The least enjoyable part of setting up new computers is installing apps, for me anyhow. The Mac App Store makes this a lot easier, but many essential and valuable Mac apps are not present in the App Store either by choice from the vendor or due to the limitations placed on apps located in the store. Instead, you have to find the installer, download it, install it, then rinse/repeat a dozen times.
In the Windows ecosystem, Ninite offered a way around this problem. It allows you to install a number of popular apps from their library by running a single application. It’s simple and convenient, and made setting up a new PC or reinstalling Windows a little bit less annoying.
While you need to reinstall OS X far less often than Windows, it’s can still be a time consuming task when needed. Plus, you still need to setup apps anytime you get a new Mac. That’s where Get Mac Apps comes in. Their home page says “It’s like Ninite for mac!”, so let’s take it at its word and see how well it works.
How Get Mac Apps Works
You use Get Mac Apps by going to the web site. There you’re presented with a list of the currently supported programs. These are all free apps or the demo versions of some paid apps. Currently the app list includes both the Chrome and Firefox web browsers along with other popular tools including Dropbox, Evernote, Handbrake, Coda, TextWrangler, Sublime Text, flux, and Notational Velocity. In total the site currently lists forty-six supported apps with new ones are being added regularly.
The site supports installing from a single app supported app to potentially every listed app on the site. You select the apps that you want by checking the box next to each app. One you’ve completed your selection, click the Install These! button at the bottom of the web page.
You then receive a unique command to paste into a terminal window to actually complete the installation of your selected apps. The command is worth looking at for a moment to see what it does. In short, it downloads a shell script using the built in Curl program and executes it on you Mac. This should give you a bit of a pause since by using the command you are allowing the site to execute code on your computer — albeit only in your user directory. This could still be misused in the wrong hands, so using Get Mac Apps comes down to trusting the site to provide the software it states and do nothing malicious. To ease your security concerns, Get Mac Apps will show you the generated script by clicking on the link below the command, which will bring up the script in a new window to review.
The generated script also demonstrates how the automated process runs. The script downloads the installer from the product’s web site. It then automatically completes the steps needed to install the application from this downloaded file. For a zip file for example the file is unzipped and the .app file is moved to the appropriate place on your Mac. Disk images are automatically mounted, installed, and unmounted when done. The script creates a temporary directory under your home folder on your mac and all files are downloaded into a temporary directory onto your computer while the installs take place. Each install is completed before the next begins minimizing the extra disk space required. In my tests all temporary files were cleaned up after each install leaving nothing on my computer other than the new programs, which is nice.
Should You Use It?
Ultimately a site like Get Mac Apps provides the most value when you’re installing a number of programs at the same time. While the days of reinstalling Windows every few months are past for most of us, reinstalling the OS a Windows PC is still a more frequent need than for Mac users. That’s probably why a site like something like this has been so long to arrive on the Mac. That doesn’t reduce the usefulness of this for the setup of a new Mac, though. Another place this can be useful would be to speed the creation of a test or development machine which is more likely to be created from scratch or reinstalled. The automation also makes it handy even if you’re just installing a single app on your computer for the first time.
For those who always find themselves working on the computer of friends, coworkers, or customers, then the ability to install a number of useful apps quickly and without manual intervention can save time. It’s nice to start the process and walk away knowing it will be done when you come back in a few minutes.
Some Improvements I’d Like to See
I like Get Mac Apps, but it could use some additional features. The process of relying on a pasted script feels a little clunky, especially compared to the wizard like installation Ninite provides. A nicer front end that automated the download and installation through a graphical interface would seem more polished and appeal more to the casual user. I also found that the scripts cannot do upgrades. No check is made to see if you already have the program and if so, you’ll be presented with a series of questions in Terminal about overwriting files, which would leave many users confused. While the list of supported programs is growing quickly, it’s still limited.
If you’re installing several programs on a Mac for the first time, then Get Mac Apps offers a nice convenient way to do so quickly an easily. It’s perhaps more of a nice tool for IT pros, since average users would be reluctant to fire up Terminal in the first place, but it’s still simple enough for most people to handle without trouble. It’s far more limited since it can’t reinstall your App Store purchases automatically at the same time, but it’s still a nice tool to have for the other freeware apps you’ll want to install anyhow.
So, next time you’re installing OS X or get a new Mac, give it a try to get your non-App Store apps installed. It’ll at least save you a few minutes and a couple dozen clicks.