Running on Air: Eric Lawson

Eric's home office setup

I first met Eric through this blog and a series of emails we exchanged about our computer needs. I shared some of my experiences and told him I had yet to run into any issues and I was using it as my primary computer. Eric explained what he did and I was intrigued that he was moving to the MBA and asked him to participate in the interview series.

1. Who are you? What type of business are you in?

I am a freelance data architect specialising in business intelligence solutions. In that role I define strategy, produce roadmaps and use Windows inside VMWare Fusion to create databases and code ETL. I also run a Tandem (HP) NonStop server running an ancient COBOL ETL suite. So its quite a mixed bag of design and coding tasks that I expect of my personal computing hardware.

2. Which model MacBook Air are you using?

I have been using a 2012 13-inch model with a 2ghz Intel Core i7 processor, 8 gb of RAM and a 512gb SSD for about a month now. So the highest spec possible at the moment.

3. Why did you select the MacBook Air over other Mac models?

I have been using various 15” Macbook Pro models over the last 5 years, the latest configured with 16gb of RAM, an SSD in the main drive bay and a 2nd large capacity 2.5” traditional disk in a caddy in the DVD bay. Most of my work was conducted with the MBP plugged into dual 24” cinema displays (now a single 27” Thunderbolt display).

The last 12-18 months has seen my career shift from less coding work into more design and increasingly I am travelling, so mobility is very important. The MacBook Pro is quite light considering what is packed inside but I began to find I couldn't take my computing kit and a small overnight bag on a train or plane without suffering aching shoulders and or getting all red faced (not ideal when arriving at a client site).

I knew the latest generation MBA had overcome the issues of earlier models (my wife had one of the 1st gen MBA’s) so I started some research a few months back (this blog was very useful - thanks Austin). I also had a serious look at why I needed to have a terabyte of onboard storage and 16gb of RAM. It turned out I didn't.

I have offloaded all my large Windows VM’s to external USB 3 drives and had a good cleanup of every other folder structure. I also use iPhoto Library Manager so I only keep about 6 months of media on board, then create a new library and archive the existing one. The new photo stream feature makes this process seamless.

The switch to the 13” MacBook Air has been brilliant. The reduced weight is really noticeable and it has to be the most luxurious piece of computing kit I have ever owned. When I am heading off to a customer site I just pop it into my Moshi sleeve and it fits into my messenger bag along with all the cables and bits (in a Cocoon Grid-IT) - plenty of room left for my lunch, headphones and power charger.

4. How are you using your MacBook Air to run your business?

My 27” Thunderbolt is the hub of my business computing platform. I have various G-Tech firewire drives connected to it (Time Machines, media archives & clones), plus other USB peripherals. Connecting and removing my MBA from this is very simple and quick.

To ensure business continuity Time Machine is useful for recovering document versions, but I rely heavily upon Carbon Copy Cloner and always carry a USB 3.0 SSD drive with a bootable clone of the crucial parts of my system.

Essentially I still operate as before, but everything is now much easier. My system runs as well and perhaps a bit better than on the 2012 15” MBP, although I suspect this is likely due ot the big clear out of non essential gubbins. The process has been a bit like down-sizing your house when the kids move out.

The main software packages I use for getting on with the job are

OmniGraffle Pro - this is a great bit of design / diagramming software that I use exclusively to communicate ideas from programmers through to senior executives.

VMWare Fusion 5 - this runs the production Windows clients I need and allows me to spin out new dev VM’s very quickly from baseline copies.

Keynote - delivering presentations using Keynote on a MBA is excellent. No worries about connecting to projectors, battery life (if no spare power points) and the iOS Keynote Remote app is a great addition.

Tweetbot, Pocket and Springpad - Research and networking via TweetBot is increasingly important to me and sending items into Pocket for reading later and filing of useful items in Springpad is very productive for me.

and recently Filemaker Pro 12 - this product is as different from SQL Server as you can get but its a great solution for SME’s and it gives me a good range of options.

