launch MacOS Applications
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For new macOS users transitioning from Windows, the way you launch applications might be the first difference you notice. Even though they’re different, the tools on macOS are user-friendly and designed to make the process simpler.

From The Dock

macOS dock

The Dock is by far the simplest way to launch applications on macOS. It’s a lot like the Windows taskbar, containing an icon for each running app, except the macOS Dock comes with many default apps already pinned to it. It also shows notifications for each app and apps that need your attention will start bouncing.

You can click on any of these icons to launch the app. If the app is running, you’ll see a small white dot underneath the icon. You can click on any running app to automatically bring that app to the front.

The Dock is designed for you to customize. You can drag the applications around to change the order, you can drag an application out of the Dock to remove it, and you can drag one into the Dock to pin it there. Removing an app from the Dock does not delete it, and you can still launch it in other ways.

macOS keep in dock

If you have an app running, you can force it to stay in the Dock by right-clicking (tap with two fingers on a touchpad) the icon, hovering over “Options” and selecting “Keep in Dock.”

From Launchpad

The Launchpad should be the 3rd icon in the Dock, a gray icon with a rocket ship.

This will open an interface that looks like you’re using an iPad. All of your apps will be here, and you can launch any of them by clicking on the icon.

macOS launchpad

The Launchpad has multiple pages, and you can swipe between them with three fingers if you’re using a device with a touchpad. Like iOS, you can pick up any of the apps by clicking and holding on the app and then moving it around. If you move two apps on top of each other, you can create a folder that stores multiple apps in one tile.

Launchpad with Hot Corners

Hot Corners is a feature in macOS that can activate Launchpad by moving your mouse to the corner of the screen. You can turn it on by opening the System Preferences app from the Dock and clicking on “Mission Control.”

macOS mission control preferences

At the bottom of the window, click the “Hot Corners” button.

macOS hot corners button

The Hot Corners settings should pop up. You can click any one of the dropdowns and set it to “Launchpad.”

macOS hot corners menu

Try moving your mouse to that corner. Launchpad should open, and if you want to close it, you can move your mouse to the corner again.

While you’re in this menu, it’s a good idea to set another corner for Mission Control, which shows your Desktops and open application windows. We’d recommend avoiding setting anything in the top left corner, as it can make it hard to click the Apple menu.

From Spotlight

macOS spotlight

Spotlight is like Windows search. It lets you search for anything by name, including applications.

You can launch Spotlight in two ways:

  • Pressing Command and Space at the same time, very conveniently placed right next to each other and right under your left thumb.
  • From the Search icon in the right corner of the top menu bar.

From the search window, just type in the name of the app and press enter once you see it in the results. The app should launch or take you to it if it’s already running. You can also use Spotlight to search for many other things as well; it’s a very useful part of macOS.

From Finder

The Finder is macOS’ version of the Windows’ File Explorer. It lets you browse all your files and launch applications directly. You can launch Finder from the Dock, or you can click on your Desktop and press Command+N to open a new Finder window.

The Applications folder isn’t hidden and hard to access like Program Files is on Windows. You can simply click on “Applications” in the sidebar to open your default Applications folder, which contains icons for each app on your system.

macOS applications folder

You can double click any of the icons in here to open them or take you to it if it’s currently open.

While most of your applications are in the Applications folder, macOS applications don’t install as Windows ones do. MacOS apps are single files, and you may have some applications in your Downloads folder. You can go to your Downloads folder to launch those, though it’s best to drag them into the Applications folder with all the others.

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Anthony Heddings is the resident cloud engineer for LifeSavvy Media, a technical writer, programmer, and an expert at Amazon's AWS platform. He's written hundreds of articles for How-To Geek and CloudSavvy IT that have been read millions of times.
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