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The Dock

Down at the bottom of the Mac’s screen is something that—believe it or not—is a little controversial for die-hard Mac users. While most of us have gotten used to the Dock (see Figure 3.4) since it was introduced with the first version of Mac OS X, that doesn’t mean everyone who has gotten used to it likes it, which is at least one of the reasons why there are a number of add-ons and hacks for the Mac that add the old application-switcher menu back to the interface. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, don’t worry about it. It’s a Mac-from-ye-olden-days type thing.)

Figure 3.4

Figure 3.4 The Dock is the strip of icons that appears at the bottom on your screen.

One of the reasons that some people dislike the Dock (and others swear by it) is that the Dock is sort of a Dock of All Trades. It has a number of tasks that it performs that were previously handled by different Mac interface elements. Here’s a look:

  • It’s an application launcher—As you’ve already read, you can click an icon on the Dock to launch the application it’s associated with.

  • It’s an application switcher—Any running application, whether its icon is usually in the Dock or not, will pop up in the Dock while its application is running. That makes it easy to click a running application’s icon and switch to it.

  • It’s a drag-and-drop target—The Dock puts both running applications and your favorite non-running application icons right there at the bottom of your display, making it easy to drag and drop documents onto those icons, thus launching a document in a particular application.

  • It manages minimized windows—Remember that Minimize button that appears as one of the control buttons at the top of a Mac window? When you click it, that window leaves the screen and appears as an icon on the Dock. It’s there so that you can return to it quickly if necessary.

  • It enables you to manage shortcut documents—Along with applications, you can drag documents to the Dock so that you can launch them quickly with a single click. This is especially handy with certain types of documents, such as links to Internet sites, but it’ll work with any sort of document.

  • It can turn a folder of items into a quick-access menu—Drag a folder to the Dock and you can click and hold the mouse button on that folder to reveal its contents in a special menu. You can then select an item to launch it.

First and foremost, though, the Dock is about launching applications, noting which are running, and switching between them, as we’ll see in the next section.

Placing Apps on the Dock

One main idea of the Dock is it makes it easy to launch the applications that you use frequently. By default, Apple puts a bunch of their stuff on the Dock, because, you know, it’s theirs. But you don’t have to leave it that way. Whenever you come across an application that you’d like quick access to, you can put it on the Dock. That way, the application is both a quick click away for launching and a drag-and-drop target for documents. You can easily drag an application icon to the Dock to add it.

He that giveth to the Dock can taketh away from it. Grab an application icon on the Dock, click and hold on the icon, and then drag the icon off the Dock. Once you’re a safe distance away from the Dock, release the mouse button and your application icon will disappear in a puff of smoke.

No need to be alarmed, though—only the Dock icon is destroyed in this operation—your original application is safe.

For the record, icons on the Dock can also be moved around according to your whim. Simply click and drag an icon from one place on the Dock to the other and you’ll see a space open up whenever you hover for a few moments. Release the mouse button to place the icon there.

Actually, you might find that a space doesn’t open up if you drag an application icon from the left side of the Dock across the dividing line to the right side. That’s because the right side of the Dock is for documents and minimized windows only—you can’t put applications over there.

Launching and Switching Between Applications

Once you’ve got application icons on the Dock, what do you do with them? Well, if you want to launch the associated application, just click its icon in the Dock. You’ll see the icon bounce up and down a few times and then a small triangle will appear beneath it. That tells you that application is currently active.

As mentioned, you can also drag and drop a document onto a Dock icon if you’d like to use a particular application to open the document that you’re dragging. That’s really convenient with documents such as graphics files or text documents that you’d like to open in a particular program. For instance, if you have a JPEG file and you’d like to open it in Photoshop, but the JPEG is associated with a different application, such as Preview, then you can drag the JPEG to the Photoshop icon on the Dock to open it in Photoshop.

Once an application is running, you can click its icon in the Dock to switch to it—this is one of the ways that the Mac enables you to multitask by moving from application to application. You can have many different applications running at once and they should all have icons on the Dock, so that you can switch between them quickly.

There’s another way to switch between running applications, and while it isn’t strictly about the Dock, there’s at least a tangential relationship. While you’re working in the Mac OS, at any time you can press the Command and Tab keys to bring up an overlay graphic of the icons of running applications. You can then continue to press Command+Tab to rotate through them; when you’ve highlighted the application you want to switch to, you can release the keys. (You can also press Command+Shift+Tab to rotate through them in the opposite direction.)

One thing that’s neat about the way this works is that you can use it to quickly toggle between two different applications. Say you’re working in a word processing application and you want to switch to Mail. Well, do that, either by clicking Mail in the Dock or using the Command+Tab trick to select it. Now, after you’re done in Mail, say you want to switch right back to the word processor. Just press Command+Tab once and release. You’ll switch immediately back to the word processor if that was your most recent application.

And the coolest thing about this trick is you can keep at it. Work in the word processor then press Command+Tab and release, and, razzmatazz!, you’re back in Mail. You can go back and forth like that, which you’ll find handy often when you’re doing research or having a boring time with a report and switching to your Mail constantly to see if you have a message from your sweetheart.

