Matt Jones

Why I Don't Use the Dock

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A big topic this week has been the OS X Dock and how Mac users are getting the most from it. The O’Reilly article that started the discussion was a kind of Through the Keyhole style look at how Mac users are using their Docks. While the ensuing discussion on the subject was a little less interesting (Here’s mine!) I thought I’d still chip in and explain how I use the Dock. The truth is, I don’t, and my reason is this: when I use the it, I can’t help feeling that it serves more of a purpose to Apple than it does to me.

The Dock is OS X’s unique identifier. On no other platform can you see something on the screen that identifies that platform so clearly. To potential Mac buyers and casual browsers in the Apple store, it’s the first thing they see; the magnifying effect as they roll the mouse over an icon, the bouncing icon as the application is launched, the genie effect when windows are minimised or maximised. I can imagine an Apple sales rep saying something like ‘Look what happens if you hold down Shift when you minimise a window! It’s serves no useful purpose, but it looks great doesn’t it?’. As well as being slick, the Dock is playful and fun, and while I’m no product designer, I know that this is one of the things people look for when they’re choosing one product over another.

In a recent lecture given by Steve Wozniak, he was asked what he thought of the controversial brushed metal effect, he replied ‘I think it’s adequate’. I’d say the same thing about the Dock, if you’re using a handful of programs on a regular basis, it’s adequate, but if you use many apps and utilities and need to categorise them, it’s limiting. I don’t dispute that The Dock is easy to use and intuitive, but I can’t help feeling that it’s a device to turn people on to the Mac platform first and a useful program and file repository second. I don’t blame Apple for this; when OS X was released it needed something to set it apart from the rest and the Dock provides this unique element. If the Dock helps to sell more Macs, especially to Switchers and first-time computer owners, then that’s great. Thing is, I’m already sold on Apple products and have been for the 10+ years that I’ve been using them.

In December last year, Zeldman published an OS X switchers guide in which he linked to a screengrab of his desktop. In it, we see the Dock demoted to the lower right hand side of the screen and Dragthing docks on the left. I had dabbled with the non-registered version of Dragthing for OS 9 and while I liked it, I couldn’t justify the cost of the software when the Apple Menu was good enough. Furthermore, Dragthing required a little imagination to stop it looking ugly with its default gradient colours. Zeldman’s screen grab made me realise just how configurable Dragthing is and his set up seemed like the solution to my Dock woes. So, I installed it, registered it, consigned the Dock to the status of permanently hidden and now I’m 100% happy with my setup.

Here's Mine

So here’s my Dock, even though it isn’t an Apple Dock. As you can see my most regularly used programs and files are categorised and can be accessed using the tabs. Unlike the Apple Dock, running programs are stored in what is called the ‘Process Dock’ which can be seen in this full screen grab.

I believe that the Apple Dock is suffering from the ‘One Button Mouse Syndrome’; it’s crying out for more functionality for those who require it. However, judging by Apple’s stubbornness with the solitary mouse button, we could be waiting a long time to get it.