I have been installing some popular software for Mac and observed that installation packages do not create a desktop shortcut as they often do on windows.

What is good practice to follow: Should I create a desktop shortcut for my application which i have developed?

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    On Windows, it's a bad practice. Apps belong to Start menu. – Agent_L Oct 10 at 9:20
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    The title of the question should probably be modified to make it clear that you're asking about creating a shortcut during the installation process, not as an end user. Multiple answers seem to be based on the assumption this is an end user question. – barbecue Oct 10 at 22:09
  • By 'desktop shortcut' do you literally mean an icon that appears on the desktop, the background screen that is always there, or do you mean an icon in a folder such as Applications or Utilities? I've seen some Windows users (not usually developers though) who believe the Applications folder is full of 'shortcuts'. – Craig Oct 11 at 2:58
up vote 53 down vote accepted

I would say desktop alias creation at install time for an app is an anti-pattern and bad practice for developers to implement as default behavior.

  • The desktop belongs to the end user and macOS is designed to install apps for every user account and to consider more than one user per computer. To accomplish this, you’re either escalating the installer to root privileges to change multiple desktops or you’re ignoring / short cutting the way apps can (or possibly should) get installed for all subsequent users.
  • The launchpad and dock and spotlight / Siri are the bespoke app launch tools and idioms so you can assume your customers are very familiar with how to start an app they just chose to install.

The most kind way to do this would be to onboard the user and ask if they want any shortcuts the first time they launch the app. Apple recommends you have a very light onboarding, so even this is against "best practice" but I would see it as the best way to make an alias if you feel it's the right call for the majority of the users of your app.

I would encourage you to read over the HIG - Human Interface Guidelines and the many free WWDC videos on app packaging and installation - your question is a good one and thinking how people see your app during installation is super helpful to make your app succeed with many customers.

  • Yes, I have increasingly seen installers on various platforms providing the option for desktop or menu shortcuts. It is at the point now, that some installers ask whether to add a shortcut, many do not (ask) and a few (often the ones that cost a lot) still install to the desktop whether you like it or not. – Mick Oct 9 at 14:12
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    @Mick - I cannot recall, in 25 years of using Macs, an app writing an alias to the desktop. – Tetsujin Oct 12 at 7:00

This answer was written before the clarification that the OP is from a developer perspective, not end user

I've always been firmly of the school of "nothing on the desktop" personally - but each to his/her own.

You can find apps to launch in one of at least 6 ways...

  • The Apple  Menu > Recent Items

  • The Applications folder itself

  • LaunchPad

  • Spotlight

  • Drag the App to the Dock

  • Double-click any document & the relevant app will launch, or right-click Open With > for a list of alternatives which can handle that document type.

So many alternatives that it doesn't feel necessary to clutter the desktop with another.
However, it's your machine - do as you wish ;-)

No. You should just copy the app to /Applications (or ~/Applications), and let the user choose if they want to create a shortcut in the dock or somewhere else.

A lot of the time, "installers" in macOS are just disk images (dmg files) containing the app itself and a shortcut to the Applications folder. The user can choose to drag the app there, or anywhere else.

As a Mac user for some years, I don't recall for any app that creates desktop shortcut after installation. I believe this practice is more familiar for users that come from a Windows environment for the first time, but definitely this is not a good approach, not because of the memory or cpu usage, but for the multiple ways you can access to your apps in MacOS, which are more efficient and elegant.

Yes, use the Dock. You will probably have to drag the application icon onto it to add it, though.

If you want the icons to always appear, in the Dock control panel uncheck the list item "Automatically hide and show the Dock".

Frankly, this comes down to your personal preference. There is no bad or good practice really when using desktop shortcuts.

Generally on Mac, you would use the dockMac Dock

However, feel free to add your icons directly onto the desktop space. Personally, I use my desktop simply for projects that I am working on at the time, everything else is filed away appropriately. So if I have a job that I am working on, that file structure will be easily accessible through my desktop.

My Current Desktop Layout Desktop Example

  • 2
    You are answering from a user perspective, where indeed any choice is valid. The OP was asking from a developer perspective, effectively about making choices on users' behalf. That is not a situation where all choices are valid: there are guidelines and expectations to be adhered to, precisely because not all users will accept a single non-standard option being imposed on them. – Michael MacAskill Oct 10 at 0:22
  • @MichaelMacAskill no, "any user choice is valid." Untrue: bad choices lead to significantly reduced productivity. – Carl Witthoft Oct 10 at 12:57
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    @CarlWitthoft The point is not that any user choice is good for productivity, but that without personal knowledge of the individual user, it is impossible to say whether or not it's valid, therefore you must assume that it's valid. – barbecue Oct 10 at 21:47
  • @barbecue you just got the scientific method exactly backwards. – Carl Witthoft Oct 11 at 12:40
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    @Carl No, barbecue is correct. The point is that you are not in a position to decide for some other person what their optimally productive environment is, therefore all bets are off and you should let them decide. No choice you make for them is guaranteed to be valid, and any choice could be valid for some user. – Lightness Races in Orbit Oct 11 at 14:43

As others have said, placing commonly-used applications on the dock is the way most Mac users deal with this, often in conjunction with Spotlight (Cmd-Space) to open less frequently-used applications.

