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The Dock

The Dock, that three-dimensional row of icons that runs along the bottom of the screen, performs several duties. Primarily it's an application launcher, but it also shows you at a glance which programs are currently running. Its contents aren't limited to applications, either: store documents and folders there to access them quickly without digging through the Finder to locate them.

Open applications from the Dock

The names of items in the Dock appear when you move the pointer over them (Figure 4.3). To open an application from the Dock, simply click its icon. While the program is running, a white dot appears below it.

Figure 4.3

Figure 4.3 Click an application's icon on the Dock to open it.

A program doesn't need to be in the Dock before it can be opened. Once any application is launched, its icon appears. When you quit the program, its icon is removed.

Choose which applications appear in the Dock

Apple loads its favorite applications into the Dock when Snow Leopard is installed, but you can add, remove, and rearrange icons to suit your preferences.

Add an item

Drag an application (or any other item) from the Finder to the Dock. Other icons politely move out of the way to welcome the newcomer.

Another way to add an item is to move it to a new position. Drag the icon of a running application elsewhere in the Dock; Mac OS X assumes that if you're going to enough trouble to specify where you want the program to appear, you want it to stay put.

Remove an item

To remove an application, drag its icon from the Dock; it disappears in a puff of smoke. Alternately, Control-click (or right-click) the icon and choose Options > Remove from Dock (Figure 4.4). (The Finder and Trash, and any running applications, cannot be removed.)

Figure 4.4

Figure 4.4 Control-click an application to reveal options.

Access folder contents using Stacks

The Dock is dominated by applications, but you can put anything into it for easy access. Simply drag a file or folder onto the right edge, just beyond the divider (Figure 4.5). One helpful trick is to move the folder containing an active project's files to the Dock.

Figure 4.5

Figure 4.5 Dragging a folder to the Dock.

To make it easier to reach the files in a folder, Apple created Stacks. Click a folder in the Dock to view its contents (Figure 4.6).

Figure 4.6

Figure 4.6 The Stacks fan view.

Control how Stacks appear

Control-click or right-click a folder in the Dock to bring up a menu of options, including how the contents are sorted; whether the icon appears in the Dock as a single folder or a layered stack of files; and how to display the content when the folder is clicked:

  • Fan. After clicking the folder in the Dock, click any file or folder in the fan to open it; files open in their associated applications, while folders open in new Finder windows. You can also click Open in Finder to view the contents of the folder in a window.

  • Grid. Folders with many items appear in a grid. Unlike the fan display, if you click a folder here, its content appears within the grid. If there are more items than will fit in the window, a scrollbar appears at right. Click the back button to return to the enclosing folder's contents (Figure 4.7).

    Figure 4.7

    Figure 4.7 Viewing a subfolder in the grid view.

  • List. The contents appear as list items. Highlighting a folder name displays another connected list of items.

  • Automatic. Mac OS X chooses whether to display the contents as a fan or a grid (but not a list) depending on how many items are in the folder.

Customize the Dock

One of the first things I did with the Dock was move it to the right edge of my screen—I find it gets in the way at the bottom. A number of options are available for customizing the placement and appearance of the Dock. You can find these controls in three locations: choose Apple > Dock; open the Dock preference pane; or Control-click the divider between applications and documents.

  • Turn Hiding On. With hiding enabled, the Dock slides off the screen when not in use. Move your pointer to the Dock area to make it reappear.

  • Turn Magnification On. As you move the pointer over Dock items, they grow so you can see them better (Figure 4.8). With this feature enabled, control the amount of magnification in the Dock preference pane using the Magnification slider.

    Figure 4.8

    Figure 4.8 Dock magnification.

    Magnification is helpful when you have many icons, because the Dock automatically shrinks to accommodate them all. However, I find it more annoying than useful.

  • Position on Screen. Choose Left, Bottom, or Right. Positioning on the edges gives the Dock a different, simplified appearance (since the three-dimensional shelf doesn't make sense along the side).

  • Resize the Dock. Click and hold the divider in the Dock and drag up or down to make the entire Dock larger or smaller.

Minimize windows to the Dock

The Dock is also a temporary holding pen for active windows. When you click any window's Minimize button (the yellow one at the top left corner), the window is squeezed into a space in the Dock. You can also double-click a window's title bar to minimize it, or choose Window > Minimize (Command-M) in many (but not all) applications.

To retrieve the minimized window, simply click its icon in the Dock.

Minimize into application icon

A new setting in Snow Leopard aims to unclutter the Dock if you tend to store lots of documents there. In the Dock preference pane, enable the option labeled Minimize windows into application icon. A window remains open but doesn't appear on the Dock. To make it visible again, Control-click or right-click the icon and choose the window name from the pop-up list that appears.

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