Sunday, March 14, 2021

Apple MacBook Air M1 for Network Engineers Part 1

Parts 2 -5 are now published. You can find them 

I haven't used a Mac as a daily driver for a few years. I switched over to Ubuntu when I started working on my python, Git, and dev skills for the Cisco Devnet program. Ubuntu is a great platform for dev work because there are so many free, open-source tools and it will run on almost any hardware from a Raspberry Pi to a maxed-out desktop. 

But I had to have a new Mac once the ARM-based Apple Silicon Macs were announced! Battery life was the biggest factor but I also wanted the instant-on, iPad-like performance of the Apple Silicon. It makes me smile every time I open the lid and it is just ready to go. Add in Touch-ID, Retina display, and the Big Sur version of macOS and it made the money jump right out of my wallet!

I hadn't used Big Sur since my current MacBook is a 2012 MacBook Pro, so I had some research to do. Luckily there are plenty of YouTube videos with tips on setting up the new M1 Macs and on the new features of Big Sur.  

Some videos to get you started:

Some useful webpages

Search for emails in Mail on Mac - If you decide to use Apple Mail, this is useful.

I also used a few podcasts:

  • Mac Geek Gab
  • Mac Power Users
  • Automators

to get up to speed. 

They are two different kinds of podcasts. Mac Geek Gab focuses on "Cool Stuff Found" which is hardware/software that works with the Mac and "Quick Tips" which are tips on using IOS and macOS.

Mac Power Users is a podcast on getting maximum productivity out of macOS. I don't use most of the software that they recommend. Most of the software is subscription-based and it gets out of control fast. But, they offer a lot of productivity tips for macOS itself and I find the podcast worth my time to listen to.

One quick tip for wireless:

Hold down the option key while clicking on the wifi icon to get additional information on the connection. It's great to be able to see the channel, MCS, RSSI, Noise Floor, transmit rate, and Phy Mode instantly.

One quick tip for Bluetooth:

If you are having trouble with Bluetooth devices you can try resetting the Bluetooth module. Simply press the Shift + Option keys, then click on the Bluetooth icon in the menu bar. You will see an option to "Reset the Bluetooth module". Click on it and the Bluetooth will be reset. 

You won't have to re-pair the devices, this just resets the Bluetooth module. 

As you can see, you can factory reset all connected Apple devices or remove all devices.

TIP: If you need to save a file to a system location such as an nmap script to "/usr/loca/share/nmap/scripts", you can press shift+cmd+g" to open a "go to folder" dialog.  Type the path into the dialog. Tab completion is supported.

Initial Setup

Apple has a startup script that did a good job of getting me logged in and working. But I learned a lot from the videos and podcasts so I did some customizing.


If you are moving from Windows or Linux, macOS has some defaults that you will probably want to change. The first thing I did was use the System Preferences app to fix them. On macOS, you move the mouse to the top left of the screen and click on the Apple icon to open system preferences.

Change the view to Organize alphabetically

On the View menu, select "Organize Alphabetically" instead of the default "Organize by Categories".

Now preferences will look like this:

You can also hide any icons that you are sure you won't need. On the View menu, click Customize. Checkmarks will appear on each icon. Uncheck any that you don't want to see.

General Category

Show scroll bars:


This turns the scroll bars on all the time. The default is to hide them until you click into a window in Finder. I find that very annoying.

Apple ID

    iCloud Drive, options - turn off Desktop & Documents

If you don't do this and you are on-site with no Internet service your files will not be available

Security & Privacy


You can set a message that will show on the lock screen. I do this in case a customer doesn't know it's mine and sees it in the data center.

  • Click the lock in the lower left and enter your password. 
  • Put a check in the box next to "Show a message when the screen is locked.
  • Click on the drop-down "Set Lock Message..."

  • Enter your message and click OK.
  • Click the lock again to lock the General settings


By default the firewall is disabled. You should enable it.

