How I set up my Mac for work and leisure

I’ve distro-hopped a fair amount, enough that I complain about every operating system out there. Windows? No *nix-style command support (although I’ve heard great things about PowerShell). Ubuntu? apt is ugly–nala is much better (yes, that’s actually my biggest issue). Fedora? Not the OS’s fault, but it updates far too frequently which means software is often playing a losing game of catch-up (Arch folks–I already know what you’re gonna say here). And macOS–too many to list. Generally, though Ubuntu and Fedora have been my favorite operating systems, with macOS as a third.

But alas, I’ve settled on a MacBook. The build quality is fantastic, photos sync with my iPhone, it has a surprisingly good built-in, non-subscription office suite, and a lot of things just work. And sadly, even in 2023, a lot of companies treat GNU/Linux like a second-class citizen after Windows and macOS. That said, macOS as it comes out of the box has far too many issues to ignore. Here are those issues and how I fix them.

  • Finder is atrocious. For a trillion-dollar company, Apple makes an absolutely useless file manager. There’s no option to open a terminal where you are, there’s no dual pane support, Cmd+Q minimizes it for some reason, and there’s no way to use arrow keys to move across photos in a directory when viewing them in Preview. Path Finder ($32.95) fixes these, and comes with some niceties like checksum computation and Dropbox integration, if you’re into that. For the $33, it saves quite a few annoyances.
  • Preview does not support slideshows. Preview, for whatever reason, cannot move across images in a directory using arrow keys. And thus, I use ApolloOne.
  • The menu bar icons system is terrible. If you have too many icons on your menu bar, they’re simply not displayed, and there’s no way around this stupid behavior. Bartender ($16) is the fix for this, making the behavior the way it should be, hiding the active application’s menu. If you have too many beyond that, I’m not sure how it handles it.
  • Password management is limited. Yes, there’s iCloud Keychain. It’s also completely locked in with no obvious export option. Please don’t use iCloud Keychain. Use Bitwarden instead. It’s FOSS, open, and cross-platform.
  • Housekeeping doesn’t seem to exist. This is an issue with many operating systems, though Windows has some functions for this. Although this is controversial in the macOS community, CleanMyMac X ($89.95) does the job for me.
  • TextEdit is garbage. I cannot fathom the meeting that led to this atrocity being green-lit, but here we are. Coming from gedit in GNU/Linux, TextEdit is ridiculously underpowered. I use vim for file editing.
  • Screenshots are limited in utility. The built-in screenshot utility is actually pretty good, but Shottr has a couple of niceties like scrolling screenshots that I like to have.
  • There’s no good local music solution. There’s no good way to play and organize a local music library for those of us who prefer to buy our music. I’m trying out Museeks, which is alright. Dopamine seems like it might work too.
  • Window snapping is garbage. And that’s why Rectangle is so popular.

So I’ve now fixed macOS to work the way I want. Now it’s time for niceties and work-related apps.

  • Config files. I have a set of config files that I install on any machine. It doesn’t work 100%, but it works enough that I can’t be arsed to fix it.
  • A better terminal emulator. iTerm is my choice of terminal. I use zsh with the geoffgarside theme.
  • Office suite. I’ll say it–the built-in office suite is kinda great. It has so far handled the (rather simple) Word documents I needed, has enough spreadsheet capabilities that I use it for my budgeting needs, and is generally pleasant to use. OnlyOffice is not too bad, though. And LibreOffice…probably works, but is best on Linux. That said, I typically use Markdown. Historically, I’ve loved Typora ($14.99) and bought it, though I’m looking into using Zettlr for a Zettelkasten.
  • Thunderbird. I adore Thunderbird. Its UI may not be the fanciest, but God it works incredibly well. It’s free and open-source, it had support for Google Talk when that was a thing, and it’s just so well-designed. Built-in privacy features, check. Good, fuzzy searching, check. Works with Proton Mail, check. Cross-platform, check. Thunderbird is one of my favorite FOSS projects out there.
  • Firefox. I equally adore Firefox, to the point where I refuse to use anything else on my computer. Privacy built-in, actually open-source (looking at you, Google Chrome), not Chromium-based and therefore promoting open Web standards, userChrome.css, about:config THAT YOU CAN SAVE with user.js, and extensions like Panorama View are indispensible. Thank you, Mozilla, for building an actual 21st century browser.
  • Homebrew. Linux distros have spoiled me. Package managers are just a better way to install and manage software. Homebrew does the job.
  • Work apps: CLion, PyCharm, Rider, VS Code, Zotero. I don’t often use CLion and Rider, but I do have side projects in C++ and C# for which I prefer these. PyCharm is ever so slightly better than VS Code, though I don’t really dislike VS Code for Python.
  • Privacy: Proton VPN, ProtonMail Bridge, Little Snitch, Micro Snitch. The latter two are nice for monitoring ill-behaving processes for a cool $71.
  • Parcel. This is such a great app–tracks packages across pretty much any shipping service for a small annual subscription, and syncs with the iPhone app.
  • Keka. A top-notch archive manager that handles any file type.
  • Topaz Photo AI. For $159, I’ve gotten tons of value out of this thing. I cannot stand low-res images, and this does a great job upscaling while preserving details.

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