in mac os, review, tip

Never share a user account, but if you do…

There’s an ongoing struggle in my household. I don’t want to use any names…but if it weren’t for my tireless, unrelenting efforts to keep my iMac (which is shared by one other person) free of desktop clutter, there would now be a virtual sea of files cluttering our desktop. You might never guess I was an organized person if you happened to open my sock drawer, but I keep the Mac lean and clean. The only icons I prefer to see on my desktop are mounted drives. To be fair, I drive my wife crazy (ok it’s my wife, but I won’t use her name) with some of my user habits because I can’t leave the Mac alone. I’m always installing things, deleting things, moving things, changing things … above all, I like to test out third party mac software.

So, you may ask, why on earth do we share one user account on our primary Mac? It’s not the recommended way to do business. The preferred solution is to create separate user accounts; this is more secure and it gives you the freedom to organize your own workspace just how you want it. But I maintain there is at least one scenario when a shared account makes sense — when you have a Mac that always stays at home and you and one other person you completely trust are using it to share the same pool of data.

We share the same music library, the same iPhoto library … we share pretty much all of our data. For several years, we managed seperate accounts, but I grew weary of constantly dropping and dragging files and folders back and forth. We had iPhoto and iTunes set up for sharing, but this requires one to be logged in to both accounts to access the others shared photo/music content. Much of the mail we receive is for both of us. It just seemed easier to combine the two.

Would I recommend this arrangement? Again, and this is critical: only if you completely trust that one other person and you can live with different user habits on one account. For me and my wife, life is just easier using one account, despite our different organizational styles. I’d venture to guess that no one would really recommend this set up, but it’s good for us. Here are a few of the ways we make it work. Even if you don’t share an account, this list may provide you with some fresh ideas.


1. Admin or Standard account?

We set up our shared account up with ‘Standard’ user privileges and then created a separate Admin account. This is a good practice, even if you don’t share an account. If you want to learn more about user accounts, check out this affordable E-book from TidBITS.

2. IC-Switch and DeliBar

We prefer to use different browsers and news readers, so we use IC-Switch. This free little Menu Bar application allows us to quickly toggle between default internet applications. I also use a Menu Bar application called DeliBar that allows me to view my stored online bookmarks (via my account) right in my Menu Bar. I like managing and storing my bookmarks online because it enables me to access my favorites in any browser, and in any location. If you like Menu Bar items, by the way, check out this list.

3. Documents folder

We created three main subfolders within our Documents folder: one for me, one for my wife, and one for shared items such as our finances. We did the same for our Pictures folder (for those images that we do not want to manage from within iPhoto). We use color labels to easily identify our folders at a glance e— my folders are labeled with red, my wife’s are purple, and folders with shared documents are gray.

4. Alternate keyboard languages

Things are a bit more complicated for us because I use the Dvorak keyboard layout and my wife uses Qwerty. Solution? We set up our Mac with both languages via the ‘International’ system preference (System Preferences > International > Input Menu). We then checked the option to ‘Show the Input Menu in menu bar’ so we have a nice visual way to see what language is currently active. Finally, we established a key combination to quickly toggle between the two input languages (this option is also available in the Input Menu).

5. The Dock

I don’t really use the Dock, but my wife does. She also uses Spotlight, and I never do. I use Launchbar to launch applications and navigate around the Mac (a free alternative is QuickSilver); DragThing is my preferred ‘Dock replacement.’

6. Finder

My wife uses Finder and I use PathFinder. This works out well — she can set up Finder just how she likes it and I can set up PathFinder with my personal preferences. If you’ve never tried PathFinder, by the way, give it a spin. I couldn’t live without it. Some people say, though, that it has too many features and options.

7. Web browsing

I use Firefox when I’m doing webwork and OmniWeb when I’m just having fun. My wife prefers Safari.

That’s about it. One final note: I recently downloaded the trial for a program called Hazel from NoodleSoft. This little program automates file organization, manages trash, monitors and organizes folders, and more. It’s very clever and quite easy to use. I think this may be a great new tool to help me and my wife manage our shared account.

  1. The only drawback I’ve found with using seperate accounts is that when you want to quickly look up something, you have to fast-user switch to your account. As they are password protected (so that our son does not accidently switch to our accounts, he has his own), this takes a few seconds. We would not be able to share accounts as mine is a backup environment for my laptop.

    About Spotlight: I’m now relying on it almost exclusively since I’ve switched to Leopard. I used to use QuickSilver, but I don’t anymore. For anything more complex that application launching or document finding, I use Butler, which I find works really great.

    By the way, how do you share iPhoto libraries? Do you use .Mac?

  2. I’m surprised to hear that you gave up QS for Spotlight. I used Butler for a long time, but I seemed like it took up a lot of resources. For iPhoto, I share my photos via my local network only, and I don’t use .Mac (I’m not a subscriber). I actually don’t find that I need to share iPhoto libraries very often.

  3. About QS: I gave it up for basically two reasons: it’s not updated anymore, and Spotlight’s performance has improved considerably since Leopard. QS would take too much RAM when I tried to index my whole home folder, so I had to restrict it to some subdirectories and it would not be as pervasive. With Spotlight, I don’t see this problem. I use Butler mainly for other things: opening bookmarks, controlling iTunes, web searches (I have some keystrokes that pop up a window to do French to Italian or Italian to French web translations that I use regularly, for instance). I also used the clipboard history, but it’s broken with Dvorak-Qwerty Command 🙁 (I contacted Many Tricks about this but haven’t had an answer yet.)

    About iPhoto, I had completely overlooked that option. I’ll definitely have to look at it in more depth, as I only have a small subset of the library on my laptop (the main library is on our home machine).

  4. As your joint account user, I would have to say that this latest arrangement is our best by far. Of course, the ultimate best will be when I have my own Mac with enough speed and memory that I can do my thing, and not worry about messing up your obsessively spartan Desktop! ; P

    Just for the record, everything on the Desktop right now is yours, Honig . . .
    – Troy’s Wife (TW)

  5. brab: last time I used Butler it was Peter Maurer software – I’ll have to give it a try again; I’ll also send in a complaint! Many Tricks is an apt name for this software — it’s a bit hard to learn, but as I recall it was very versatile. I have to say that I really enjoy Launchbar, though. I’m still learning some of it’s ‘many tricks’ as well.

    TW: Hello TW, I’m all for getting another Mac! That means you’ll no longer need to use the iMac, right?

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