A Minimalist Clean Install of My MacBook Air

An app, in theory, should do one thing really well. There are two problems with this. First, many apps often try to do more than one thing. Second, even if all apps followed this rule, it would require us to install many apps on our mobile devices to do all of the things we want to do. Apps sprout on my phone like weeds in a garden.

I was thinking about this over the weekend when I decided to perform a clean install on my MacBook Air. I wondered what the minimal installation would be for the laptop to be functional for me, without being crammed with applications I rarely touch. I started from scratch, and kept a list of the things that I installed, with an eye toward keeping things lean. Aside from the basic OS (Sierra 10.12.4), here is what made the cut:

  • LastPass: My preferred password manager. I’ve been using LastPass for years and can only guess at how much time it has saved me, while improving my online security.

  • Todoist: I’ve written about why and how I use Todoist. It is essential for me.

  • Pastebot: I do a lot of copying and pasting, and Pastebot makes it easy to manage multiple clipboards, saving me lots of time.

  • Fantastical 2: My calendar app. I like it much better than the native calendar app that comes with MacOS.

  • MailButler: A plug-in to Apple Mail that adds a lot of useful functionality, like snoozing, delayed send, and much more.

  • Keyboard Maestro: My automation engine. From text expansion to lots of little useful automations, this one saves me a lot of time and retyping.

  • Homebrew for Mac: An simple package manager that lets me install other stuff quickly.

  • Dotfiles: a GitHub repo for managing and tracking my Unix dotfiles, and for making it easy to stay up-to-date with current Unix tools.

  • MacVim: My primary word processor/text editor.

  • Consola fonts: This font is perfect for my “distraction-free” writing in MacVim. Easy on the eyes, and fixed-width, which is what I like when producing copy.

  • Flashbake: a tool that automatically checks my writing into a repo on GitHub every 15 minutes so that I have a running history of what I wrote on any given day, and how it changes over time.

  • Pandoc: for easily taking the Markdown files I produce in MacVim and converting them to a variety of formats, like Microsoft Word, or PDF. I can “compile” my draft through a make script and have a Word document in standard manuscript format in seconds.

  • Microsoft Office 365: For convenience.

  • Evernote: for access to my digital filing cabinet.

  • Skitch: my go-to screen capture and annotation tool.

  • Crashplan: for backups to the cloud.

These were the tools that I installed over the weekend. No others came immediately to mind. I imagine that as I continue to work on the laptop, I’ll find a thing or two missing, but the items on this list constitute 95% of everything I need on my MacBook Air to get my work done.

If Apple made Terminal available in iOS they way they do in MacOS, I could probably get away with a lot fewer apps there as well, too.


  1. Nice list of apps. My go-to is Sublime Text with Monaco monospaced sans-serif. I’ll have to give MacVIM a look.

    1. I used Sublime Text a while back. I’ve finally settled on MacVim because I only have to memorize one set of key commands. I even write my Word documents in MacVim as Markdown and then run pandoc to convert them from .md files to .docx files.


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