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The Dock

The most striking user experience element that we'll be looking at today is the Dock. This is the gorgeous piece of software that you've seen in all the Apple demonstrations. The Dock, shown in its default state in Figure 3.16, has several functions, including providing a resting place for the trash can, replacing the application switcher menu, and acting as substitutes for the control strip and the Apple menu. Although displayed in horizontal orientation in Figure 3.16, the Dock preferences also allow it to be placed vertically on either side of the screen.

Figure 3.16 The Dock wears many hats...

Docked Windows, Files, and Folders

There are two parts of the Dock, separated by a vertical divider line in the middle. On the right side (or bottom, in vertical orientation) of the dock are static documents, folders, and application windows. You can drag commonly used documents into this area of the Dock, and a link to them will be stored for later use. Clicking a file that you've put in the Dock has the same result as double-clicking a file in the Finder.

Folders that are dragged into this area can be used to a reasonable facsimile of the Apple menu. Single-clicking a docked folder will open the folder on the desktop. Click-holding (or right-clicking) on a docked folder will display a menu of the contents of the folder, and the contents of the folders within that folder. Figure 3.17 shows the hierarchical file listing in action.

Figure 3.17 The Dock can be a replacement for the Apple menu.

Windows that have been minimized are displayed in this portion of the Dock as well. Several Mac OS X applications update their windows in real-time (QuickTime, Terminal), which makes it possible to watch the output of an application without having to view the entire window.

Located on the far-right side of the Dock (or very bottom, in vertical orientation) is the trash can. This operates just like the old trash can located on the desktop. You can drag files and folders to this icon to place them in the trash.


Disks and CDs can be ejected by dragging their icons onto the trash can. During the drag process, the trash icon will change into the eject symbol.

Docked Applications

Applications can be dragged to the left side (or top in vertical orientation) of the Dock to create a quick launching point, no matter where the software is located on your hard drive. In addition, applications that are already running place their icon in this area of the Dock. Running applications are represented by a small triangle directly under the icon. This can be seen in Figure 3.18.

Figure 3.18 Triangles under Dock icons indicate active applications.

After an application is active, you can click and hold on the icon to pop up a menu that allows you to add the running application to the dock (if it isn't stored there already), quit the application, switch between the application's open windows, or access other special functions of the application.

To switch between applications, just click the icon in the Dock that you want to become the frontmost application.


You can also switch between open applications by pressing Command+Tab anywhere in the system.


The final type of Dock item is the Dockling. This is an application that allows you to adjust system settings, control a system service, or display information, without ever physically launching an application. To activate a Dockling, all you need to do is click your mouse on the icon—no waiting for loading or working with windows. Although several Docklings were included in the initial release of Mac OS X, they have been removed from 10.1. This functionality has been replaced by the new Menu Extras. There are a number of free Docklings available, including news and weather monitors. Check out http://www.versiontracker.com/ to find Docklings for your system.

Figure 3.19 shows the Calindock Dockling being used to view a monthly calendar.

Figure 3.19 Docklings provide an always-on information display.

Dock Miscellany

There will be more discussion of the Dock in Chapter 4, "The Finder: Working with Files and Applications." Because I'm sure that you're eager to get started, here are a few more things you should know about the Dock before you begin:

  • As you add more documents to the Dock, it will grow until it reaches the edge of the screen. When it must grow beyond this point, the Dock will automatically shrink the icons to fit the available space.

  • Clicking and dragging on the white divider line in the Dock provides an easy means of resizing the icons manually.

  • To show the name of an item in the Dock, position your mouse cursor over it. The name will be displayed.

  • Items can be removed from the Dock by dragging the icon out of the Dock onto the desktop or dragging them to the trash icon.

  • Control-clicking the divider line provides quick access to all of the Dock's settings, including screen position.

Because the Finder and the Dock are inseparable parts of the operating system experience, you can think of them collectively as the new Mac OS X implementation of the traditional Mac OS Finder. Even though they are technically separate applications, each plays an important role in the user interaction with the operating system.

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