5. Which has been the best thing about using your air to run your business?

The weight of the machine has put pleasure back into doing my work and this enables me to get my whole office into a small messenger bag.

To learn more about Eric check out his website here or you can follow him on twitter @ericjlawson.

Thank you so much Eric for taking the time. If you know anyone else who is using their MacBook Air to do something great please contact me.

Source: file:///Applications/

Running on Air: Mike Vardy

A few weeks ago I was listening to Mikes on Mic’s podcast, a great show on the70decibels network. The episode was with Cal Newport on his new book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You”. I had seen Mike Vardy’s blog post about regarding the book so I reached out to him to see if I could interview him. Mike Vardy is one of the “Mikes” of the name sake show. He is also just about to release a new book called “The Front Nine, How to start the year you want…anytime you want” which I am really looking forward to ! 

The Front Nine

The Front Nine

1. Who are you? What type of business are you in, what do you do?

I’m a writer, speaker, podcaster, and “productivityist” (which is a nice little portmanteua of productivity and enthusiast that I came up with). Other than having worked as an editor for Lifehack, The Next Web, and Work Awesome, you can find my writings around the web and everything else via my website,

2. Which model MacBook Air are you using?

I am using an 11-inch model with an 1.6 GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 4 GB of RAM, and a 128 GB SSD that came out in July 2011.

3. Why did you select the MacBook Air over other Mac models?

I downsized (at least in terms of girth) from my old MacBook Pro for a number of reasons, but the primary one was that my use cases had radically changed. I wasn’t doing much video editing anymore and was doing a lot more writing. And I knew I was going be traveling more. I wanted a notebook that had enough power for me to deal with the audio work I do (which basically boils down to editing the Mikes on Mics podcast using GarageBand and a variety of third-party apps) and also allowed me to be incredibly mobile. Essentially, I wanted a computer that was as efficient and effective, and I got it with this one.

4. How are you using your MacBook Air to run your business?

My MacBook Air is my main machine. I use it to write for my blog (with Byword) and I use it for longer form writing as well (I used Scrivener and Pages to assemble my latest book, due out this Autumn). I use Postbox for email, Evernote as a virtual filing cabinet (my wife and I keep a lot of shared notebooks in there now, for example), and I flip between OmniFocus and Asana for task and project management. The former is what I use for individual stuff and the latter is used for any collaborative projects.

Other apps I use to get my work done (other than the aforementioned GarageBand includes:

  • LaunchBar as my quick-launching app
  • Rdio for a variety of musical options for ambiance while I write
  • TextExpander to help my efficiency with email responses and commonly used phrases
  • Day One for journaling (very important for a writer)
  • HootSuite to manage my social media platforms
  • Buffer to share links
  • Instapaper to save links for later reading
  • Reeder to keep up with RSS (essential for the work I do in the land of productivity)
  • Fantastical to keep on top of my calendar (I use Google Calendar and Doodle as services to “build” my various calendars)
  • Hazel to keep things neat and tidy
  • Acorn for image manipulation
  • DollyDrive for backups
  • Dropbox and iCloud for syncing across platforms

There are others I use that indirectly help me with my work, but the ones I’ve mentioned are critical to keeping my workflow…flowing.

5. Which has been the best thing about using your Air to run your business?

The combination of power and portability in one package. I know that I can do anything I need to on my Air (as opposed to my iPad…although it is getting there). The versatility, portability and power that the MacBook Air possesses has made it my most valuable business tool – and the best computer I’ve ever owned.

Running on Air: Michael Schechter

One day when feeling overwhelmed by my email I started searching for other resources to help me reach Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero nirvana and came across this this post on a Better Mess. Michael Schecter did a write up explaining all the things Merlin does. From that point on I have been a huge fan of A Better Mess.

The site name stuck with me because many times I have felt like a mess and wanted and needed a way to get better. A few months later I started listening to Mikes on Mics to learn that Michael was one of the hosts.

I contacted Michael through the site contact form and he was gracious enough to participate in our series.