        Click - Turn On Firewall



    Point & Click

  • A lot of Mac users check the "Tap to Click" option. I tried it and didn't like it. You should give it a shot, maybe it will work for you.
  • Click - Set to Firm


More Gestures

        Click the More Gestures tab and enable App Expose. I used the Swipe down with four fingers gesture.

 App Expose is used to show all windows of an application on the screen. 

I found that in the Mission Control preference panel you can setup "Application Windows" to use different keys. I set the CMD key on the right side to show the application windows. I like that better than the four-finger swipe.


Night Shift will change the display color slightly towards to warmer end of the spectrum. This is supposed to help you relax when using the laptop at night.  I have it set to run from sunset to sunrise. When it activates, a checkmark will appear in the "Turn on Until Sunrise" box.


    Apple, Colors

    I'm going for maximum battery life and minimum distraction so I set the desktop to solid black. One interesting side effect is that I use a DisplayLink monitor in the field. While setting it up I thought it wasn't working. After some time troubleshooting, I realized that with no apps moved to it I was looking at the black desktop and it was working! Just a heads up.

    Screen Savers - set up Hot Corners 

        If you hold down the Option key while selecting a corner in Preferences then the corner isn't active unless you also hold down the Option key. I use the Apple icon a lot and this prevents me from showing the desktop when I meant to show the icon.


        Top Left - Option+Desktop

        Bottom Left - Mission Control

        Top Right - Notification Center

        Bottom Right - Launchpad


I like to be able to move windows with the trackpad so I enable dragging.
    Pointer Control, Trackpad Options
          Enable Dragging - three-finger drag

Dock and Menu Bar

I like the dock to be smaller than the default and to auto-hide. I also like to have the menu bar at the top auto-hide. This is a personal preference and I find that most people don't like it. It's worth trying.

    Put a check in Magnification. Adjust the slider to suit. I like about 60%
    Under Position on Screen, select Left.
    Put a check in Automatically hide and show the Dock
    Menu Bar - Check Automatically hide and show the menu bar

Do Not Disturb

In keeping with the minimum distraction, maximum productivity theme I want quick access to the Do Not Disturb options.

    Put a check in Show in Menu Bar and select Always

Keyboard Brightness
  Put a check in Show in Menu Bar

   Put a check in Show Percentage

    Most users won't want my clock settings. I prefer 24-hour format so that there is no confusion between 06:00AM and 6:00PM. I am also fanatical about using a stopwatch and I want to see seconds. It drives me crazy that on the iPhone the clock app has no option to display seconds. 

    If anyone is interested, it takes me on average 29 seconds from when I turn the ignition off until I am pumping gas at Costco. I have done 27 seconds, and occasionally 30 seconds. (Update - Costco now has the Tap to Pay on the pumps. It has cut 5 seconds off my time.)

    Finally, with my ADHD I can lose all track of time and work on a task for far too long, so the Mac announces the time every 15 minutes.
       Put a check in Use 24 hour clock
       Put a check in Flash the time separators
       Put a check in Display the time with seconds
       Put a check in Announce the time


    Apple includes a lot of apps on the dock. I find that I don't use many of the built-in apps so I removed the ones I don't expect to use. To do that:

    Right-click, select Options, Remove from Dock.

View menu

   Switch to the Finder app. In the Menu Bar, click on View 

    Put a check in use stacks. This organizes the files on the desktop into neat folders. You can uncheck to quickly go back to showing individual files.

     Click on Show Path bar, and show status bar

Customize the toolbar

While in the view menu, click on Customize Toolbars...

I added "Get Info" to the bar and changed "Show" to text and Icon.


With Finder as the active app, click Finder, Preferences in the menu bar. Click the Advanced tab and put a check in "Show all file extensions in Finder". This prevents a malicious file from hiding its true extension.

One tip for Finder. In the Toolbar, there is a Group tool. If you have mixed file types in a folder it's very convenient to group by Application.

