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. No one has mentioned Dropbox. I use Dropbox for my active projects popping the files open with the menu. Spotlight is the quickest way for me to launch whatever, so I have almost no files/folders/aliases on the desktop. And yes, I do use Spaces — to separate open projects.

    But it is taking me a while to get use to the menu bar popping back and forth across my monitors. Old news and tricky dogs, or whatever…

  2. My Dock would appear to be a catastrophic mess to the uninformed. It’s actually organized by category of app as a spectrum that makes sense to me. What makes it a mess is that every thing I ever use is on it. That’s one reason I hate the dock. I’m a fan of the original Apple menu. It worked perfectly for me. Then some idiot (I won’t bother to look up his name) at Apple laid down the law that ‘no one’ liked navigating the original Apple menu. Entirely WRONG! I curse the Dock, one of Steve Jobs’ bad ideas. I keep it on the bottom and always hidden, seeing as I hate it. The only reason I bother with the stupid thing is that I have an uncanny ability to drag my cursor to exactly where the app I want is located amidst the morass. That makes it useful.

    For Apps I use all the time, I have key commands to open them. I used to use iKey but moved to QuickSilver, which I love.

    When my desktop gets too filled with icons for stuff, I dump them into a ‘Desktop Dump’ folder which eventually gets tossed off onto a ‘Move Out’ DVD, in case I ever care about what I threw in there. I keep such DVDs cataloged with that catalog saved on an encrypted DMG I share and use on all my Macs.

    Organized chaos.

    1. And why the frick did Apple do away with WindowShade? That’s another app I used from day one on my Macs. Apple eventually bought it then killed it. Shameful.

      Seeing as the developer Unsanity is walking dead these days, I use the application WindowMiser to fake this remarkable feat of logic and screen space saving.

    2. While it is true that the dock hasn’t improved much from its Unix origins, Apple is correct in offering an icon-based visual display for all frequently-used applications. It would be nice if the Dock could be pulled down from the Apple menu, but apparently Apple never figured out how to offer an improved visual Apple pull-down menu.

      Putting the dock on the side makes sense to me, as most of the time vertical space is at a premium.

      Mavericks makes the dock uglier than ever since in all but perfect lighting, one can’t see the tiny white indicators for open apps on the hideously ugly gray dock. Some of the new application icons are rather dull as well. Visibility on the whole takes a hit almost as bad as iOS7, in my opinion. The whole grayed-out Mavericks look is really disappointing, and the simplistic “flat look” login icons suck. You’d think Apple would offer users a more elegant system with more comprehensive appearance options, since they did relatively little under the hood this time around.

      1. I know what you mean about the white indicators on the Dock. I have created ColorSync profiles for every basic time of day and every room situation I use. (I’m trained out the ears in imaging). I find that helps a lot in being able to see the vague little dots on the screen.

        As for the general Apple GUI look these days, they’re clearly trying to go as bland professional as possible. I equate it with the Male Work Suit used in business. Boring. Uncreative. Unexpressive. No personality. Nobody home. Who let the UNITS out?

        And of course that is incredibly odd coming from Apple where NO ONE wears a UNIT suit to work.

        I occasionally think it is a hold over from the smarmy ‘Macs are toys!’ bullying the Windows-settlers shat onto Mac users out of jealousy. Anything remotely toy-like (including beloved WindowShade) has been stripped out of OS X. It’s all about function or disciplined style. That shuts up the smarmy dimwits. But it is NOT in the spirit of the original Mac OS!

        Macs ARE for play time AND for work time. Both!

        Meanwhile, Windows is just about suffering, always has been. Like ‘paying your dues’ means constant misery. No it doesn’t! Poor sad, suffering, miserable Windows users.

          1. Yes. I have several profiles I created using the Display preferences pane. Apple doesn’t provide the most intuitive way to make profiles, but it works reasonable well once you get used to the strange squares of colors they provide. I then set the Gamma at 1.8 and keep the native color temperature of the display.

            I use the free application called ‘ProfileMenu’. I have it running all the time in the menu bar. As I notice the screen contrast or color isn’t ideal, I figure it’s time to switch to another color profile. I have one I use at night in my living room as I lay around on the couch. I have one for the morning. I have one for rainy days. I have one for a tan room where I work. Etc. I make them as I figure I need them. ProfileMenu makes it easy to swap around and even compare different profiles.

  3. Late-2011 MBP 15″ i7 8GB RAM 500GB
    10.8.5 as Mavericks in still in process of being rolled out on work machines.

    That is centered on a rain stand with two ~22″ dell widescreens flanking on either side. Left one is landscape, right is in portrait for document review and outlook email composition and review.

    Running windows 7 through VM fusion in Unity mode.

    Dock, menu bar, and windows task bar are all on the centred MBP display. Windows task bar is pinned to left side of screen.

