Living with defaults

by Francois Joseph de Kermadec

A few years ago, I peeked over the shoulder of a very dear friend as he was using his computer. "R" is a computing guru through and through, spending his days between WebObjects applications, Aperture, countless browsers and utilities. He is the kind of user who cannot work with less than four partitions and three huge disks attached to his machine. And work he does, brilliantly. In fact, I have rarely seen anyone squeeze so much computing power out of his machine. Imagine my surprise when I noticed how close to the defaults R's installation was…


Alan Jacobs
2007-10-28 18:17:21
Fran├žois, which defaults are you primarily thinking of? Could you give some examples?
2007-10-28 18:21:26

Of course… Defaults could be Finder sorting and window display preferences, Desktop arrangements, behavior of the Trash and mounted volumes, selection of menu items, optional confirmation dialogs…


2007-10-28 18:43:28
No Butler (application launching, pasteboard history), iKeys? Point taken however. I think I am cutting back on add-ons over the years.
2007-10-28 18:46:55
I try to stick as much as poss to the defaults for the sake of easy moves. Off the top of my head, with a fresh account the first few things I do are hide the dock, uncheck the default which shows hard disks on desktop, disable user interface sound effects, disable junk filter in mail, make safari open with blank page instead of, and in iTunes disable copy music to my music folder.

I used to customize like hell but I'm happier now. I love using plain text in textedit for writing notes. Keeping it simple is good!

2007-10-28 18:57:55
I use mostly defaults myself. I transitioned away from rampant customization a few years back when I realized how much easier it was to just go with the flow. Obviously I still have a few tweaks here and there, but I value the portability of my habits and the time saved more than most custom options.
2007-10-28 19:21:27
Before I was an Apple user I worked for a large software company that happened to make operating systems. When you reinstall at least once a week, and can't trust upgrades, you learn to live with defaults. And I found the same thing to be true. I became happier and more productive with the defaults. Now that I use Macs, I mostly stick with the defaults, except the mouse speed. If I left the default for that it would take me 30 minutes to move the mouse across the screen!
2007-10-28 19:36:45
When I started using Macs a few years ago, I was customizing my ibook to the hilt. I had icons changed, the interface style changed, lots of things. Now, I've come to realize that not only do those UI changes only slow the computer down, they also add in inconsistencies in different applications. Really, I stick to most of the defaults that don't bother me. The one thing I will change, as soon as I find a good solution, is the darned translucent menu bar in Leopard. I hate it. For now, I made a background with a black strip at the top to make it solid, but i would rather a "defaults write" solution for it so I don't have to do it to every background image.
Keith Bradnam
2007-10-28 19:50:30
I've found that each successive Mac release allows me to ditch a few utilities that I have been previously bonded to. I imagine that the new Terminal (with tabs) will allow me to stop using iTerm. The new iChat with Google Talk support might also tempt me away from Adium.

What I really want to see is more apps supporting syncing via .Mac. The apps that I do add have to be configured to be the same on each of the three macs that I regularly use. This is a pain but certain apps (Smultron, What ToDo, TextExpander, Yojimbo) all allow some form of syncing via .Mac. This helps me keep my machines the same (both in terms of apps, preferences, and important data). Looking forward to using the new sync preferences in Leopard.

Still can't live without LaunchBar.

2007-10-29 02:00:58
I'm trying to stick with the defaults as much as possible, but LaunchBar is something I cannot live without anymore.
2007-10-29 03:06:06
Can't live without Sapiens and Sticky Windows.. sorry
2007-10-29 07:34:14
I love tweaking things. But having upgraded to Leopard if I loose some of them oh well. Really I need: Zooming feature turned on (usually is by default, not sure about Leopard - I clicked the On button so fast), Show tabs always in Safari, now terminal, List view in Finder by default, no HD's on desktop, the Debug menu in Safari, and now no 3d dock. There may be a couple more but Migration Assistant took care of it all. Oh and there are apps that run these commands for me, too. They really are only basic plist changes.
2007-10-29 10:53:04
" no HD's on desktop"

wow. it's been so long since I looked in the finder prefs, I didn't even know you could do this.

I love Butler, but I've heard Spotlight "may" be fast enough now that it isn't needed. Has anyone found Spotlight to have improved that much in Leopard? (my copy doesn't arrive till wed.)

Mihalis Tsoukalos
2007-10-29 13:57:09
I prefer to use the defaults like your friend.

2007-10-29 23:50:18
I remember a former coworker of mine that could barely function without his personal tweaked-out Emacs configuration.
2007-10-30 01:11:18
Giving examples would have helped quite the a lot - Without examples, well, this article is bit tasteless...
Michael (another one)
2007-10-30 10:05:39
I think your friend R is a very sensible man, Francois.

There are a few _changes_ I like to make--e.g.:

Shrink the Dock a little, as the default size is so big
Disable automatic login
Uncheck "Open 'safe' files after downloading"
"Show status bar" in Safari
Turn off automatic viewing of remote images in Mail

... and so on and so forth. But that's obviously not what you're talking about.

There are also a few changes I make through "defaults" -- e.g.:

defaults write NSPreferredMailCharset "UTF-8"

But that's what "defaults" is there for, and, again, I don't think that's what you're talking about.

Nor are you talking about installing third-party applications in general, as most of us add applications that do tasks we want. I've got Media Rage, NetNewsWire, Textmate, HoudahGeo, Skype, and a few others there.

This is about not installing things, such as application launchers, that change the standard workflow and--more seriously--about avoiding system modifications, which might not only change the way you work, but which could have potentially disastrous consequences:

Yup, from this point of view my Mac is pretty much a stock install. I'm with you and R.

2007-11-01 19:55:39
Thats reason #1 of why i use vim instead of emacs.
2007-11-01 20:00:29
actually, i live with the defaults on mac because the only ones i would consider worth changing are the purely ascetic ones. all the developers griping about apple breaking all their ascetic laws are feeling burn of not being able to change your theme without paying $30 or using unsupported software(like uno). i sure am, im heavly thinking of switching to linux. i just need to thing of how to get objective c over there. :-(

2007-11-03 07:47:50
While not (one hopes) much of a UI change, there is one OS X default I would recommend changing immediately and universally: turn on the firewall.

This reflects one of the (imho) greatest challenges in choosing defaults: they need to cover situations from home-with-printer-and-dialup to primary-livelihood-and-always-travelling. Perhaps it would be helpful to supply a few "profiles" for different user types. I exclude here the very technically inclined, who will customize their environment directly -- which returns us to the main thread here, regarding how much of this customization is a win.

2007-11-03 18:26:35
I wish Apple would pre-define the hot corners for Expose and activate all the mouse/klicking-things (e.g. touchpad tip for dragging windows).

Well, I can understand why this is per default off. New Windows Switchers would go frustrated with hot corners.

2007-11-03 20:00:55
The defaults, especially for people who demand a lot of their set-ups, can be downright terrible. In the past, i've been able to use the lowest common denominator (say, knowing that every machine will have minimal version of perl) to write bootstrapping scripts to tailor things to my preferences. Slap the script (with proper installers, apps, etc) on a flash drive, and you're good to go. It's just one more (short) step in the process.
Automation: it's what computers do.