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Dock vs. Sidebar: Which To Use?

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Two ways to do the same thing? Not quite. Maria Langer clarifies the confusion and provides some tips for using these two Mac OS X 10.3 Panther features.
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Mac OS X is a continuously evolving product. It seems as if every time Apple releases a new version, it adds a handful of new features to the Finder. It's up to you to figure out which features to use and how to use them to increase your productivity and make your life easier.

The Dock and the Sidebar are two similar features that offer easy access to applications, documents, and programs. The trouble is that both appear to do the same thing, but in different ways. Which one do you use? And why? This article will help you get the most out of these two similar features.

The Dock

Let's look at the Dock first, since it's the first of the two features to appear. The Dock premiered in the very first version of Mac OS X and was seen as a replacement for the old Launcher in Mac OS 9, which few people probably used because setting it up was such a pain in the neck.

When you install Mac OS X, the Dock automatically includes specific icons. Figure 1 shows how it looks in Mac OS X 10.3 on my eMac.

Figure 1

The Dock is divided into two parts. The left side is for applications; by default, it comes loaded with a bunch of Mac OS X applications. (My Dock also includes AppleWorks, because that software comes preinstalled on an eMac.) The right side is for documents and folders, as well as the Trash.

You can customize the Dock in a number of ways. One technique is to choose an option from the Dock submenu under the Apple menu. This submenu allows you to enable or disable magnification and hiding (more on those in a moment), set the Dock position, and open the Dock preferences pane (see Figure 2).

Figure 2

Another way to customize the Dock is with the Dock preferences pane. Open System Preferences and click the Dock button, or choose Dock Preferences from the Dock submenu under the Apple menu, as mentioned earlier. Figure 3 shows the Dock preferences pane.

Figure 3

You can control a number of settings with the Dock preferences pane:

Dock Size determines the size of Dock and the icons it contains. Drag the slider to change the size. It'll change as you drag, so you can see the results immediately.

Magnification, if turned on, magnifies the icons as you point to them, as shown in Figure 4. Drag the slider to determine how much larger the icons get. You might find this option useful if you prefer to keep the Dock icons small to maximize screen real estate, but can't see them well at that setting.

Figure 4

Position on Screen lets you position the Dock at the left or right side of the screen or at the bottom (the default setting).

Minimize Using lets you choose a special visual effect for minimizing windows into the Dock: the Genie Effect (the default option) or the Scale Effect. Try both to see which one you prefer. (I like the Genie Effect.)

Animate Opening Applications bounces an application's icon in the Dock as the app opens. When the icon stops bouncing, the application is ready to use.

Automatically Hide and Show the Dock hides the Dock from view until you position the mouse pointer in the Dock's general vicinity; then the Dock appears so you can click an icon. I use this feature all the time. It keeps that part of the screen clear until I need to use the Dock.

The third way to customize the Dock is to change the icons it contains. Never use iChat? Drag its icon off the Dock. Always use iBlog (my current favorite application)? Drag its icon onto the Dock. Have a folder you often open? Drag its icon onto the Dock.

When I say "drag," I mean that literally. To add an icon to the Dock, you drag the icon onto the Dock from the window in which it resides. The other icons in the Dock shift to make room for the new one. When you get the icon into the desired position, release the mouse button and the icon appears there. (No, the icon isn't actually moved to the Dock. An alias is put there. The original remains right where you found it.) Figure 5 shows the iBlog icon being dragged onto the Dock and positioned.

Figure 5

Likewise, to remove an icon from the Dock, just drag it off. When you release the mouse button, the icon disappears in a puff of digital smoke.

If you put a folder in the Dock, the folder's contents appear as a hierarchical menu. I take full advantage of this feature to create custom launch folders for applications, utilities, Internet apps, and documents on my computer. I just create a folder full of aliases to the items I want on the menu, and then drag that folder to the Dock. A folder within a folder creates a submenu. Figure 6 shows an example I whipped up on my eMac.

Figure 6

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