1. Who are you? What type of business are you in?

By day, I am the Director of Digital Sales and Marketing for Honora Pearls. A significant portion of my free time is spent working on my site, A Better Mess, as well as my Podcast, Mikes on Mics.

2. Which model MacBook Air are you using?

I’m still going strong with my late–2010, [13“ Air]3 with the 2.13 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 4GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. I still get envious when I see the keys light up on my wife’s 11” Air, but even with the recent performance bumps, I haven’t felt the need to upgrade just yet.

3. Why did you select the MacBook Air over other Mac models?

At the time I had been working on a 15“ MacBook Pro and I really wanted to kill some weight in my briefcase. I had some real concerns about making the switch. I work on a 27” Mac at work and was very used to having the extra real estate on both of my machines. It was an adjustment at first, but time and the introduction of full screen mode in Lion have made my MacBook Air my favorite environment for getting lost in my work (although I will admit that it can be a pain when wanting to work with two browser windows side-by-side). I also have massive iTunes and iPhoto libraries. Considering I was running up against the 356GB constraints of my Pro at the time, the drop to 256GB required me to rethink the way I manage my data. Now, all iTunes and iPhoto apps are stored on an external 1TB Western Digital drive that’s about the size of a deck of playing cards and has given my MBA plenty of room to breathe.

4. How are you using your MacBook Air to run your business? Well, for the sake of this interview, let’s limit this to the site and podcast. As I mentioned the majority of my weekdays are spent on a 27" Mac. However both of these Macs are very much aligned so I can do work for either aspect of my life from either machine.

I tend to use a lot of apps, so let me try and break it down to my essentials:

OmniFocus - This app keeps me sane and serves as the central nervous system for my professional and personal life. It has an amazing task clipper that makes it possible to create a task from just about anything on my Mac.

Mailplane - I love Gmail for its keyboard shortcuts, I hate it for its need to live in the browser. Mailplane essentially wraps Gmail in an application. It also plays nicely with OmniFocus making it easy to create tasks from emails along with a link back to the relevant message.

Fantastical - I used to despise my calendar. Entering even a single task was an awful experience. Fantastical on the other hand makes entering and searching your calendar simple. It’s only ever a keyboard command away and the natural language features (I.e. by typing “Lunch with my brother at 2pm at The Diner” will automatically be parses into a new entry) are amazing.

nvALT - Anything I write (with the exception of some larger Scrivener projects) lives here. nvALT is my repository for just about anything written from personal notes to project outlines. I also store the database in Dropbox so I can work from either one of my Macs and my iPhone.

Byword - Whenever I’m writing more than just a few lines, I will open whatever text file I’m working on in Byword. It’s a great focused writing environment with excellent tools for formatting in Markdown (the syntax I use for nearly all my projects).

Evernote - Whereas nvALT is my repository for text, Evernote serves as my storage for just about everything else. It’s my cold store system. I also use it to eliminate just about every scrap of paper from my life with the help of my trusty Fujitsu Scansnap.

TextExpander and Keyboard Maestro - While these are two very different apps, I use them in tandem. Whenever I have a repetitive piece of my workflow I always look for ways to speed things up using these two essential applications. They are ideal for geeks such as myself who obsess over workflow, but who lack the hard core coding skills required to truly make your system your own.

Dropbox - I mentioned this earlier, but there is no better way to keep essential files and preferences for many applications synced across several devices.

1Password - I have far too many accounts and all of them used to have the exact same password. Now, thanks to 1Password, I don’t know the password to any of them, yet can quickly fill them in from all of my Macs and iOS devices.

Skitch and Acorn - Since I have the design skills of… who am I kidding, I don’t have any design skills… but for the few times I need visuals, Skitch is great for capture and Acorn makes it easy for even the most unskilled of web designers to make something passable.

CrashPlan - as a recent victim of a home burglary, I can attest to the need for offsite backups. I’m just getting started with CrashPlan, but their seeded upload made it easy to securely backup massive amounts of data to the cloud without having to leave my MacBook Air running non-stop for months on end in order to do so.

