Archive for August 2011


Fresh Installs, or How to Find New Stuff and Stuff You Just Never Knew

Upgrades being what they are, namely quick and easy on a Mac, many people have never needed to reinstall their OS from scratch, and indeed most people should never need to. I have read of people who have been using the same OS image, that has been upgraded 4 times over as many machines and half as many hardware platforms.

I, however, like to install from scratch each time there is a new OS, mainly because it’s a neat way to remove the crud that I accumulate (I install a lot more stuff than the average user I imagine, for example I have attempted to install at least a half dozen driver/application packages for a Mobile Broadband dongle that would’t work under Snow Leopard, none of which a) worked, or b) got uninstalled), but also because it’s a great way to discover the neat new stuff that appears. When was the last time you trawled every option in system preferences? Probably when your machine was first purchased. This is where I start with any fresh install.

But, I am getting ahead of myself. This time, I had been using Lion for several months as part of the developer program, and as such decided to try something new. I scalped the Dock. Every icon, every app, gone. Launchpad, AppStore, FaceTime, Photobooth the works. Get rid of them. I long ago switched to using Spotlight for application launching, and many people use third party tools such as Launchpad and Alfred etc. A combination of this and the new gestures for switching between programs and such like means the only thing I ever use the Dock for is emptying the trash. I predict that there will be no Dock if not in 10.8, then the one after.

Next, I hit up System Preferences, and make the following changes:


Set a highlight colour, completely unimportant, but I like to change the colour every so often, and try to pick one that matches the wallpaper I have. No idea why really, just feels good to mix it up a little.

Desktop & Screen Saver

Desktop – pick one of the new backgrounds. It was Mt Fuji on Snow Leopard, I’m on the Eagle Waterfall in Lion. Screen Saver – unlike what I just said, I always keep this as Paper Shadow – go figure.


Reduce the size, and set auto hide to on. Turn off the indicator lights for running applications – I don’t have anything in my Dock, so if it’s in there, I know it’s running, don’t need the light to show me.

Mission Control

Depending on if I am on a portable or a desktop, I may remap the keys for showing the desktop etc, largely depending on if I also have a magic trackpad in which case I never use the keys.

Security & Privacy

General – Set the time to requiring a password after sleep to 1 minute. Show a message when the screen is locked, currently it’s set to “This computer belongs to Dan Wilkinson. Please contact for a reward if found.”, but as this is a new option, I may tweak the text over time to get that nice balance between pleading and bribing… Filevault – Turn this on for portables, I don’t bother with the desktops, possibly because they don’t have SSD drives so the performance hits may be more noticeable – it barely is on the Macbook Air. Firewall – Turn this on. Seriously, why does this default to off? Privacy – Turn on sending of diagnostics to Apple – I figure if everyone did this, it probably does help identify problems fast than would happen otherwise.

Universal Access

Click to enable access for assistive devices. I have no idea what these are, but you come across the odd program like Steam that requires it.

CDs & DVDs

Turn off any and all automatic actions on disc insertion. So irritating trying to second guess me.

Energy Saver

The new name for power management. I fiddle with the settings variously depending on which machine I am doing it on. on the iMac I turn off the automatically reduce brightness before the display goes to sleep setting, as the screen makes an awful buzz when dimmed in this way. I leave it on elsewhere as it’s a handy reminder to whack a key should you actually still be doing something like reading etc.


Change full keyboard access to all controls. Embarrassed to say I only discovered this a few months ago, even though it’s always been there! It allows you to tab between OK and Cancel buttons for example, rather than having to use the mouse, and then use space or enter to select either the minor or major highlighted option. A great timesaver.


Turn on tap to click. To be honest, this is probably the very first thing I do, after logging in with any new install! Also, turn on App Expose in the more gestures tab.


Add my printer, this sits hung off the back of my Airport Extreme router, so it’s just a case of tick the box and download the drivers automatically.


Turn off the volume icon in the task bar, turn off feedback for volume changes – you can see onscreen the levels etc, no need for a beep, and if you are muting to prevent unnecessary noises when recording audio, for example, you don’t want it adding a beep in there when you realise you are half way through and forgot to do it already.


Log in, set to fully replace all data on the computer at the next sync, and set everything to sync except Dashboard, Dock and Prefs – turn on Back to my Mac.


Turn this off for anything that doesn’t need it for peripherals (i.e off on the Air, on on the iMac), and get rid of the icon in the task bar.


Change the computers name to something more descriptive, and turn on file/screen sharing. Set a VNC password.

Users & Groups

Create a new Admin user, remove admin rights from my normal user, remove fast user switching menu bar icon. This does add extra steps when upgrading/installing software, but that’s not necessarily an every day task, so the added security is probably worth it. Set the Apple ID – it asks for this during install, but then fails to make the connection, which I am not sure is a bug or just odd.

Date & Time

Show the date in the clock, check the location data is finding a sensible city.

Time Machine

Point the thing at my backup drive, which these days is attached to another machine and shared out. Set encryption to yes in the options. Prepare to come back here later to add areas like Steam data files to the exclude list as and when they get installed.

That’s pretty much it for the preferences. I always recommend trawling through these after every major upgrade. Things change, get renamed and moved etc, and there is always something new that you may want to alter.

After this little marathon is over, I then start to configure some of the included apps with some changes. These include changing the battery icon to show percentage left, changing finder preferences so new windows start with my home folder not the “all my files” one, changing Safari to always show tabs and configure iTunes to use Home Sharing.

I may follow up this article with the next steps, which are to install and license all the software that I find essential. Over time this will get easier as I migrate more software to the App Store editions, but at a bare minimum I fire up DropBox, then the 1Password installer, because if nothing else, it holds all my license keys for non App Store software in a datafile on DropBox!

I hope you found at least one setting that you had never considered changing before, and if you have any “must change” configurations that you insist upon, or think I have missed something you consider mandatory, then let me know.



Tools for taming the web: prologue

In a previous post, I talked about how I felt that the web had become an unruly mess, and promised a further article outlining a few of the ways we could help to disentangle ourselves from it’s clutches with tools that helped to remove the years of tarnish, grime, and occasional extra licks of paint from the websites we visit and allow us to if not increase our enjoyment, at least reduce our frustrations.

Well, sadly it took as long as I feared it might and hoped it wouldn’t, and it’s still in progress, but in truth it is a good thing that I was so laggardly in completing it, as since the time of writing the original article a number of changes have taken place in the areas I was intending to cover that would have made it instantly out of date, and the scope for what was already becoming a veritable leviathan of a post increased considerably.

So, sorry about that, and this time I will merely say it will be ready when it is ready.