Wed, Aug 2, 2006, 2:51pm Organizing the Applications Folder in OS X
Computers » Mac
(Last updated: Thu, Aug 3, 2006, 12:59am)
o, how are other people using their Applications folder? Maybe this isn't even an issue for you, but the idea of just tossing programs in that folder without any substructure is just nuts to me. It's more trouble, for me anyway, to use an application launcher than to simply keep the Applications folder organized. The first thing I do on a fresh install of OS X, is to drag the icon for the App folder into the dock and quickly sort out the built-in programs, as in the first screenshot here. It's very quick (Spotlight searches take twice as long, but are always available also) and it's using nothing beyond standard Finder features. But enough about me, I'm wondering how others organize their folder, or if you're happy just pushing all new programs in there without thinking about it.

Back on the subject of me for a second… Most of the subjects I have chosen are categories that I've decided on over the years that have become intuitive to me, but I'm sure some of them seem foreign to others. Probably the clearest example of that is my folder for "Inscriptors," (a neologism on my part) which includes word processors, diagramming tools (like OmniGraffle), BBEdit, TextMate, Keynote… The pattern isn't really clear even in my own mind, but I wanted to put things that are roughly document-creation tools in there, without meaning graphics drawing tools. (OmniGraffle I consider more general than just a graphics tool.)

The other quirk here is that I have a "Tools" folder, because Apple already took the name Utilities, and when I used to mix my tools with Apple tools back in the early days of OS X, they would occasionally get wiped out in a system update, so I have forsaken that folder to Apple's whims. ("Readers," for those curious, are for things like Preview and Tofu — things that read only.)

Not all of my main folders have a subfolder structure like the Internet one does, only when it gets a mess within there. I think only Demos, Internet, Programming and Tools have subfolders like that. (The Programming folder is divided up by language, tools, IDEs, and some code-specific editors. The reason BBEdit and TextMate are in Inscriptors is because I use them for everything.)

Ok, so I don't usually suggest this folder set-up to others when I help them with their machines, but that's what I'm curious about. Does anyone else do this kind of organizing, and if so, how so?

(One minor note that is a bug, in my view, on Apple's part: The reason the Dictionary is still in its original position is that the short-cut shift-command-d (that shows the definition of a word being pointed to) has the location of the Dictionary program hard-coded into it, so moving the Dictionary breaks this feature. I know: file a big report. I thought I did, but will do it again.)

  • JJB (Wed, August 2nd, 2006, 8:58pm UTC)
    I throw 100% of my apps into the top level of Applications, and never launch them with Finder ever again, and it makes me cringe that Apple has a Utilities subfolder.

    Then I launch everything with Launchbar.

    "It's more trouble, for me anyway, to use an application launcher than to simply keep the Applications folder organized."


  • Jeff (Wed, August 2nd, 2006, 11:07pm UTC)
    I often don't know the name of a program I'm about to use. I'm looking for a type of program, often not a specific app. (My most often used apps are in the Dock, generally.) For instance, how would I glance at just the icon editing tools with LB (not trying to single-out LB here)?

    I should mention that even with the greatest application launcher it probably wouldn't affect how I store stuff in /Applications, since I want to be able to group programs by type. This is really the whole point for me. I have hundreds of programs on my machines. I can't remember what most of them do just by looking at the name or icon. The folder groupings gives me most of the info I need to pick a tool for a task from a group of tools. I believe the only way an application launcher could help me with this chore would be to group them within the scheme of that program, which ends up being the same task just done on another level.

    One advantage of doing it in folders is that these groupings are independent of what application launcher I happen to use, and another is that others making use of my applications directory on another account on this machine (or on my network) need not ask me what all these programs are. It's all fairly self-explanatory this way.

    This reasonable? I can be swayed if a good case for flat storage is made, and who knows, Leopard may provide that argument in a few days.

  • Jeff (Mon, August 14th, 2006, 3:40pm UTC)
    Just as a follow-up, nothing in Leopard substantially changed on this front. I remain (happily) organizing my /Applications folder.

  • joh (Fri, September 1st, 2006, 7:04am UTC)
    While I also organize my Applications folder, I use ~/Applications instead of /Applications for that and just use aliases for the apps that *have* to go into /Applications. The reason is that most of the original Apple apps have problems when an update tries to update them and they are not in /Applications. Makes also backups somewhat easier.

  • Martyn (Fri, September 1st, 2006, 1:46pm UTC)
    I just bung it all in the top level and use Quicksilver to launch. I don't have so many apps that i forget their use just yet. As I acquire engineering/maths tools I might find a need to seperate those off though.

