I’ve been sort of wanting to do a little brain dump of some of the tweaks I’ve done to my Mac OS X desktop to make it a better experience for me. I’ve been a linux user for about 12 years at this point, and I’m the sort of guy who likes to set things up to maximize comfort and efficiency.
I bought a 13″ MacBook Pro at the end of last year so I could have a solid, well-built laptop on which I could load my favorite distribution, Arch Linux. I knew I wouldn’t mind OS X much, either, since I’d been running it on a 15″ MBP at work for a few years at that point and had already figured out a bunch (plus I could share many sw licenses between the two). I’ve had many problems in my various attempts to get linux up and running on this hardware, mostly relating to the EFI bios and the fact that the hacked up touchpad drivers that you can find *still* don’t come close enough to how OS X handles this button-integrated, multitouch touchpad. Until the touchpad is optimized further, I’m not sure I can be comfortable under linux on this laptop.
Anyway, OS X is just fine with me. Of course, it’s still unix-based, but with a better polished user experience. Let’s face it; under linux, you have a million projects with different goals and quality standards, all trying to coalesce and work together. Some distros make it easier than others, but really — it’s a bit difficult to manage sometimes! There is only one OS X for developers to target, and it’s seen enough adoption to get their attention: this causes commercial software! While I totally disagree with Apple’s direction with iOS and refuse to even consider “owning” such a product, I don’t mind (too much) owning one of their computers.
So with that background, allow me to briefly discuss some of my favorite tweaks and tools.
At the most basic level, Alfred is a quick-launch tool, similar to Quicksilver. It carries all the functionality of Spotlight, serving as an extremely handy application launcher and file finder, but it also can quickly look up words in the dictionary, do math, or look up things on arbitrary websites with custom searches. You hit your global hotkey (I use ⌘+Space) then type a keyword. When one purchases the very modestly-priced “Powerpack”, however, a startling number of options open up: one can access their contacts, email, clipboard history, eject drives, lock your screen, suspend, and even use fancy, quick navigators / remote controls for your filesystem and iTunes.
One of my favorite features and in fact things I wanted to specifically mention in this article, though, is global hotkeys. Not only do I put often used AppleScripts and shell scripts under easy-to-access hotkeys, accessible from anywhere in the OS, but I put often used applications, too. This allows me to launch and switch to my browser, IM, etc even faster that Alfred normally allows. That means no more fumbling with ⌘+Tab; I just go straight to the app I want. (I use Control+Option+<letter> for most of these.)
Andrew recently began working full-time on Alfred which makes me even that much more happy to support him. He seems to add all these amazing features without slowing down the app, and that’s something that he’s called out as being a key point for the tool — it will remain FAST, and apparently extremely stable, too. He has shared screenshots of the upcoming “extensions” preference screens which should allow for insane levels of customization. I’m excited to see and take advantage of what is to come.
I should add that Alfred is probably my favorite app on my Mac and it would be the one app I would want to take back with me to the linux side if I could.
Better Touch Tool is a free app, and an extremely useful and flexible one, too. It has the same hotkey ability as Alfred, with in fact richer options. It also allows you to bind commands involving the mouse and even define custom gestures for a multitouch touchpad. One of my favorite things it does is let me move/resize windows without hunting for the little corner or titlebar! I hope Alfred will eventually obsolete this tool for me, but I do find myself still using it for a couple things.
I actually don’t find myself using this one on my 13″ as much, but at work when I have 3 screens and really like tiling my windows so I don’t waste any space, I find this one very useful. It allows you to very quickly place windows in predefined rectangles that you can draw in a grid that divides your screen into a number of sections that you define. (I use 6×6.) It’s a very handy app when you know you want to put windows in particular positions often.
I’m a web developer by trade, so my text editor very important to me. I’ve been a Vim user for a very long time, but I used TextMate full time for a few years. It was only about a year ago now that I finally got fed up enough waiting for TextMate 2 that I switched back to Vim for my text editing, and now that I’ve learned a bunch more and found the plugins, I haven’t looked back for a second. I’d highly recommend TextMate if you don’t want to put in the effort to learn Vim, but the payoff of being really comfortable in Vim is really huge to me. I’m constantly amazed with just how easy things can be in Vim… if you know how. :) I still use TextMate for a lot of casual things, though… like writing this post, actually!
Edit: I forgot to mention that I would be lost without PCKeyboardHack which remaps my caps lock key to make it another escape key. Swapping out a never-used key with a mega commonly used key (in Vim) is a mega win.
I’ve known about the security considerations of storing my data in Dropbox for some time, but when they broke their authentication for 4 hours recently (any or no password would log someone into any account) I was nudged over the edge. Now I use a git repository on my server and the SparkleShare tool on my machines. SparkleShare adds Dropbox-like functionality to my git repo, keeping all machines in sync by automatically pushing and pulling updates as needed.
- Make the dock icons dim a bit for apps that are hidden with this tip.
- Once you’ve replaced it with Alfred, hide the Spotlight icon in your menubar with the trick in the highest rated response over here.
A Few Others
- iStat Menus is my favorite menulet package. It replaces the clock/cal/battery indicators and adds every cpu/net/ram/hdd/temp/etc monitor you need, with plenty of features along the way. It’s smooth to me. If you want something free, MenuMeters is a good alternative.
- Sparrow is, bar none, the best gmail experience I’ve ever had. I would say it’s well worth the price if you’re a moderate Gmail user.
- Chrome is my favorite web browser by a pretty long shot.
- Adium is an excellent IM client supporting most protocols.
- Audirvana and Vox are both great music player options if you’re like me and want to play FLAC files and/or hate iTunes.
- Cyberduck is an excellent free ftp/sftp client.
- LiquidCD is my favorite CD burning app.
- My beloved Mixxx runs on OS X! (Although I always use it on my tower under linux.)
- The Unarchiver is a free archive compression/decompression tool.
- Onyx is a great tool that does many system tweaks including clearing logs (opening gigs of tied up drive space) and moving the OS X dock over to one side. I am a huge fan of cornering the dock this way so I get a bit more usable screen real estate.
- XLD is a most excellent cd ripping and transcoding tool.
- TeamViewer lets you easily share a desktop for remote support etc. It’s free for my purposes.
Whew! I hope that was useful to someone. :)