Apple starts the Dock off with a few icons it thinks you’ll enjoy: Dashboard, QuickTime Player, iTunes, iChat, Mail, the Safari Web browser, and so on. But using your Mac without putting your own favorite icons in the Dock is like buying an expensive suit and turning down the free alteration service. At the first opportunity, you should make the Dock your own.
The concept of the Dock is simple: Any icon you drag onto it (Figure 4-1) is installed there as a button. (You can even drag an open window onto the Dock—a Microsoft Word document you’re editing, say—using its proxy icon [Zoom Button] as a handle.)
Figure 4-1. To add an icon to the Dock, simply drag it there. You haven’t moved the original file; when you release the mouse, it remains where it was. You’ve just installed a pointer—like a Macintosh alias or Windows shortcut.
A single click, not a double-click, opens the corresponding icon. In other words, the Dock is an ideal parking lot for the icons of disks, folders, documents, programs, and Internet bookmarks that you access frequently.
You can install batches of icons onto the Dock all at once—just drag them as a group. That’s something you can’t do with the other parking places for favorite icons, like the Sidebar and the Finder toolbar.
Here are a few aspects of the Dock that may throw you at first:
It has two sides. See the fine dark line running down the Dock? That’s the divider. Everything on the left side is an application—a program. Everything else goes on the right side: files, documents, folders, disks, and minimized windows.
It’s important to understand this division. If you try to drag an application to the right of the line, for example, Mac OS X will teasingly refuse to accept it. (Even aliases observe that distinction. Aliases of applications can go only on the left side, for example.)
Its icon names are hidden. To see the name of a Dock icon, point to it without clicking. You’ll see the name appear above the icon.
When you’re trying to find a certain icon in the Dock, run your cursor slowly across the icons without clicking; the icon labels appear as you go. You can usually tell documents apart by looking at their icons, as shown in the box in Gem in the Rough: Living Icons.
Folders and disks are hierarchical. If you retain nothing else in this chapter, remember this: If you click a folder or disk icon in the right side of the Dock and hold down the mouse button, a list of its contents sprouts from the icon. It’s a hierarchical list, meaning that you can burrow into folders within folders. See Figure 4-2 for an illustration.
If you’d rather not spend that half-second waiting for the pop-up menu to appear, Control-click the Dock icon, or right-click it if you have a two-button mouse. The pop-up menu snaps up faster.
Programs appear there unsolicited. Nobody but you can put icons on the right side of the Dock. But program icons appear on the left side of the Dock automatically whenever you open a program, even one that’s not listed in the Dock. Its icon remains there for as long as it’s running.
The Dock already looks extremely cool, but you haven’t seen the end of its tricks. Using TinkerTool, you can make the Dock translucent to a degree that you specify—a great way to show off at user group meetings. See Chapter 18 for details.
You can move the tiles of the Dock around by dragging them horizontally. As you drag, the other icons scoot aside to make room. When you’re satisfied with its new position, drop the icon you’ve just dragged.
To remove a Dock icon, just drag it away. Once your cursor has cleared the Dock, release the mouse button. The icon disappears, its passing marked by a charming little puff of animated cartoon smoke. The other Dock icons slide together to close the gap. Mac OS X won’t let you remove the Finder, the Trash, the Dock icon of an open program, or any minimized document window.
You can replace the “puff of smoke” animation with one of your own, as described in Replacing the Poof.
Something weird happens if you drag away a Dock program’s icon while that program is running. You don’t see any change immediately, because the program is still open. But when you quit the program, you’ll see that its previously installed icon is no longer in the Dock.
The bottom of the screen isn’t necessarily the ideal location for the Dock. Because most screens are wider than they are tall, the Dock eats into your limited vertical screen space. You have three ways out: Hide the Dock, shrink it, or rotate it 90 degrees.
You also find this on/off switch when you choose →Dock→Dock Preferences (Figure 4-4), or when you click the System Preferences icon in the Dock, and then the Dock icon. (Chapter 9 contains much more about the System Preferences program.)
When the Dock is hidden, it doesn’t slide into view until you move the cursor to the Dock’s edge of the screen. When you move the cursor back to the middle of the screen, the Dock slithers out of view once again. (Individual Dock icons may occasionally shoot upward into Desktop territory when a program needs your attention—cute, very cute—but otherwise, the Dock lies low until you call for it.)
On paper, an auto-hiding Dock is ideal; it’s there only when you summon it. In practice, however, you may find that the extra half-second the Dock takes to appear and disappear makes this feature slightly less appealing.
Depending on your screen’s size, you may prefer smaller or larger Dock buttons. The official way to resize them goes like this: Choose →Dock→Dock Preferences. In the resulting dialog box, drag the Dock Size slider, as shown in Figure 4-4.
There’s a much faster way to resize the Dock, however: Just position your cursor carefully in the Dock’s divider line, so that it turns into a double-headed arrow (shown in Figure 4-3). Now drag up or down to shrink or enlarge the Dock.
If you press Option as you drag, the Dock snaps to certain canned icon sizes—those that the programmer actually drew. (You won’t see the in-between sizes that Mac OS X generally calculates on the fly.)
As noted in Figure 4-3, you may not be able to enlarge the Dock, especially if it contains a lot of icons. But you can make it almost infinitely smaller. This may make you wonder: How can you distinguish between icons if they’re the size of molecules?
Figure 4-3. Look closely—you can see the secret cursor that resizes the Dock. If you don’t see any change in the Dock size as you drag upward, you’ve reached the size limit. The Dock’s edges are already approaching your screen sides.
The answer lies in the →Dock→Turn Magnification On command. What you’ve just done is trigger the swelling effect shown in Figure 4-4. Now your Dock icons balloon to a much larger size as your cursor passes over them. It’s a weird, magnetic, rippling, animated effect that takes some getting used to. But it’s another spectacular demonstration of the graphics technology in Mac OS X, and it can actually come in handy when you find your icons shrinking away to nothing.
Figure 4-4. To find a comfortable setting for the Magnification slider, choose →Dock→Dock Preferences. Leave the Dock Preferences window open on the screen, as shown here. After each adjustment of the Dock Size slider, try out the Dock (which still works when the Dock Preferences window is open) to test your new settings.
Yet another approach to getting the Dock out of your way is to rotate it, so that it sits vertically against a side of your screen. You can rotate it in either of two ways:
You’ll probably find that the right side of your screen works better than the left. Most Mac OS X programs put their document windows against the left edge of the screen, where the Dock and its labels might get in the way.
When you position your Dock vertically, the “right” side of the Dock becomes the bottom of the vertical Dock. In other words, the Trash now appears at the bottom of the vertical Dock. So as you read references to the Dock in this book, mentally substitute the phrase “bottom part of the Dock” when you read references to the “right side of the Dock.”