OS X Lion: Contextual Menus & Dock Icons, Oh My!

Lion’s got a whole mess of stuff that you can access by right- or Control-clicking on your Dock’s application icons. Some of it is new to 10.7; some was already present in Snow Leopard, waiting patiently for you to click around and discover secrets. Didn’t know about those things? Curious about what Lion has to offer you? Then come on in. The water’s fine.

Let’s check out what I think is the most useful new feature first. For document-creation programs like Pages and TextEdit, right-clicking on their Dock icons shows that application’s recent files within the contextual menu that appears. 

Don’t ask me about these file names, ‘kay?


That’s neat and all, but at this point, you may be asking yourself how to go about clearing out that menu. After all, can’t have the wife knowing how often you open her “Christmas Gift Ideas” file, can you? So let’s erase those recent items by going to the application in question and choosing File > Open Recent > Clear Menu.

After you’ve done that, the “Open Recent” menu is indeed clear, but here’s the thing—there seems to be a bug that prevents the Dock icons’ contextual menus from updating immediately. So to make them do so if you experience that problem, you can log out and log in again. You can also restart the Dock by opening the Terminal application in Applications > Utilities, typing in the following, and then hitting enter:

killall Dock

In addition, I’ve been able to intermittently make things refresh by clearing the “Open Recents” menu as above, then choosing “Show Recents” from the Dock icon’s contextual menu and just clicking back to my desktop afterward. Your mileage may vary on this one, though. I sincerely hope that there’s an easier, more consistent way to do this soon. 

Back to the main event! Another new option in Lion is that you can create an event or reminder in iCal by right-clicking on its Dock icon when the program is already running.

And here are some options that we already had in Snow Leopard but have been brought forward into Lion. First, you can use iTunes’ Dock icon (when the program is running) to change your shuffle settings, start playing music, or play recent songs.

When a song is currently playing, though, that contextual menu changes quite a bit. Why, you can even post to Ping from there. Anyone? Bueller?

Mail’s menu gives you the ability to compose a new message or get your new mail.

There are other programs that have special options when you right-click on their Dock icons (Terminal and Finder are another couple of my favorites), but you get the idea. So what have we learned today? Maybe our lesson is that the best way to discover as much as you can on a Mac is to hold down different keys and go around clicking all over the place. Do that when you’re at work, and everyone will think you’re either a computer genius or a few cards short of a full deck. Either outcome is fine as far as I’m concerned.