Bringing New 2020 MacBook Air On-Line. Startup Advice?
August 21, 2021 5:07 PM   Subscribe

I got a new 2020 MacBook Air and would like advice and feedback based on personal experience. How does Numbers and Pages compare with Excel and Word? Is there anything that I can do to increase privacy? Is there a way to take unnecessary apps off. (Apple Movie, Reminders, etc)? Any other fun or practical apps to download? Other random advice also appreciated
posted by goalyeehah to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Pages is perfectly adequate and I prefer Keynote to PowerPoint, but I've found there's plenty of Excel functions that function best in Excel. But, since the Numbers/Pages/Keynote suite is free, it's probably best to take them for a spin before spending for Excel.

I believe any of the built-in apps can be deleted, but the "footprint" of most of them is so small, I might suggest leaving them on in case you change your mind: for something like Reminders I think you'd have to reinstall the OS to get it back and it's only 14 megs. The Movie app *is* sizable, but I think it's an optional download from the Mac App Store these days.

One app I run on new installations is Monolingual: it eliminates languages you don't plan to use from the OS - which typically saves a gigabyte or more.
posted by Nekosoft at 5:22 PM on August 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Nice choice of machine...I've had mine since late December (after moving from Windows) and I love it.

You don't saw what your configuration is, but if you bought the 8GB RAM version, it's more than adequate. I also have the 512GB SSD and think it's also pretty adequate.

I rarely use office apps, except for Excel, and I think it's just too much a standard to do without...but YMMV, depending on your needs. I use several of the default apps (Reminders, Mail, Notes, TV+) all the time and have not removed much. But I believe they are all just apps. Be sure you don't want them, though, since they might be difficult to put back. I actually have found uses for some built in apps that I didn't anticipate.

I'm not sure what you mean by "increase privacy." MacOS doesn't phone home like Windows, as far as I know. You can certainly turn on FileVault to encrypt your SSD, and MacOS already asks if each you want each website to allow downloads and has built-in security for recognizing whether new apps are digitally signed or not, and apps that require special disk access, etc. require you to give them those permissions.

Depending on your needs, an inexpensive USB-C dock that allows pass-through power might be a good investment. The battery life on the MBA is incredible, but sometimes you just want to have power coming in while using more than one USB device, and the Air is famous for its lack of ports. And external hard drive for exta storage and Time Machine backups is essential. Note that classic Mac backup apps don't completely work on M1 Macs.

As far as software, I find Safari to be an excellent browser, but I keep a copy of Firefox installed in case I run into the rare website that doesn't work well. Chrome, Edge, etc. are fine as well, but Safari is supposed to be the best for battery life.

Speaking of which, if you're like me and use the laptop on your lap most of the time, leave it unplugged as much as you can. One of the great joys of the Air is its battery life and freedom from the power cable. It's even better on battery than my iPad.

I use AlDente to help manage my battery charging (generally don't let it charge above 80% to preserve battery health), Bartender to tame the menu bar icons, and iStatMenus to keep track of my system stats (one of the reasons I need Bartender, I'm sure). Amphetamine is essential for keeping the Mac awake for long tasks such as file transfers. As far as file operations go, I use PathFinder to give myself a two-pane file manager. It's not quite as good as FreeCommander on Windows, but easier to use than Finder in many cases. Many of these apps cost money, but over the last 8 months I've found they are more than worth it.

Oh, one nice little thing I discovered is a tiny app called Keyboard Cleaner. One thing the Air likes to do is wake up...I never turn mine off, just let it sleep, and opening the lid or touching a key rouses it, which can be a pain when you want to wipe off the keyboard. Keyboard Cleaner disables the keyboard (except for Cmd-Q) so you can do what you need without making random keystrokes (also pretty handy if you have a cat, I think).
posted by lhauser at 7:45 PM on August 21, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Sounds like you're coming from Windows, and perhaps worried about unnecessary application bloat coming pre-installed? With Macs, this isn't really a thing. Most of the pre-installed apps are either quite useful, or dont have much of a footprint. The only one I really make sure to uninstall is GarageBand, but you make have to explicitly install it from the AppStore these days instead of it coming pre-installed, I can't remember. But it weighs in in 800 GB, so it is a bit of a beast. To uninstall unneeded apps though, you really just need to drag their icons to the trash. Any cruft that may remain usually isn't worth the effort to try and track down like it is in Windows.

