My Two Computer Setup

September 29, 2015
IMG_4461

For the last three and a half years of freelancing, I have used my 15” Retina MacBook Pro as my primary work machine. I had an external 24” monitor when I worked at my home office, but the majority of my work happened on the laptop.

About a month ago, in an effort to extend the life of my MacBook Pro, as well as have a larger screen to work off, I purchased a 27″ 5k Retina iMac and began my two computer setup.

Overall, the process of setting up and working from two computers has been incredibly smooth. I initially wanted to start the new computer with a clean install to avoid any extra files/settings that would come with mirroring my laptop’s machine, but for time reasons I ended up setting up the iMac from a Time Machine back-up. Although it likely did bring along some files, applications, etc. that I did not need, it made the initial setup so easy. I was up-to-speed within minutes. Below is a summary of the tools/techniques that have made the process easy, as well as some of the frustrations I have found along the way.

What makes it possible

Dropbox

Not surprisingly, Dropbox is the key player in making this setup work. I store all of my files on Dropbox, so the transition from working on one machine to the next is pretty seamless. I also include my Documents and Sites folder in Dropbox, so almost everything is synced between machines.

Evernote

I use Evernote for all of my project notes, website inspiration, etc. This makes moving between machines extremely seamless as well because all of my project notes are always up-to-date on both.

iCloud

The syncing of calendar events, reminders, etc. using iCloud is also essential for this setup.

Web-Based Applications

Many of the services/applications I use now are web-based. For example, I use Freshbooks for all time tracking, invoicing, etc. and use Basecamp for project coordination with many clients. By having as many services online as possible, it naturally keeps them in sync with one another.

Some minor frustrations

SuitCase Fusion 6

I use SuitCase Fusion for my font library. It’s hard to believe, but they offer no way to sync font libraries between machines. Suitcase Fusion 6 offers a feature to back-up your font library to Dropbox, but then you manually have to update it on the other machine—not very useful. I still find it hard to believe there isn’t a better font management tool out there, but this appears to be the best. Every time I add a new font on one machine, I need to remember to add it to the other machine to make sure it is there if I were to open a file with it in the future.

Updates

Application and software updates are always kind of annoying and now I have to do them twice—once for each machine. Not a big deal though.

Local Development

I use MAMP to develop WordPress sites locally before moving them to WPEngine or another host. There are a few articles about syncing MAMP databases between computers, but even after following their directions closely, I ended up having issues where the database would get erased or loose data when working between machines. At this point I’ve decided to just do the local development on my iMac.

Notifications

Very minor, but it usually takes 30-60 seconds after opening my laptop for it to sync everything, so in the meantime any reminders, notifications, etc. that I have completed or click out of while working on my iMac display.

Music

Most of the music I listen to is on Spotify, but I do still have some music within iTunes. I just realized I added some music to my iTunes library on the iMac this week, but don’t have it on my laptop now as I travel.

There have definitely been a few of those moments over the past few weeks as I realize something wasn’t on one of the machines that I thought was, but in general the process has been pretty seamless and hasn’t disrupted my workflow much. I love the power and screen size of the iMac and the flexibility that the MacBook Pro provides.

If you are thinking about switching to the two computer setup, I’d love to answer any questions you have from my own experience. Hit me up on Twitter @andrewpautler. If you already have a two computer setup and have some tips, I’d love to hear those too!

Andrew Pautler

Posts

2 responses to My Two Computer Setup

  1. The 27″ 5k is amazing, isn’t it? I have one at work and it took me (and my eyes) a while to adjust to it, but it’s great to work on.

    Regarding font management, it’s not surprising. Suitcase is still great at font management, but the need to install fonts on multiple computers is still something that addresses font licensing, which in many cases is based upon number of users, where “users” actually mean “computers”. It’s a hard concept to really work around while still using sort of an honor system about it. If font piracy wasn’t such a major concern still, I’m sure font management could and would be smoother between personal machines. :)

    Had a thought on the music — have you thought about just adding new iTunes music to your laptop, and then sharing the laptop library with your iMac so you only need to house the music files on one machine? Not sure if that makes sense or if that would be a better solution.

    Anyway, sweet setup, Andrew! :)

  2. You could ditch the two keyboards and use one mouse and keyboard to control both systems.

    There are hardware KVM options, but I’ve found Synergy to be the most effective: http://synergy-project.org/