OS X “Leopard” – improving the dock…

I am a new convert to OS X. That said, I am NOT an adherent to the religion that is Mac. While I think OS X is a good environment it is far from perfect. Both OS X and Windows have their advantages and disadvantages. However, overall I’ve found OS X to be a fairly solid platform and a bit more responsive than Windows. In conjunction with Parallels it becomes the most diverse of development environments allowing you to run Mac & Windows software.

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That said, OS X has it’s quirks and there are a number of things I miss from Windows. One of those items was Windows “Start Menu” which allowed me to easily organize and group my applications. While OS X’s “Dock” is nice eye candy and great for users who only use a handful of porgrams. I found it insufficient for a user like me who has about 2-3 dozen regularly used applications.

Previews of Leopard showed Apple adding “Stacks” to the “Dock”. I was quite excited about this feature. Upon upgrading to Leopard my feelings were mixed. The “Stacks” have a lot of potential but the implementation left me wanting. Stacks for those who don’t know, allow the contents of a folder to be fanned out or displayed as tiles. However, all the icons of the contents are displayed atop of each other. Adding or removing files changes the top icon making it difficult to keep track of a given folder. This can be quite confusing I have since found a number of enhancements to the “Toolbar” that have allowed me to create a working environment that is quite satisfactory for me. In the remainder of this post I will detail these enhancements.

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1. “Drawer-icons” a Japanese designer created some nifty icons. Put these inside your stack folders (rename them with an _***** or number in front so they float to the top). They will then be the top icon displayed. These icons are designed to look like semi-transparent buckets, each with a distinguishing logo in front so you can easily identify the folder. (For the graphically gifted there are master files for creating your own icons as well. Here is a tutuorial I recently discovered for customizing the drawer icons.)

I also created a folder called “Menu” and then created sub-folders for different types of applications. I placed “Alias/Shortcuts” of my apps in these sub-folders along with one of the nifty icons mentioned above that best corresponded to the application group. Which I rename with an underscore so that it floats to the top and becomes the uppermost icon image. I now have a windows like application menu (though it does not support as many depths as Windows “Start Menu”).

Be sure to sort your stack by “Name”. You can do so by right-clicking the stack and selecting sort. (Thanks to Wombat for chiming in on this.)

2. “Dock Dividers” this is simply a dumby app with a straight narrow icon. They’re useful for dividing your “dock” into segments. (ie: I will use it to separate my finder & show desktop icons from my running applications). Note, there are several copies as each divider in your dock must be unique!

3. “Show Desktop” application replicates the behavior of the “Show Desktop” icon in Windows. And while I find “Expose” to be beautiful, I dislike the fact that as soon as I click on an application all my windows rush back in. This “Show Desktop” app “hides” your windows. They won’t come back on your screen until you re-activate them.

Here is an image of what my desktop now looks like. See how all my applications are neatly contained in recognizable containers/drawers:
Desktop screenshot

If these enhancements sound like something you would like to implement on your “Leopard” system. I’ve wrapped all three into a single zip file download. Enjoy!

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I also ran into this interesting bit of code from here that allows you to create a “stack” for “recent items”. Simply open up your terminal and type the following two commands:

defaults write com.apple.dock persistent-others -array-add ‘{ “tile-data” = { “list-type” = 1; }; “tile-type” = “recents-tile”; }’

killall Dock

You can right click and select whether you want recent applications or recent documents displayed. You can also run again to create a second copy in order to have both a recent apps & docs stack.

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I am of the opinion that Apple should release a mini-update incorporating many of these features (drawers, dividers, recent items, etc) as native behaviors for “Leopard”.

Wishlist for “Spaces” enhancements:

– be able to click and temporarily lock a folder or app window so that it remains present when switching spaces.

– define certain apps to show in multiple spaces. [UPDATE: This is possible, not sure if was always possible, but in System Preferences > Spaces, where you select which space you want the app to display in. There is an option at the very top for “Everywhere”. This requires you to click on the double-arrows to the far right of the app listing.  I think this is why I missed it. I simply dragged the app to the “space” I wanted it in before.]
– multi-monitor support (allow me to define a space to a particular monitor, so ‘space 1’ would be on ‘monitor 1’ and ‘space 2’ on ‘monitor 2’.

*****

Here is a link (with further links) with insights for those transitioning from the Windows environment to the Macintosh OS X platform.

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9 Responses to “OS X “Leopard” – improving the dock…”


  1. 1 DarkOpus December 22, 2007 at 9:32 pm

    Good point on how Apple need to develop Stacks… it’s an interesting idea badly implemented.

    For your drawer icons: I have followed the tutorial on creating your own designs. However, I can’t get the transparent drawer icon to stay on top. If I sort the folder by name, with the image containing an underscore in its name, the image appears but with a white background. What do I need to do to get this cool effect?

  2. 2 thesaj December 23, 2007 at 6:03 pm

    Did you make the background alpha invisible?

    Otherwise you’ll get whatever background color you have in your editing program.

  3. 3 DarkOpus December 24, 2007 at 12:19 am

    Thanks for the reply, I’ve clicked on ‘Show Image Background’ and it’s the checkerboard, so it should be transparent. I just used Preview to sort it out, as per TUAW’s guide. I’ve no idea what I’m doing wrong.

  4. 4 DarkOpus January 3, 2008 at 12:14 pm

    Any ideas what to do as there are a few people who’ve left requests for help on TUAW’s tutorial with the same problem?

    Thanks for your help so far… and Happy New Year!

  5. 5 wombat1010 January 23, 2008 at 8:42 pm

    I’m using the transparent drawers in my stacks that were created here…

    http://optica-optima.blogspot.com/2007/11/drawers-icon-1.html

    They look great but when a new item comes into, say, my download stack, the drawer is no longer on top of the stack in the dock. It comes back to the top when I killall Dock.

    When I go to the download folder, the drawer is first.

    Is there anyway of keeping the transparent drawer at the top of the stack?

  6. 6 thesaj January 24, 2008 at 8:51 am

    Greetings Wombat,

    I renamed the files with an underscore like this “_drawer.app”

    This worked very well for me. But please note the folder must be set to sort order based on name of file (as opposed to date, etc).

    Please let me know if this works for you!

    – Jason

  7. 7 wombat1010 January 24, 2008 at 5:17 pm

    Thanks Jason

    I figured out what my problem was. Although they were in the right order when looked at in Finder, I didnt realise you could also sort the Stack in the Dock. I simply right-clicked on the Stack and did a Sort By name and all was fixed!

    Thanks again.

  8. 8 Kevin Airgid April 21, 2008 at 7:12 pm

    Hey, you can easily make the dock into something exactly like Windows Start. (if you miss it) Just do this, drag the applications directory to the stacks area. It will create an icon of the top most icon like you guys talked about. Now “right click” on it and instead of “Fan” pick View Content by “List” .

    Now if you don’t want to mess with the icon, pick “Display as” and pick folder.

    Voila! It works / looks just like the Windows Start Menu. No hacking required!

    enjoy!

    -ka

  9. 9 thesaj April 22, 2008 at 7:15 am

    Hi there Kevin,

    If you view the image in the post you’ll see that the stack is set to “List”. I still prefer Windows’ method of allowing you to nest menus.

    It’d be nice if I could click on a stack of all graphic & design apps. Then have all my Adobe applications in a sub-group.

    That said, the “stacks” turned Apple’s dock into a workable system. Where before I found it unacceptable.

    🙂


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