How Mac experts set up their desktops

“These days, I work on a 13-inch MacBook Air. On workdays, I connect it to a second display—a 17-inch ViewSonic monitor. My laptop serves as the primary screen, with my Dock at the bottom, and windows arranged somewhat haphazardly: Almost all apps live on the right (laptop) display, with extra Safari windows offloaded to the second monitor,” Lex Friedman writes for Macworld.

“This approach is totally normal to me. But I’ve come to realize that while maybe no man is an island, almost every Mac is: Everyone uses a different desktop setup,” Friedman writes. “And it’s interesting to learn how other folks use their Macs, because it might influence how you do things.”

Friedman writes, “If there’s in one thing I learned in talking to several fascinating people about how they use their Macs, it’s this: A lot of people—including me—don’t use Spaces, Mission Control, or Full Screen apps. But what do they use?”

Find out how Marco Arment, Jim Dalrymple, and others use their Macs in the full article here.


  1. Just simple: MacPro 2012, 8 core, 2 x 1 TB SSD for programs, user and scratch disk. 4 x 4 TB HD in the bays, 32 GB RAM, 30 inch display plus 27 inch display. Perfect machine for FCP X, Logic X, InDesign CS6, Photoshop CS6. Love it.

    1. Well, you certainly have a nice hardware setup, but that has nothing to do with the article, does it? What they;re talking about is how you manage your desktop, i.e., what apps you have in your dock versus your desktop, what folders, etc., and whether you use any of the apps that help you manage your desktop like Mission Control, Spaces, or Mavericks’ multi-desktop setup.

      Apple gives us a lot of different ways of doing this, as does Windows to some extent, but I have always found Macs have the edge in productivity because of things like drag-and-drop with navigation to live folders, or apps, and OS X’s simple directory structures. It is always interesting to see how others are using these tools to hike their productivity, because you inevitably learn something that you can use or adapt to your own workflows. It’s also nice to share with people who you may see struggling with the Mac UI after switching from Windows or Linux.

      Interesting article, maybe I Love Mac can now share HOW he’s managing all that slick hardware?


      1. Sorry, I forgot to add: two screens are extremely helpful for FCP X, one of the apps what makes best use of a two screen environment. One screen for timeline, correction, files, etc., and one for preview window. Once you used it you never want to go back.

        If I don’t work in FCP X I usually use the 30 inch screen for InDesign and Photoshop, both are no native full screen apps. The 27 inch screen I use for Mail and Safari, sometimes in full screen mode, sometimes side by side each app on half of the screen, vertically divided with Cinch, a simple window manager.

        This way I avoid a cluttered desktop and have everything in the right place.

  2. Command – Tab is how I quickly move from one app to another.
    I also use Mission Control to clear away windows so I can quickly get to my desktop, and 4-finger scroll to see all open windows in an app.

    I forgot about the other options, I’ll have to look into those again.

  3. Mac Pros with dual large displays are the norm here.

    For work, we seldom use full-screen apps, and almost never use Mission Control or Spaces. Notifications are turned off — that’s what an iPhone is for. The Mac Dashboard is used more often than web browsers or iOS apps for looking up simple things like weather, traffic, etc.

    Why? Because we work on our Macs, which means we don’t like ads or intrusions, and we want all our stuff on screen before our eyes instead of hidden.

    Your mileage may vary, especially if your job description is “consumer”.

    1. This is precisely how I used to use my Windows desktop machine at work, except for dashboard, of course. I would have loved to have had a Mac instead, but corporate IT doofusi would not permit Macs on their poorly secured systems.

      But yeah, that makes perfect sense to me for someone who has a dozen applications with multiple windows for each open all the time. Once you get used to it, it’s very efficient, be;ieve it or not.

    1. I also hot corner the bottom-left to show desktop.
      My bottom-right corner puts all the monitors to sleep.

      I have two Thunderbolt Cinema 27 displays hooked up to MacBook Retina 15 in this configuration:

      [ ][ ]
      [ 27 ][ 27 ]
      [ ][ ]
      [ ]
      [ 15 ]

      I spread out work on the two 27 screens. (Usually web, notes, etc on left; Eclipse or other development environment Full Screen right)

      The 15 has the dock at bottom and three spaces:
      1: Email Full-Screen
      2: Empty desktop (i.e. no distractions, access to desktop files)
      3: OmniFocus to-do list manager Full-Screen
      4: iTunes Full-Screen

      1. The spaces got squeezed out of those screens!


        1. How about desks? I sit in the middle of three quarter circle desks so I can rotate between work.

          Two quarter-circle desks form a half circle with my work-a-day 27/15/27 monitors and MacBook (shown above) on the left and a Windows PC I use for GPU computing with three new dual GPU-cards driving three ancient Apple Cinema displays forming 30/30/30 on the right.

          The third quarter circle desk faces the other way, with spaces on either side so I can get in and out of the circle. I use that desk to study and design on paper, facing away from all six monitors.

          I HIGHLY recommend working inside circular desks. Far more ergonomic than straight desks.

