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OS X

The Dock's Hidden Treasures

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The Dock is an essential part of OS X. It’s been there since the beginning (of OS X, that is) and people use it daily for opening their favorite apps. Interestingly enough, Apple brought in an alternative called Launchpad with the release of 10.7 Lion. This isn’t what one could call a replacement for the Dock, but it can be an alternative if you use it correctly. The topic at hand today, however, is the classic navigation scheme on a Mac. I’m going to take a look at all the little hidden features that the Dock has — things you probably never noticed or mistakenly discovered.


It Starts with A Right-Click

dock right-click
The iTunes right-click menu

Every major function of the Dock can be controlled with either a primary left-click or a secondary right-click. Clicking an item will open it, which you undoubtedly already know. Right-clicking an item, however, will open a menu. If the app is closed, there are generally only three options available.

  • The Options Menu: First there’s the Options menu, which is a pop-out that has three available functions: Remove from Dock, Open at Login, and Show in Finder. The first will take the item off your Dock and a poof animation will show, accompanied by its sound. The second is a checkbox of sorts that, when enabled, opens the app when you log in to your account. The third simply opens a Finder window and highlights the .app file so you can perform other actions.
  • The Show Recents Button: Next there’s the Show Recents button, which displays anything you’ve opened using the app in days passed. It’s useful if you recently opened a document with, say, Byword and forgot where you put it or what it was.
  • The Open Button: As the rules of logic imply, this launches the application.

These three options are typically what show up in the right-click menu when an app is closed. However, on occasion, with apps like System Preferences, you will encounter a much larger menu. Clicking any of the extra menu options will open that function of the app instead of its main screen.

When Apps Are Open

dock right-click
The Calendar right-click menu

When an app is open, menu options can vary because all apps are different. (I’ll discuss this in detail later on.) However, there are two that are consistent with all apps: Hide and Quit. The first hides the app from view and it doesn’t show up on the Dock. The second simply quits the app, just as Command + Q would. However, if you hold the Option key, these options change to Hide Others and Force Quit. The first hides every app except for the one you’re clicking on and the second force-quits an app if it’s being troublesome — something you can also do with Command + Option + Escape.

Lastly, before we move on to folders, there’s the case of an app you have hidden. Right-clicking it will reveal the same menu as before (and the special functions), but this time there will be "Show All Windows" and "Show" buttons in the place of Hide. If you have multiple windows open, the former will bring them all back up. If you only have one open, it does the same thing for that one. However, if you click "Show" with multiple windows open, only the main one will appear whereas "Show All Windows" restores the exact state of the application prior to hiding.

Folders

The folder right-click menu
The folder right-click menu

Folders (stacks) are completely different from apps in that they have extra menus for appearance customization and organization tactics. There’s one missing, and it’s obviously "Open at Login." When you right-click a folder you will be presented with the following new menu options.

  • Sort by: Select whether you would like the Dock to sort this folder by name, the date files were added to it, the date the files were last modified, the date they were originally created, or the type of file (its extension).
  • Display as: There are two different appearance modes for a Dock folder: a Stack, which is more commonly used, and a Folder. By default, the Stack appearance is used. You’ve probably seen it in a lot of screenshots, but not in mine because I use the Folder layout. Things still pop up like normal, but the front cover is different: it’s not a 3D look at what’s in the folder, but rather just the folder icon. You can change the icon by going to Finder, right-clicking the folder, clicking "Get Info," and dragging your new icon (preferably a PNG) to the one beside the title in the top left. Also, to add a folder to the Dock, simply drag it.
  • View content as: The last special option for folders is more for aesthetics than organization, but everyone will have a different opinion on that. This one customizes the way the folder pops up from the Dock. By default, it’s set on "Automatic," which changes it for you and the appearance varies, depending on how many files you have in the folder. However, the base setting, and one that most people see, is "Fan." It’s the basic fly-out menu that has been featured in many pictures and videos of Macs. The next one is the "Grid," which looks like a Quick Look of the folder. The last is a simple textual one called "List" which displays all the items in your folder in a tidy manner. It’s best for lots of content, and if you have folders within the Dock folder, you can browse them, unlike in other modes.

The Trash Can

The menu that appears when you right-click the trash and press Command
The menu that appears when you right-click the trash and press Command

Last up is the Trash Can. This could have been included in the next section, except it’s not really an app, so it’s going to be in its own little subsection instead. What can you do when right-clicking it? Only two things: open it and empty it. There is another hidden feature that most people don’t know about though. If you hold the Command key, the "Empty Trash" button will turn into "Secure Empty Trash." If you put any sensitive information in your little metal bin, it’s a good idea to use this to remove every trace of it. You can also enable it by default by going to Finder’s Preferences, clicking the "Advanced" tab, and checking “Empty Trash securely.”


App-Exclusive Features

iTunes' special menu for songs like this one, and any that are in your library
iTunes' special menu for songs like this one, and any that are in your library

Now, on to the most exciting part of the Dock’s functionality: app-exclusive right-click options. Clearly, since it’s not possible to integrate functions like iTunes controls and stuff into a single click of the app’s icon, the alternate menu had to be used. The following is a list of commonly-used apps and their special Dock functions.

