New Mac -- clean install -- what apps make the transition?

For several years I’ve used Migration Assistant to set up new Macs, which means my software setup has been continuous for the past nine years. At least. Maybe 11. A long time.

However, last week I started a new job and they shipped me a lovely new MacBook Pro. And I decided I wanted to be more selective about what I moved over to the new machine. I’d move applications over one at a time, just when I needed them.

Here are some of the key applications that have made the cut so far: DevonThink, Things, Facebook Messenger, Drafts and iA Writer.

Alfred, Keyboard Maestro and PopClip have NOT made it onto the new machine yet, which surprises me, because I would have sworn as of two weeks ago that those applications were ESSENTIAL to my workflow. But it turns out I do not seem to need them. I probably will not install Fantastical, which I used daily for years.

I renewed TextExpander about two weeks ago, after going a couple of months without it. I’m not sure that’s the right decision; so far I have literally ONE text expansion! However, I’ll probably get some more and TextExpander is inexpensive so if it turns out renewing was an error I won’t shed any tears.

Configuring all the settings to my liking is simultaneously satisfying and frustrating. Right now I’ve got the new mail sound going off every time I receive a message, even if that message gets filltered out of the inbox, and that’s driving me batty because I’m expecting an important email and every time the dinger goes off, I think “Oh, is that it?!” and then I look at the number ticker on in my Dock and see nuttin’.

Until I got this new machine, I would have said a clean install is a waste of time. Just use Migration Assistant, I would have said. And Migration Assistant works great. But there’s something nice about starting with a clean install and only moving over what you need; it reduces brain clutter and eliminates inessential tools from the toolbox. In my life I’ve known a couple of people who lived in the country where real estate was cheap, and they bought a second house, moved to the new house and for a while they had two houses and moved their stuff from the old house to the new house in bits and pieces, only when they needed it.


I just did a similar thing with a new MBA last month and found it a good time to clean house. Most of my main apps made it back, but a lot of the random tweaks and menubar apps didn’t make the cut.

I also found replacing more of them with the Setapp version was easier & simpler too. I.e. rather than reinstall bartender from the direct purchase, I just used the Setapp version to keep track of it. I also replaced some of the menubar apps with Setapp equivalents. Overall I liked having fewer places to check for things (i.e. App Store, Setapp, then a bunch of individual download).

It was also nice to reset all of the system preferences. This was the first fresh install I’ve done in years, so some things were jarring (tap to click isn’t a default?!?!?), but overall I didn’t need to change too much.

Then a week later I sent it back and got a MBP instead, so just used migration assistant from my clean install to set up the new computer. It was much faster.

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I also did this with my stop-gap MacMini. I didn’t migration-assistant (is that a verb) from my Mac Pro, as that machine had been migrated from at least three or four machines previously.

It helps that the Mac Pro is still around, such that if something used to work there I can go back to it. But after making a list of essential apps, I’ve found no need to go back to the old install.

Apps that made the cut (leaving out photography, CAD/design apps and backup utilities): Arq, Bartender 3, A Better Finder Rename, Daisy Disk, Silentknight, SoftRAID.

I also installed Hazel, but haven’t worked with it yet.

No Alfred!? I install that first to save time installing all the other stuff.

I like starting a work machine from scratch as well. It has a different purpose, even if it’s similar to freelance work. If I got a replacement work machine, I’d certainly copy over from the old one because their purposes would be identical.

One thing I do differently is bash prompts as I set them to provide different contexts at work and home. I put more information in the personal prompts since I look at what I’ve left open a lot less often. At work, we do more with git branching, so I show some extra data along those lines.

I run OF with the same database on my work and personal laptop and show a totally different set of perspectives in the sidebar. And I’ve got Sublime text installed with different licenses. Other than that, the set of apps are different.

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If a macbook, then definitely Bartender.

Absolutely essential is either:


  • Amphetamine
  • 1Password (or whatever pw keeper you use)

Bartender is, surprisingly, another app that did not make the cut. Same for Setapp as a whole.

Copied, on the other hand, was an early install. It’s a clipboard manager similar to Flycut or Jumpcut.

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Totally agree. I did a similar thing recently. Similar set of apps funny enough. DEVONthink 3, Keyboard Maestro, Ulysses, Mellel, Bookends, Final Draft, Houdah Spot which is new actually on this one and works really for me with Alfred to search, I love it I only wish it still could look through Mail; Bartender, Last Pass, Backblaze and Clean my Mac. I have keycue but am going to probably unistall, my new streamlined mac needs less shortcuts and I know them moslty by now. It is a good app and I recommend it though. I have Pages and so on of course. I dropped a lot of apps.
I really think that is all I need, I get a lot of use out of native apps, more than I used to. I am still using my old MacBookPro with even less apps on it.

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I’m using Cheatsheet rather than KeyCue.

Neither Cheatsheet nor Keycue is much help for global keyboard shortcuts but I think I’ve found a brilliant workaround: Write out the global keyboard shortcuts on a sheet of paper that’s visible when I’m working at the keyboard. D’oh!

KeyCue certainly does.

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Hmmm… .I’ll have to take another look. As I recall it does some globals but not all.

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Confirmed. Keycue does some global shortcuts, but not all.

Apparently, it does system global shortcuts but not app-specific shortcuts.

ah, I did feel somehow that somethings were missing. I hadn’t pinned it down on KeyCue. I did find the app useful for a time I have to say.

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Which global ones are missing?

As for app-specific shortcuts, that’s its reason for existence, and it’s far more comprehensive in apps supported than the free Cheatsheet utility. I’m not sure what you mean.

It doesn’t show global keyboard shortcuts for apps that run in the background, like Amethyst or Drafts.

However, I just discovered an area where you can add your own custom keyboard shortcuts, so that’ll work.

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I will be doing the same later this week. Gave my son for college my 2016 MacBook Pro and ordered one of the new ones for myself.

Off the top of my head these will definitely be installed first: OmniFocus, DEVONThink, Keyboard Maestro, Sublime Text & Merge, TexLive, and Anki.

Everything else will be re-thought. Looking to simplify and rely more on Apple native than 3rd party.

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Hmm no Alfred when it can replace clipboard managers and textexpander? And cheatsheet with this workflow?

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@dfay Alfred may yet make it back. I’m finding the Copied app, for clipboard management, is a bit flaky on Catalina. If this continues, I’ll be looking for a replacement. That replacement might be Alfred, Keyboard Maestro – or Paste.

I like a clipboard manager that syncs between iPhone, iPad and Mac. OTOH, Copied has never done that for me (though it’s supposed to) and I’ve lived without it so far.

And something like Paste can also meet my (possibly meager) needs for text expansion.

The Alfred Menu Search workflow can be replaced with Cdm-?.

The big decision this morning was re-installing SetApp. I found I missed iStat Menus, particularly seeing the day and date in the menu bar. However, SetApp is still on month-to-month for me; I haven’t gone for the annual subscription.

And I switched TextExpander from annual to monthly billing.

Do Amythyst or Cheatsheet show shortcuts for apps in the background?

I don’t think Cheatsheet does. I’m liking KeyCute (which I have used before). New customization features are great.

Amethyst is a completely different kind of app. Window manager, not a shortcuts reminder system.

Okay but I guess a little confused by the dissatisfaction with it then. Maybe you forgot the app works by showing all shortcuts available but only when they’re available.