The Dock

The Dock is that icon-laden shelf that you can see at the bottom of your screen. This useful feature helps you to access frequently used applications, files, and folders, as well as to control applications and windows currently in use. However, there is more to the Dock than meets the eye.

The Dock

As you can see, the Dock is split into two sections. On the left, you can find frequently used applications. If an application is running, you’ll see a small blue light below its icon. If an app is not running, you can launch it by clicking on the icon.

Located on the right side of the Dock, you will find Stacks of icons for frequently used files and folders, such as the Trash, Applications, Documents, and Downloads. By default, they can be removed from the Dock.

The two sections are separated by a thin line called the Dock Separator.

All of the applications, files, and folders you see on the Dock are just shortcuts to files and folders that reside elsewhere on your Mac, or even on the Web. If you delete an item from the Dock, you do not delete the folder or the file from the computer. On the contrary, if you drag an item onto the Dock, you are not making a copy of the file (or folder). You must never delete the original and assume that its copy now lives on the Dock!

The Dock by Default

By default, the Dock displays the apps that Apple thought might be useful there. If you find that some of these icons aren’t useful, drag them off the Dock. They will disappear immediately!

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The Dock. Photo in public domain

Dock Preferences

The Dock pane of System Preferences allows users to make a few changes to the way the Dock looks and works on their Macs. You can use the Dock sub-menu to reveal a context menu. You can also right-click the Separator to display that menu.

Mess around with the Position on Screen, Magnification, Minimize Using, Animate Opening, and Size Settings to see what you prefer. When you leave, the Dock will automatically re-scale itself as you add extra items to the Dock.

Note that some apps can change other properties of the Dock, such as colors.

How to Add Application Icons

You can easily place your favourite icons on the Dock. To do this, open the Applications folder, then pick a program and drag its icon to the left-hand side of the Dock, dropping it anywhere. Once located there, the icons can be dragged around into any order you like.

Stacks of Files and Folders

You can also add and remove shortcuts to any file or folder on your Mac to the right-hand section of the Dock. This option is great for the items you need to access frequently, such as a document you are currently working on.

If you drag a folder onto the Dock in this way, it becomes what’s called a Stack. When the user creates a stack, rather than ending up with the icon of the folder on the Dock, a composite is created of all the icons in the folder. This composite can look rather odd if the user wanted it to be displayed as a regular folder. You can click and hold to reveal the option to do this. When clicked, the stack unfurls to reveal the folder’s content as either a fan, a grid, or a list. If the original folder contains too many files to be displayed in this way, the Show in Folder button will change its name to reflect how many files are missing. Its name will become something like “10 More in Finder”. However, this refers to the Grid and Fan options only, as with a List stack, triangles will appear at the top and bottom of the list to let you scroll up and down.

To choose whether you want a Stack to appear by default as either a grid, list, or fan, you can click and hold its icon. Next, choose an option from the View Content As sub-section of the menu.

To find was you are looking for in the folders:

  • Fan: Click the folder icon to reveal its contents in a Finder window.
  • Grid: Click an icon to display its content in the grid. A link to the parent folder remains visible in the top corner so you can navigate back again.
  • List: Hover over the folder you want in order to open a sub-menu of its contents.

Once an application is in the Dock, if you click and hold its icon, a menu of application-specific options will display, including a shortcut for making that program open when the user is logged in at start-up.

A Few Tips About the Dock

To slide the Dock discreetly off screen when your mouse pointer has moved away from it, turn on Hiding.

To scale the Dock and its icons, drag the Separator up or down. Hold the Shift key down before you click, and you’ll be able to drag the Dock to the right, left, and bottom edges of the screen.

When a Dock icon jumps up and down, other than when a program is launching, it means that this application requires your attention.
When you launch an application that is not in the Dock, its icon will appear in the Dock until you quit the program. If you prefer that icon to stay there after you quit, click and hold the icon, then choose Keep in Dock from the context menu.

If you drag a file or folder onto a Stack icon on the Dock, the item is moved to the folder that was originally used to create the Stack.

Many tools exist for download that take the Dock concept and run with it. For example, the Popup Dock app creates closeable and moveable Dock-like panels, to leave your main Dock free from clutter.

Live Minimizing

The right-hand portion of the Dock is also used to keep track of any minimized windows. To bring it back to life, click the window. These minimized items aren’t just icons, but live miniaturized versions of the expanded windows. This means that if you minimize, for instance, a video window, such as a streaming QuickTime movie, you’ll be able to see it in miniature form.

Dock Tips & Tricks

Extra menu items: Click and hold an application to display its content menu. Next, press the Option key to see additional options, such as Force Quit, for example.

Show in Finder: Hold the Command button while clicking any Dock item to reveal the original item in a Finder window.

Toggle Dock: Use the Command key + Option + D combination to toggle between showing and hiding the dock.

Hide current application: Clicking an application icon while holding the Option key will switch to that application and hide the current one.

Hide other: Holding Command + Option and clicking on an application’s icon will hide all other applications..

Final Notes, Dock’s History

In the mid-1980s, when Steve Jobs was extricated from Apple Computers after one too many run-ins with CEO John Sculley and the board of directors, he set up a computer company called NeXT. Later, in 1996, Apple purchased NeXT and the operation system that NeXT produced. This was later developed into OS X.

The Dock feature was first developed by NeXT, and is an obvious remnant of that OS on Macs. Of course, it’s far more fancy and shiny than the original version. Its usability has undoubtedly helped win over many Mac converts.

Certain features of the Dock have cropped up elsewhere, as other OS now use icons that enlarge when hovered over..

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