I heard of this before, but I wanted to make note of a quick way to ease the maintaining of that file and finally had a need because of Netbeans.
- Downloaded Brian D Foy's Perl plist lib and installed it.
- Used a 3 line script to generate the ~/.MacOSX/environment.plist file from my terminal's ENV variable as he suggested.
- Log out and log in for the file to take effect.
Technical Q&A QA1067: Setting environment variables for user processes
Helpful Summary of other ways to set env variables in OS X
Brian D Foy's Perl plist reader lib and blog post
Netbeans documentation on working with OS X Environment variables
Another method is setting environment variables inside your
/etc/launchd.conffile as described here - there are clear benefits to this for apps launched outside your personal login.