If the dock isn't big enough for you, check out Launchpad, which is in your Applications folder. You can configure a keyboard shortcut to open it (in System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts), and it shows you a grid of launch icons for all your installed applications, much like an iPhone home screen, which you can rearrange as you see fit. Most long-time Mac users don't use or like it much, but if you're used to having shortcuts for everything on your desktop rather than using the Windows Start menu, it might work for you.

You can also access something more like a Start menu by adding the Applications folder to your dock, then right-clicking it and selecting "Show Contents as List". Then whenever you click it in future, you'll see a menu of all your installed applications that you can click to launch.

  • Well, in my experience of supporting hundreds of Mac users over the years, it is. – calum_b Oct 10 at 17:04
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    Well, as George Carlin used to say, 50% of [any group] is below average. Now think how stupid the average person is. – Carl Witthoft Oct 10 at 18:43
  • @CarlWitthoft Citation please? I can't think of a single Mac user from the past ten years who doesn't use the dock for launching common applications. Obviously, before the Dock existed, desktop shortcuts were more common. – barbecue Oct 10 at 21:57
  • @barbecue People use Spotlight, or Alfred, or similar to launch applications. I haven‘t opened the Dock for months :-) – nohillside Oct 11 at 4:26

I like an uncluttered desktop and Dock, and have used MoofMenu for years to allow easy access to various applications, utilities, and documents. MoofMenu places a Dogcow icon in the menubar. Here's mine:

enter image description here

Each of MoofMenu's items and lists and individual items are cascading and user-configurable, and easily reached quickly with the mouse or trackpad. I have more items in these menus that appear in the Dock, but fewer than are stored in SSD/Applications folder.

If you're very facile with navigation-by-keyboard in Finder windows, you can probably access items more quickly that way. But I'm not that good, and I enjoy seeing and easily choosing from a list of items that includes perhaps 95% of my regular targets.

IIRC, cascading menus were introduced in Mac OS 9. I found them very useful then, and with MoofMenu still very useful now.

  • What are cascading menus? Is that just another term for submenus? – SilverWolf Oct 8 at 20:43
  • Yes. The screenshot attached to my answer shows the Dogcow menu opened. If, for example, one then dragged the mouse pointer down to "Desktop," then a submenu would appear to the right showing every item then on the computer's Desktop. – David Oct 8 at 20:49
  • @David You said "cascading menus were introduced in Mac OS 9" but, in fact, System 7 already had them, e.g. in the Apple menu, and Wikipedia notes: "Several third-party utilities provided a level of customization of the order of the items added to the Apple menu without having to rename each item." Today there are a bunch of other apps with functionality similar to MoofMenu, including: aLaunch, App Bar, Classic Menu, FinderPop (contextual menu), HimmelBar, XMenu. – Big Mac Oct 10 at 14:22
  • @BigMac I don't disagree. But I like the MM icon at the end of the icon row on the right side of the Menu: it's easy to see and find, and being configurable, easy to specify the items I want and the ones I want to exclude. Certainly users' will have different preferences. – David Oct 10 at 14:51
  • @David Most of the other apps that I mentioned are menu bar apps, and all menu bar apps can be moved around in the menu bar by command-clicking on them. – Big Mac Oct 10 at 14:57

The Desktop is Dead

It has been dead for decades, but thanks to the purveyors of OSs and naive users, it remains as a killer zombie.

Reasons NOT to use the desktop

  • You can't organize by date, size, and all the other attributes you can in a Finder or Explorer window
  • You can't even see the entire file name if it's long
  • At least in Windows, there's an annoying overlay of "Public" and personal desktops, which makes tracking down the actual file a royal pain
  • Apps belong in Apps or ProgramFiles directories. Period.
  • the Desktop is not navigable the way a Finder/Explorer window is, nor does it have quick-navigation sidebar.

Reasons TO use the desktop

  • Idiot developers put a link icon there
  • You never learned that directory windows (Finder/Explorer) exist.
  • You like wasting minutes trying to find the icon you want, especially as it blends into that funky background art you put on your desktop.
  • 1
    Your answer seems to be more a rant than an actual answer. Can you edit it to be less opinionated and a bit more focused on macOS and on the question asked? – nohillside Oct 10 at 21:27
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    In addition to not really answering the question as asked, this answer contains several factually incorrect statements. – barbecue Oct 10 at 21:53
  • @barbecue [citation needed]. Whatever. I'll walk away from this firestorm and stick with some sane issue like emacs vs. vi – Carl Witthoft Oct 11 at 12:38

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