The Perfect Mac Setup

Did you get a new Mac for Christmas? Or is the new year just the perfect excuse for a fresh start? Either way, I thought i would share my three step process to setting up a new Mac.

Mac OS X Lion

Firstly, if you are not already running the latest version of Mac OS X, upgrade now!

Mac OS X Lion has now been out for over six months and during that time has received two major updates (v10.7.2), which has squashed the majority of the early bugs. Don't get me wrong, Lion is not perfect, but it combines powerful features, with unrivaled performance and reliability, making it the best version of Mac OS X ever made (if not the best operating system ever made). Therefore in my opinion Lion is an obvious upgrade for all users with a compatible Mac (Intel Core 2 Duo and above).

The other great thing about Lion is that if you are already running Mac OS X Snow Leopard the upgrade process is cheap and simple, costing just £25 from the Mac App Store. If you are running an older version of Mac OS X that does not support the Mac App Store then you can grab a full copy of Lion on USB from the Apple Store for £55.

Unlike Windows, Mac OS X is great straight out of the box, therefore there is little need to make any major changes. However I personally recommend the following:

  • "Disable Automatic Login" from "System Preferences > Security & Privacy" to have your Mac require a password on start-up (especially important if you have a notebook).
  • If you plan to use your Mac for work or other "sensitive" documents I recommend enabling full system encryption (known as FileVault). With Mac OS X Lion FileVault can be easily enabled from "System Preferences > Security & Privacy" and has little to no performance impact.
  • Finally, as I like a minimal desktop and am a big user of quick launchers (we'll get to Alfred), I like to enable "Minimize windows into application icon" for a cleaner Dock and "Automatically hide and show the Dock". Both of these options can be found in "System Preferences > Dock". 

Once complete (and you have added your own desktop background) you should have a beautiful, clean operating system, ready for anything (see mine below).

 

Mac OS X Lion Enhancements

Now we have the basics set up, let's take a look at a couple of my favourites OS enhancements:

Dropbox - With Lion, Apple introduced iCloud integration for synchronising your data between Apple devices. However currently iCloud has a number of frustrating limitations, therefore I still prefer to use Dropbox.

Dropbox is natively available for just about every platform and seamlessly synchronies all of your personal files. It works great with Mac OS X and is one of those applications that you download (for free) and forget about.

Alfred - If I was only allowed one OS enhancement it would have to be Alfred! I like to keep my Mac setup simple and minimal. Therefore instead of having thousands of icons scattered across the operating system I access all of my files and applications through Alfred, the worlds best quick launcher.

I simply click "Option + Space" and start typing. Alfred allows me to instantly access applications, folders, files, web sites, media and even system commands. I rarely even have to open the Finder or the Dock!

Moom - The next OS enhancement changes the usability of the "zoom button" (green orb) that sits in the top left corner of every window. Without Moom the zoom button is unpredictable and in my opinion basically useless. Moom changes that, by giving you complete control over its action.

Once Moom has been installed it seamlessly displays a pop-up each time you hover over the zoom button. From here you can customise the options. For example, I have it set so I can instantly resize any window to 1280x800, move a window to a different display or snap a window to one side. This is such a basic feature, but incredibly useful in day to day use.

BetterZip - The final OS enhancement is a simple application called BetterZip. As you can probably tell from its name, BetterZip is an archiving application for compressing and decompressing files. Although the Finder does a pretty good job with standard ZIP files, more exotic compression formats are become increasing popular (such as RAR, 7z, etc). This is where BetterZip is a must have application and although there are free alternatives (The Unarchiver) I personally find BetterZip to be faster and more reliable (therefore worth the small asking price).

OS X Lion Software Picks

So now Mac OS X Lion should be near perfect! But what about other applications? Well I have listed a few of my "must have" picks below:

Google Chrome - Firefox is good, Safari is good, Chrome is better. It's as simple as that!

Microsoft Office 2011 - Apple fanboys are quick to dismiss Microsoft Office, however when 90% of the world uses Windows, this is a must have suite (whether we like it or not). The latest version of Office comes with all the normal applications (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook) and in my experience is the only way to guarantee document compatibility between a Mac and Windows PC.

Evernote - There are plenty of note taking applications available for the Mac and I am a big fan of Notational Velocity, however as I jump between different platforms a lot, it is useful to have an application like Evernote that you know will be well supported and offer a broad range of powerful note taking features.

BBEdit - Every computer needs a great text editor. Whether it's a simple note, draft document or web development, a text editor is a must have application and in my opinion BBEdit is the best in the world (on any platform). It is extremely powerful, but at the same time fast and simple to use.

Pixelmator - My final software pick is Pixelmator, an excellent image editor only for the Mac. Adobe Photoshop is extremely powerful, but for me (like most people) it's overkill and the 1001 features simply slow me down. This is where Pixelmator is the perfect, it has many of the power features of Photoshop (at least the ones you are most likely to use), but retains a simple user interface that is fast and easy to navigate. It you only ever need to make minor touch-ups, crop, resize or add a basic filter to an image then I am confident that Pixelmator will be your perfect companion. 

Although this list is a great start, I recommend you check out my Top Mac Applications section, which as the title implies is an ever growing list of the best applications for the Mac. I do my best to keep it up to date, so if you think of anything I have missed, please feel free to drop me a comment.