Uses This

A collection of nerdy interviews asking people from all walks of life what they use to get the job done.

A picture of Max Howell

Max Howell

Developer (Homebrew)

in developer, mac, windows

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Max Howell. Ten years ago I created Homebrew, the package manager for Mac (and since then, Linux too). I am currently Chief Product Officer at Candor USA, a SaaS company aiming to democratize and simplify the US health insurance industry for all people, be they individuals needing benefits, companies providing those benefits or brokers selling those benefits.

I'm British by birth and have been in the US seven years. My career has pretty much always been in tech startups, but I did a stint at Apple a few years ago.

What hardware do you use?

I have a 2018 13" MacBook Pro, i7 16GB. I don't want the bulk of a 15" but have an LG 5K to plug in when I need real estate. I upgrade quite often, as I compile a good deal of Swift and the faster the CPU, the better.

I try to keep things minimal with hardware, probably because I used to develop Linux open source and (at the time, at least) if you had any hardware not on the list you were in for a world of pain.

I'm pretty vested in Apple at this point. I also have an iPhone that I upgrade every year, partly because I find cases gross and after 12 months it's almost certain I've dropped it and the screen will be (at least partly) bust.

At home I have a wall mounted gaming PC. At the time I figured if I was going to build it myself then I should show it off, and most PC cases are super unattractive. Now, however, I feel somewhat embarrassed by this monster piece of hardware, sparkling like with garish neon LEDs attached to my wall. I prefer couch gaming, so it has a 40' HDMI cable, and I use a Steam Controller, which honestly is a really great choice for PC gaming that didn't catch on and now Valve seem to have given up on it.

PC gaming on the couch is full of hardship, though worth it for the Steam sales and the many indie games that only come to PC. And for proper VR. I have a Vive.

And what software?

Xcode. For all my Swift dev, which for me is as much as possible. Swift is a great language. Xcode is.. good..ish. There is more coming for Swift dev in the near future, and I look forward to it. Xcode is too big and bloated, and often feels like it too.

VSCode for JS/React, which I'm doing a bunch of currently.

Homebrew. obv.

I have a custom version of GitX that is full of bugs, but familiar bugs that I can't be arsed to fix. Nobody else should use it. Please don't.

I use TablePlus for database work. It's very good.

I use Safari over Chrome because I'm an idiot. I believe Apple when they say it uses less battery, and this is usually what I tell people when they ask. I guess I like many of the little things like iCloud sync for my history/bookmarks to my phone, the favorites tab and that it feels like a Mac app. Feeling like an app of the platform I am on has always been a priority for me. I switched from Linux to Mac in about 2005 because Linux software is such a mess of inconsistent UI and UX. I appreciate the high bar of quality for Mac software made by detail-orientated developers.

Slack, because you have to, but I will never stop being irritated that it is not native. Shame on them.

Plex for music. I have my own music, I got fed up with Spotify for two reasons: 1. When I moved from the UK to the US (due to the music industry being clowns) all my playlists lost 50-80% of their tracks. 2. Their metadata is phenomenally bad. Music is a collection to me and if my collection has ugly metadata, I feel dirty.

Terminal.app. When I switched from Linux I couldn't get over how great the terminal on Mac was relatively. With accidental additional benefits like CTRL-C is not the keyboard shortcut for copy on Mac (on Linux the terminals usually have to override copy to CTRL-SHIFT-C, and that's if they even support copy and paste properly). So I've never even tried iTerm which everyone else seems to gush about.

I use Bash because at some point in my life I realized that the more non-defaults you choose the more hardships you get. Software is like 20,000 systems, all of which are going to break at some point. If you pick defaults at least you increase the likelihood of finding a solution online because other people will have a similar combination of tools to you.

I use TextMate 2 for most text tasks. It's small and fast and surprisingly fully featured. And obv. Mac-ish.

I use Mail.app. It's rubbish, but I had so many problems with alternatives, and problems that seemed severe. Apple use Mail.app internally and they are extremely email focused for everything, so in the end it seems like the most robust choice. I miss snooze though. Inbox zero is hard. I hate email. Does anyone like email? I want to go back in time and delete the code the first person who wrote an email client was making at 5:30 pm everyday. After a while that person would give up and we'd all be better off.

What would be your dream setup?

I long for Augmented Reality work environments. Obviously, this would require lightweight hardware to pull off and retina quality overlay screens. But then your whole office could be screens. Window management is a tedium and a skill, and is nowhere what can be possible. I think people forget how useful paper was. You can move it from one desk to another! Like, holy shit! Imagine not having to email documents to people, you just pick up the virtual document, walk over to them and hand it over.

It'll be a new world. Got 80 tabs open now? You'll be able to stick them in your 'later' filing cabinet (real furniture or virtual, your choice) once this tech finally works.

Uses This is supported by ZSA, makers of the Moonlander, ErgoDox EZ and Planck EZ keyboards. They also publish an awesome newsletter.