  • iTunes: Since nearly everyone uses this to play music, it’s only fair to start here. Do note that this article was written before the release of iTunes 11 so any new features will not be mentioned. Right-clicking this app when it’s open will reveal (from top to bottom) what’s currently playing, not including the album, a button to begin using Genius, a rating pop-out so you can quickly give the song the praise it deserves in your library, Ping functions that are no longer being used due to the death of the service (these should be removed in iTunes 11), a button to find the song in the iTunes Store, a repeat menu, a shuffle checkbox, and the usual playback controls that are available on the keyboard followed by a Play Recent menu that holds the last ten songs for re-listening.
  • Mail: Apple’s loved (by some) email client has a few Dock functions of its own. At the top of the right-click menu it shows how many messages are in the current folder and indicates if any are unread; then there’s a "Get New Mail" button, a "New Viewer Window" button to browse multiple folders at once, and a "Compose New Message" button to send your friend that letter you forgot to a few weeks back.
  • Finder: Since it’s always open, these options are online whenever you are. "New Finder Window" opens a new window so you can look at selfies in two places at once, "New Smart Folder" creates a new Smart Folder (increase your intelligence of such things here), “Find…” is just like Spotlight, only Finder-exclusive, “Go to Folder” opens a Finder window with a directory input (you must use forward-slashes and correct directory names), and finally, “Connect to Server…” opens a special window in which you can input the IP address or URL of a server (FTP, SFTP, etc.) you wish to browse.
  • Messages: This one is simple and boring: there’s a “New Message…” button to compose a note to your friend. However, if you’ve set up a Google Talk or AIM account, a status update menu is available that allows you to quickly change your online status without visiting the app.
  • Calendar: There’s only one option available: "New Event."
  • Safari/Chrome: The two major Web browser on the Mac offer a mutual option of "New Window," and Google’s has its own special "New Incognito Window" button for you to find a guilty pleasure.
  • TextEdit: Unlike Pages, TextEdit offers a single extra right-click menu option: "New Document." Of course, many other text editors have this as well.
  • FaceTime: While you’re video chatting, the option to turn FaceTime off might come in handy. There’s also a "Recent Calls" menu, which will probably be empty, but can be used for reference, or to make sure your child isn’t telling grandmother about his bad day at school before you. (No one really uses FaceTime that often.)
  • Skype: Since we were on the topic of video chatting, Skype has one menu option available: a status update menu. Feel free to tell your friends that you are invisible.
  • DVD Player: Just for the irony, let’s discuss the special options that Apple’s DVD player app offers. Visibly, since few Macs come with DVD drives nowadays, this app seems useless, but nevertheless, it’s still installed on my MacBook Air, even though I have an external Blu-Ray drive. Right, on to the options. Just like with iTunes and other music players, you can play and pause the video, scan forward and backwards, go to the DVD menu, go a chapter forward or back, mute the audio of The Impressive Clergyman, and eject the disc from the drive you don’t have.

Other Dock Options

Change all kinds of things in the System Preferences pane for the Dock
Change all kinds of things in the System Preferences pane for the Dock

Before I go back through my little round door, let’s go over the last bit of customization efforts that Apple has made with the Dock. I’ll meet you at the port — I mean Dock — in System Preferences.

  • Size: This slider adjusts the overall size of your Dock, along with the icons. If you want to free up some space, feel free to pull it down to "Small." Some people prefer their beautiful icons larger though, so there’s that too. Alternatively, you can click and drag your mouse back and forth on the small line that divides your Dock’s icons from the folders and Trash Can.
  • Magnification: Whenever I get a new Mac, or even when I use someone else’s, I make sure the first thing I do is turn on Dock magnification. If it’s not enabled, things seem flat and boring and unlike OS X. You can do this by going to the Apple menu, then the Dock menu, and checking the Magnification box. However, there’s more to it than that. If you don’t want things popping out at your face so much, turn the slider for magnification down in the Dock pane of System Preferences.
  • Position on screen: Some people enjoy having their Dock on the left of their screen and you’ve probably seen this before on some Macs. If you change it to the left or right, however, the appearance is different and it looks more like an older Dock with extra polish.
  • Minimization effect: Choose either "Genie," which is more commonly used and has a smoother animation than the other, or "Scale," which is old-school with a shutter feel.
  • Extra options: Last up are options to double-click a window’s title bar to minimize it (this isn’t Windows, I know), change to a more compact way to minimize by putting the window into the app icon, an option that toggles launch animation, an important option that shows or hides the Dock, and a checkbox that toggles the indicator lights that tell you when an app is open.

Digesting It

This is how a real app does it
This is how a real app does it

You didn’t know the Dock was that complicated, did you? That doesn’t even scratch the surface of theming and there are other apps out there that have special functions as well — I only mentioned a few. Hopefully, you learned a lot from this tutorial and if you already knew about all this stuff, why not tell us what your favorite function of the Dock is or share a finding of your own? See you in the comments!

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