC III—I have gradually transitioned from Mac to Mac, usually via Apple’s various tools for importing data: originally through share hard drives or the ancient mess of ethernet cables and the dreaded file sharing control panel, to Firewire Target Disk Mode when I was moving from my iBook to iBook G4 (via an original iPod cable I had repurposed), and also from the iBooks to my 15′ Intel MacBook Pro. From the Intel MBP to the 2009 15′ Unibody I bought to replace it, I used Migration Assistant, which, well, served its purpose. Over the years, emails disappeared, and often bookmarks and application settings and other small things never made the transition.

Always having a reason to avoid clean reinstalls—even with a Time Capsule backup system that has worked flawlessly—from iMac to iBooks to Macbooks I essentially had an OS that hadn’t really started fresh since OS X. Things slowed down; the center, it seemed obvious, could not hold.

A lot has changed in computer transitions since 2009, which seemed to be nearly the end of an old way of moving your stuff from computer to computer. Now I avidly use Dropbox, iCloud, Box, and Google Drive for online storage, the Mac App Store for most of my app purchases, and services like iTunes, Google Music and Rdio for my music playing. All of these made transitioning to the rMBP nearly flawless: the only thing I had to move between machines was my 50 GBs iPhoto library.{{1}}

[[1]]And this was really only because I don’t use a pro photo store service like Flickr, or pay for the extra GBs in Dropbox and/or iCloud. Most of the photos, though, I do have a redundant backup on Box, but I wanted my old iPhoto Events/Albums/Libraries. I ended up using AirDrop, which despite an initial fail, worked great the second time around.[[1]]

So when I unboxed this new little machine, and set it up using my Apple ID, I jumped to the Mac App Store and downloaded several programs: Evernote, OmniFocus, Scrivener, Byword, and Reeder, among others. All were downloaded in seconds. I re-downloaded Dropbox, and then my copy of 1Password from Agile’s web site, put in my product key (saved in my 1Password database—kept on Dropbox).

Just like that, I could use it to get some work done.

Not enough

But I also wanted to fundamentally change how I used my Mac; I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t falling back into my old redundant ways, and tried to establish whether I had certain settings the way they were because they were the most efficient, or whether it was old habit. Now was the time for them to die, because habits seem to die the least hard in new environments. So where to start?

The Dock, naturally, was my first place. How necessary is it, anymore, to finding and accessing apps? Now with a single keystroke and a click I can bring up Launchpad, the iOS-like application portal. Or with a few keystrokes, I can pull up whatever app I want using Alfred. Previously, I’d had the dock taking up precious pixel space at the bottom of my screen—but no more. With hiding on, now my out-of-sight Dock contains rarely more than the apps that are constantly running (see above, plus Chrome, Mail, Pocket, Messages, and Pixelmator).

My current dock—when it’s not hidden—about as minimal as I can make it. The folders are Downloads and Dropbox, respectively.

The next stop was the Menu Bar. Naturally, mine had filled with icons. I hadn’t accumulated enough to make use of an app like Bartender, but I’d found myself rarely using the apps I had. So I pared it down to four: Dropbox (which helped to ensure I didn’t prematurely set my computer to sleep before it synced), DoublePane (window management), Fantastical (a new purchase, obviating having Calendar open all the time), and Evernote (for clipping). All other non-standard menu bar icons that didn’t really serve a purpose disappeared.

For a while, too, I’d been using both Safari and Chrome, unable to decide which one suited my purposes better. I’m not sure I’ll ever quite decide, but for now I’ve settled on Chrome. While both use all the extensions I want—mostly the 1Password Auto-Fill and the Evernote Clipper—the deciding factor was tabs on top, saving some solid screen space. I’ve scoured the Safari extension world for an equivalent, to no avail.{{2}} After setting up the browser, I’ve trimmed my bookmarks down and refigured my Google startpage.

[[2]]”Tabs on top”—placing the tabs above the bookmark bar and the search bar and having them in the title bar—was the default in the Safari 4 Beta, but has since disappeared, with no ostensible, good solution to get them back. To me, it always seemed more natural, since the entire search bar, bookmarks, extensions, etc., all have actions that take place within the actual tab where you are browsing, so it makes hierarchical sense for the tab to be on top.[[2]]

Lastly, I’ve totally redone Dashboard. This is a little bit of Mac OS I’ve not made useful…well, ever. But with the web clip feature, it’s suddenly become helpful. I use it for two sites: my hometown newspaper and the New York Times, so at a glimpse I can see if there are any big, breaking news stories going on. This saves me some otherwise obsessive checking.

And More

The rest is still in process: OmniFocus could be a bit more helpful, and I’m sure much of the Launchpad will be tweaked as I add the occasional app or reorganize the ones I have. Another Menu Bar icon could still sneak in somewhere, and I may switch back from Mail to Sparrow again, which I had previously grown fond of. But as I know that, the longer you’re in a Mac the harder it is to change, I want to take advantage of the newness while I can.