Docs and Folders and Windows on the Dock

On the right side of the famous Dock dividing line is where you’ll find three things of importance—it’s where you can place document icons and folder for frequent access; it’s where you’ll access minimized windows; and it’s where you’ll find the Trash. Let’s look at all three.

First of all, adding documents that you’d like quick access to is just as easy as adding applications—you just drag and drop the document from the Finder into the right side of the Dock. The result of this is a small document icon that you can click to launch that document at a moment’s notice.

Probably the most annoying thing about adding documents to the Dock is the fact that they end up with a less than meaningful icon—I mean, they may look like a Word document or a QuickTime file, but that’s only so helpful. (As with application icons, you can point the mouse pointer at a document icon to see the filename.) The other annoying thing is that if you add more than, say, three documents to your Dock, you’re going to start filling it up and making the icons tiny on your screen.

One solution to that is to use folders on the Dock instead of individual documents. Drag, for instance, your Documents or Movies or any similar folder to the Dock (on the right side) and release the mouse button. When you do, a folder will appear on the Dock. So far, so cool. You can then Control+click that folder (or right-click it if you happen to have a two-button mouse) and up will pop the contents of that folder in a contextual menu. You can even click and hold the mouse button on the item in the Dock and, after a moment, the menu will spring to life.

Select an item in that menu and click (or, if you were holding the mouse button down the whole time since opening the menu, you can highlight the item and release the mouse button) and you’ll launch it immediately. Notice also that this menu will change dynamically based on what you put in the folder using the Finder, and it doesn’t have to have just documents—it can have application icons (or even aliases to application icons) in it as well. In fact, it can have subfolders inside the main folder, which will turn into submenus in this Dock icon menu.

Finally, you add windows to the Dock by clicking the Minimize button in an active window. That causes the window to shrink down to Dock size and appear on the right side along with any documents and, of course, the Trash.

Minimizing a window is just a handy way to keep it open for later access but out of the way. The Dock helps you identify windows by making the minimized version look like the window that it represents—so much so that you can even continue to see QuickTime movies play in minimized windows.

Icon Menu on the Dock

Aside from the menu of folder items that you can bring up using a Control+click or a right click, you can also use the same Control+click on application icons in the Dock, which gives you a contextual menu for that particular application.

What you see in this menu depends on whether the application is currently running. If it’s not, then you’ll generally see the options to open the application, to remove it from the Dock, or to reveal its icon in the Finder. You should also see an option that enables you to set this application to launch whenever you log in to your user account. (If that option is already checked then you can select it again to remove the check mark and stop it from launching when you log in.)

If the application is running already, you’ll probably see more commands and sometimes a variety of them. In the menu, you can choose from that application’s open windows in most cases, and in certain applications you can choose to open a blank document or new window. You’ll also see a number of other commands, including the ability to add the icon to the Dock (meaning it will stay in the Dock for quick launching after it’s quit), choose to open this application when you log in, hide the application, show its icon in the Finder, and quit the application. When the application isn’t responding to user input, you can also use this menu to force the application to quit (more on that in Chapter 13, "Common Problems and Solutions").

Dock Preferences

You’ve got one more contextual menu on the Dock that’s interesting to work with. Hold down the Control key and click the dividing line between to the two sides of the Dock (or right-click with a multi-button mouse) and you’ll see a menu that enables you to make different choices about the appearance and behavior of the Dock. These options are also accessible via the Apple menu at Apple, Dock (as well as via the Dock pane in the System Preferences application). They are

  • Turn Hiding On—This option causes the Dock to disappear "below" the visible screen when you’re not using it, which gives you the entire screen to work with. You can then mouse all the way to the edge of the screen (by default that’s the bottom edge, although you can change the position of the Dock) and the Dock pops back up.

  • Turn Magnification On—When this is turned on, the Dock is magnified as you mouse over it. It’s a fun effect and it may make it a little easier for you get a sense of what’s on your Dock.

  • Position on Screen—This option enables you to decide whether you want the Dock to appear at the bottom of the screen or if you prefer the left or right side of your display.

  • Minimize Using—This command enables you to choose between two different visual effects when you minimize windows to the Dock. By default, the Genie effect is used, which is a very visual, animated approach where the window bends down to its place on the Dock like an animated genie returning to its bottle. With the Scale effect, the window simply shrinks down to the Dock.

Finally, both the menu in the Dock and the Dock submenu of the Apple menu have a Dock Preferences command that opens the Dock preferences pane in the System Preferences application. That gives you access to two additional options—the Dock Size slider and the Animated Opening Applications option. The Dock Size slider can be used to change the size of the Dock—the smaller it is, the less intrusive but the tougher it is to see items. (Of course, you can turn on magnification to get past that problem.)

And if you’re sick of icons jumping up and down in the Dock, you can turn off the Animate Opening Applications option. (The animation can also affect the performance of older Macs.) When you’re done, close the System Preferences application.

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