How do you prefer to launch Mac apps?

I am curious to know how people most frequently launch applications given the relatively low numbers that the polls on Spotlight and Launchpad reveal. Are apps launched from Finder or is every frequently used app kept in the Dock?

I use the Dock 90% of the time and Launchpad the rest.

For me, every frequently used app is kept in the Dock. Otherwise, I use the Applications folder, also in the Dock, as a list, alphabetized by name.


Yes, terryk, I should have been clearer. That’s what I meant by using the Dock – selecting an app from a folder in the Dock.

I used the Dock before there was a Launchpad, and for several years afterward. But I found that the Dock was just getting to big for comfort, with about 10-15 items at various times.

So when I started working with Launchpad and after I got it organized the way I like, I whittled the Dock down to a bare minimum:

  • Finder (can’t be removed, but useful as a target to reload/force-quit it when something breaks)
  • Time Machine (need to be able to click it while Finder windows are open)
  • Emacs (used as a drop-target, since it can open literally any file)

Then it has the set of running apps

Then in the final group:

  • A specially-configured terminal for playing Nethack and related games (yeah, I still like that game), featuring ANSI colors, white-on-black text and the MS-DOS Latin-1 character encoding (for IBM block graphics)
  • A “quicklist” folder of aliases to commonly-used documents
  • Trash

Not sure of the percentages, but I launch via…

  • App is permanently in the dock
  • App was recently used and is still in the dock
  • Open a document (found via Spotlight or in Finder), which opens the associated application
  • iStat Menus has buttons to launch Application Monitor, Console, Terminal
  • Other items in the menu bar launch a full application (e.g. 1Password, Little Snitch, Arq, Dropbox, PCalc, Plex, Time Machine…)
  • Spotlight search for app
  • Open Finder, go to Applications via sidebar, where I have my applications arranged in a grid, with Apple apps first, then mine, spaced in 5 columns, and a blank row between each group of 5 – just the way I want them. This arrangement dates back to System 7 days.

I used to have some other launchers but gave them up for Spotlight.

I never would use Launchpad. 8 pages of apps? Ugh.

I suspect Mr. Schmitt’s observation about Launchpad

is a common reaction and explains why it is little used. However, there is a poorly advertised way to change the number of rows and columns on each Launchpad page using these Terminal commands:

defaults write springboard-columns -int 9
defaults write springboard-rows -int 6
killall Dock

where you can set whatever number of rows and columns you want (up to a relatively low limit). (Curious that Apple calls Launchpad ‘springboard’.) Useful but not likely to change many people’s behavior.

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Frequent items in dock, always items in login, rest in Launchpad.

Dock first, then Command-Spacebar. Never Launchpad!

Not Launchpad. I used DragThing for many years until the author (understandably) stopped updating it for new MacOS versions. To create something similar I used Keyboard Maestro to create a palette of icons that sits in the lower left of my screen, visible whenever the Finder has focus. It’s a macro group (without a hot key) that contains one macro for each app with an icon of that app pasted onto the macro. Each macro has only one action that activates the specified app. Note that the apps appear in alphabetical order, but you can prefix a macro name with a number followed by a right parenthesis and that prefix will be used for sorting the macros but won’t be displayed in the menu or in palettes. I have my 25 most-used apps in that palette, as well as quite a few more in my dock. Between the two I have single-click access to all the apps I use.

I keep frequently used apps in the Dock, and have the Dock set to right side of screen and to auto-hide. One reason for doing this is so I can drag a file onto an app to open it or send it by Mail. For all other apps, I use Alfred set to cmd-spacebar, type the first three letters of the name and hit return. I also keep XMenu in the menu bar showing Applications and Documents: I don’t use it so much for apps now I have Alfred, but it is an easy way to get at Documents and its contents.

Many of my apps auto-launch on startup - Safari, Mail are probably the apps I use most these days. As for others, it’s a mix between clicking the dock icon or launching from Alfred. Sometimes I open an app by double-clicking a document in Finder (I have a few documents I use often that I have parked on the right side of the dock). As I think I said in the poll thread, I use Launchbar mostly to uninstall Mac App Store apps, though I really don’t have a lot of those, and sometimes I forget the app came from MAS and i uninstall with the app AppCleaner (though honestly I don’t install or uninstall apps all that often.)

I use Alfred!


I use Raycast, an interesting app launcher, I used to use Alfred.

If an app is in my Dock it is so I can drop files onto it.

I have my “Recent Items” under the Apple Menu set to remember the last 50 used. That, along with the half dozen apps whose icons are in the dock, covers 99.9% of anything I’ll want to run.

I used to do that, but I ran into some problem and removed almost all items from auto-launch. I don’t remember what the problem was.

I now use the Recent Item list (also set to 50, and that seems to be plenty). Once I start an app, I generally leave it running and switch to it using command-tab (or much less frequently, the Dock).

Most of the apps I use all the time are in the dock. Otherwise I either open the application folder or do a spotlight search.

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For those listed directly in the Dock (Safari, Mail, Calendar, etc.), I use the Dock. Otherwise, I have my Applications folder in the Dock (also my Documents folder) and I use them for quick access. I have always found that to be the quickest way to find things.

I find that if I double-click on a file I want to open and edit, it automatically launches the application, so as a practical matter, launching applications really isn’t an issue for me.

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Raycast is new to me. Can you share why you switched?

I own the lifetime powerpack for Alfred, I swapped over about a year ago to the freeware Raycast. I guess I’m keeping my options open. I had two issues with my usage of Alfred, one related to the upgrading process and re-registration of the powerpack seemed to be all too frequent an affair. Secondly, my usage was simple, I launched apps, did a little math, and searched using it. Why not try something else. And Raycast has got a lot of attention, MacStories gave it app of the year last year. How to use Raycast and how it compares to Spotlight and Alfred - The Verge

I tried it and it has stuck.