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Beginning Mac: Application Install/Uninstall

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When I first switched from Windows to OSX one thing that I initially didn’t really understand was how to install/uninstall applications. Obviously it is second nature now, but hopefully the information below will help a new switcher.


On Windows when you download an application it is generally a .exe file. It is sometimes compressed in to a .zip file.

dmg file On OS X, a large majority of applications that you download will be in .dmg format. .dmg stands for “disk image” and it basically functions like a hard drive. DMG files can be mounted and ejected just like a regular hard drive. The purpose of the .dmg file is for compression. It can greatly reduce the size of the file you are downloading.

App Window

When you download this DMG file you simply double-click on it to mount/open it. Generally you will just see the application that you’d like to install. You then drag the application to your Applications folder.

Drive After you’ve moved the application file to your Applications folder you then eject the “drive” the DMG created from your desktop to the trash can in the dock. This does not delete the DMG file, it just un-mounts it. Since you have installed the application, you no longer need the DMG file. Drag the DMG file to the trash to delete the DMG file itself.

And that’s it! It’s really less complicated that it may seem and after you’ve done it a couple of times you won’t even think twice about it. To launch the application you installed, just go to your Application folder and double-click on it.


So that snazzy application that you installed a few days ago has lost its luster and you realized you just don’t need it.

Uninstalling an application on OS X is even easier than installing it.

Simply go to your Applications folder, find the application you no longer need and drag it to your trash can in the dock. And that’s it!

Advanced Uninstall

Some purists here will argue that isn’t really “it” when it comes to uninstall an application and to an extent, they are correct. The majority of applications install small preference and configuration files elsewhere on your Mac. The files are so small that they don’t really have an impact on computer performance or your storage space, but should you want to keep your computer as clean as possible there are applications you can use to completely rid your computer of all traces of an application.

Here are a couple worth checking out:


Checkout the screencast below that covers the basics of installing and uninstalling an application.

23 Responses to “Beginning Mac: Application Install/Uninstall”

  1. Thanks for this timely article. I was just reading an editorial on the subject in a mac mag, but didn’t realize the problem. I do now! I’m a Mac newcomer, use to windows installations. I tried loading and installing a copy of Apple Final cut express on my iMac but ran into all kinds of minor problems–compression,downloading suggested compressors, drag and drop problems,shift and option problems, u-name-it. After working several days on the problem, I made the mistake of shutting down and apparently lost all the windows. Now I’m searching for the files in Finder, the Trash, Apps, or wherever they may be. Any suggestions on how to find them?

  2. I’ve installed perian and amule and can’t find them they don’t show up in the applications folder. perian is supposed to be codecs for quicktime but quicktime still doesn’t play anything. so far all my macbook is good for is surfing the web. very dissapointed, the commercials make it sound like switching is less confusing than it is.

  3. Might be a dumb question, but can I effectively uninstall iwork and microsoft office suite from my imac and install it on my macbook? or do I lose that ability once I’ve installed it once? (key entering-wise) Thanks.

  4. macnewbie

    Thank you! I’m very glad I stumbled across this page. As a new mac owner I didn’t realize what I’d been doing and finally figured out that whatever I WAS doing was wrong! Now I don’t feel so stupid — I knew mac was a whole ‘nother world from a PC but there are things they don’t tell you about when you enter it! I’m now in the process of trying to delete duplicate and unnecessary files. I tried Yank earlier today and it was too complicated for a newbie like me — downloaded AppCleaner and so far so good! Thanks again!

  5. Michael

    Ok… After reading all of the comments, I have to laugh! The “installing” and “uninstalling” (for the most part) REALLY is that simple!!! Thats why they call it a mac! My sister just switched over and she kept wanting to do all this complicated stuff.. like run an installer and where do i find the preferences… I kept telling her, dont make this complicated! take the program, drop it in the applications folder, and delete the original! ITS THAT SIMPLE PEOPLE!!! PCs make it complicated! YES you have the odd programs like Office and Adobe that are a bit different but they walk you through the process… The real issue here is not that its complicated to install/uninstall.. the issue is more about how simplistic the mac interface REALLY is! We are all so use to PCs its hard to step back and say, “hmmm, whats the obvious answer here?” because from my years with the macs, thats usually the correct answer! JOSH… nice article, does a good job detailing “how to” for the majority of the mac applications! Everyone else just needs to forget everything they ever knew about computers from PCs… Because the mac is different, so simple its almost stupid!!!

