Getting The Most Out Of Your MacBook Air

The latest iteration of MacBook Air has proven to be very popular indeed, showing off incredible speed and beautifully engineered aluminium design. However, with the price of SSD drives still prohibitively high and the MacBook Air’s form not allowing a Superdrive, some who recently bought a MacBook Air may find themselves missing the ability to play DVD’s or store GB’s of media.

Below, we walk through the steps needed to get over these two hurdles and some more tips too.

Move Your iTunes Library To An External HDD

mba, now what? itunes HDD.jpg

If you can get by with just a minimal iTunes Library and supplement it with options like Spotifty, Rdio or then that’s great, but if you’re unwilling to part with a larger repository of local media, Apple make it quite easy to place your iTunes Library on an external hard drive, providing instructions for doing so here. Begin by making sure iTunes is not running and navigate to:

[User Name] > Music

Here you should see a folder named “iTunes” – just drag and drop the iTunes folder into a safe place on your external hard drive and let it copy. Once this has completed, launch iTunes, bring up “Preferences” and within the “Advanced” pane, you should be able to select your library’s new location.

Once you’re sure that all is working correctly and providing you have a full backup in place, you can now delete the iTunes folder off your Mac.

Share An Optical Drive

As we become less reliant on physical formats for media such as movies or music, the MacBook Air’s lack of Superdrive is not such a compromise than it was when Apple introduced the super-thin notebook. Still, some may find that they like the option there, just in case.

With a MacBook Air (or any recent Mac running OS X 10.4.10 or later), it’s easy to share another computer’s CD/DVD drive which is on the same local network. For instructions on setting up optical drive sharing on a Mac or Windows, head here.

Squeeze Out Each Moment Of Battery Life

The MacBook Air has very good battery life for a notebook computer but if you’re a road warrior and constantly away from home, you’ll want to maximise your productive time and there’s a few things you can do to achieve this:

Airport Settings


Navigate to your Network Preferences and untick the box marked “Ask to join networks” to prevent your Mac from scanning for new wireless points. In addition, if you do not need them, deactivate Bluetooth and Ethernet.

Backlit Keyboard

The backlit keyboard seen on the new model MacBook Air is great and doesn’t use all that much power but since we’re hoping to squeeze every last moment of battery life, head over to your Keyboard settings (located in System Preferences) and be sure to turn the backlight timer down to 5 seconds.

Energy Saver Settings

Make sure your MacBook Air’s screen brightness is set to the lowest you feel comfortable with and ensure that it sleeps within a couple of minutes of non-use.

Calibrate Battery

Apple recommends that you occasionally calibrate your battery in order to maximise its life. Click here for full instructions.

Setup Spaces or Mission Control

Whether you chose an 11 or 13 inch MacBook Air, your machine will be more than capable of getting serious work done. However, if you’ve got several applications open at once, that small screen can begin to feel a little crowded. Setting up a Desktop space for each class of application (word processor, web browser) will help give the impression of using a much larger monitor. OS X Lion and OS X Snow Leopard have different ways of handling spaces, so we’ll cover both below:

Snow Leopard


In order to manage Spaces effectively on Snow Leopard, open System Preferences and click on the “Expose & Spaces” preference pane, then make sure you are working under the “Spaces” menu. As you can see in the screenshot above, clicking on the small + will add an application to the list, from which you can then select the desired space. The user can also move between Desktops with a keyboard shortcut and set the number of Spaces to make available.



OS X Lion brings in a new style of handling spaces and it is one which may not be as intuitive on first use for Mac users used to older versions of OS X.

Navigate to System Preferences, then Mission Control to bring up the screenshot shown above. In order to keep more complete (and predictable) control over your Spaces, untick the “Automatically rearrange spaces based on most recent use” box. This done, your applications can be manually assigned a space by either placing them into your Dock or having them currently running.

To set which Desktop your Mac should launch individual applications, right-click the app in question and locate the “Assign To This Desktop” preference under “Options”. Since the application must be in your Dock to set this up, it can be a somewhat laborious process, though is very useful once complete.


There are a lot of other things you can do to maximise your MacBook Air’s usefulness, such as purchase a larger monitor, keyboard and mouse to transform it into a desktop machine, or use applications like Dropbox and Evernote to keep your files in sync – ensuring that a MacBook Air is more than competent to serve as your main computer, whether it’s needed for work or general web browsing.

Adam Williams

Adam Williams is a journalist from North Wales, regularly covering music and technology for websites such as Make Tech Easier, Mac.Appstorm, iPad.Appstorm and Fluid Radio, in addition to writing weekly content for Apple Magazine. Follow him or contact him on twitter here

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