Almost six years ago, I published How To Use Mac OS X, and it was pretty popular at the time. My ideas have changed slightly since then, so I thought I’d outline how I work these days. This might be helpful for others and, even better, I might learn some other heavy-user setups.

Dock Control · It’s on the side because vertical space is at a premium on a laptop. I prefer the right side but can’t think of a good reason.

Almost everything in the Dock is a running application. Most of them I start once and run forever. No shortcuts, no URLs, no folders.

I use the ultraminimal TigerLaunch by Brent Simmons for launching occasional-use programs: e.g. Photoshop Elements, Keychain Access.

Here’s what’s in the dock, top to bottom; the “groups” aren’t separated or anything, they’re only in my mind:

  • Housekeeping group: Finder and System Preferences.

  • Web group: Camino and NetNewsWire. OK, in 2009 it’s maybe weird to still be using Camino, but hey, it’s good. I run with two browser windows and on average thirty or forty tabs, some of them months old.

  • Chitter-chat group: Adium for chat, Colloquy for IRC, and Tweetie for Twitter.

  • Mail group: and a Fluidized Gmail.

  • Creative group, i.e. tools for thickening the continuum: Terminal, Lightroom, Aquamacs, NetBeans, and Eclipse. I don’t use “screen” or iTerminal or Terminal tabs, but usually have three or more Terminal windows open.

  • Life management group: iCal and Address Book.

  • Time Machine, because I hear some things don’t work if it’s not in the dock. [Update: Apparently I was wrong. My dock is now Time-Machine-free.]

  • Stragglers: Dock transients that get run ad-hoc. Most commonly features Safari (for bank websites that don’t grok Camino), Preview, iTunes.

There’s an exception to the these-things-run-all-the-time rule; Lightroom, NetBeans, and Eclipse are monster programs that can suck the life out of your computer. So I try to avoid having all of them going at once.

The Dashboard · I don’t use it. Silly thing.

Finder and Launcher Replacements · Nor any of these. Tried a few, let ’em go after a while.

What’s in the Menubar · Tweetie status icon, TigerLaunch, Spanning Sync status (it insists), iSync status (Spanning Sync insists), Time Machine backup status, Display preferences, Bluetooth status, WiFi status, Canadian flag (pull it down to get at the wonderful Character Palette), battery status, weekday & time.

Exposé · I have mouse-to-bottom-right set to show the desktop, otherwise I don’t use it. This may be eccentric.

Spaces · Don’t use it. Maybe I should try again; in the early days there were just too many important programs (Lightroom, NetBeans) that didn’t play nice with it.

Monitors · Whenever possible I work with my laptop plugged into the biggest monitor available. I used to distribute the windows across the laptop & outboard screens, but I don’t any more, I usually leave the laptop closed.

What with no Spaces and only one screen, it gets damn busy, but I find that the OS X UI makes that pretty easy to deal with.

Desktop · Kind of cluttered, I keep things there that I should really look at but don’t seem to get around to. Some of them are years old. It’s OK, because of the busy screen I never see it anyhow except when I reboot.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: masklinn (Aug 28 2009, at 01:40)

> I use the ultraminimal TigerLaunch by Brent Simmons

Why not QuickSilver (or use Spotlight, still not as fast as QS but in Leopard it does work)

> OK, in 2009 it’s maybe weird to still be using Camino

Nah, the 2.0 betas work nicely and it looks much better than Firefox (3.5 included). Plus the default tab switching keys are much more sensible than Safari's.

> Time Machine, because I hear some things don’t work if it’s not in the dock.

I nuked it from the dock early on and it didn't seem to cause any issue.

> pull it down to get at the wonderful Character Palette

And the just as wonderful Keyboard Viewer, for bizarre character bound in Option-Shift land.

> I have mouse-to-bottom-right set to show the desktop, otherwise I don’t use it. This may be eccentric.

how do you switch from one window to another one within an app? Witch?


From: Attila Szegedi (Aug 28 2009, at 02:42)

I used to have the dock on right hand side, but I used to click it a lot accidentally when handling UI elements near it. I also found the counter badges in apps distracting. It's now at the bottom, and hidden by default.

I don't keep System Preferences in the dock. I don't use it often enough to justify the dock real estate. Apple menu->System Preferences is good enough for me.

Camino is fine; my wife swears by it. I noticed it can be quite a memory hog after a while, as well as a CPU hog with some JavaScripts, so I'm sticking with Safari. The banks websites remark is spot-on; wife also uses Safari only for internet banking :-)

NetNewsWire I couldn't live without. Adium and Tweetie - ditto.

I handle all my mail in, even corporate Microsoft Exchange account. Why do you need a separate Gmail interface? I'm quite happy with handling my GMail accounts in over IMAP.