    • I’ve used my mac for over 2 years, uninstalling most apps by just dragging them to the trash. Now when I look in my preferences and application support folders, they’re full of dozens and dozens of folders and files that I don’t need. So don’t start about windows spraying your entire HD with useless files, Mac OS X is guilty of the same thing!
      Also I think installing is a bit weird, first you unzip a DMB, then you open a file that behaves like an external drive (why?) and then you have to drag a file! Can’t this be automated? Click to install. Finish.

  6. FirstTimer

    As a first timer user (approx. 1 month) I have found this article useful. Seeing the other comments however, I would like to know if there are other resources that explain this topic more in depth.

  7. Now that ive “uninstalled my soft-ware of my home computer ie iMac OS X LEPOARD, by the way the software was CS 3, im now ready to “re-install”. Lol… Can someone just tell me an easy step please, by keeping it real simple….ie to re-install my CS 3 software bak into my OS X Leopard, so i can get started on my school projects. Cheers.

  8. lazymacdevelopers

    To be honest, I think this is pure lazyness on Mac developers parts. AppZapper can’t find everything an app uses, but developers do, however, know what they are creating and where on the system.

    Under “File” or “Help” menus there should be an “Uninstall AppName” item that gives an “Are you sure?” dialog, and if a “Yes” is given, the application should quit itself and launch an installer.

    I don’t think it’s purist to say that when I want to kick an app of my system, I want it to carry its baggage off with it, too.

    Please Mac Developers, make an “Uninstall” script for your apps. It’s only decent to clean up after yourselves.

  9. Bundles are great for managing a core installation. I have a little trouble with the extra prefs that get installed elsewhere and prefer to remove these manually rather than using utilities like App Zapper.

    AZ can ferret out the pref files but often ignores parent directories that may contain other files AZ has missed.

    I usually Spotlight the name of the application and the developer to make sure I’ve removed all traces of an unwanted installlation – knowing that like an old set of keys if you don’t toss them right away they can end up a permanent part of the collection.

  10. I’m sure you know better than I do Josh so sorry for exaggerating. Could we see a follow up article or expansion to this one though detailing the the .pkg file install process and explaining some of the most common variances to the above. For instance, in that pic at the top of the article of the Joost install instructions, that’s really as simple as it gets; however, when I first got my Mac, I didn’t understand that that diagram was a “functional” representation of the action. I thought it was just a simple Diagram and eventually realized it meant to literally to drag the one icon into the other (but for awhile I would drag the Joost icon into the Finder and then into my Apps folder. It’s just not a natural way of thinking for those that are coming from a strictly PC background. I think these New To Mac articles are great though and only more and more people (hopefully) will be using them to get adjusted.

  11. @Luke: This article isn’t meant to be an exhaustive look at the intricacies of how all applications are installed. I’m not sure what kind of apps you’ve been installing, but I feel very comfortable saying the above is how the majority of programs are installed.

  12. I agree with what others have stated in the comments: this article doesn’t go into the detail of the various ways apps are installed in the Mac system. It’d be great if I could just send this article to my brother who’s recently converted but it gives a false sense of simplicity. I’d rather not confuse him further by telling him that the above is how all or even the majority of programs are installed.

  13. “Uninstalling an application on OS X is even easier than installing it.”

    But you didn’t mention the reason why this is possible, which is interesting in itself.

    On OS X the applications are actually “bundles”. What appears to the user’s eyes (and to the file manager, Finder) to be a “file” is actually a folder — a whole directory tree:

    If you want to see inside a bundle, right-click it and select “Show Package Contents” off the context menu.

    So, what you have is a situation where all (or most) of the support files live *with* the executable inside that bundle. This is why you can just drop in it to “install” it, or just delete it to “uninstall” it. It’s not like Windows where files are sprayed all over the machine — and generally left behind by Windows “uninstallers” anyway.

    Also, there’ll be a preference file in ~/Library/Preferences, but that’s a discrete XML file. (It’s not like Windows where your preferences are a set of entries sprayed across a unstable database — the Windows Registry — that can cause you problems if you don’t remove them, but can also cause you problems if you try to.) On OS X after deleting the application bundle, you can delete the .plist file or you can just leave it — either way it doesn’t matter.

