The Problem With The Dock

Despite what I’ve said in the past, I do not despise the Mac. I like many things about the Mac—the look of the hardware, the cleanliness and crispness of the operating system, the modern feel it exudes.

But it’s not all strawberries and sunshine. Criticizing means caring.

dockproblem

Apples main app-launching mechanism is called the dock.

The dock, usually located at the bottom of the screen, is that fancy thing that scales up icons when your mouse moves near it. This is great looking, makes it easy to launch applications, see if they’re running or trying to tell you something.

It’s also spending quite a bit of real-estate and the scale-up effect is quite annoying if you’re clicking near something near the dock. As shown in the picture to the right, to resize Safari you need to grab the bottom right corner and drag. But be careful and make sure you hit only the handle. If you get too close to the dock, whooop, up comes the dock ready to let you launch apps! If you move the mouse quickly or at times imprecisely like me, you’ll be annoyed plenty by this.

There has to be a better way. Officially, there isn’t1.

I can imagine a two ways that I think are better: 1) bury the icons in a menu, 2) allow windows to overlap the dock.

Or, Apple could just add some options for users like me, official options to remove the dock altogether or simply options to only have it appear on a specific keypress or corner bump.

What do you think? Is the dock the best thing to happen to computers? Or could it be rethought into something smarter?


  1. Unofficially there is: use Tinkertool to “remove” the dock, and use Quicksilver to launch apps instead 

21 thoughts on “The Problem With The Dock”

  1. Tristan says:

    Well, technically you could turn off the icon zooming feature, which would keep all icons right where they are no matter how close your mouse gets to them. That’s a solution to the main problem you bring up here, and actually works pretty well since it only relinquishes eye candy and doesn’t make the dock any less useful for launching apps, seeing app status, etc.

    And I’m not even a Mac user yet 😉

    The same problem happens all over the place for me in Windows (and in most GUIs actually, since they seem to conveniently ignore button area and button placement) — I’m fairly inaccurate with my clicks, so when I try to save something I often accidentally click Cancel which is right next to save. One would think Save would be larger, and somewhat far away from Cancel since they have completely opposite and quite destructive meanings.

    Yes, general usability theory is still not completely followed in most applications. And I’m talking about Firefox and Thunderbird save dialogs here, and they’re supposed to be ahead of the pack!

  2. Brendan says:

    Two things,

    The ‘dock’ control applet provides options to shrink/ grow both the dock itself and the icon zooming. Indeed it’s possible to switch off the zooming feature and have the dock at a very small ‘menu-bar’ size.

    In the past when using a mac, I’ve tended to shrink the dock down to a very small strip and leave zooming on just to make hitting the right icon easier.

    Personal taste of course.

  3. Jonas Rabbe says:

    You can also have the dock hidden, then it will only appear when you “bump” the mouse against the bottom of the screen (or side if you like me stick the dock there).

  4. Joen says:

    That?s a solution to the main problem you bring up here, and actually works pretty well since it only relinquishes eye candy and doesn?t make the dock any less useful for launching apps, seeing app status, etc.

    I can’t believe I missed this option.

    The same problem happens all over the place for me in Windows (and in most GUIs actually, since they seem to conveniently ignore button area and button placement) — I?m fairly inaccurate with my clicks, so when I try to save something I often accidentally click Cancel which is right next to save. One would think Save would be larger, and somewhat far away from Cancel since they have completely opposite and quite destructive meanings.

    The Wii works GREAT! The buttons are so huge it’s hard to miss 🙂

    Tried to edit to subscribe to comments (Posting a new one instead, feel free to delete) and I got this SQL error:

    Strange. Must have been a moment the server choked on something.

    In the past when using a mac, I?ve tended to shrink the dock down to a very small strip and leave zooming on just to make hitting the right icon easier.

    But it still pops out if, say, Photoshop is topmost and you accidentally near the dock?

    You can also have the dock hidden, then it will only appear when you ?bump? the mouse against the bottom of the screen (or side if you like me stick the dock there).

    How well does this actually work? Windows has an auto-hide feature for the taskbar which annoys the hell out of me. I’d personally much rather have an option like expose has, to show the dock when bumping a corner (they’re easy to hit, but not quite as easy as a screen edge). Or simply have “single click” show the dock, like it can show the dashboard.

  5. gareth says:

    windows user should check out launchy, you will not need you start menu +task bar again.

  6. Joen says:

    windows user should check out launchy, you will not need you start menu +task bar again.

