Maximise your Dock smarts

Kirk McElhearn
19 November, 2010
View more articles fromthe author

Mac OS X’s ever-present Dock can help you manage your applications and documents. But are you taking advantage of all the ways it can make your work easier? Here are some tips for using the Dock efficiently – whether you’re quickly accessing files, folders, and applications or turning your tunes on and off.

Add what you need

The Dock contains two sections: one for applications and the other for files, folders, and the Trash. If your Dock is at the bottom of your screen, you’ll find applications to the left of the separator (the dashed line). Some icons stay in the Dock permanently. You can click on these to quickly access their programs. Likewise, you can drag a compatible file to an icon to open it in that program.

You can drag any application from a Finder window to the Dock to add its icon. Want to remove an icon that’s already there? Drag it off the Dock, and watch it disappear in a puff of smoke.

You’ll also see icons for all applications that are currently running. (They appear with a bright dot beneath them.) These icons disappear from the Dock when you close the programs. If you want to keep an application icon in the Dock, click and hold on it, and then choose Options > Keep In Dock.

The other side of the Dock’s separator holds files, folders, and the Trash. You can click on these items to get quick access to files you work with frequently – or even just for the duration of a project. Drag a file or folder to the right (or bottom, depending on where your Dock is on screen) section of the Dock. Wait a second for a space to open up, and then place the item where you want it. (The icon is just a pointer to your file; the original file does not move.)

Get quick access to a folder

It’s a cinch to add a folder to the Dock – just drag it there for easy access to the folder’s files. Once the folder is in place, you have a number of options for how it displays. In Snow Leopard, the folder by default appears as a “stack” that contains a number of file icons piled one upon another. The folder can also display in grid mode, showing its contents as icons in a large pop-up menu when you click on the folder. But clicking a subfolder in grid mode opens only that subfolder; you can’t then drill down into its contents.

If you want to navigate the subfolders, you can Control-click on the folder icon in the Dock and choose View Content As List. Now when you click the folder, its contents will display as a list in a pop-up menu. You’ll see that the subfolders contain arrow icons to the right of their names. If you click one of the arrows, you can drill down into that subfolder’s contents. Using list view, you can effectively navigate the hierarchy of any folder. For example, put your Documents folder in the Dock, in list view, and you’ll be able to find and open any files it contains without having to go to the Finder.

Store or launch URLs

The Dock can also hold URLs – click on one of these icons (which look like @ signs atop springs), and your default web browser will launch and open the web page. This can be useful when there’s a web page you want to find without hunting through your bookmarks. To add a URL to your Dock, first open the web page in your browser. Select the icon next to the URL in the address field, and then drag it to the Dock. Now you can access the page with a single click. If you store more than one URL this way, you might forget which @ sign corresponds to which web page. No problem: Hover your cursor over the icon, and the full name of the page appears.

There’s also a quick way to use the Dock to open a web page when you come across a URL in a document. Select the web page address (complete with the http:// part) and drag it to the Safari (or Mozilla Firefox) Dock icon. The page will open automatically. (That’s a quick way to open a web page in a browser that’s not your default.)

Access Exposé from the Dock

When you want to manoeuvre among your windows, you can use the Dock to click and bring an application to the fore. But if you’re using Snow Leopard, there’s another way that lets you view – and choose from – open windows in a version of OS X’s Exposé.

Click and hold down your mouse button on a Dock icon. You’ll see the window (or windows) of the program belonging to that icon against a dark background. When you release your mouse button, the window(s) will stay on the screen. Click another Dock icon to see the window(s) for that application, then another icon, and so on. As you do this, you can examine the windows for all your active programs, and choose the one you want to see by clicking on it.

Hop to System Preferences

Do you need to change your desktop background or tweak your Energy Saver settings? It’s easy to jump to any pane in OS X’s System Preferences by using the Dock. Control-click on the System Preferences icon (it looks like a set of gears) and a list of preference panes will appear. Then simply choose the one you want and click on its name, and System Preferences will open to that preference pane.

Access Program Options

If you Control-click on a running program’s Dock icon, you may find useful options in the contextual menu that appears. For example, if you Control-click on the iTunes icon when the program is running, you can choose Play, Pause, Next, Previous, and some other functions. If you Control-click on Word’s icon, you get access to an Open Recent menu; its submenu lists the documents you’ve used recently. Try this with the applications you use most often, and you’ll start realising some of the Dock’s real potential.

Leave a Comment

Please keep your comments friendly on the topic.

Contact us