Last Week on My Mac: Too many apps

I confess: over the years I’ve accumulated far too many apps, even after Catalina’s enforced thinning. The current count is 461 in my main Applications folder, and a few more scattered in Utilities and elsewhere. I’m more than partly to blame for around forty of them, but that’s still an awful lot of apps, of which a mere 62 are in my Dock. That’s become one of the biggest reasons for having a 27 inch display.

Although I can remember a lot about many of them, there are some which I always seem to forget, or whose name I can never remember. There are some wonderful names like Anaconda-Navigator, Twine and Ukelele, and purposeful icons, but what do they all do?

One solution which might have been helpful is the option to group apps in a Finder window by ‘Application Category’, which could at least have given some clues. I realised this week that wasn’t much help at all, with a total of 177 being listed under Other, including some of Apple’s own apps like Home and News. The reason for this is that the categories are fixed by Apple, based on those in its App Store, and a great many apps including its own Home and News don’t set a category at all.

Neither can the user customise the list of categories, nor assign an app to a category, as that has to be baked into its Info.plist file. You can edit that for many apps, but at your own peril: doing so will break the app’s signature, and can stop it from opening.

In looking for a solution, I discovered that you can set a metadata value known to Finder’s Find as Application Categories (kMDItemApplicationCategories), which turns out to be quite different from Application Category. There, the user can define any category they like, and set this as an extended attribute (named on the application folder itself. Almost instantly this provides fine-grained Spotlight search in the Finder. Still there’s no way to get a Finder window to list apps using these Application Categories, and you obviously can’t set them for apps which are bundled with macOS, as they and Safari are protected by SIP.

These Application Categories are currently fiddly to set, even using my extended attribute toolkit xattred, so my next task is to open up access to them, so that you too can use these metadata to identify the apps that you want to open.

There are a couple of snags with this. Replacing that app will lose the extended attribute containing Application Categories. To protect against that, the categories assigned to each app also need to be stored within an app which can restore existing categories to apps when they’re updated or replaced. The other problem is that you can only list categorised apps in a Find window, when looking for them. In any other type of Finder window, those application categories are completely ignored. It would take a custom window to list all your apps according to your custom categories.

I don’t know how helpful this approach might be to others with loads of apps. The only way to find out is to try it, so that’s what I’m doing in my new app Appui (it’s an obsolete Anglo-French word meaning a defensive support). The first version will rely largely on the Find window to access categorised apps, and concentrate on adding and editing both Application Categories and Keywords, which can also be of value and are already being used by some apps.

From there, I intend adding the supporting database to make it easier to maintain and retain these extended attributes even when apps are completely replaced. It shouldn’t be a big step then to lay those apps out in a window in which they can be sorted according to category, and launched. Think of this being like a more compact, customisable and self-organising version of LaunchPad, perhaps, which lives in its own window rather than hogging the whole display.

If this idea interests you, please comment below. If you have any suggestions, if you know of another utility which already does this perhaps, please raise them here. Although this is primarily to address my own squirreling of an absurd number of apps, I’d like it to be more generally useful, hopefully to you as well.


Thank you for your comments below. It’s abundantly clear that everyone else has far better solutions, with which they’re happy. Although I may proceed with this development, if I do, it will remain private so that it does what I want it to do.