    I’m already using Colibri, but I’ve been tipped about launchy before, so I’m trying it now.

  7. Rob Mientjes says:

    But it still pops out if, say, Photoshop is topmost and you accidentally near the dock?

    Nope. It only pops out when you’re on the icon, but not if you’re even one pixel away from it. That makes the magnification kind of modal: only when you’re “on the Dock” it will zoom so the icons are easier to click (and recognise). When you’re not “on the Dock”, there’s nothing wrong.

  8. Joen says:

    Nope. It only pops out when you?re on the icon, but not if you?re even one pixel away from it. That makes the magnification kind of modal: only when you?re ?on the Dock? it will zoom so the icons are easier to click (and recognise). When you?re not ?on the Dock?, there?s nothing wrong.

    My problem is that my mouse is all over the place, and I’d just like to be able to turn off that thing… I have plenty of ways to start apps without it.

  9. Chris says:

    Ahem.. For those not in the know, Joen and I have been bitching back and forth at each other about Apple UI for months now. So, excuse me if I end up using some shorthand to stab at his gripes.

    Regarding Tinkertool being unofficial, it’s not. It’s not self evident but it is official. In fact, Tinkertool is just a convenient interface to things that are built into the OS. Namely, defaults write and or just using the XML editor and tweaking com.apple.dock.plist. Admittedly, that’s not ?ber friendly but it does get the job done in much the same way as the Registry on Windows, only on a Mac these options are in actually readable XML files and not some alien code invented in Redmond.

    As for you not knowing about the Dock options to turn off the whizzy stuff.. well.. duh. I can’t believe you hadn’t figured that out by now. “Oh I’ve used Rukiye’s iBook and… blah blah” Not enough!

    Anyway, all this is moot, cause like I’ve said I don’t even recognize that I have a Dock and if you like you could just rename the dock.app to mock.bapp or just delete it and you’d never have to worry about a Dock. You could just replace the Dock with something like Quicksilver and be done with it.

    Quit jumping to the idea that Apple has hardwired you into using their interface. They haven’t. You are aware that you can just skin the interface if you like? If you’re that opposed to the stoplight you can just skin them to look like boxes or even to look like Windows using Shapeshifter

    The Mac really is more usable than you give it credit for being. And no, Apple isn’t going to let you run it on your Athlon. Get over it.

  10. Joen says:

    Admittedly, that?s not ?ber friendly but it does get the job done in much the same way as the Registry on Windows, only on a Mac these options are in actually readable XML files and not some alien code invented in Redmond.

    How come I can’t turn it off in the system preferences under the “Dock” item? That would be what I’d call “official”.

    As for you not knowing about the Dock options to turn off the whizzy stuff.. well.. duh. I can?t believe you hadn?t figured that out by now. ?Oh I?ve used Rukiye?s iBook and… blah blah? Not enough!

    FYI, It’s a MacBook Pro, so it can run Windows (and just might!)! Oh, and I knew you could scale the dock down, I didn’t know you could turn off dock icon scaling.

    The Mac really is more usable than you give it credit for being. And no, Apple isn?t going to let you run it on your Athlon. Get over it.

    I criticise because a) I care! b) despite what you think, things can be better! Notice how I’m not criticising the Windows system tray mess? Because it’s perfect? No: because I don’t know where to start!

  11. Joen says:

    windows user should check out launchy, you will not need you start menu +task bar again.

    I’ve tried Launchy for a couple of days now, and I’m now able to compare Colibri and Launchy.

    Launchy seems to have the upper hand in a number of instances. It’s better at assigning folders to search for “launchable items”, it’s easier to configure, it’s skinnable, and it generally seems like a more solid app than Colibri.

    On the other hand, Colibri allows me to assign whatever shortcut I want, in this case Ctrl + ?. On a Danish keyboard, ? is right to the left of 1.

  12. Jonas Rabbe says:

    All the settings that have been mentioned in the comments are available through the system settings. Granted, trashing dock.app is not, but it is a very effective way of getting rid of the dock forever (or at least until the next system update.)

  13. Joen says:

    All the settings that have been mentioned in the comments are available through the system settings.

    Well, not the two I’m looking for:

    1. Ability to turn off the dock completely.
    2. Ability to display the dock only after bumping a corner with the mouse.
  14. Jonas Rabbe says:

    Ok, all the settings that have been mentioned by other people…

  15. I’m with Joen. I don’t like the dock.

    I find it less useful as a “what’s running” than apple-tab, and I never use it to launch applications because I have quicksilver. The final use might be as a sort of heads up display, if you have stuff that uses dock icons to display info, but I like dashboard for that.

