Five tips for customizing the Dock

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A lot of Mac users take the Dock for granted. They click on it to launch programs, dump files in its Trash can, and never give it a second thought. But you can customize the Dock’s appearance as well as its contents. Here are a handful of tips that will give you total control.

1. Hide the Dock

The best thing about the Dock is that whenever you need to open an application, drag a file on an icon, or move something to the Trash, it’s ready to serve you. But do you really need to see it all the time? You can hide the Dock by Control-clicking on the separator (the dashed line), displaying the contextual menu, and choosing Turn Hiding On. When you do this, you’ll see the Dock slip away toward the edge of your screen. When you want to see it, or drag an item to it, just move your cursor to that edge, and the Dock will slide back out. You’ll save in screen real estate, and the many icons won’t distract you.

2. Move the Dock

Dock menu
When you Control-click on the Dock’s divider, a number of options display in the contextual menu.
While you’re at it, think about whether the bottom of the screen is the best location for your Dock. Why not free up some of your vertical space by putting the Dock to one side of the screen instead? Click on the separator to access the contextual menu, choose Position On Screen, and then choose Right or Left. I use the left side myself, because the Dock gets in the way on the right side when I go to click on scroll bars of windows that touch the right side of the screen.

3. Simplify the Dock’s look

If you move the Dock to the side, you’ll notice that it looks different. Instead of using a shelf-like 3D display, it takes on a much more sober 2D skin. I find this less distracting. Want to keep this simplified look, but display the Dock on the bottom of your screen? There’s a trick for that. Open Terminal (in your /Applications/Utilities folder), and paste in this command:

defaults write no-glass -boolean YES; killall Dock

Press Return. The Dock will use that nifty 2D effect even on the bottom of the screen. (Want the 3D Dock back? Run the same command, replacing “YES” with “NO”.)

2D Dock
Here’s how the Dock looks with a simplified 2D look at the bottom of the screen.

4. Organize your dock

Sometimes you might want to group icons in your Dock, to make it easier to spot specific programs at a glance. You can add spaces in the Dock, which you can use as separators. To do this, run the following command in Terminal:

defaults write persistent-apps -array-add '{tile-data={}; tile-type="spacer-tile";}' ; killall Dock

This adds a space among the applications section of the Dock. You can drag this space around (even though it looks like there’s nothing to grab) to put it where you want. Run the command again and you’ll get a second spacer.

To add a spacer that you can put between documents on the right side of the Dock, run this command:

defaults write persistent-others -array-add '{tile-data={}; tile-type="spacer-tile";}' ; killall Dock

If you ever want to remove your spacers, just click on them and drag them off the Dock.

5.  Show hidden programs differently

Highlight hidden applications in the Dock
In this screen shot, two applications—Terminal and Safari—are hidden. Since I've run a special Terminal command, their icons appear translucent.

As long as we’re using Terminal, here’s another hidden option that you can turn on with a command. Normally, the Dock doesn’t show you which of your applications are visible and which are hidden. (Hide an application and its windows by pressing Command-H.) But with the following command, run in Terminal, you can have the Dock show the two types of applications differently:

defaults write showhidden -bool true ; killall Dock

When you do this, hidden applications will display in the Dock with translucent icons. You can still click them and drag them as you do normally, but you’ll be able to spot, at a glance, which programs you’ve hidden.

Senior contributor Kirk McElhearn writes about more than just Macs on his blog Kirkville.

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