    However, some software for OS X does use an installer:

    If the program needs to put files in “multiple and/or restricted locations” it will need to use an installer. Microsoft Office for Mac and Adobe Reader are examples of programs that do.

  14. Well said Joe!

    Apple are the masters of usability, but they’re far from perfect. I am a recent mac switcher who is missing a couple of windows features, like maximizing windows to full screen. And the above mentioned install/uninstall procedure was seriously confusing at first.

  15. i’ll be blasted for this, but I have to disagree that installing/uninstalling is “as simple as” anything on a Mac. Now – i’ve been using Macs off and on since I was a kid, and exclusively for 3 years now. I’m a devoted Mac fan, and will not switch back.

    Having said that, I’m going to cut/paste a rant I gave over on lifehacker a couple years ago on the same topic, almost all of which is still true today –

    unfortunately, the issue of application installation needs to be emphasized yet again, in addition to the previous comments. Apple seriously needs to update their guidelines or make actual restrictions on how programs should be installed. Even though it’s supposed to just be drag-and-drop (i.e. drag a .app to the Applications folder), it’s never quite that simple. First of all, the .dmg paradigm is broken. Plain and simple, it just doesn’t make sense to normal people. Why should you have to mount a virtual drive (a completely foreign concept to people who have never mounted an actual drive to begin with), then copy an app from the virutal drive onto their regular drive, unmount, then delete the DMG? If I didn’t know what a DMG actually is, I would be terrified of unmounting/ejecting it (if I even knew I had to do that), much less throwing it away. What happens then? Does the program get thrown away too?

    But even if you understand the mounting/unmounting situation, installing a program can still be difficult or confusing. I’d say about 60% of the programs I’ve downloaded/installed are simple .app’s, where I drop them manually into my Apps folder. However, there are some that come in .pkg (package) files. You don’t drag/drop those, you open them, which starts an installer, which will then copy the .app and associated files to Apps for you. But how do you know what is a .app and what is a .pkg? Well, I know from the icon, but many people wouldn’t. I have to wonder, how many people, who have been told time and time again that they just have to drag/drop into the Apps folder, drop those .pkg files into Applications, then run the installer everytime they try to open a program?

    Finally, you get a myriad of installers that are somewhere in between simple drag/drop into Applications or a full-blown installer. Those are ones that might pop-up a simple install screen (like the Firefox screenshot above) to help guide you. But those are also confusing. What is that firefox window trying to tell me? Is it instructing me to drag the .app from the mounted disk into my Apps folder? Do I drag the FF icon in the pop-up to Apps? Is that little icon of the Apps folder in the pop-up just an icon, or is it a symbolic link to my actual Apps folder, so that I can just drag the FF icon to the Apps folder icon? Sometimes the mounted disk image has a symbolic link to my Apps folder, so in the mounted disk, I can drag the .app directly to the link. But if I didn’t know what a symbolic link was, I would be completely confused. Why can I see all my Apps from this disc image? What happens if I close and delete this disk image? Do I have to access my Apps folder via this disk to run my new application?

    And don’t even get me started on uninstalling applications. Just drag/drop it into the trash? Ha, yeah right. 3rd party applications like Yank! or AppZapper are essential if you actually want to delete programs from OS X.

    As much shit as people give to Windows installers and uninstallers, I never had a problem with them. 95% of the time, Windows installers are simple executables that open a wizard where the user rarely has to do anything other than press “Next” a bunch of times. Then hopefully people will get rid of the installers after they’re done, but if they don’t, it’s not a big deal. At least it won’t mount any virtual drives whenever someone starts that program, or present them with many, ambiguous ways to install or copy or move the program. Only a limited number of Windows programs do you download the actual executable instead of an installer, and these are usually reserved for “power user” utilities like PuTTY and DVDShrink, so people using these should know how they work.

    Given these problems alone, I have a hard time agreeing with the commonly held conception that Macs are so much more beginner friendly. I shutter at the thought of visiting a “Mac beginners” computer and finding it littered with DMGs that mount and unmount everytime they want to run a program. “

    • my_games2000

      I have been a Mac user since I was a kid, the first thing my dad made me do was “READ THE MANUAL, FRONT TO BACK…” in doing so i found there is a way. Not only should you drag the unwanted App to the trash, but also trash the Apps Preference files… i think that’s it. Don’t ya just love my Mac…