This is going to be a long, fairly technical post about how I manage files and use my new MacBook Air. If you’re here for leadership-related stuff, check back soon!
In my house, we generally run on a 3-4 year laptop replacement cycle. My 2007 MacBook Pro 15″ (pre-unibody) started showing signs of being long in the tooth shortly after it was out of AppleCare warranty (naturally). Dodgy fan issues, spontaneous shutdowns, and other issues made it unreliable for dissertation-writing and general use.
When the new MacBook Airs made their appearance in October of 2010, my initial thoughts were, “Way cool! But not for serious work.” After taking a long, hard look at what I actually use my computer for (writing, surfing, emailing, light podcasting, light photo editing) instead of what I wish I used a computer for (massive video editing and audio recording, professional-level photo-editing), I decided that I would probably be very happy with an Air — especially in the portability department.
I’d been saving for a while and, despite almost backing down at the eleventh hour and ordering a 13″ MacBook Pro, a considerable amount of research pushed me over the edge and I pulled the trigger on an 11″ MacBook Air with 4GB of RAM and a 64GB of SSD.
Moving in to a new computer is always liberating and stressful, but when your new digs only provide 64GB of disk space, some extra diligence is required. Prior to the new machine’s arrival, I started a Simplenote with all of the apps I use regularly. These were the ones I’d install right away.
I overcompensated a bit, though. I moved my entire 90GB iTunes library onto an external USB drive. I did the same with my Aperture library. If you’re reading this looking for tips on MacBook Air file management, let me give you a big one: DO NOT DO WHAT I DID!
In theory, having your iTunes library on an external drive sounds like the way to go. That is until you actually want to sync an iPhone or listen to music. Then you have to have your drive with you and plug it in. I found this to be unacceptable since one of the main reasons I bought this machine was to have the extra portability.
Further, I found it to be ridiculous hauling my entire Aperture library around with me all the time. Plus, having my images on the external USB drive killed the zippiness that the SSD provides when it comes to accessing and navigating through my images.
So the external drive solution killed the two biggest benefits of moving to an Air: Being tethered to an external drive lowered the portability factor, and moving large image files back and forth over USB 2.0 negated the speed benefits of the SSD.
How I Roll
After living with this for a few weeks, I’ve come up with the following solutions that work well for me.
I have to credit The Mac Instructor Blog for pushing my thinking on the iTunes issue. The author, Rick Stawarz, had a great post about Home Sharing which is arguably the most under-utilized feature in iTunes. If I’m being honest, at any given time I’m probably actively listening to less than 500MB of my 90GB library. I turned my old MacBook Pro (which has been relegated to Club Penguin duty since it constantly has to be plugged in) into my “main” music library. With Home Sharing enabled on both my Air and my old Pro, I can delete music from my Air with the confidence of knowing it will remain in my “official” library on my Pro. I have also set up iTunes on the Pro to auto-import new music and apps from my Air so I also have the assurance that anything I purchase on my Air (or on my iPhone or iPad which are synced to the Air) will eventually find its way back to the Pro.
So all of my music and movies reside on the Pro with its 500GB hard drive. The Pro is also the machine that syncs video with my (first-gen) Apple TV so this works very well. Just within the last week, I’m seeing some promise in Amazon’s Cloud Drive for those of us with more music than disk space.
For images, I read a post at the Aperture Users Network that turned me on to Aperture 3′s library splitting/merging features. In short, I can keep my full Aperture library on an external USB drive while still carrying around, say, my last 30-days worth of images. Images I add or changes I make on the Air will sync when I plug in my USB drive and “merge” libraries.
As it stands right now, I have 30-days worth of images and a decent library of my current favorite music on my Air and I’m sitting with just over 22GB of free space.
Back That Thing Up
The last piece of the puzzle for me is backup. Having been burned last summer when my wife’s 2006 “BlackBook” died very suddenly, I have become a little obsessed with backup. I have taken many of the ideas herein from the comprehensive backup strategy shared by Frank Chimero.
For starters, I use Dropbox for most of my working files. I have cleaned things up quite a bit and now use a similar system to that described by Chimero for folder and file naming. Older stuff has been zipped up and pushed to my Amazon S3 account (more on that later).
I recently discovered Amazon S3′s Reduced Redundancy Storage. Using a nifty, lightweight app called Arq, my entire home directory is backed up to my S3 account. (I also installed Arq on my wife’s MacBook Pro and it does its thing without ever getting in her way.) My bill for March, backing up both of our machine’s to the cloud, was $2.22. Considering most of that was for the “throughput” of the initial backup (subsequent backups just make incremental changes and push far less data), I’d say this is a pretty economical solution. Almost too cheap and easy not to use. There is no excuse for not backing up.
In addition to all that, once a week I use SuperDuper to clone my entire 64GB hard drive to one of two external USB drives. This is a 500GB portable USB drive partitioned into three sections: (1) backup, (2) libraries, and (3) scratch. My cloned HDD image is stored in the backup section. My Aperture library and a backup copy of my iTunes library are stored in the libraries section. I use the scratch section for moving things back and forth, or for audio or video recording and editing. This drive is small and travels with me in my Tom Bihn Ristretto.
Finally, the entire 500GB drive is cloned once a week to an identical drive that I keep at work.
I told you I was a bit OCD about backups.
If you’ve made it this far and are still awake, thanks for reading. I hope that you’ve found some of this to be helpful in some way. In short, if you’re contemplating a jump to the MacBook Air, do it! You won’t be sorry. And once you tweak some of your file management techniques you’ll be glad you decided to on the smallest, lightest MacBook to date.