Setting up a New Mac on a College Budget


It’s funny how buying Macs becomes contagious. Since I bought mine, several friends and family have come into the fold. A few months ago, my sister told me she intended to buy a MacBook for each of her college age children. She enlisted me to help her. I was tasked with purchasing and setting them up so they could hit the ground running on Christmas morning. Now the pressure was on with this assignment because my brother in law is a PC wizard. There aren’t many things that can go wrong with a PC that Dr. Tom can’t sort out. Here is a guy that take’s PC’s apart when he is bored. So here I am with my sister “corrupting” his own children on Macs. It would be like General Lee’s kids going off to fight for General Sherman.

Anyway, I braved the crowd and went to the Apple store the day after Thanksgiving and took advantage of Apple’s one day $100 off deal for the MacBooks. I also bought a family pack of iWork (Reviews - Pages, Numbers, Keynote) and the AppleCare warranty for both machines. Finally I bought a Microsoft Office Student pack. This last bit wasn’t really that necessary but Microsoft had an incredible deal on Black Friday allowing me to get the program for $50 with a free upgrade to Office 2008. If it had not been for that deal, I would set them up with iWork and NeoOffice.

So I got these shiny white machines home and had a great deal of fun setting them up. In addition to iWork and Office I installed several programs built around the college budget ... meaning free or darn near free.

Web Browsing and RSS

For web browsing I set them up with Safari and Firefox. Safari got Inquisitor. Safari without Inquisitor is like a Ferrari with no gas. I also installed Vienna, a great RSS reader but lately I’ve been liking Google Reader so much that I set that up for them as well.


For Mail I set them up with and the Mail Act-On plugin. Read the Review Here.


This is my favorite free MenuBar application. Easy to use and really helpful to anyone that writes. Read the review.


I got them student licenses for OmniOutliner which only cost $25. I really wish Omni had been around back when I was in college.


They both have big DVD collections and iPods. This was a no brainer. On the subject of video support, Flip4Mac and Perian are almost mandatory for anybody that wants to watch web video.


This is a great little app for making quick adjustments or watermarks on graphics files


Bootable backup on a budget.


This is another application on my Mac that I just couldn’t live without. If you haven’t heard of it, 1Password allows you to track all sorts of passwords, web logins, and other data you want to keep secret. Read the review here.


A great, free all purpose instant message client.


I actually prefer OmniFocus for task management but we were on a budget and iGTD has more then enough horsepower for college. Read the review here.

Tech Support Tools

It is inevitable that I will be doing tech support on these machines so I installed Disk Inventory X, iStat, and MainMenu. I’ll be installing Onyx when they get the Leopard compatibility sorted out.

In addition to the above applications, I also set up their iLife applications by loading the address book with my nice relatives and a few crazy ones. I left the fruitcake relatives out. I set up a few iPhoto events and even set up their iCal calendars.

I also put a folder in their dock with some choice screencasts from MacSparky and a few from Don McAllister to get them started. If they show enough interest, I’ll probably end up buying them memberships from Don’s website for their birthdays.

I also picked widgets and wallpapers specific to their personalities. If you haven’t already, check out for just about any type wallpaper you can think of. It was a blast setting the computers up for them so when they unwrapped them Christmas morning they simply opened the lid and found them ready to go. I’m happy to report that less than one week after Christmas, they are both already confirmed switchers. I’ve already had a few iChat screensharing sessions with them to fix a few hiccups and just love how easy it is to help them out.

So what are you "Must Have" applications on a new Mac?