This article was originally written for the December 2021 edition of Hemispheric News, delivered as part of the Hemispheric Views podcast member bonus program, One Prime Plus

Are you a Terminal wizard? A command line guru? A shell superstar? No, neither am I.

From time to time I attempt to teach myself. It never sticks. As a result I know just enough about the macOS (and Linux, I suppose) terminal (bash/zsh) as the faded memory of a series of beginner courses permit. I’ve resigned myself to this, and have found a happy medium of mostly using the GUI - but using the terminal for a few specific and useful things.

Introducing Homebrew

If you do nothing else with the terminal, it’s worth taking a look at homebrew( Homebrew is a package manager for macOS. Put another way, it provides an easy way to install a whole bunch of Mac applications with a simple command.

To my mind, this is actually easier than finding the product website, downloading a .dmg file, dragging the application to /Applications, unmounting the .dmg and then putting it in the trash.

All of these steps can be replaced with the command brew install "appname" where app name could be zoom or microsoft-edge or marta. Brew then does all the hard work of grabbing the file and installing it in the appropriate location.

If you aren’t sure what the app is called, use brew search searchterm. It’s that easy.

Updating Apps

Brew can update apps as well. It’s a two-step process, with two commands:

  1. brew update to get the latest version information.
  2. brew upgrade to perform an upgrade of all installed apps.

Best Brews

Using the command brew list I have checked out what I’ve got installed via brew at the moment.

Remember, Jason made me erase my iMac, so I’m back to a short list at the moment, but highlights include:

  • Firefox
  • FMail
  • Maestral
  • Mailtrackerblocker
  • Marta
  • Netnewswire
  • Zoom

As you can see, that’s a mix of commercial and indie software.

Casks or Formulae?

Carrying on the theme, Brew has the concept of casks and formulae. All the apps above are casks - which eliminates the .dmg dance I described earlier.

Formulae are the instructions that tell a Homebrew what is needed to be downloaded to get a working app on your machine.

As a user, you don’t really need to worry too much about it.

Is it Safe?

Yes, it’s as safe as installing any other app on the internet. That is to say, the major apps will be fine. Microsoft Edge has had 32,214 installs via Homebrew in the last 30 days.

I believe there is a submission process for apps to be included in the homebrew directory, although don’t quote me on that. All the non-cask apps are open-source, so there is a degree of protection there in that you (or others) can read the code and identifying bugs or nasties if they so wish.

I’ve never had a problem, and I believe that Homebrew is just nerdy enough not to be an attractive vector for bad actors.