Tips on sorting in Finder


Keyboard shortcuts and gestures in Safari on Mac

Open Safari Preferences


    Uncheck Open "Safe" files after downloading. This a personal OpSec issue. I don't like for files that I download from the Internet to be opened automatically.

    New windows open with: Empty Page - I don't like to wait for a new window to load a page that I probably won't be using.

    New tabs open with: Empty Page


  •         Put a check in Show Develop menu in the menu bar.
  •         Put a check in Show Full Website Address


I haven't used Safari as my daily driver before but I'm going to give it a go on the M1 since it's highly optimized for ARM and should give me the best battery life. I can see that I will have to give up some extensions that I am used to on Firefox like vertical tabs, UBlock Origin, Ghostery, etc. but if I get 12 hours of battery life it's a good trade-off.

To install extensions, click Safari in the menu bar, then Safari extensions... to locate extensions for Safari. Similar to Chrome, Firefox, and Edge, Safari extensions are now in the App Store. 


This is a grammar-checking extension. There are versions for Chrome, Firefox, Safari. You will have to create a free account and login to start using Grammarly. I highly recommend it. If you pay for a subscription you can run Grammarly in Microsoft apps.


Open Safari and click the link below to go to the Logmein download site.

How do I install the Safari app extension on my mac

  • Download the lastpass.dmg file.
  • Double click on the dmg, when it opens, drag it into the applications folder.
  • Double click to start it and log in.
  • Back in Safari.
  • Preferences, Extensions, enable the lastpass extension.


This is an extension that lets you tweet from Safari. I find it handy when I find an info sec site that I want to share.

Open the App Store, click on Catagories, Safari Extensions. In the search bar enter buffer. You will see Buffer: Social Media Composer.

Click on Get, Install.

Activity monitor 

    Add a column for architecture. This lets you see which apps are running native and which are still Intel.


Time Machine

macOS includes a decent backup application called Time Machine. Since network engineers tend to install a lot of software from Github and other Internet locations, having a full backup is important. There are 3rd party tools like Carbon Copy Cloner and SuperDuper that have a lot more features. At the time of this blog (4-15-2021) SuperDuper hadn't been updated to work with the M1. 

I downloaded the Carbon Copy Cloner trial and it worked with the M1. The Caveat is that it can't make a bootable back. The work around is to install Big Sur manually and then restore. I think for the short term I'm going to stick with Time Machine. The snap shot feature of Carbon Copy Cloner shoulds good but I'm not sure I need it.

At a minimum, you should get Time Machine setup.

Also, I still use a Windows laptop when I'm at the office. If it got crypto locked all of my Dropbox and Goggle Drive files would get overwritten with encrypted versions. Having an offline backup is a necessity if you interact with Windows.

I bought a Elecife M.2 NVME PCIe SATA NGFF SSD Enclosure and a Western Digital 1TB WD Blue SN550 NVMe drive to hold the backups. The enclosure is very nice, tool-free, and lightweight. Not like the old days of using a 2.5" spinning hard drive in an external enclosure. 

As soon as I connected it, Time Machine opened and asked if I wanted to use it. After that, it does a backup every hour and saves weekly and monthly backups. I don't carry the drive with me so I don't do the hourly. I usually just connected it in the evening and let it do one or two backups. 

The NVME is so fast that the backups only take a few minutes.  

I noticed that my .zshrc file wasn't visible in the backup. Use "shift+cmd+." to show hidden files. 


Back up your Mac with Time Machine

Wrap Up

That does it for the basic setup of the OS. In the next post, I will dive into installing the tools a network engineer needs.

You can find Part Two here
You can find Part Three here

1 comment:

  1. Hi Michael,
    Thank you for taking all the time to write this review and this is an excellent post that helps me decide if I want a mac as daily driver or not. May I know which specification of macbook air did you for?