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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Using the Dock

In Chapter 2, you learned how the basic features of the Dock work. In this chapter, we'll recap those features and provide additional information on how you can customize the Dock to suit your desktop.

Application Switcher and Launcher

Commonly used applications can be added to the Dock, much like a Finder toolbar, by dragging them to the position you want on the left side (or top in vertical mode) of the Dock divider bar. This half of the bar contains all docked and currently running applications. A running application is denoted by a small triangle under its icon.

To switch between the active programs, just click the icon of the application that you want to bring to the front. Holding down Option as you click on an application will bring the application to the front and hide the previously active process. Simultaneously holding down both Option+Command while clicking will bring the clicked application to the front and hide all other applications.

To switch between open programs from the keyboard, use Command+Tab—this should seem very familiar to Windows users.

Finally, if you have placed an application on the Dock, you can launch it by single-clicking the icon. The application icon will begin bouncing (unless configured not to), and will continue to do so until the software is ready for user interaction.


To add an application that is currently running to a permanent spot in the Dock, just click and hold (or Control-click) the icon, and then choose Keep in Dock from the pop-up menu.

Interacting with Running Applications

Common functions, such as quitting an application or jumping to one of its open windows, can be accessed by clicking and holding a running application's Dock icon or by Control-clicking on the icon. Some applications, such as iTunes, even allow basic controls (playback controls, in the case of iTunes) to be accessed through the Dock pop-up menu. After the menu has appeared, you can press the Option key to reveal hidden menu options; this particular key/mouse combination will change a Dock icon's Quit selection to Force Quit when used.

Application icons also serve as proxy drop points for documents. As with the traditional Mac operating system, you can drag documents on top of an application icon to open them in that application. In Mac OS X, you can use the application's Dock icon, rather than having to locate the real application file on your hard drive.


Dragging a document to a running application or to the trash is a bit of a pain in Mac OS X. In an effort to accommodate the icon you're dragging with the assumption that you're adding it to the Dock, the other icons will move out of its way. For a user, this means that the icon she's headed for might not hold still long enough for a traditional drag-and-drop. To keep the Dock icons from sliding, hold down the Command key during the drag.


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 icon will immediately highlight, allowing you to perform your drag-and-drop action.

File and Folder Shortcuts

Shortcuts to files and folders that are used frequently can be stored to the right (or bottom in vertical mode) of the Dock separator bar. When a folder is added to the Dock, it can be single-clicked to open a Finder window containing the contents of that folder. Clicking and holding (or Control-clicking) a folder in the Dock will create a pop-up hierarchical menu displaying the contents of the folder. Any elements added to the folder will be immediately visible in the pop-up menu.


Moving an icon to the Dock does not change the location of the original file or folder. The icon within the Dock is just an alias to the real file.


To locate an application, file, or folder that you've dragged to the Dock, hold down Command and click the Dock icon, or choose Show in Finder while Control-Clicking or click-holding the icon. The Finder will open a window and highlight the original file or folder.

Dock Extras

Dock Extras (Docklings) are small, always-on applications that provide instant-access features from within the Dock. Unlike other applications, a Dock Extra lives its whole life within the Dock and does not have a user interface that extends beyond the Dock icon and a pop-up menu. Unlike other Dock elements, Dock Extras can be positioned anywhere on the Dock, except after the trash can. To activate a Dock Extra configuration menu, either click-and-hold or Control-click the icon.

The Trash Can

The Mac OS trash can has been given a makeover and moved to the far-right side of the Dock. You can drag files and folders directly from the Finder into the Dock's trash can. If you want to remove an item from the trash, click the trash can icon and a window appears containing all the items waiting to be deleted. You can drag files from this window just as you can in any other Finder window.

To empty the trash, use the Finder's application menu and choose Empty Trash (Shift+Command+Enter); or click-and-hold or Control-click the Trash can icon, and choose Empty Trash from the pop-up menu. Holding down Option while emptying the trash will bypass any system warning messages. The Finder preferences can permanently disable the Empty Trash warning.


If you're not completely in love with Apple's new Trash icons, you can replace them (along with several other built-in Dock icons) by opening /System/Library/CoreServices/Dock.app/Contents/Resources and editing the assorted .png images files located there. The trashempty.png and trashfull.png icons define the two states of the trash can.

Ejecting Media

There are a number of ways to eject disks under Mac OS X. Control-clicking on a mounted volume will open a contextual menu with an Eject option. Alternatively, you can highlight the resource to remove and choose Eject (Command+E) from the Finder's File menu or press the Eject key on some models of the Apple USB keyboard.

The final method of ejecting a disk might seem a bit unusual to some users, but it has been a standard on the Macintosh for many years. Disks can be safely unmounted and ejected by dragging them to the trash can. To get around the obvious "Hey, isn't that going to erase my disk?" reaction that many have, Mac OS X now conveniently changes the trash can icon into an eject symbol during a drag operation that includes a storage volume.


Windows that are minimized are placed in a thumbnail view beside the trash can. Depending on the application, these iconified windows might continue to update as their respective applications attempt to display new information. The QuickTime player, for example, can continue to play miniaturized movies in the Dock.


There are three built-in minimizing effects for Mac OS X, two of which (Genie and Scale) are accessible in the Dock Preference panel. You can switch between the three effects manually by using the following commands within the Terminal window:

  • The standard Genie effect:

    defaults write com.apple.Dock mineffect genie
  • An aptly named suck effect:

    defaults write com.apple.Dock mineffect suck
  • A simple window scaling:

    defaults write com.apple.Dock mineffect scale
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