Sync Atom between OS X and Windows

I love Atom. It’s an excellent text editor and has replaced Sublime Text as my editor of choice.

I use Atom at work and at home. I use the same settings in both installations, so I wanted a way to synchronize them. If I find a package or theme that I like at work, I want it to be automatically available in my home installation of Atom.

Atom stores its settings in a folder called .atom in your user directory in both OS X and Windows. By using cloud storage and a feature of both operating systems called symbolic links or symlinks, you can let your cloud storage take care of syncing your Atom settings while letting your operating system think that it exists in its usual place.

Moving your installation into the cloud

To sync your installation across devices, the first step is to move the Atom installation that you want to keep into a cloud storage folder.


In OS X, your Atom settings will be located in a hidden folder in your home directory, typically ~/.atom. Since you normally can’t see hidden folders in OS X, the easiest way to move this folder is with a terminal command:

mv ~/.atom ~/Dropbox/.atom

The mv command moves your Atom settings folder into the folder Dropbox within your home directory. You can customize this command to fit your own setup if you use a different cloud storage app or you want to store the settings in a different place. I use ~/Dropbox/Settings/.atom.


In Windows, your Atom settings are stored in a folder called .atom in your user directory. Since you can see this folder by default in Windows, you can easily copy and paste it into your cloud storage folder. In Windows, I put it in C:\Users\Adam\Dropbox\Settings\.atom.

Delete the unsynced settings folder

Since you’ll be syncing your Atom settings from the version in your cloud storage, you can temporarily delete the version that exists in Atom’s default settings location.

  • in OS X, delete the folder ~/.atom
  • in Windows, delete the folder C:\Users\YourName\.atom

Selective syncing

You don’t need to sync literally every file in the .atom folder. Atom’s developers considered the fact that people might want to sync their settings folders or commit them to source control, so they provided a .gitignore file that specifies which files can be excluded:


This .gitignore file explains that the files and folders in the list can be skipped when syncing or committing the .atom folder. You can use this list to tell your cloud storage app not to sync those files and folders.

Here’s how to ignore those files in Dropbox:

  1. Right-click the Dropbox icon in your menu bar (OS X) or system tray (Windows).

  2. Click the gear icon, then click Preferences.

  3. Click the Account section, then click Selective Sync.

  4. The Selective Sync window lists all of the files in your Dropbox. Expand the .atom folder that you moved into your Dropbox earlier, and uncheck the following items:

    • .node-gyp
    • compile-cache
    • storage
  5. Click Update to confirm your changes.

Now your Dropbox will only sync the files that are essential to your local Atom installation, and won’t waste time syncing the unimportant ones.

Creating a symlink in OS X makes your operating system think that the Atom settings files in your Dropbox actually exist in their proper place in your user folder.

The best way to create a symlink is, again, from the Terminal:

  1. Press command + space to open Spotlight.

  2. Type terminal and press enter to launch Terminal.

  3. When the Terminal prompt appears, type the following command and press enter:

    ln -s ~/Dropbox/.atom ~/.atom

    The ln command creates a symlink, in this case, from ~/Dropbox.atom to ~/.atom. You may have to edit the first path to reflect where in your Dropbox you placed your .atom folder.

This makes the files in your Dropbox appear to be where they should be in your user folder, so your Atom installation on OS X can read and use the files even while they are being synced in Dropbox.

Creating a symlink in Windows works in much the same way, though the command is different.

You need to use the Windows Command Prompt to create a symlink in Windows:

  1. Press the windows key and type command to search for the Command Prompt.

  2. In the search results list, right-click the Command Prompt entry and click Run as Administrator.

  3. When the Command Prompt appears, type the following command and press enter:

    mklink /J "C:\Users\Adam\.atom" "C:\Users\Adam\Dropbox\Settings\.atom"

    You’ll need to edit the above command to correspond to your user folder and Dropbox folder. The first path points to where your Dropbox Atom files will be symlinked to, and the second path is where they will be symlinked from (that is, your cloud storage).

Like in OS X, this command makes the files in your Dropbox appear to be in the location where Atom reads them.


I’ve only had this running for a few days as of writing this, but things are working as they should so far. If I install an Atom package at work, it’s available on my Windows installation when I get home. Your settings, packages, and themes should stay in sync fairly consistently using symlinks.

Create web app shortcuts with Chrome

Google Chrome has a neat feature that lets you create web app shortcuts to run web apps in their own window, without the usual toolbars and interface of a browser. This means that you can pick and choose your favourite web apps and “install” them as native apps on your computer. These native apps will launch in their own window and function like any other program.

Web apps these days are pretty impressive, from text and Markdown editors to music players and even development environments. With Chrome, you can create application links to your favourite web apps.

How to create a web app shortcut in Chrome

  1. In Chrome, navigate to the web app that you’d like to create an application shortcut for.

    For example, go to for the note-taking app Simplenote.

  2. If required, log in to the web app.

    Logging into Simplenote brings you to, which is where we want our application shortcut to lead. You want your application shortcut to point to the app itself, not a login or introduction page.

  3. In Chrome, click the Menu button, then under More tools, click Create application shortcuts.

    Chrome will ask you where you want to create shortcuts. These options will differ depending on your operating system. Desktop is usually a pretty safe choice).

  4. Select where you would like shortcuts to be created and click OK. Chrome will create one or more shortcuts to the web app on your computer.

Simplenote as a native app

When you launch a web app shortcut, the app will open in its own window, without the Chrome browser interface. You can move the web app shortcut anywhere you like on your computer and it will still work. I would suggest moving it off your desktop.

