Computing Principals of My 27" iMac

by Mike Shea on 28 November 2010

30 seconds on Mike's new computer

I'm getting a 27" iMac next week. I love my mac but I've crudded it up a bit more than I like with things like Parallels, VMWare, and Adobe's shitty products. To ensure I don't crud up my new machine, I'm outlining some principals for its use including the following:

By keeping my machine lean and mean, I hope to keep it running well until I upgrade it in two to three years. We'll see how I do.

Introduction to my principals of computer use

After three and a half years with my Macbook Pro, I decided it was time for an upgrade so I picked up a 27" iMac from Amazon. As I wait for it to arrive, I want to plan carefully for how I switch over and use this machine. I've worked with computers for twenty five years at this point so I should have a good idea what to do and what to avoid. Rather than put together instructions, I though I'd consider some "computing principals" under which I could have the most useful and beneficial relationship with my computer (ugh, that sure doesn't sound good) over the next couple of years.

Install only what I need

Every time we install an app we're creating the potential for instability and a lack of performance. Some programs are nice. They stay in their own box, they don't install pieces that always run on boot, they don't clog up the system settings of the machine. Others are not so nice.

The fewer apps I install on my machine, the nicer it will run.

For this reason, I don't plan on simply copying over every app I currently have on my Macbook Pro to my new iMac and I'm sure not going to use the "migration assistant" that just ports over your old problems to your new computer. Instead I'll only be installing apps as I need them, which brings us to our next principal.

Install as I need it

Instead of predicting what I'll need and installing everything that comes to mind, I will only install the apps I need when I need them. There are a lot of programs I THINK I need but never actually use. My needs might change. The technology might change. Software goes out of date. Why install stuff I might not ever use?

Install only that which has the smallest impact and footprint on the machine

I wish I'd kept this principal in mind before experimenting with Parallels and VMWare Fusion. For years after trying these programs I'd see them continue to pop up in my active processes. The software was long gone but parts of it remained.

Every program has a footprint but good Mac programs know how to keep this footprint small. They generally don't dive out beyond their own app directory and library folder. There's no horrible registry to crud up. They often use as little space as possible and send out as few roots into your machine as possible. It's hard to know which programs are good or bad at this but often the bigger the company producing the software, the worse that software will be.

Oh yeah, and fuck Adobe. I'm done with that abusive relationship. I'm going to try real hard not to install any of Adobe's buggy, bloated, and vulnerable software on my new machine. Preview works fine for PDFs. Chrome can run what few Flash apps are left without the plug-in. I don't use Photoshop or any other big Adobe sweet. So I should be able to avoid the software of the worst popular software engineering company on earth.

Unfortunately, I'll need Microsoft Silverlight for my D&D Character Builder and Netflix Instant.

Hold only as much data as fits on a single drive and back it up

This gets into my backup philosophy but the minute my data outstrips the capacity of a single affordable hard drive, I have too much data. At this point, the only data that can fill out a current drive is HD video. Unfortunately, I've started to collect more HD video these days, HD video that cost me money and for which I am the only caretaker. My new iMac will have a 1TB drive. Assuming 100 gigs for the rest of my data, that's about 450 hours of HD video. That should last a couple of years but eventually I'll need more space. A 1TB drive isn't just a single 1TB drive, it takes two other 1TB drives to back that up locally and off-site. That's why affordable storage is so necessary.

How I'll backup my stuff

I plan to continue my current simple backup procedure of mirroring the disk weekly using SuperDuper and flipping the mirrored disk each month with one I keep in the trunk of my car. I'll use Drop Box for critical files that need to be backed up as I write it like blog posts or novels. I'll quit using Jungle Disk and Time Machine. I never had much use for them and they just slowed down my system.

My critical apps

So what programs am I very likely to need? Let's take a look:

A machine built on simplicity

When I first got my Mac, I had a tendency of installing every app Merlin Mann ever recommended on Macbreak Weekly. Every time I did so, little bits of code filled up the nooks and crannies of my machine. Once removed, these have very little impact on my machine but some of them do. Our machines' performance decay as we install stuff. My plan with my new beautiful machine is to leave it the hell alone. I'll install the apps I need and avoid the rest. In the future, we can hope that the new Mac App Store better encapsulates apps but in the mean time, I plan to keep it clean. We'll see how I do.

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