      2. “My bottom-right corner puts all the monitors to sleep.”

        Control-shift-eject does the same thing, and frees up the bottom-right corner for starting screen saver or…

  4. I just have a hot chick in a short skirt with no panties on wearing expensive perfume sit on my lap and any difficulties I have with my Mac melts away to nothingness.

  5. Mac mini connected to Dell 2713HM screen. Xcode and iphone simulator and real estate around to click on xcode help or safari to get them front. Cmd tab to flick through obscured windows and cmd space to start new apps when not in the dock. Pretty old school I think.

    1. Actually, this is the sort of stuff MDN used to be all about, until idiot tech/biz analcyst spews, Apple Bear Bullshit and stock prices became the priority. I miss the days of joyful Mac trivia around here. Not everything is about angst and contention.

        1. Heh! If you’d been talking to me 10 years ago I would have given you the lecture about which was better for color management, as there were some severe limitations in most LCD screens way back then. These days, it no longer matters, which is one reason LCDs have successfully replaced CRTs for just about all uses. I would also have happily ranted on about LCD versus plasma flat TVs. But that issue is also now dead.

    1. I use a similar setup at work, except my 27″ the monitor is in the center and 15″ rMBP on the left. I use a mouse and keyboard connected by bluetooth.

      Mavericks handling of multiple monitors has improved this, since the menubar is now available in both monitors.

  6. 13″ MacBook. Mission Control upper-left hot corner…rarely use it. Application Windows in upper-right hot corner…never use it. Launch Pad? Hey look! I have a Desktop 2! Dock on the left and up in the corner (using TinkerTool, and I see Onyx now supports the ‘start’ Dock position too) and smallish. Not hidden. Never connect it to an external monitor, but do have a 24″ iMac at work. It’s set up the same way as the MacBook. I need to use Cmd-Tab more. I wish Mission Control and Application Windows would have a baby. The windows are too piled on top of each other in Mission Control.

  7. Damn! Just scored a nice iPad Air at Target. Traded in my iPad 3 for $200. Plus $20 off the iPad Air to begin with. $279. Nice. Quick and easy. They also sold me the AppleCare. They had three 16 gig iPad Air ‘s and that’s what I wanted. They sold the other two while I was buying mine. They had a variety of other configurations too. Target could sell all they could get! Great deal. Especially for older iPad owners . Even iPad one!

  8. What I do is group application suites like Adobe Creative Suite and MS Office into group folders that I access from the Dock. I’ll use Adobe CS as an example. Create a folder on the desktop and name is Adobe CS. With the folder highlighted, do a Command-i to bring up its Info window. Now go into the Applications folder and click on the Adobe Acrobat folder to highlight it. Again do a Command-i to bring up its Info window. We’re going to borrow the Acrobat folder’s icon and use it as the Creative Suite’s icon. Click on the icon in the Acrobat Info window to highlight it and then do a Command-c to copy it to the Clipboard. Now click on the plain folder icon in the Creative Suite folder you created to highlight it and then do a Command-v to paste the Acrobat folder icon in its place. You don’t have to do this, but it looks better and is easier to find in the Dock. Now go to your Adobe Creative Suite folder in your Applications folder and open it. View this in column view, makes it easier to do this. Now go into each application folder and click and drag the application icon into the Creative Suite folder created earlier while holding down the Command-Option keys down. This will create an alias of the application into the folder. Do this with all the apps within the suite of software. Acrobat is in it own folder, so grab those too. Because you created the aliases in a different location, you won’t have the the word aliase after the application name. When I create these shortcut folders, I want them accessible to other people who may use the same computer but log onto it as a different user. Go to the Hard Drive/Users/Shared folder. Create a new folder and name it Aliases. Place the folder of aliases created earlier into it. Next, drag the Adobe Creative Suite alias folder to the right side of the Dock divider. Right click or Command click on it in the Dock and select View As Icon. Also select List View. Now when you click on it in the Dock, you’ll have a full list to all the applications that are part of the Adobe Creative Suite. About 21 of them for Adobe Creative Suite 6. Plus that Acrobat icon in the Dock looks nice and is easy to find.

  9. Is there an app or setting that will automatically open programs to designated parts of the screen. I have my windows where I want them every day but it is a pain to set them up every morning. Any suggestions are appreciated.

    1. I designate some apps to specific screens (spaces). iTunes gets screen 2. Mail gets screen 3. Transmission gets screen 5. I have 5 spaces in total.

      Getting this to work is easy, as long as you know how:
      1) Navigate to the space where you want an application to reside.
      2) Right-click on its Dock icon.
      3) Choose ‘Options’.
      4) Choose ‘Assign To’ This Desktop. All done.

      Next time you run that app it will run on the desktop you chose. I find this to be an excellent organizational tool.

      BTW: I’ve been using virtual desktops since day 1 on my Macs. There was a guy in Canada, I think it was Scott Brown, who offered a free utility set for Mac OS. Amidst that free set was his excellent, incredibly customizable, Virtual Desktop application. I grudgingly use the less customizable Apple Spaces these days.

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