You don't need desktop icons

I secretly cringe inside when I see someone’s computer and their desktop is littered with icons, folders, and shortcuts. To me, it’s the equivalent of walking into someone’s office and seeing three years of work piled on top of their desk, with only a haphazard attempt at organization.

It’s 2014. You don’t need to put anything on your desktop anymore, including desktop icons.

Here’s my desktop: My Windows desktop, without icons

That’s it. I have a few programs pinned to my start menu (Chrome, Outlook, Word, and Steam) because I use them often, but I could even do without those.

In Windows XP I used an app called Launchy. Using Launchy, a key combination would bring up a window, into which you could type the first few letters of a program. Launchy would guess which program you meant and complete the name, and you could press Enter to launch the program. This way, you could launch programs very quickly without using the Start menu or desktop icons.

Here’s the fun thing: since Windows 7 (maybe even Vista), this functionality has been built into Windows by default. Try it now. Think of a program you’d like to run, press the Windows Key, and type a few letters of that program’s name. The Start menu should pop up and suggest the program you’re looking for. No need for third-party apps anymore.

As for files and folders stored on your desktop? Stop that. You should be storing them somewhere else. The desktop is designed – just like a real desktop – to hold files and folders you’re currently working with. It’s a temporary workspace that should be kept clean and tidy. I’ll store downloaded things on my desktop every now and then, but when I’m done with them, I’ll put them somewhere more permanent. If your documents are important at all, consider using cloud storage or some sort of backup service.

How to disable OneDrive (SkyDrive) in Windows 8.1

Since Windows 8.1, Microsoft has included its own cloud storage solution OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive) as an always-running, always-available place to store your files. The problem? Some of us already use a different cloud storage service, and there’s no need to have two.

Unfortunately, Microsoft doesn’t allow you to uninstall the OneDrive app – or even to right-click its system tray icon and shut it down. Microsoft doesn’t ask whether we want to use their service or not.

But OneDrive can be disabled by editing the system registry.

The registry is a back-end system of data and settings that Windows uses to store information on programs, user preferences, and whatnot. The registry consists of keys (think folders) and values (think files). By editing a particular registry value, we can tell OneDrive that we don’t want it to run.

How to disable OneDrive in Windows 8.1

  1. Press Windows Key + R to open the Run dialog.

  2. In the dialog, type regedit and press the Enter key or click OK.

  3. A User Account Control prompt may ask you for confirmation. Click Yes.

  4. In the Registry Editor, click the arrows next to the folders (keys) in the left pane to expand them. Expand HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE > SOFTWARE > Policies > Microsoft > Windows.

  5. Right-click the Windows registry key (folder) in the left pane and select New > Key.

  6. Type the name SkyDrive for the new key and press Enter.

  7. Click the new SkyDrive key that you created in the left pane to open it in the right pane. It should be mostly empty.

  8. Right-click the empty space in the right pane and select New > DWORD (32-bit) Value.

  9. Type DisableFileSync as the name for the new value and press the Enter key.

  10. Double-click the new DisableFileSync value to edit it. An edit window should appear.

  11. In the Value Data box, type 1. Click OK to close the edit box and save the value.

  12. Close the Registry Editor and return to Windows.

That’s it! The next time you restart your computer, OneDrive should not run automatically, and OneDrive should no longer display automatically in the sidebar of Windows Explorer. You might still see it pop up every now and again in obscure places (like the Save menu in Office programs), but in general it will be much less intrusive than before, and it won’t be running all the time.

The most useful email tip

I can’t remember where I first read about this, but the following is probably the single easiest way to sort your emails if you have a busy inbox.

Here’s the short version:

Create an inbox filter that checks incoming emails for the word unsubscribe. Put any email that matches the filter into a folder called Bulk.

It’s as easy as that.

Most mass emails include a link to unsubscribe. By searching for this word, you can identify nearly all of these emails that arrive in your inbox, and separate them from everything else. This way, see email that matters first, and other, less important messages are put in another folder.

Gmail has been moving in this direction, and now offers a different inbox that sorts your email automatically according to categories like Social, Promotions, and Updates, but in my case I like to be in total control of how my emails are sorted. I’d rather set up the rules myself than leave it to Gmail.

Implementing the filter in Gmail

  1. Log on to your Gmail account.

  2. Click the gear icon in the upper right, then click Settings from the dropdown menu.

  3. Your Settings page will be displayed. Click the Filters tab at the top.

  4. Your email filters will be displayed. If you haven’t set any up, there won’t be much here. At the bottom of the Filters page, click Create a new filter.

  5. A panel will appear with several boxes to be filled out. In the box labeled Includes the words, type unsubscribe.

  6. Leave everything else untouched and click Create a filter with this search in the lower right corner of the panel.

  7. In the next panel, click to check Skip the Inbox (Archive it) and Apply the label:.

  8. Click the Choose label… box next to Apply the label, then choose the label you would like to apply to emails that match the filter. If you don’t already have a label for bulk emails, click New label and type a name for your new bulk email label.

  9. If you would like this filter to apply retroactively (to emails you have already received), click to check Also apply filter to matching conversations.

  10. Click the Create filter button to create your new filter. The rule will go into effect immediately. If you checked the option to apply it retroactively, your old bulk emails will be sorted according to the filter.

Enjoy your new, clutter-free inbox! It’s like having a separate mailbox just for pamphlets and junk mail.