If I wanted a standalone app, Numbers and Pages are absolutely fine, but thats mainly because I tend to really dislike Microsoft's macos versions of their key apps. That said, I am completely a Google Slides / Sheets / Docs convert now, so I dont use the standalone apps at all.

When starting fresh with a new mac the first thing I download is Google Chrome, but Safari is fine if you're not dependent on specific Chrome extensions.

My other two apps that are must haves for me is Alfred (a much better Spotlight) and iStat Menus (all the data you could ever want about your machine in the menu bar). But neither are really must-haves for the average user. If you are a developer type you probably already know what you like, but iTerm2 is about a million times better than the built in Terminal (there's nothing wrong with Terminal, iTerm2 is just really great).

Privacy I haven't ever thought about ever with regards to macos; individual privacy is something Apple does really well. The bigger privacy risks will be the online ecosystems you log in to - Facebook, Google, etc.
posted by cgg at 9:21 PM on August 21, 2021 [3 favorites]

Missed the edit window: Obviously by 800 GB i meant 800 MB, I was thinking in my head "almost a gig"...
posted by cgg at 10:09 PM on August 21, 2021

Buy a subscription to SetApp for $10 a month and you will then have your choice of well over a hundred useful apps, fully licensed and always updated. One of the essential ones is CleanMyMac.
posted by yclipse at 4:16 AM on August 22, 2021

I agree with everything cgg said, except I personally prefer the Firefox browser. Personally, I would avoid a mad rush to delete pre-installed apps (you might find them useful one day, and none of them are adware/garbage apps). I would also avoid running things like Monolingual that mess with the executable bundles (.app folders) of apps because of the way Apple's macOS security works. And I would also stay away from things like CleanMyMac, which are regarded as snake oil by a lot of people. You just don't need them. Common sense and prudence will be the best way to keep your mac "clean." SetApp looks amazing, although I personally balk at any software that requires a subscription. Source: used Macs since snakes had legs, and also an app developer.
posted by jabah at 7:53 AM on August 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

Word and Excel do more (they can also be a lot more opaque), but I find Pages and Numbers easier to live with. Once in a while there's something I really need the Microsoft products for, but 99.xx% of the time, I prefer Apple's equivalents.

If you use the command line at all, and have any thoughts of installing command-line applications, install Homebrew first. It's like an App Store for command-line software (which also makes it much easier to keep that software up to date). See if you can install those applications via Homebrew—you usually can. Terminal itself is fine for light use, but a lot of heavy terminal users prefer iTerm.

+1 on Alfred. Better Touch Tool is a cool app for mapping custom keystrokes or gestures to specific actions or sequences.
posted by adamrice at 9:59 AM on August 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

The thing that I found sort of messy with my new Macbook Air (and agree with what other people are generally saying) is the Notification Center. It's worth knowing, in case you have an iPhone, that you can text and Facetime directly from your computer now which is kind of great. But Notification Center is kind of a problem for me, popping up notifications all the time. I think you'd want to know two things

- you can set "Do Not Disturb" on your machine to basically be on 23:59 of the hours in a day which is nice and basically keeps you from having to turn off ALL the preset notification options.
- if you option-click the notification center icon in the upper right (like a set of three lines) it will allow you to temporarily turn off alerts so you won't get noises when you are zooming or on a call or whatever.

I like Pages and Numbers just fine. I sometimes use the Google equivalents, but I don't even have Word/Excel anymore and it's not an issue 99% of the time. There's a learning curve but it's not bad. I love Keynote. I use Firefox with a bazillion plug-ins and have an issue with Chrome but if you're a Chrome person it runs like normal on a Mac.

