Keeping a dual-Mac lifestyle in sync

Syncing

Relationships are a lot of work. You need to make sure you’re compatible, communicate well, and are on the same page for almost everything. Wait, you thought I meant personal relationships? Oh, sorry, I was talking about keeping multiple Macs in sync.

I was gifted a really nice 27-inch monitor a year ago. Connecting that to my 2011 15-inch MacBook Pro essentially turned my laptop into a desktop Mac. Not that unplugging it and bringing it with me is a hassle. It’s getting it to recognize the monitor when I plug it in. I end up having to use GFXCardStatus to force the graphics card into Discrete mode (even if it’s there already) to get it to properly detect the external monitor. I also dual-boot this Mac into Windows 8 to play some games, so that just generates some extra hassles when reconnecting the monitor.

At the same time, I did need a mobile platform. I’m getting a band together, and need a laptop to bring to rehearsals to record with. Plus, I wanted something light if I was leaving the house to write with. I also didn’t want to pay a lot for this muffler, err laptop.

Fortunately, I still had my 2009 13-inch MacBook Pro kicking around. This is the tale of how I manage both laptops. Because everyone has two laptops floating around, right?

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The Mac App Store

The Mac App store has really eliminated my “OK, where did I put that serial number?” issues. While software packages like Microsoft Office aren’t there, I’m finding that around 90 percent of what I need is available in the Mac App Store. Pages ($19.99), Things ($49.99) and Evernote  (Free) are key to my workflow, so being able to easily reinstall them from the Mac App Store (along with a 5-device license) is a blessing.

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Office 365

Sometimes (OK, often), iWork isn’t enough, and I need the full might and power of the Microsoft Office Suite. To make my life a lot easier, I just use Office 365, which gives me access to the Office suite on both OS X and Windows 8. It also comes with 20 GB of SkyDrive space (more on that later).

Usually, I need Office when I’m on a fast roundtrip collaboration with a person who does not have iWork. While Pages does handle Word documents fairly well, I’m more comfortable keeping Word documents in Word. Also, I loathe Numbers and much prefer Excel. My issues with Numbers are lengthy, but it sums it up with that it kinda plays at being a spreadsheet, but doesn’t have nearly the power of Excel. So, it’s just easier to handle those tasks in Excel.

The cloud

Keeping the same programs on multiple devices is one thing. The important part is keeping the data in sync. For that, I rely on a handful of cloud services: iCloud, Dropbox and SkyDrive.

iCloud

iCloud has gotten kind of beaten up in the press lately, and to a certain degree, I admit the service has its good and bad points. So, I’ve separated out the pieces I have problems with (Documents in the Cloud) and instead focus on the parts that work for me (Bookmarks, iMessage, etc.).

The biggest issue I have with Documents in the Cloud is the walled-garden approach. Simply put, a file I start in Byword ($9.99) can’t easily be moved into Pages or Word, without cutting and pasting. I also don’t expect this to change, so I’ve looked for other solutions for document syncing. One problem I’ve run into is completely forgetting what program I even created a file in.

I also use Notes.app quite a bit. Its interface for capturing notes quickly is a little easier than Evernote’s. As an example, I was recently watching a band perform. This band is the same style of music I’m playing, and I took copious notes on their stage manner, song list and the like. I just felt more comfortable doing this in iCloud and Notes. Evernote for me still remains a place to store large bodies of notes with lots of text.

SkyDrive

My affair with SkyDrive started when I needed to edit Office documents on my Windows 8 partition. While Dropbox can handle this, I liked how it integrated natively into Windows 8. Also, it’s nice being able to edit Word documents in Skydrive’s web interface on a machine I might not have Office installed on. While I can use Google Docs for this (and for one spreadsheet, my band’s songlist, I do use Gdocs), I prefer the Office web apps. With my Office 365 subscription, SkyDrive also comes with 20 GB of storage. That also means I can use it to move my GarageBand songs between machines. One conscious decision I’ve made is to only have production-type files on Skydrive. This is where most of my working files reside.

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Dropbox

Dropbox takes the place of flash drives for moving my files between computers. If I get a PDF in the mail I want to have on all computers, I put it in Dropbox. One exception to having work files on SkyDrive is most iOS text editors save to Dropbox, so I use that tool for any text files I’m working on. For the most part, these files are notes from meetings, or stories I’m working on that are in very rough draft and I don’t need to worry about niceties like formatting.

Final thoughts

A few months ago, I wrote about how I use Dropbox for some of the iCloud-type storage. Since then, I’ve started using SkyDrive quite a bit, and I like the separation between the digital junk drawer that’s my Dropbox folder, and the more organized, work environment in SkyDrive. While Dropbox would handle this well, the appeal to me is easy editing in a web interface via SkyDrive that I enjoy.

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