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It is not uncommon these days for people to have two or more Macs. The most common scenario is a desktop Mac and a portable Mac. Perhaps it's a Mac at work and a Mac at home. Up until recently my situation was a little different. I've had several Macs over the years and have usually had two or more Macs in my home, but in my case the Macs were used for specific purposes. My "main" Mac is a MacBook Pro and has been since the MacBook Pro was introduced. I have a Mac Mini that is my OS X Server. I have a dedicated iMac as an iTunes/media server. I have a Mac Pro that is my video editing Mac. In the past I used my "main" Mac as "my computer" and the others were used for doing certain projects or jobs. So I never really had email setup on my Mac Pro. Nor did I use the iMac for word processing or spreadsheet work, etc. I also really didn't use it to surf the web. It (the Mac Pro) was for Video editing of large projects. 


The tale of Two MacBooks

While I love the power and speed of my MacBook Pro, I've always been envious of the MacBook Air. It offered the promise of a really lightweight computer that I could use for just about everything except the heavy lifting of my day job, which is demoing high in Adobe Creative Suite products. The MacBook Air traditionally just didn't have enough memory, storage, CPU power, graphics power, etc. to be my "main" computer. Yet there are certainly times I could use this computer for day to day web, email, iTunes, blogging, and just about anything else short of a full blown Creative Suite 5 demo. Sure, the MacBook Air can run the Creative Suite 5 Apps, but it's the lack of RAM (4GB Max) that makes it challenging to have multiple large applications open at once. Also the Core 2 Duo processor is a litle under powered for this task on a regular basis. While I would love to use my iPad 2 for this "second computer", it's just not there yet in terms of the Apps I would need and if I add a physical keyboard for typing long docs/blog posts (like this one), then I might as well have an Air. Yep, I just sat there admiring the MacBook Air from a distance. Well that was up until recently. 

I started justifying a MacBook Air purchase for my "personal" use. I figured that it would be great for travel when I'm just going to a meeting. It would be great around the house when I don't need the most power, but need more than what an iPad can do. It would just be great to have one. See, I just justified it to myself. That wasn't hard at all. I want one! 🙂 The other problem and probably the thing that has kept me from doing this sooner was not wanting to have to manage files between TWO "main" computers. I didn't want to be frustrated by not having the file I needed because it was on the computer I didn't have with me. This is when I started looking at today's solutions to this problem and I realized that this is very doable now with what's out there today! Here's how I solved this problem and it wasn't as hard as I thought it would be:


Email, Calendars, Web Bookmarks, Contacts, Widgets, System Prefs, Dock icons

Of course I want access to all of my most commonly used data on either computer at any time. Luckily all of my email accounts are IMAP based (as opposed to POP3 based) and therefore email isn't an issue between my computers or mobile devices because it's in the cloud (on a server). If I read, delete or file mail on one computer it is marked read, filed or deleted off all computers/devices. For calendars, Dashboard Widgets, System Prefs, Transmit FTP favorites, System Prefs and contacts I use MobileMe to sync them between devices. It also handles Safari bookmarks, but I use Google's Chrome as my default browser. As luck would have it, Chrome supports syncing of bookmarks wirelessly and automatically between computers too. I also manage my RSS feeds with Google and therefore I can view them on any device and as I read them they are marked read on all devices.



Music was sort of an issue since iTunes doesn't offer true "syncing" between computers. Luckily I was able to solve this with SuperSync and sync the playlists I wanted from my iMac iTunes server to both MacBooks. The only thing that I don't have in both places is iOS Apps. You have to sync them to one computer at a time and I use my MacBook Pro for this. Since iOS devices can update their Apps on the devices themselves as needed, this hasn't been a problem.



I knew that Applications wouldn't be a real issue as I would just install the ones I needed on the MacBook Air. Since most software companies allow you two installs per licence, this hasn't been a problem. It's also cool that Apps downloaded/purchased from the Mac App Store can easily be installed on both Macs directly from the Mac App Store app. Also since I don't really do a lot of App installing it was really a one time thing and I haven't looked back.


Documents & Photos

Now it's time to take a look at the biggest problem of having two or more Macs and that is "Dude, where are my documents?" Each Mac and each user account on each Mac has it's own Documents folder. Mac OS X doesn't offer a great way of syncing these folders natively. If you have a MobileMe account you can accomplish this by putting your documents on your iDisk and syncing your iDisk to your desktop. However, I've found the iDisk to be too slow for this kind of daily use. Especially if you work on large documents. My solution here is gives you a FREE 2GBs of space in their cloud. When you install Dropbox on your Macs, PCs or mobile devices, you will have access to the same Dropbox folder on all of your devices. While I appreciate the 2GBs of FREE space, I went with their paid option of 100GBs. I added up close to 50GBs of documents that I would want on both MacBooks and while there is a 50GB option, I didn't want to constantly be hitting the ceiling. With 100GBs of space I have room to play. Also Dropbox does syncing over your LAN, which makes it MUCH FASTER to keep multiple "Document (Dropbox)" folders in sync. I was easily able to move documents, Lightroom catalogs and websites that I author into my Dropbox folder for access on either computer. While I don't really use iPhoto, I put my iPhoto library in my Dropbox Pictures folder and it works GREAT between the two MacBooks.

Speaking of devices, it seems that more 3rd party iOS Apps work with Dropbox these days than iDisk too. The Free App for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch is here on the iTunes


Lastly, what about Passwords?

While you can sync your Mac OX Keychain between Macs with MobileMe, that doesn't help you with iOS devices. My favorite solution is 1Password for not only maintaining my site passwords, but also account/financial information, software serial numbers and more. The best part is that it syncs your encrypted data file with Dropbox so that you have access to it on all your Macs as well as 1Password for iOS.


How's it working?

I've had the MacBook Air 13" for a couple of months now and it's GREAT to have my choice of either Mac to take depending on what I'm doing. I've taken it on the road a couple of times now for trips that were just meetings and it's been a dream to travel with and work on those small airline tray tables. What really makes this setup a total success is the combination of MobileMe and I would NEVER want to give up either one. 

Maybe iPad 4 will be the answer to my "2nd main computer", but for now I'm a happy 2 MaBook, iPad 2 and iPhone 4 user with all my data in sync and accessible between all my devices.

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4 Responses to Using Two Macs

  1. Robert d. says:

    I use the almost the exact products you do. I still have issues with music and iTunes. I am going to look into the latest Supersync. It didn’t do everything I wanted in earlier iterations but I am going togive it another try based on you r recommendation. Perhaps I need to change my personal requirements!

    I wish Apple would just buy Dropbox and then the silliness with iDisk would vanish.

  2. jr says:

    What applications allow you to use 2 installed licenses? I’ve never heard of that before unless you’re referring to a backup copy. However, I always thought that the backup copy was for archive purposes and not to be used concurrently with the actual purchased license.

    Also, being a stickler for clarity, there’s a spelling mistake in the Documents & Photos section; the word “dcouments” is misspelled.

    Overall, good article. I’m in the market for a MacBook Air and you’ve pretty much sold me on it. Thanks!

    • Terry White says:

      For one any of the Adobe products allow the application to be installed on two computers (not used concurrently). Secondly, any Apps from the Mac App Store can be installed on as many Macs as YOU own.

  3. Debroah Gabaldon1 says:

    Informative analysis , For what it is worth , if somebody is requiring to merge PDF or PNG files , my colleague came upon notice here