    All I ever use the dock for is to drag stuff to the trash if I for some reason can’t use apple-backspace.

    I have the dock hidden all the time, and while you wish it would show on corner bumps, I just wish I could set that god damn delay it has before popping up. I’ve searched high and low, but even editing plist files doesn’t seem to have a solution. It’s ridiculously long.

    I hate the auto hide feature for the windows taskbar, but that is at least instantaneous at popping up.

    Some day I might learn what’s so cool about it, but off hand I think the dock is useless bling bling that serves no better purpose than to make people go “ooooh” when they are fiddling around with it in the store.

  16. Tristan says:

    I don’t like the dock much either, but you’ve got to admit it’s pretty 😉

    Anyway, I came back to say Launchy is awesome, I’ve been using it for months and seriously love it. I go to the start menu if I know the app is right there at the top, but otherwise I just hit ctrl-space (that shortcut IS configurable by the way Joen, just right-click on Launchy and choose Hotkey) and start typing its name. So much easier than manually looking through countless “All Programs” menus until I remember where I put that darn little utility I only use once in a blue moon.

    Better yet, I’ve got it set to index my music. Ctrl-Space “747” plays Kent immediately (example tailored to you ;-). That is truly the most impressive thing about it.

  17. Joen says:

    Some day I might learn what?s so cool about it, but off hand I think the dock is useless bling bling that serves no better purpose than to make people go ?ooooh? when they are fiddling around with it in the store.

    That’s exactly what I think about the dock!

    Anyway, I came back to say Launchy is awesome, I?ve been using it for months and seriously love it. I go to the start menu if I know the app is right there at the top, but otherwise I just hit ctrl-space (that shortcut IS configurable by the way Joen, just right-click on Launchy and choose Hotkey) and start typing its name. So much easier than manually looking through countless ?All Programs? menus until I remember where I put that darn little utility I only use once in a blue moon.

    Yeah, exactly like Colibri. I have to admit, though, launcy is a more solid app than Colibri. However, you can’t set the shortcut to Ctrl + ?… I tried! But Alt Space isn’t too bad.

    Ctrl Space, however, I have no idea why that’s there. It’s the international shortcut for “Zoom”! Did you try that in Photoshop?

    Better yet, I?ve got it set to index my music. Ctrl-Space ?747? plays Kent immediately (example tailored to you ;-). That is truly the most impressive thing about it.

    Aaw that’s nice. The example and the feature.

  18. George says:

    I’ve only ever used OS X for about a year, a couple of years ago now, but I think the Dock is infinitely more awesome than Windows’ system. Computer evangelists are big fans of saying “the question we need to answer for people is ‘where’s my stuff?’ “. In Windows, my programs are on the start menu, or they’re on the taskbar, or they’re in the taskbar tray. It’s a shit system to have things in 3 separate places. On a Mac, I loved that they were there, in one spot.

    When I want to get to, say, Word, I really don’t care whether it’s already loaded or not. I just want to say “show me Word”. I can do that on a Mac. I can’t on Windows.

    That said, I think it’s pretty annoying for the reasons you outline, unless you set it to autohide. Then it pops up when you hit the screenedge, but doesn’t interfere with your screenspace.

  19. Zach Inglis says:

    OR you could turn Magnification off in the Apple menu.

  20. Jonas Rabbe says:

    More fuel to the fire: Windows Vista Hinders Creative Users’ Efficiency Even More than Windows XP Did

    One of my biggest annoyances with Windows, and one of the reasons the dock doesn’t worry me much, is the difference in mouse precision between Windows and Mac OS X. From inside sources I knew that mouse precision was high priority all the way back to the original Mac OS, with the Pfeiffer report I finally have the numbers to back it up.

    The mouse precision is probably why I never have problems with accidentially hitting the dock, or even a close button or similar, on OS X that is. On Windows I don’t have to go further back than this morning that I accidentially hit the close button of my Outlook. Then Visio decided to lock up my laptop and my day was ruined… Granted, it didn’t take much, but it was my first day back after two days of illness.

  21. Brian says:

    Windows has a task switcher as well. Use Alt+Tab and tell it to take you to Word, or click on Word in the Taskbar. I don’t see a lot of differences between the navigating of the two OSs.

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