  • Apollonius (Sun, March 18th, 2007, 12:39pm UTC)
    I organize as you do. It is sometimes annoying with updates and dictionary as you pointed out. I hope Apple fixes those bugs because I find the idea of an app-launcher redundant.

  • Perry (Sat, February 23rd, 2008, 7:15am UTC)
    I used to do as your 2006-08-02-Applications.png suggests or I would create folders for the dock consisting of alias collections since MacOSX handled them so smartly. But with Leopard I have put my faith in metadata tagging instead and it seems to be working out ok. The key is prefixing the tags with the proper symbol. The ampersand does pretty well for me. I seen others who have worked out schemes for more precise Spotlight retrieval, such as wrapping client documents in square-braces, etc, etc. Here is how I keep the metadata tags always available since MacOSX/Finder still has implemented some sort of scheme yet. First, I use the following GeekTool Shell command (sure the bash code survives this post):

    ( bash )
      1  grep string /Users/pcs/Library/Caches/Quicksilver/Indexes/QSPresetQSFileTagsPlugIn.qsindex | \
    2 awk {'print $1'} | \
    3 /sw/bin/gsort -f -u | \
    4 sed -n 's/ *//pg' | \
    5 sed -n 's/string//pg' | \
    6 sed -n 's/\<//pg' | \
    7 sed -n 's/\///pg' | \
    8 sed -n 's/\>//pg' | \
    9 /sw/bin/gpr -W 90 --across --omit-pagination --columns=4

    and then set the text color to a light grey so it usually shows up whatever the desktop image may be and use a small unobtrusive font and route it to a secondary monitor. Remember too, QuickSilver can facilitate the association of metadata tags with you files.

    As an aside here is another dang handy GeekTool Shell command:

    ( bash )
      1  textutil -convert txt '/Users/pcs/Library/Application Support/sidenote/Blender Keychords.rtfd/TXT.rtf'
    2 cat '/Users/pcs/Library/Application Support/sidenote/Blender Keychords.rtfd/TXT.txt'

    The two things I would wish the reader to note here is the unsung textutil system utility and sidenote. A nice bit of shareware (free download) that I find much more appealing than programs like I also keep a Sidenote with metadata tag groups collected on single lines for quick copying and pasting when batch updating 'Get Info' comment boxes. I find metadata more flexible/nimble/faster than folder trees now days. There are always apps that you just cannot decide what folder name would be appropriate and metadata tags solve this. Metadata tags 'layer' too. So over time as your uses for an app/file change you just add another new tag. Etc, etc, etc. ;)

  • Perry (Sat, February 23rd, 2008, 7:30am UTC)
    Sorry. I should of mentioned where 'gsort' and 'gpr' come from. They are part of the GNU Coreutils and in my case I got it via Fink. This collection of Unix tools are *tremendous* time savers if you do much Bash scripting. As memory serves me you have the option of dropping the leading 'g' but I am sure the reader can imagine the confusion that would cause when readers of the post in question tried to use the script with command options that their version of 'sort' or 'pr' did not support yet.

  • Jeff (Sat, February 23rd, 2008, 2:36pm UTC)
    Very interesting stuff, Perry. I'll have to play with these suggestions.

  • Bas (Sat, March 22nd, 2008, 6:01pm UTC)
    If I can create meaningful content with it, then it deserves a place in /Applications, if it is some tool then I move it into Utilities, unless it is a game and then it goes to /Games. If I intent to drop files on it I put it in the dock.
    The /Applications is always sorted and shown as icons that fit in one window.

  • perry/agitatedString/whatever (Wed, June 25th, 2008, 2:44am UTC)
    dear Bas,
    As of 6/08 I still stand by what I wrote back in 2/08. In other words, it still is working better for me. As far as messing with the sanctity of the holy '/Applications' I just do not go there … yet … meaning if the download is essentially a third party "application" then only if I suspect it will have multiple future updates I will put it in a generic '/Applications/AppNameFolderName/' …. (otherwise everything else gets burned to cd/dvd if it has even the slightest redeeming value) I have found over time folders like '/Games/' do not work out … but maybe that is because I BELIEVE in Quicksilver … ???? … (some things when they just work are not worth over analyzing I am afraid) … (one thing to keep in mind about GeekTool is that you should always keep a file where you store your scripts of interest since Geektool can be a bit fickle about the 'persistence' thing …)

  • Darcy (Fri, August 15th, 2008, 9:22am UTC)
    I have been looking all over for advice on how to organize my applications. I have to have a separate folder for my third-party applications, because I have so many. Do you think you can help categorize my applications?

    What do you put in for multimedia? Is that everything images, video, and audio? Because I see you have a separate folder for all three. I'm OCD so I have to have everything a certain way, but I sometimes need help with organizing. Do you think you could email me in response, if it's not too much trouble? *sheepish*

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