    Apple BT trackpad is pointing device with Apple full-size external USB keyboard.
    ‘KeyRemap4MacBook’is remapping some function keys and most importantly recreating the PC_INSERT key for my windows-run terminal system.
    Also, ‘Free Memory’ ensures I don’t have any RAM issues due to any rogue behavior with this set up.

    1. Which ‘Free Memory’ application are you using? Just good old Purge?

      I end up having to use a script to trigger Purge on my good old reliable 2006 MacBook with 3 GB of RAM. I’m a utility maniac and they eat a lot of RAM in total. Then I run Safari, the biggest RAM hog on my machines, and smash the RAM ceiling constantly. Safari 6.1 and 7 have abated some of this phenomenon, thank fully, But I always have Purge at the ready for when I demand getting something done in Safari rather than sitting and waiting for it to clear up its RAM mess.

  4. I do not see what makes any of the people profiled in the article experts. I have been using OS X since the public beta, when many of the “experts” in the article were using their daddy’s Windows PC.

    1 Delete all/most the shit Apple ships in the dock since much of it is easily accessible by other means.
    2 Select snap to grid and organize by name so your desktop does not look like the mess one of the “experts” in the article has.
    3 Move the dock to the left and turn auto hide on. Drag your documents, downloads and applications folders to the dock. Then drag the folder at Home/Users/Name/Library/iCloud to your dock. Now all your iCloud docs are in one place organized by application without buying an app for that function in the app store.
    4 Drag the apps you really do use frequently to the dock.
    5 Open System Prefs & turn the translucent menu bar off. Turn off hide scroll bars. Turn most/all notification center BS off. Return the trackpad.mouse scrolling to the proper setup- the opposite of what Apple ships. Turn on the Firewall that Apple ships turned off.
    6 Do yourself a favor and leave the social media crap off of your computer and it’s desktop.
    7 Open Spotlight and turn most of it off. It is a big waste of cycles, electricity and is about as useless as a bicycle for a fish. Most newer Apple ‘features’ (Twitter/Farcebook integration come to mind) are crapware copied from third party apps/services and are a waste of time.
    8 Select wallpaper and screen saver of choice.

    1. Very good recommendations! Not sure about turning off firewall though. Just needs to be set up correctly.

      I find it bizarre that anyone clutters their desktop with files as that “expert” does. The least objects on the desktop, the better. Overall, it is amazing how much people don’t realize how much time they waste doing searches — either from the search field or visually looking through dozens of icons. So much easier to just set up the machine to take you where they want to go in a simple click. don’t rely on a “cloud”, don’t rely on Google, and don’t rely on Spotlight to find stuff. Even in complicated messy multi-user situations, we set up some decent folder management to eliminate time wasted searching.

      Also, we don’t do cloud computing, and never will.

    2. My god, someone who knows what there talking about for a change. I already do much of what you stated. Very good advice. Check my trick up the stack. Another good one is to drag the Applications folder to the Dock. R-Click or Command-Click it once it’s in the Dock and set it to Folder View. Also set it to view as a list. Now you have a nice pop-up menu of all your applications right from the Dock.

      1. Until Mavericks, you could drag apps into the top of the Finder Window & that is where I put stuff like Activity Monitor, Airport Utility, Console & Disk Utility.
        If you upgrade from 10.8 with the links installed they stay, but if you do a clean install you cannot put them in- another ‘improvement’ that is not.

  5. Long time mac user but still learned some stuff here from various MDN posters. Good, keep it coming.

    my 2 cents:
    more screen real estate the better. I have 2 monitors, a 21 inch Cintiq (which is like a big iPad but pressure sensitive as well) and a 24 inch, really saves a lot of time as you can throw open windows around.

    Upgraded my Mac Pro’s graphics card, was really surprised it made a big difference (I guess my monitors were testing the previous card’s limits).

    Use Aquaminds Notetaker a lot for complex projects, notebooks can take clips from the internet etc, can be cross linked and so on. For example when doodling in photoshop (on the Cintiq you can draw and write notes) I take screen grab shots when I’m happy with something and then archive them in the notebooks. In more right brain jobs the Cintiq works well. (architects, designers, anybody who needs to ‘sketch’ concepts will find my setup useful).

  6. 27″ iMac.
    Dock on the right (out of the way)

    Launchbar for anything other than the 15 dock icons.

    Spaces for Mail, iPhoto, iCal (full screen) and screenshare to my media Mini.

    iTunes mini window, Messages and FaceTime on all screens

    Nothing on desktops

  7. 13″ MBP/8GB/500GB C2D. I use Spaces and Full screen apps constantly to maximize screen real estate and have been using it since it was added to the OS. Since I may spend more than 30min in an app I don’t want the clutter of other windows. I can easily CMD-Tab to whatever other app I need to use or get back to the Finder. The dock stays on the left with only my most used apps of which there are about 15. Folder for documents are a must: Applications, Documents plus three different work specific folders. Lastly, Spotlight is my launcher for opening docs not in those folders…been a avid Mac user since ’90.

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