I use a slightly older OS so these may be solved problems but a few things that have been helpful for me.

- how to show your Library directory
- Time Machine is really a "just works" backup solution. Set it and forget it.
- Preview really does 85% of what you'd need a PDF viewer/reader to do
- Screenshots are simple, screen recording works well too.
- I use VLC and Audacity for media playback and audio recording respectively. There are a lot of good basic utilities, big fan of Cyberduck.

As people have said, Apple is decent with privacy. I don't use iCloud except for storing my Keychain and Find My iPhone, but it's not bad. Choose a tough password for your Apple ID and make sure you can recall it because it's important. Less important to have a strong password on your laptop itself, depending on how much you travel or have your laptop in places you might not want people peeking at it.
posted by jessamyn at 10:30 AM on August 22, 2021

I volunteer for my town, part of which involves trading, creating, editing, and/or posting to our website, documents from other volunteers and town employees. There are no OS or document-format standards or requirements. I use macOS, the Town uses Windows, other volunteers use what they have and are most comfortable with.

There are various flavors of OpenOffice that can read pretty much any of the usual formats including open formats - with the notable exception of Numbers and Pages. None of us uses those, at least for interchange, and I don't even keep them on my machines.

Personally, I use LibreOffice and have no trouble accepting or trading documents with other people, the extent that I needn't be aware (and am not) of what other people are using. There may be odd or unusual, rarely used features of one or another specific application (likely only known to the guru's) that won't play nicely with another work-alike application - I haven't run into one of those yet. For the usual features - Excel-like formulas, tables, inserted images, fonts (at least the popular ones), web-links, etc., most people know and use - we trade pretty seamlessly.

I use AppCleaner (third party app) to remove apps I don't want. You could just trash the .app file but they all leave a few companion files around that AppCleaner will find and offer to delete along with them.

About privacy, that's a whole study in itself. There are so many facets to it that you'll need to narrow it down to the area(s) you're interested in - WiFi and network security; the physical security of your computer and your backups; of your passwords; whether you share your computer, leave it unattended in insecure places, etc. Just off the top of my head, and in no particular order:
- Use a password manager and strong passwords. Don't use the same password for more than one entity.
- Enable the OS' built-in firewall
- Encrypt your disk ("Filevault", in Apple OSes)
- Use Apple's privacy features judiciously: withhold access permissions from apps if you don't
know why they need it (like to your microphone, camera and location). You can always provide it later and/or on a temporary basis if you need to.
- Use anti-tracking add-ons with your browsers; an ad blocker is a good place to start.
- Even if you encrypt your disk, make encrypted disk-image files (.DMG - a large file containing other files and structured just like a physical disk) to group classes of files you're more concerned about. That will provide additional layer of encryption.

That's little more than a search-list to steer you toward some of the components of privacy. It really takes some reading and thinking about to come up with a plan that's strong enough for your needs and unintrusive enough to not put you off using it.
posted by TruncatedTiller at 2:23 PM on August 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

If you need ms word documents or excel documents that are anything more than bare-boned text or tables - and you are sharing editing them with people in a back and forth.... FFS don't use pages or sheets..

As a general principle, use one piece of software to edit the same files until they are finished. There are obvious exceptions to this rule such as txt bin or json files that are ultra-designed for portability. But Passing data as persnickety as .docx or .xlsx files back and forth between different software almost NEVER improves it; it often borks it.
posted by lalochezia at 4:33 PM on August 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

use AlDente to help manage my battery charging (generally don't let it charge above 80% to preserve battery health)

This is no longer necessary under Big Sur, as macOS will now manage this for you if you leave your computer plugged in all the time. The laptops on my desk, which are plugged in all the time, are typically 75-85% charged. If you want a full charge before disconnecting, you can select the option from the battery menu bar item.
posted by Mo Nickels at 9:53 AM on August 23, 2021 [2 favorites]

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