I’m now a year and a half into my new life as a Macintosh user, and I have the UI shaken down pretty well the way I like it; the recent change of machines allowed me to leave behind some software rot. Herewith a recommendation of how to set up your Mac UI, of interest generally only to Mac-heads and specifically to those who like me are fairly new into this game.
One or two bits of this are laptop-specific and may not apply to PowerMac/EMac users.
Dump the Add-Ons, Except for TigerLaunch · I had cluttered up my previous installation with all sorts of useful little Haxies and add-ons and so on, I had kind of slightly lost control and resolved to re-install only on the basis of need. So far, I haven’t felt that need.
With one exception: Brent Simmons’ TigerLaunch, which is a much better way to launch Mac apps than anything else I’ve seen. It’s easy to configure so that all the apps you ever launch, and only the apps you launch, are on it. For example, Acrobat isn’t there because it launches automatically when required.
Clean Out the Dock · This is a two-parter. First, take each and every icon out of the Dock, except for the Finder and the Wastebasket. (You don’t need to launch apps from there because, remember, you have TigerLaunch). Then, while you’re running, never minimize anything. Then, what’s in the dock is all the running apps and only the running apps. You don’t have to remember which is a minimized window and which is a running app and which is a non-running app and so on.
Your screen gets tremendously cluttered and busy after a while, but this seems to be part of Mac culture and OS X actually deals pretty well with it.
Of course, implicit in this is the notion that the default workings of the Dock, which whimsically mix shortcuts, applications you can run, applications that are running, minimized windows, and the wastebasket, are totally B.A.D. (Broken As Designed). With my brutal-minimalist approach, the Dock is actually pretty useful. Now if they’d give CMD-Tab a memory stack more than one deep, application switching would be nearly as slick as on Windows.
Start Things in the Same Order · I always start the Terminal, then Emacs, then Mozilla, then Safari, then NetNewsWire, then Palm, then iChat, then PhotoShop. Then, because the Dock is nice and clean, remember, everything is always in the same place and you develop muscle memory for switching to PhotoShop or NetNewsWire.
Also, that means when you’re running something new or that you don’t usually use, it’s going to be at the same end of the Dock.
Put the Dock at the Side · Particularly on the laptops, the screens are immensely wider than high, and thus vertical space is (relatively) a scarce resource. I use the right side because my extra screen is on the left and because the crud the browser drops on the desktop is clustered there anyhow, so it’s kind of an admin area.
There’s a bit of downside, because you have to move the mouse a little further to get to the Dock than when it’s at the bottom, but I find the space saving makes up for it. Particularly if you’re Unix hacking, because every extra line in the terminal or (especially) Emacs is worth the fight. I get 47 lines in my Emacs window in a nice relaxed font.
Use an Extra Screen · The Macs tend to have these ridiculously overconfigured video cards that are all set up to drive various kinds of huge external monitors, so you’ve already paid for one, why not use it. I’m using a crufty old CRT monitor that I can only drive to 1152x870, because things I read make me think that LCD prices are going to fall like a stone in the near future, so I’ll get a monster display when that happens.
Get a Stand · There are a variety of little stands you can get to go under a laptop that lift it up and put the keyboard in a better position and let it swivel. Once you start using one of these, you won’t go back.