Using & Understanding The Dock (With Pics)

The Mac OS X Dock is something that has garnered controversy, accolades, and criticism since its introduction at MACWORLD San Francisco 2000. I myself donit like every aspect of the Dock, but I love it as a whole. This is a tutorial that shows you the various aspects of the Dock to help you become familiar with it and use it to its utmost. First of all, letis take a simple look at it.

The Dock

The Dock is a place to store the apps, documents, and folders you want easy access to, and it is also a place to manage your open apps and windows. Each open app has a black triangle underneath it. The divider you see on the right side with the funky @ symbol-thingee is the divider between your apps and the documents and folders you are storing. Apps go on the left, while file, folders, and windows go on the right.

One of the things Apple wanted to do was make the Dock intuitive. For instance, when an app launches, its icon bobs up and down in the Dock. Below is an example with the Internet Explorer "e" icon near the apex of its upward movement. It may look slight in this screen shot, but it is quite plain in action. Notice too that there is no triangle under the "e" icon because in this screen shot, it is still launching. In the screen shot above, it had already been launched.

Bouncy, Trouncy, Flouncy, Pouncy, Fun, Fun, Fun, Fun, Fun!
The IE icon bobbing up and down while launching.

Another thing that Apple did was to make it easy to see the icons in the Dock, even if you have many items stored there, or a lack of screen real estate. Their solution was to make it so that icons can be magnified just by running your cursor across them. This makes it easy to find exactly what you are looking for. One warning, though this is a great effect, it can be a RAM and CPU hog. For those with the bare minimum of RAM or a slower machine, you may want to consider turning this feature off. You can do so in he Dock Prefs which are in the Apple Menu or your System Prefs.

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The Dock with Magnification turned on.

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Movies play in the Dock, even when being magnified! Thatis so cool, it hurts... For bonus points, name the movie being played in the comments.

Now letis add something to the Dock. You can add apps, files, and folders. Windows are added by double clicking on the title bar or clicking the yellow widget on the left-hand side of the title bar. As I mentioned above, apps go on the left side of the divider line (click on the thumbnails to see the divider line), while files and folders go on the right. When you drag an icon to the Dock, the other icons make room for the new icon for you! Very cool, and very intuitive.

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When adding an app, the other application icons will move out of your way.

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You can only put files and folders on the right side of the divider line. The other icons move out of the way here too.

Removing something from the Dock is just as easy. Simply click on it and drag it off. It turns into a puff of smoke and goes away. Note that this does NOT affect the actual file; it only removes the icon from the Dock itself! I was not able to time a screen shot to include the puff of smoke, but this is a shot of removing the Late Breaking News, something you should do once you have read it unless you like extra stuff cluttering up your Dock. :-)

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Removing Late Breaking News from the Dock. Note how it becomes transparent.

Your trash can is on the Dock as well, and it looks great. Better yet it fills up with paper when you put something in it. You can empty the trash by Control-Clicking the trash can icon or clicking and holding down the mouse button. A little popup window appears with "Empty Trash."

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The Trash can with files in it.

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Control-Click the Trash Can.

Speaking of Control-Clicking, there are lots of things you can control from the Dock. You can manage your open windows, turn apps off, and even control some aspects of your Mac like monitor resolution and AirPort. In the following screen shots, I have added my Mac OS X hard drive to the Dock, a great way for burrowing into the contents of your Drive since Apple eliminated the great Spring loaded Folders that was added during Mac OS 8. Donit get me started...

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Control Click on the hard drive icon and you get your root level folders!

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Here, I have gone down one level to see the folders in my Application folder. You can go up to 5 levels deep in this manner

Apps can also be managed from the Dock. In this case, we have Control-Clicked on the Finder and Internet Explorer. The Finder includes all the open Finder windows. The IE popup window includes the three browser windows we have open. This means that you can choose whichever open window you want to bring to the foreground directly from the dock. The option to "Quit" is also available. Believe me, this is VERY handy. The other choice available is "Reveal In Finder," which opens the folder in which your application is stored.

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By clicking on the Finder icon, you get a popup of all the open Finder windows. This can be a blessing for those who have LOTS of folders open.

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These are the three windows I have open in IE. That Mac Observer... What a great site! :-)

Your dock comes with two new control-strip replacements too. An AirPort icon appears if X detects an AirPort card. The Dock allows you to use it by Control-Clicking (or clicking and holding) on the AirPort icon. The same goes with the Displays Control Strip. These were added by Apple because people using the Public Beta complained about the lack of a Control Strip. Some third-party apps have begun to show up that allow you to control other aspects of your Mac too.

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My AirPort card is turned on and is acting as a base station. You can tell because of the back-to-back iMacs. Control-Click and you get several options

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Control-Clicking on the Displays Control Strip lets you change the resolution on your monitor(s). I use two monitors, and can control both of them through this icon.

Some final tips for you:

  • Option-Clicking on an app icon in the Dock hides the current open application and brings the clicked-on app to the front.
  • Option-Command-Clicking on an app icon on the Dock hides all other open applications leaving the clicked-on app as the only visible app. VERY handy at times.
  • Command-Clicking on an app in the Dock reveals that application in the Finder. Again, this can be handy at times.

Do you know of something I left out? Let me know in the comments below!