Installing new apps on your Mac should be straightforward. However, it can sometimes be confusing – installation methods are varied, and you’ll occasionally see scary warnings. This guide, then, will get you acquainted with the basics.
How to install apps from the Mac App Store
Select App Store from the Apple menu and the Mac App Store will open. When signed in with your Apple ID, you can download apps: click Get and then install app for a free app, or buy app for a paid one. You’ll need to confirm payment by entering your Apple ID/password.
Apple reviews every Mac App Store app (and update) prior to release, minimizing the likelihood of problems. In the App Store section of System Preferences, you can optionally automate updates to installed apps, too.
How to install Mac apps downloaded from third-party websites
Apple imposes limitations on developers, meaning some cannot – or choose not to – release their apps on the Mac App Store. Reasoning varies from a lack of deep system access for utilities to app creators wanting the ability to immediately issue updates rather than having them await Mac App Store review.
However, if you decide to download an installer from the Internet, only do so from reputable sources. Ideally, download from developer websites (like Intego’s) and not from app listing websites.
Unless you’ve changed your browser’s settings, downloaded installers will be sent to ~/Downloads, and they come in a variety of forms:
DMG files are mountable disk images. When opened, they appear in the Finder sidebar. DMGs may contain an installer that itself must be opened, after which point you follow on-screen instructions. Most, though, simply contain a copy of the app.
Do not run the app from inside the DMG – instead drag it to /Applications. A folder shortcut may be provided to make this easier. When you’re done, unmount the DMG by clicking the eject icon next to its name in the Finder sidebar, or by Ctrl-clicking inside the DMG’s window and selecting Eject.
ZIP files (and, very occasionally, RARs) are archives that tend to contain just an app. Again, drag the app to your /Applications folder before opening it. In part, this keeps things tidy, but some apps won’t run unless they’re in that folder. (Some will offer to move themselves when opened from the wrong location.)
PKG files are installation packages that contain scripts to direct installation, and files to be installed. These lead you through a multi-step installation process, and tend to be used for apps and utilities that require additional components, system services, and/or files to be placed elsewhere on your computer. (This is automated, note – you essentially click a few times to allow the PKG to do its thing.)
Post-installation, you can trash DMGs, ZIPs and PKGs.
How to install Mac apps from third-party app stores
There are some third-party equivalents to the Mac App Store. They’re typically specialized in nature, and comprise a core app that when launched enables you to manage which products from the service you install on your Mac. Games store Steam is the most popular. It assumes you’ll launch purchased games from within its app rather than /Applications, although it is possible to create desktop shortcuts you can subsequently move.
A more Mac-like example of a third-party app store is Setapp. It’s sort of like a curated Netflix for apps – for a monthly fee, you get access to dozens of hand-picked apps. Installed apps are placed within /Applications/Setapp. Don’t manually mess about with these – use Setapp’s interface for subsequent management.
Clear warnings when installing apps
When installing and launching apps, your Mac may display security warnings. For example, when you download an app from the Internet, your Mac will ask for confirmation before you run it the first time. (This assumes that in the Security & Privacy pane of System Preferences you allow apps downloaded from identified developers. That is the default setting; it can be adjusted by clicking the lock, entering your admin password, and selecting the relevant radio button.)
In the current version of macOS, an older setting that once existed in System Preferences is absent: the option to run apps from unidentified developers. This is to protect your Mac from apps by creators not registered with Apple. However, such apps aren’t necessarily dangerous. Older ones may have been released prior to the registration program’s existence, and some independent developers may simply not want to sign up.
You can override your Mac’s security settings by Control-clicking the relevant app in Finder and selecting Open. You’ll be asked to confirm the action before the app launches. Again, exercise caution when opening such apps; and if in doubt, backup your system prior to doing so.
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