Dan Frommer’s Sweet Mac Setup

Who are you, what do you do, etc…?

I’m Dan Frommer, based in Brooklyn NY, but always a Chicagoan at heart.

My main gig since 2005 has been writing about technology news, particularly from a business angle. My most recent project is SplatF.com, a site I started by myself in July, 2011, and hope to be working on forever. Right now it’s a mix of news analysis, reporting, data mining, chart porn, and link aggregation. In the future, who knows what it’s going to turn into. (I’m also, more recently, Editor at Large for a larger tech site called ReadWriteWeb.)

Before that, I helped start a site called Silicon Alley Insider in 2007: A New York-centric tech site that kept growing and morphed into Business Insider, which is now a huge and popular general-purpose news site. I started writing professionally at Forbes, writing about Internet infrastructure and telecom. I’ve also been a part- to full-time web designer since 1995, and I helped work on a few now-defunct Mac sites in the mid-to-late 90s.

What is your current setup?

Dan Frommer's Sweet Mac Setup

I work mostly from a home office in Brooklyn, but I do a fair (and increasing) amount of travel. My main rig is a 2009 quad-core iMac, 27 inches, with an old 24-inch secondary Dell screen (not pictured) that we use to watch videos on from a different angle. I prefer a wired keyboard to wireless (same for mice when I used them) but I’ve gotten used to the Magic Trackpad. My desktop image is an aerial photo of lower Manhattan that I shot out of the window of a plane a few years ago.

I also have a 13-inch MacBook Air for cafes and travel and an old Mac mini hooked up to my TV in the living room. Around the house, I also have a bunch of old Macs collecting dust, including my “Windtunnel” G4 tower (dual-DVD drives!) from 2003 and some old PowerBooks. And an Apple II floppy drive that Steve Wozniak autographed for me.

As far as post-PC living… I have an old iPad 3G, which I’ll be replacing with the new iPad whenever it comes out. And my current smartphone is a factory-unlocked iPhone 4S, which I bought to experiment with overseas SIM cards during my travels this year.

Oh, I also have one of those fake-plastic-grass charging stations, which I mostly use to add some color and life to my desk. Love it.

Why this rig?

I bought the 27-inch iMac soon after they first came out because the screen was just amazing. (It still is.) On most days, it’s still fast enough that I haven’t felt the urge to replace it. Though having the SSD boot drive on my Air has really changed my perception of how quick a Mac should be, so maybe this year I’ll pick up a new iMac with an SSD boot drive, depending on how things go. (I’m in no hurry.)

I started with the 11-inch Air but gave it to my wife after I spent a little time with the 13-inch model. The extra screen size and battery life on the 13-inch is well worth the extra bulk to me, especially considering how light it is relative to my old 13-inch plastic MacBook. The MacBook Air is really the laptop I’ve always wanted but never had: Light enough to take everywhere and not secretly hate it for making my bag heavy. I was so excited about the 12-inch PowerBook G4 when I got it in 2005 but it was always so heavy that I never really took it anywhere. The Air is really magical.

What software do you use and for what do you use it?

I was really into little hacks and automation and shortcut-type stuff in MacOS 8 and 9, but after switching to OS X in 2001, I’ve tried to use as much of a stock install as I can. It’s nice to keep things simple, I think.

Most of my work is in Chrome, using WordPress for SplatF and Movable Type for ReadWriteWeb. I also use TweetDeck almost all day (the old, Adobe AIR version; like it more than the new one so far). I have Photoshop Elements, Fireworks, and Acorn for graphics stuff, but I don’t do much that’s more elaborate than cropping and resizing images, and maybe adding a little text to them. For photos, I mostly use Image Capture and the Finder to organize them. I do a lot of charts for SplatF, and almost all of that is done in Numbers from the Mac App Store. Other than that, I use Adium for IM and Mail for email.

I’m still running Snow Leopard on my main iMac — haven’t felt the need to upgrade — but have Lion on my Air. It’s… okay.

The old Mac software I miss the most was an app called Hotline, which was most popular around 1998-1999. It was a cool mashup of FTP, IRC, and newsgroups, and there was a great community. I spent hundreds of hours on Hotline in high school, and then a lot of time on Carracho, a Hotline successor. But I don’t think any of that stuff still exists.

How does this setup help you do your best creative work?

My main job is to find and sift through endless streams and piles of information, so being able to have 2 or 3 windows open at the same time, large enough to see a bunch of data, is why I love the big iMac so much. At Business Insider, I had a second 24-inch screen open to TweetDeck all day, but I don’t really like multi-screen setups. I’m really big on symmetry. During baseball season, sometimes I’ll prop up my iPad next to me to keep the Cubs game on, because the iOS version of MLB’s stream is better than the Flash-based web version.

How would your ideal setup look and function?

My desk is pretty big, but once I move in a few months I might investigate some sort of hybrid sit-stand system. I really like standing, and feel like a jerk sitting around all day. Other than that, I’d just like to always have the biggest screen that makes sense to have. If Apple made a 42-inch iMac, I’d probably buy one.

I like having separate desktop and laptop computers so that I can leave my desktop on all the time (acting as a home server of sorts) and keep a subset of my data on my laptop. Most of my work is on the web so I don’t really care about syncing.

I’m blown away by how efficient, quick, and quiet Macs are these days. When I was home over the holidays, I booted up my old IIci and my old Performa, and the CPUs were both so big, so heavy, and so loud for the little processing power they provided.

More Sweet Setups

Dan’s setup is just one in a series of sweet Mac Setups.

Dan Frommer’s Sweet Mac Setup