I'm quite a Time Machine nerd (if there can exist such a person), and I don't have it in the dock. I don't think there's anything that doesn't work if it isn't there. Menubar TM icon is all I need. On wife's Mac, even the menubar TM icon is hidden as it irritates her; she's convinced the machine "slows to crawl" when it's backing up. It's likely psychological, as since the icon got hidden, she doesn't complain anymore :-)

My terminal is white-on-black, with 90% opacity. Sometimes I need to be able to read something from a HTML page behind it, but 90% is still opaque enough not to distract the text in the terminal proper. I use multiple windows with multiple tabs; tabs in same window mostly group a logical task that requires several shell sessions (potentially on different machines).

My mouse-to-bottom-right is Exposé "Show All Windows". It's a recent development. I figured F9 is silly as I'll have to reach for the mouse anyway to select the window.

I don't look at my desktop (F11) as I don't keep anything on it, except few photos of my children (not as a background, mind you, but as image files on the desktop proper). They're the only files I never wanted to remove from it :-) My heap of years-old-stuff-to-eventually look at is in ~/Downloads instead...

Never used Spaces. My mental model of work doesn't require the separation it allows. The term "busy screen" just doesn't make sense to me. I can find any window with Exposé and any app with Command+Tab. I do use Witch for Ctrl+Tab ("all window in current app" HUD) and Option+Tab ("all windows" HUD) functionality. I'm actually frustrated by the lack of the functionality on Macs that don't have Witch installed.

Also don't use Dashboard. Yep, silly.

Also use the biggest monitor I can find with laptop closed. Tried dual-display mode in the past, but it would get damn confusing when switching from single display (using laptop away from desk) to dual display (at desk) with lot of manual window dragging from built-in laptop display to the big display.


From: Ed (Aug 28 2009, at 04:36)

I spend a fair amount of time using Eclipse and Netbeans and I've not had any problems with their latest builds and Spaces.

The only thing that still doesn't seem to play too nicely with it is Word, which I, thankfully, rarely need to run!


From: Martin Probst (Aug 28 2009, at 05:38)

I can recommend MenuCalendarClock (gives you quick access to a calendar overview from what used to be the time in the Menu Bar) and iStat Menus for CPU usage and temp.

Spotlight and/or Google Quick Launch Bar are niece for searching and application launching.


From: Eric j (Aug 28 2009, at 06:01)

Re: "I prefer the right side but can’t think of a good reason."

for the same reason that scrollbars are always on the right: you're probably right-handed, so that's the side of the screen that your cursor is usually at and most-easily flicks to.


From: Emmanuel Décarie (Aug 28 2009, at 06:10)

Can't believe you don't use LaunchBar. Maybe you should try it again. It's at version 5 now.

Also, if you use, here's a small utility you might like. It's called DTerm and it’s free now.

It pop up a small terminal window in any document (Cocoa apps only) you are working on.

It can't cd thought, nor does vi or else (:)). But it's useful for small tasks, like doing commit with subversion (don't forget to use the -m option).

You might also try, for automating your tasks, FastScript and Keyboard Maestro.




From: masklinn (Aug 28 2009, at 07:26)

> for the same reason that scrollbars are always on the right: you're probably right-handed, so that's the side of the screen that your cursor is usually at and most-easily flicks to.

That's probably the reason I have it on the left: I'm not too fond of the dock so it's hidden by default and on the right it pops all the time.


From: Will (Aug 28 2009, at 08:33)

Re: masklinn

> how do you switch from one window to another one within an app? Witch?

Cmd-~ does the trick for me, no external software required. This was the single most important keyboard shortcut I learned when I switched to OS X, I think.


From: Jacob Swanner (Aug 28 2009, at 10:07)


>how do you switch from one window to another one within an app?

Command + Tab switches between apps

Commend + ` switches between windows of an app (does not work across Spaces)

that's what i use


From: Jeremiah (Aug 28 2009, at 20:23)

Another MenuCalendarClock recommendation from me.

Also I tossed time machine from my dock early on. Tossing it didn't caused any problems that I am aware of.


From: Smokey Ardisson (Aug 28 2009, at 22:48)

Have you had a chance to file any Tech Evangelism bugs in Bugzilla about the banks that don’t like Camino? If they accept Firefox, there’s no technical reason for them not to accept Camino, too.

Chances are if they don’t like Camino, they don’t like lots of other perfectly capable Gecko browsers, and the Mozilla community tech evangelists would be interested in knowing.


From: JulesLt (Aug 29 2009, at 00:33)

I find the new touchpad gestures are very much a game changer on the MacBook - for some reason 4-finger Expose is a lot 'easier' than using the function keys, even though logically it's more 'effort' - I used to use an external mouse with the scroll-wheel button bound to Expose.

