Why OSX is better, reason 3: The almighty dock

by Hadley Stern Dec 20, 2002

the original os x dockThat crazy, whacky dock. When we all first saw the preview of OS X the dock looked pretty but not useful. Yes, things swooshed in and out of it showing the power of quartz, but it just seemed to be all flash, no substance. Now it is an indispensable part of my workflow, and, thinking about it, it seems to be the perfect evolution from OS 9 hangovers. Remember the launcher? It was a convenient way to launch applications and you could even categorize applications (by opening the system folder and creating aliases). However, the window would always go behind other windows making it one click away—not convenient. Then there was the tried and true favorite of putting aliases in the apple menu. The problem with this was it wasn’t one click away and you couldn’t drag documents to the apple menu to open them.  With OS 9 Apple introduced the ability to have a menu of all open applications albeit in a hard to find way (for those still using OS 9 [my sympathies] hold down the open applications item on the top right and drag down down, a little tab will appear with all the open applications). This was a better solution because it was compact and it told you what was open but therefore was only a solution for clicking between open apps. In OS 9 I ended up creating aliases for the applications I used the most and laying them across the bottom of my desktop. Little did I know this would presage the dock.  Ahh, the dock. You can customize it any way you want. It shows you what applications you have open as well as ones you don’t. It is always present on the screen. And if you need more information you can always hold down on an icon to quit, or shuffle between open documents. After working with it for over year I am now dependant on it. I drag documents to application icons, have my applications arranged by type, and can even see how many emails I have waiting for me with Apple’s mail icon.  But nothing is perfect. What bothers me most about the dock is that applications deal with it in different ways. iMovie gets rid of it, which, considering it is an Apple application seems very odd. if Apple can break the UI rules of OS X what;s to stop everyone else from doing it? Some applications are great at knowing where the dock is and not expand windows under it (bbedit is one). Other applications are horrible (flash is one) when you expand a window it will go underneath the doc. Another problem with the dock is size, I like to have a lot of icons in my dock but it is always a fine balance between the convenience of having all these applications available at one click, and the icons becoming too tiny.  These complaints aside I think the dock is an excellent evolution in the Apple user interface.


  • I think the Dock sucks! I have recent items set to maximum 50 applications and 50 documents and only use the Dock to launch something not listed in Recent Items (under the blue apple in the upper left corner). I use Minimize In Place (http://www.macoshacks.com) to shrink stuff, hide to reduce clutter and LiteSwitch X (http://www.proteron.com) for switching. I find the Dock absolutely useless. I leave it hidden on the right side for seldom use.

    Multimedia had this to say on Dec 21, 2002 Posts: 11
  • That reads a bit too rude. Let’s just say I think the Dock is more trouble than it’s worth.

    Multimedia had this to say on Dec 21, 2002 Posts: 11
  • Windowshade, the Apple Menu, the Application Menu, the floating Applications Bar, and Tabbed Folders were all replaced by the Dock. The Dock, while nice to look at…
    - limits the number of Applications that can be placed in it
    - when too many items are in it, they are displayed as tiny icons
    - does not graphically differentiate folders or documents
    - requires users to search for an icon, instead of relying on muscle memory. This is because the dock is centered and icons move as apps are added and removed from the dock.
    - requires the user to ‘scrub’ the mouse over the bar to reveal item names
    - can be hidden, but is still necessary for most application management
    - is much larger that the more useful Windows bar and tabbed folders
      (Did I just say that?) :(

    Miles had this to say on Dec 22, 2002 Posts: 1
  • The dock is f’n great. No one can trash the dock until they have used it… extensively. Stick with it, tweak it, move it, re-arrange it, drag things over it. It’s absolutely amazing.

    It combines the power of the Apple Menu, Control Strip AND Launcher into one, single thing. And you can hide it.

    Some tips for OS 9ers:
    You can make a folder that is a tab at the bottom of your screen for apps you use, or even files. And it’s easy.
    Step 1) Make a new folder somewhere and give it a name you’ll understand the meaning of, like Applications, or Hot Items.
    Step 2) Put ALIASES of everything you want super-fast access to in said folder.
    Step 3) Drag the window for the folder to the bottom of the screen and watch as it disappears leaving you with a tab.
    Step 4) Customize the content as you see fit, snapping to grid, labelling, arranging by ___, etc. You can slide the tab up and down and click it once to minimize/expand it. You can pull it all the way out to mess with the size of it (well, the width).

    It’s pretty sweet.

    Also, there is a failure, that I can see, to mention the power of Apple-Tab (Command-Tab) and, subsequently, Apple-Shift-Tab. This key stroke works in OS 8, 9 and 10 and probably works in 7 too. It lets you cycle through open apps in the order they appear in (pre-X) the Finder menu and its fast and easy.

    Waa had this to say on Jul 30, 2003 Posts: 110
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