Setting Up the Dock
© Pat Fauquet
Washington Apple Pi Journal, reprint
The Dock in OS X is probably the most hated and loved
feature of the operating system. Many of the early articles
written about OS X complained bitterly about it. Apple
listened and has improved it, but just like other new
things, users made early snap decisions without really
giving it a fair try. I wonder how many of the early
complainers are now using it without reservation, but have
either never rebutted their earlier writings or written
further articles. How many readers have never gone back to
look for further opinions about the dock?
The OS X user should really give the dock a try before
finding some piece of shareware to do away with it, only
replace it with something reminiscent of features from
earlier operating systems. While it is possible to "turn it
off," its presence will save you many extra mouse clicks and
trips into the hard drive window.
The Dock resides at the bottom of the screen. A number of
icons are present in the dock ready for your use. They are,
in order: Finder, Mail (Apple's own new mail program for OS
X), Microsoft Internet Explorer for X, iTunes, iMovie,
Sherlock, QuickTime Player, and System Preferences. Note the
thin white line that is next. It is followed by the an icon
that takes you directly to the Apple OS X Web site, then the
Trash Can. If an application has been started, there is a
small black triangle under its icon. Clicking on icons of
applications with the triangle is in effect, an application
switcher. Click the icon of the program you want to make
The dock will help you if you do not know the name of an
icon by revealing it right above the icon.
It is possible to add more applications to the dock in
order to use it as a launcher. Simply drag the application
icons to the dock. As you add more icons, the dock can fill
the width of the screen. As more icons are added they will
automatically get smaller. If you do not like the order the
icons are in, simply drag them sideways, one at a time in
any order. Spaces will open to accommodate them. If there is
an icon for a un-launched program that you would like to
remove, simply drag it up and out of the dock. It will
disappear in a pouf of smoke.
The thin line toward the right end of the dock divides
the applications from documents, folders, servers, Web
sites, QuickTime TV channels, and the trash can. It is a
great place to store icons that link to your document
folder, perhaps a stationary item like a letterhead and
documents you are currently working on.
At the top left corner of each window in OS X are red,
yellow, and green buttons. If you click the yellow button,
that window travels down to the dock , out of the way, but
still open, until you need it again. So, in effect the dock
replaces all those rolled up windows that used to clutter
the desktop after you clicked the window shade button.
The thin line can also be used to resize the dock. Put
the cursor directly over the line and pause without clicking
the mouse button. When the double-headed icon appears, click
the mouse button and drag the line to the right to make the
icons smaller. Click and drag it to the left to make the
Some applications, iTunes being one, have a number of
commands that can be activated simply by clicking and
holding the mouse button on their icon in the dock. Clicking
and holding on a folder stored in the dock will cause a
pop-up menu to appear that can be used to navigate the
If you hold down the Command (Apple) key, and press the
tab key, the icons of programs that have been launched will
become selected in order. Let go of the keys and the
selected application will become active.
Hold down the option key while you press the icon of a
launched application. A pop-up menu will appear with the
Force Quit command. Press the Command key while clicking on
an application icon. The window that contains the icon will
As with all Macintosh controllers, there is a preferences
window that can be used to change settings for the dock. The
most modern way of getting to the settings is to press the
control key on the keyboard while you click and hold over
the line. That will bring up a contextual menu that allow
you to change many of the dock's features. If that is hard
to remember, you can also get to the dock settings through
the "System Preferences" icon in the dock or under the
While dock size is self-explanatory, magnification may
not be. When it is selected, the icons in the dock grow
larger as you pass the mouse cursor over them. This is very
nice when your icons are tiny because the dock has lots of
items in it.
Hiding the dock is an option if you do not like it at the
bottom or sides of your screen. However it takes a moment to
appear when you take the mouse cursor to the bottom or sides
of the screen. I move my dock regularly, depending on what I
am doing. I find it indispensable.
Minimizing the dock with the "Genie Effect" instead of
the Scale Effect" is more impressive, but if you are a
minimalist, you may prefer it. If opening applications are
not animated, they do not bounce in the dock. Once again,
minimalists may want to turn it off.
There is far more to the dock than first meets the eye.
It replaces several well-liked features of earlier operating
systems with an attractive, easy to manage central command
area. If you are just beginning to use OS X, give it a try.
If you have been using OS X for a while and have turned it
off, give it another try. If you like it, but have not tried
all the features discussed, keep this article handy and
explore the dock some more.
Pat Fauquet teaches many of the classes taught at
Washington Apple Pi. She is a confirmed convert to OS X who
dreads having to boot back into OS 9 now that she has really
given OS X a try.