I've also lately taken to using Spaces after finding DockSpaces, which allows a different Dock per space, which reflects how I want them to work (still not quite there yet - I actually want each to be a different true desktop).

I don't use Spaces at all on the iMac, but on a laptop I find that being able to separate tasks into groups seems to work better for me.

In the past, I actually used to use separate accounts and fast-switching to do this - i.e. a 'development' account and my 'personal' account.

Secondary 'launcher' - Spotlight - once trained, your first choice if pretty much displayed by the time you've got to the third character, and less overhead than learning Quicksilver - I don't think I do enough 'actions' to make Quicksilver worth it to me.

Looking forward to playing with the new Services architecture in Snow Leopard.


From: Michel S. (Aug 29 2009, at 01:21)

Regarding the dock, I tend to put them on the right as well. I figure it's due to Fitzs' Law: for a right-handed person, especially when using an external mouse, crossing over to click something on the left feels rather awkward.

The bizarre thing is that GNOME Shell (slated to become the default GNOME UI in 3.0) ptus its (optional) sidebar on the left, and it feels naturally fine. Perhaps it's because I've been using the trackpad exclusively. Or because the "Recent Documents" tab is a vertical banner with the text rotated 90 degrees to the left. Reminiscent of IE5 for the Mac.

Somehow it seems that the presence of text on a sidebar sort of anchors it in place. Or maybe, just as with Firefox, we expect sidebars to appear on the left.. but an icon-only dock, no way.


From: Diego Plentz (Aug 30 2009, at 15:48)

You know that adium could connect to IRC? ;-)


From: John (Sep 03 2009, at 09:59)

I like the unltra minimal keyboard launcher namely.

Simple like tiger launch, but lauched via keyboard and show text matches like a a very minimal quick silver.


From: David Weinberger (Sep 03 2009, at 14:14)

After using Pathfinder for a few months I find myself getting angry at Finder. Split windows. Tabs. Tons and tons of tools, many of which I use every day.

Nevertheless, my main UI to OS X remains QuickSilver. As a result, I'm pretty sure I have a desktop underneath all the windows, but I haven't confirmed that in a while.


From: Marcus (Sep 11 2009, at 13:41)

If you prefer to switch between windows rather than programs, try Witch. I hate that default Cmd-Tab program switching weirdness. I think you know what I mean...


From: John Silver (Sep 14 2009, at 10:37)

I shrink the dock to a few pixels (because there's no way to get rid of it) and use Quicksilver for everything else.

I got rid of all application icons on the desktop.

The finder would be vastly better if it were two-paned, like Konqueror and others, but there's MuCommander, which is cross-platform.

BTW, I use SeaMonkey to get integrated browsing and HTML editing as well as composing email messages. Only downside compared to Firefox is that fewer extensions work, (Adblock Plus and NoScript work) and I prefer an ad-free internet experience.


From: Oswald (Sep 15 2009, at 06:57)

Here's my recommendation on how to use the dock. Simply remove all the pinned applications in it and use Spotlight to open any program. The names of any of the pinned applications are probably familiar enough that you'd never be in a situation where you're pausing for a few seconds trying to remember what the name of the app you want to open is. The dock then becomes similar to the process dock of DragThing, with the added versatility of having folders of your choosing pinned there, a configuration that makes it much more useful to me. I have the dock pinned to the left and set Expose for application windows to be invoked with a mouse-over to the bottom left. With this, I find that all applications and their associated windows, no matter the number of both, can be accessed very quickly. App-switching is quick because the dock is visually less complex. All the applications in there are open applications, unlike the relative mishmash of a normal dock, and they stay put. They don't have the very unfortunate behavior of Expose of reshuffling the placement of windows most of the time it is invoked. They follow the rules of a good spatial interface in other words (Man, it makes me wish for the return of the spatial Finder from classic Mac OS). And even when using Expose, the amount of open windows that I have to deal with is almost always manageable because I only use the aforementioned capability of Expose, eliminating the need for Spaces and the "All windows" Expose. So that's it. I definitely recommend every Mac user to try this out at least.

About the issue of whether to place the dock at the left or the right, I think placing the dock at the right makes it less distracting and I think it's because almost all of us read from left to right, which means we focus more on the left side of a window than on its right . When using small screens though, I maximize my browser and having a dock pinned to the right makes pointing the cursor at the scroll bar more difficult. So I keep it at the left, and I hide it, which makes app-switching less efficient but which also keeps the dock from being a distraction.


From: Gary (Sep 17 2009, at 06:37)

Me too with right button for desktop.

I also use middle button push for current application expose.

A nice tip: command-` also reverses command-tab (if you go one too far or want to go back).


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