Tue 2/7 Application Folders

My Macintosh has always been a personal machine. No one other than myself uses my Mac, and I control the only user account in Mac OS X. All of the documents stored on my Mac are my own. All of the applications were installed by me. Mac OS X’s user permissions keep my system secure from outside threats even though I am the only one logging in.

For as long as I can remember I have been separating my applications into different folders by category. Adobe Photoshop, Macromedia Freehand, and Adobe PageMaker went into the Design subfolder as far back as System 7. Microsoft Office, Simple Text, and AppleWorks went into the Productivity folder during the era of Mac OS 8. By the time Mac OS 9 arrived I was already busy customizing the Apple Menu, Launcher, and DragThing by sorting all of my Applications and Utilities into different categories.

One of the unheralded advantages of the Macintosh operating system is its ability to run applications no matter where they are located. In Windows, most applications have to be installed into a specific directory. In Unix, applications can only be run if they are added to your path. The Mac allows you to run applications under the root level of your hard drive, on your desktop, in your documents folder, or anywhere in between. Many applications can even be launched from external media like CDs, USB hard drives, or network storage.

Mac OS X brought order to the Macintosh operating system by implementing a rigid folder structure. For the first time users were persuaded to keep all of their applications together in one place. The Applications folder under the root level of the primary hard drive is where Mac OS X wants you to store your apps, but there is a second Applications folder few people know about that makes a suitable place for storing personal applications.

If you create a new folder under the root level of your Home directory named “Applications” Mac OS X will give that folder a special icon and treat it like a second Applications folder1. You can use this folder to store applications you do not want other users to access. Since I am the only user on my Macintosh, I use this second Applications folder for purposes other than privacy.

Mac OS X supports two types of applications, those that require and installer, and those that don’t. The Applications folder under the root level of the hard drive is the default location for applications that come bundled with Mac OS X and those that require an installer. I keep all of my bundled Mac OS X apps, VirtualBox, Lightroom, and the Adobe Creative Suite here2. The second Applications folder under the root level of my Home folder is where I keep all of the the applications that can be installed via drag and drop. I keep Camino, Einstein, Firefox, HyperDither, ImageOptim, LaunchBar, and Skype here. The Mac App Store has changed the way I install many of my applications. I no longer drag applications like BBEdit, Marked, Twitterrific, and xScope to my Home Applications folder. I leave them installed in default root Applications folder.

Services like LaunchBar, Spotlight, and the Dock have made separating my applications by category unnecessary, but I still find the time move the applications I can drag and drop into my Home Applications folder. Separating my applications this way makes it easy to reinstall the apps I have purchased outside of the App Store that don’t require an installer. All I have to do is transfer my Home Applications folder from one computer to the next, and the installation of many of my favorite apps is complete.


  1. It is too bad the Finder does not have a special keyboard shortcut built-in for this folder. 

  2. The only applications on my Mac that require an install.