macOS Big Sur – Installing New Apps on Your Mac

Installing new apps on a Mac can often be a confusing experience; as it often is with other operating systems too. However, with this quick guide to hand, you’ll soon learn how to best install apps and how to avoid any potential malware at the same time.

The Mac App Store

The Apple Mac Store is an impressive market place of apps, that have been registered and cleared with Apple to run on your Mac without any hint of anything unwarranted – such as malware. But it doesn’t have everything on offer. There are times when you may need to go outside the Mac App Store in order to get hold of a vital app, and this is where the confusion often arises.

Beyond the Mac App Store you’ll find all manner of different kinds of apps and these are often packaged differently depending on the developer. You can find DMG files with apps inside them, PKG installers and even Zip archives with applications inside. Let’s keep things simple to begin with and start with the Mac App Store.

Installing from the Mac App Store

The Mac App Store is a safe and friendly place for the Mac user to visit and install apps from. Open the App Store via the Dock and you’ll notice that there are categories on the left-pane, while the content relating to each category is in the right-hand or main pane. There’s also a handy Search bar at the top of the App Store window.

Step 1 – To install an app from the Mac App Store, either locate it via the Search bar – providing you know what you’re looking for – or select it from one of the categories.

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Step 2 – When you’ve found the app you want to install, click on the Get button next to its title above the screenshot for the app. This will change to a green Install button and when you click on Install and sign in with your Apple ID, it will begin the process of downloading and installing the app to your Mac.

Step 3 – The downloading and installation process may take some time, depending on the size of the app your installing and your connection to the Internet. Progress is measured with a circle where the Install button was, which is gradually filled as the app is installed. If you need to cancel the installation at any point, then click the square inside the gradually filling circle.

Step 4 – Once the app has finished downloading and installing, you can either click the Open button – which has replaced the filled circle in the Mac App Store or you can find the newly installed app through the Launchpad via the Dock. Updates are handled by the App Store and anything you purchase on one Mac will work on another Mac. It’s a quick, simple and convenient way to work.

Third-Party Apps

Installing from third-party apps does carry some baggage. For one, you’re not going to get updates from the Mac App Store, which may lead to an unresponsive app as the core macOS system is updated. Secondly, there’s a potential security risk, as you’ve no way of knowing if the app you’re installing has any form of malware hidden deep within it. And thirdly, it’s not often quite as simple as a single click.

On the flip-side, though, if it’s the app you need, then you’ve got very little choice in the matter. All you can do is ensure that the source you’re downloading it from is reputable. Do some research into the site and the app beforehand – simply Googling the name of the app and site can yield good results. If alarm bells start ringing in your head, then there’s possibly something wrong, so avoid it and look for an alternative.

Step 1 – Begin by locating the app you want to install – as previously mentioned, look for a reputable site. Ensure that it actually has a macOS version available, as Windows or Linux developed apps won’t work on a Mac (unless you do some clever work in the background).

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Step 2 – There’s usually a Downloads section to any site where there’s apps available from the developer. In there you can find the macOS specific installation file you need for the app in question. Click the link to it or button, to begin the download of the app’s installer.

Step 3 – Most macOS downloaded app installers come as DMG files. A DMG file is an Apple Disk Image file or a Mac OS X Disk Image file. It’s basically a digital reconstruction of a physical disk and stores compressed software installers instead of having a physical medium. These DMG files can therefore be mounted as virtual disk images. All downloads from Safari are stored in the Downloads folder in Finder. Locate the folder and the DMG file you’ve downloaded, then double-click to mount the virtual disk image.

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Step 4 – This does one of several operations: first, macOS will scan the DMG file and ensure it’s all there and in the right order to read from. Secondly, it will open a virtual disk image both on the desktop and within Finder as a new external drive. Thirdly, you’ll get a brief notice indicating how to install the chosen app on to your system.

Step 5 – Within the notice window, drag the icon for the app into the Applications folder that’s displayed in the middle. The third icon is often a file containing instructions about the app you’re installing and can be double-clicked to read through before or after you install the app.

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Step 6 – The app’s virtual image can be ejected once the copying of the file has been completed. You can either click on the Eject button next to the name of the virtual image in the Locations section of Finder or you can right-click the virtual image icon on the desktop and choose Eject. It may take a few seconds for the virtual media to be ejected safely, so be patient if it doesn’t happen as soon as you click the button.

Step 7 – You can now run the app. Locate it in the Applications folder in the Favourites section of Finder and double-click as you would do any other app. You may receive a warning stating that the app you’ve installed has been downloaded from the Internet and that Safari has checked it and regarded it as safe (or not, and if Safari thinks it’s unsafe, it’s best not to even try and install it). Click on the Open button and the app will launch as if you’ve installed it via the Apple Mac App Store.

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Step 8 – The app should launch as expected. If you come across any problems it’s often down to the fact that you are running a more recent version of macOS than the app was designed for or the app is 32-Bit, whereas macOS Big Sur will only execute 64-Bit apps. If this happens, it’s worth checking with the site you downloaded it from; perhaps there’s a more recent version to download. Otherwise, you could Google the error and see what other users have to say about the matter. Most apps often produce unique errors depending on the developer and the app, so don’t always expect the same solution to work all of the time.

PKG Files

One other popular file type for macOS installations is the PKG file. Although it’s not as popular as DMG files. Simply put, a PKG file are installation packages that generally contain automated scripts that will direct the installation of the app in question. They will take you through a kind of setup wizard and create a multi-step installation process.

They are usually only used where multiple additional components are required by the app but also when different services are required from macOS or the installation files will be placed in different areas of the Mac’s file system.

One more note: Once you’ve installed any DMG or PKG file, you can delete it from the system. Its job is finished now, and the app is installed. Unless you’d like to keep it in case you install it on another Mac, there’s no need to keep hold of it in the Downloads folder. You can simply drag it into the bin and delete it.

Russ Ware

Russ has been testing, reviewing and writing guides for tech since the heady days of Windows 95 and the Sega Saturn. A self-confessed (and proud) geek about all things tech, if it has LED's, a screen, beeps or has source code, Russ will want to master it (and very likely take it apart to see how it works...)

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