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Exploring the Dock

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This chapter is from the book

Along one edge of your screen (either the bottom, left, or right) is a colorful banner of icons known as the Dock. The Dock, shown in its default state in Figure 3.1, acts as a taskbar, to show open applications and minimized or reduced versions of a document window. It also offers quick access to favorite applications, shows feedback from open applications, and provides a resting place for the Trash.

Figure 3.1Figure 3.1 The Dock is useful for organizing your desktop.

Here's a fast overview of the Dock's arrangement:

  • Left (or Top) portion—At left (or top) are icons for applications. The ones you've opened have a triangle next to them.

  • Right (or Bottom) portion—At right (or bottom) are document icons representing the documents you've reduced or minimized.

  • NOTE

    Remember: To minimize a document, you can click the yellow (center) button at the top left of each window, or simply double-click the window's title bar.

  • Trash—At the extreme right (or bottom) is the Trash, the place to drag files that you want to throw away.

  • NOTE

    You can also drag URLs into the right (or bottom) side of the Dock. A single click launches your default Web browser and opens it to the saved address.

  • Separator bar—The separator bar splits the Dock into the application and file/folder areas.

  • NOTE

    To make the icons in the Dock larger or smaller, click the separator bar and then move the mouse up to increase the size or down to reduce it if positioned horizontally, or move it left and right if your Dock is positioned vertically.

Applications and the Dock

The left (or top) portion of the Dock contains all docked and currently running applications.

To launch an application whose icon is in the Dock, just click its icon once, and the Dock takes it from there. When you launch an application that isn't in the Dock, its icon will appear in the Dock.

As the application launches, you'll see the icon bounce. When opened, a small triangle appears next to its icon to show that it is running—as you can see with the first icon on the left in Figure 3.1. When you quit or close the application, the triangle disappears. (For applications that haven't been set to remain in the Dock, the icon also disappears from the Dock.)

To switch between active applications, just click the icon in the Dock that you want to become the active application. You can also switch between open applications by holding down Command-Tab. This moves you through active applications in the Dock in the order in which they appear. When you reach the item you want to bring to the front, release the keys to select it.


Dropping is a shortcut for opening document files in a specific application. To drop a file, you can drag and drop the document icon on top of the icon of the application you want it to open in. In Mac OS X, you can use the application's Dock icon instead of having to locate the real application file on your hard drive.

Also, to force a docked application to accept a dropped document that it doesn't recognize, hold down Command-Option when holding the document over the application icon. The application icon is immediately highlighted, enabling you to perform your drag-and-drop action. (Keep in mind, however, that many applications can only work with files in certain formats—forcing an application to open something it doesn't have the capacity to read won't get you very far!)

Adding and Removing Docked Applications

You can add applications to the left side (or top) of the Dock to create a quick launching point, no matter where the software is located on your hard drive. Dragging an application icon to the Dock adds it to that location in the Dock.


When the Dock expands to the full width of the screen, it'll automatically get smaller as you open more applications or add more icons to it.

To make an open application a permanent member of the Dock, simply do the following:

  1. Locate the application's icon appears in the Dock. (If it's not in the Dock, the application isn't open!)

  2. Click and hold on the icon to pop up a menu, as shown in Figure 3.2.

  3. Figure 3.2Figure 3.2 Click and hold on an application's icon in the dock.

  4. Choose the option Keep in Dock. (If the application already has a place in the Dock, you won't be given this option.)

After you've placed an application on the Dock, you can launch it by single- clicking the icon.


Moving an icon to the Dock doesn't change the location of the original file or folder. The Dock icon is merely an alias to the real file. Unfortunately, if a docked application has been moved, the Dock can no longer launch that application.

To remove an application's icon from the Dock, make sure that the application isn't running and drag it out of the Dock. It will disappear in a puff of smoke (try it and see).

Getting Information from the Dock

In addition to providing easy access to commonly used applications, the Dock also gives you feedback about the functioning of applications through their icons.

The icon of an application that's opening will bounce in the Dock (unless configured not to) and continues bouncing until the software is ready. Also, if an open application needs to get your attention, its icon bounces intermittently until you interact with it.

The Dock also signals which applications are running by displaying a small triangle, or arrow, next to those application icons. This is a good way to see which applications are open, even if you've hidden them or closed all their windows.

Besides telling you which applications are open, icons can also offer quick access to documents open in them. For example, when you have multiple Finder windows open, you can view a list of those windows by clicking and holding on the Finder icon in the Dock. From the list shown in Figure 3.3, you can easily choose the one you want.

Figure 3.3Figure 3.3 Click and hold on the Dock icon of an open application for a list of open windows.


Some applications, such as System Preferences and Sherlock, take "Dock menuing" even further. If they are open, you can choose from among all their sections, whether those sections are open or not, by click-holding on their icons in the Dock.

Some applications even have customized Dock's icons to display information about events occurring in the application itself. For example, the Mail program displays the number of unread email messages in a red seal displayed in the Mail icon in the Dock, as shown in Figure 3.4. (We'll cover Mail in detail in Chapter 15, "Using Mail.")

Figure 3.4Figure 3.4 The Mail icon tells you when there's a new message.

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