Safari - Last but not least, I’ve been thrilled since I gave up my overwrought-with-extensions-browser-of-choice Firefox in favor of Apple’s own offering. I use very few extensions and have only a few bookmarks that allow me to quickly trigger things like sending posts to Instapaper.

5. Which has been the biggest advantage about using your air to run your business? (why has the air made that special)

Interoperability. I know that many people are moving to iOS for a substantial amount of their everyday tasks, but the lack of seamless integration between many apps has made this a non-starter (although I do a significant amount of my writing, including this post, on my iPhone). For slightly more bulk than my iPad, it’s possible for me to have essentially the same workflow I get on my office computer. And as a big user of apps like TextExpander and Keyboard Maestro, all of my little tricks add up to serious time saved.

Website URL:
Email address:

If you know someone who is running a business or using an Air to do something cool please have them send me an email or contact me on twitter.

Source: topsites://

UNOFFICIAL: Running on Air: Jason Fried

Last week Jason Fried co-founder of 37signals wrote a post about some of the new things he likes. One of his recommendations was the 11" MacBook Air. I reached out to Jason on twitter to try and secure an interview but I was not able to ( I am sure he is very very busy and there was no intended tone in that sentence.) But his comments were too good not to post for this series.

I recently switched from a 15” MacBook Pro to an 11” MacBook Air and I couldn’t be happier. The 11” Air is the best computer I’ve ever owned. Everything else is a distant second.

The first thing I noticed is Jason, like me, went down in screen size. He also has the money to buy anything he wants. He could have gone for a rMBP but did not. He selected the machine that fit his needs the most.

It’s my only computer. I do all my work on it. I code on it, I design on it, I browse on it, I run 37signals on it.

If this is not the best advertisement for what the MacBook Air series can do I am not sure what is.

I originally purchased an external monitor because I thought I’d need the extra space, but I’ve found I like the smaller screen of the 11”. I don’t use the external screen at all. The smaller screen keeps me focused and it’s the right size to run full-screen apps.
Jason Fried

Jason Fried

I personally purchased a full size monitor for extended periods of work at my desk. I have no issue using the machine when I am mobile or when I need a change of scenery in my house but perhaps I should have spent more time using Jason’s method of working.

If you’ve been considering an 11” Air, and you’ve been on the fence because you’re worried the screen is too small, take a chance and pick one up. You won’t regret it.

Completely agree

Thank you Jason for your insights !

If you know someone who is running a business or using an Air to do something cool please have them send me an email or contact me on twitter.

website: 37signals
blog: Signal vs Noise
twitter: Jason Fried

PS: Check out this article in the Aug 29th issue of Inc Magazine for more insights on how this company runs.

Running on Air: Steven Bradley

Are you aware of any designers, web coders who run their businesses on MacBook Airs? I do, meet Steven Bradley. Steven came up in my research looking for people take full advantage of their MacBook Airs. Steven is incredibly busy (see below) so I was thrilled when he agreed to be part of this series.

1. Who are you? What type of business are you in, what do you do?

Thanks for asking me to contribute Austin.

My name is Steven Bradley and I’m a freelance web designer and developer, building sites for micro businesses. Most of those sites end up on WordPress, though some end up on other platforms depending on the needs of a particular client or site.

In addition to the freelance design business I also own and operate a small business forum. And as if I wasn’t busy enough I blog regularly on my own sites and sometimes for others.

2. Which model MacBook Air are you using?

I have a 13 inch MacBook Air from late 2010 that I purchased in the spring of 2011. It’s a 2.13 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, with 4 GB of RAM, which was the maximum you could get at the time. It has the NVIDIA GeForce graphics card and is comfortably running OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion.

3. Why did you select the MacBook Air over other Mac models?

Prior to owning the Air I had been using a MacBook Pro and had assumed my next Mac would also be a Pro. When the Airs got a refresh in 2010 I knew I wanted one. The hardware design was gorgeous and design is a big reason I use Macs in the first place. I was also attracted to the portability the Air afforded given its size and weight. And I especially wanted an SSD drive. My only question was would it be powerful enough?

When it came time to get something new I went back and forth between an Air and a Pro. The Pro was more powerful and the Air was what I wanted. Then a couple of things dawned on me.

First, even though the Air was less powerful than a new MacBook Pro, it was still more powerful than the MacBook Pro I had been using for a few years.

Second, I realized that despite thinking I needed the most powerful computer I could get, may day was mostly spent in and out of ordinary text files. Most of my day is in a code editor working on .html, .css, js, and .php pages or working in a blog editor. If anything the bottleneck for me would be reading and writing to the hard drive, in which case the Air’s SSD drive was the better option.

The old MacPro is still working and serves as a backup machine, which is hopefully not needed. It also has Windows 7 loaded under Bootcamp to allow me to test websites in Windows, specifically in Internet Explorer.

Most of my day is now spent working happily on the Air.

4. How are you using your MacBook Air to run your business ?

The entirety of my business is through the Air. Everything I do is on the computer. As a web designer/developer and blogger, everything I ultimately create ends up online. Like most people I use a number of basic programs both professionally and personally.

  • Mail - for email
  • Adium - for instant messaging
  • Safari, Firefox, and Chrome - General browsing and testing websites
  • NetNewsWire - rss feeds
  • iTunes - I usually have music going while working
  • iPhoto - to store my images

For blogging I use:

  • MacJournal - to organize notes and drafts
  • MarsEdit - to edit, add formatting, and images, and then publish directly to WordPress
  • Scrivener - for larger writing projects
  • WordPress - my site and blog are self hosted WordPress installs

For designing and developing sites:

  • Keynote - for wire framing
  • Photoshop - for image work and more complete design images
  • Pixelmator - I’ve recently started to use Pixelmator to see if it can replace Photoshop for me
  • ColorSchemer Studio - When it comes to most anything color related
  • Coda 2 - my primary code editor
  • Sublime Text 2 - the code editor I’m testing
  • Codebox - to store code snippets

For the project management side of the business

  • Things - my to do app
  • Billings 3 - for invoicing
  • Calendar - to hopefully remind me of deadlines and keep me on schedule
  • Contacts - to manage my contacts
  • Text Edit - mostly to make notes on anything

I’m slowly integrating Notes and Reminders into my routine and also use Numbers when I need to do anything spreadsheet related. I’m also in and out of vBulletin, which is what powers my forum and another I help administrate. There are probably more applications that I use here and there, but these are the ones that I use all the time.

You can probably guess I like to play with software. I tend to install and try a lot of things to see what they can do and if they would provide some benefit to my business or life. At the same time I tend to use only a few applications all the time. An app like Contacts might only be opened once every few days or a week. Similar for some of the others listed here, though looking up I do make use of many of these at some point each day.

5. Which has been the best thing about using your air to run your business/create your product.?

The experience. That’s what convinced me to move to a Mac a few years ago. I’d see other designers presenting screenshots and screencasts and all I could think was how much more enjoyable their computers looked than mine. When it was time to get a new laptop I bought a Mac (a MacBook Pro) and started enjoying along with everyone else.

That’s only continued with the Air. It’s a joy to use. I flip it open every morning and it stays open until it’s time to call it a night. I’m one of those people who uses a laptop on my lap. The portability of the Air for me is less about being able to pack it up and take it on the go. It’s more about me being able to move it around the house, shifting it from a coffee table, to my lap, to a desk. Still it’s nice to be able to drop it in a backpack and take it with me when needed.

Where productivity is concerned the SSD drive has helped considerably. What I was afraid I might be losing in sheer power is made up far more by the quick read write times. Everything opens and saves faster. Apps boot up faster. The Air itself boots up faster. It wouldn’t surprise me if I save a half hour or more a day by not waiting on something to open or close.

Something I often forget until times like these is the keyboard. I type much faster on the shallower keys. Along the same lines the trackpad is the best I’ve ever used and I find myself taking more advantage of gestures all the time. It helps a lot when you can be productive with the inputs into your computer.

web address: Vanseo Design
My Small Business Forum forum
twitter: @vangogh