Six tips for using the Dock efficiently

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OS X’s ever-present Dock can help you manage your applications and documents. But are you taking advantage of all the ways it can make your work easier? I looked at tweaking the Dock’s looks in “Five tips for customizing the Dock.” Here are some tips for using the Dock efficiently—whether you're quickly accessing files, folders and applications or turning on and off your tunes.

1. Add what you need

The Dock contains two sections: one for applications and the other for files, folders, and the Trash. If your Dock is at the bottom of your screen, you’ll find applications to the left of the separator (the dashed line). Some icons stay in the Dock permanently. Click on these for quick access to their programs. Likewise, you can drag a compatible file to an icon to open it in that program.

You can drag any application from a Finder window to the Dock to add its icon. Don’t want something that’s already there? Drag its icon off and it disappears in a puff of smoke.

You’ll also see icons for all applications that are currently running. (They appear with a bright dot beneath them.) These icons disappear from the Dock when you close the programs. If you want to keep an application icon in the Dock, click and hold on it, and then choose Options -> Keep In Dock.

The other side of the Dock’s separator holds files, folders, and the Trash. Take advantage of this feature to get quick access to files you work with often—or even just for the time of a project. Drag a file or folder to the right

(or bottom) section of the Dock. Wait a second for a space to open up, and then place the item where you want. (The icon is just a pointer to your file; the original file doesn’t move.)

2. Get quick access to a folder

Easy access to folders
With my home folder in the Dock, I can navigate all of its sub-folders without going to the Finder.

It’s a cinch to add a folder to the Dock—just drag it on for easy access to those files. Once the folder is there, you also have a number of options for how it displays. By default, in Snow Leopard, the folder shows as a “stack” that contains a number of icons piled one upon another. The folder also displays in grid mode, showing its contents as icons in a large pop-up menu when you click on it. But grid mode only lets you click the subfolders in your folder to open them; you can’t navigate them that way.

Instead, you might want to Control-click on the folder icon in the Dock and choose View Content As List. This displays the folder’s contents as a list in a pop-up menu when you click on it. Now you’ll see that the subfolders contain arrow icons to the right of their names. This means that if you select a folder, you can then drill down into its contents. Using list view, you can effectively navigate the hierarchy of any folder. For example, put your Documents folder in the Dock, in list view, and you’ll be able to find and open any files it contains without having to go to the Finder.

3. Store or launch URLs

The Dock can also hold URLs—click on one of these @ signs on springs and your default Web browser will launch and open the Web page. This can be useful when there is a Web page you want to find without hunting through your bookmarks. To add a URL to your Dock, first open the Web page in your browser. Select the icon next to the URL in the Address Bar, and then drag it to the Dock. Now you can access its page with a single click. If you store more than one URL this way, you might forget which @ sign corresponds to which Web page. No problem. Hover your cursor over the icon and the full name of the page appears.

There’s also a quick way to use the Dock to open a Web page when you come across a URL in a document. Select the Web page address (complete with the http:// part) and drag it to the Safari (or Mozilla Firefox) Dock icon. The page will open automatically. (That’s a quick way to open a Web page in a browser that’s not your default.)

4. Access Exposé from the Dock

When you want to maneuver among your windows, you can use the Dock to click and bring an application to the fore. But if you’re using Snow Leopard, there’s another way that lets you view—and choose from—open windows in a version of OS X’s Exposé.

View multiple windows
View multiple windows, just like in Exposé, then click the one you want to go to.
Click and hold your mouse button down on a Dock icon. You’ll see the window (or windows) of the program belonging to that icon against a dark background, a la Exposé. Now, when you release your mouse button, the window(s) won’t go away. Click another Dock icon to see the window(s) for another application, then another icon, and so on. As you do this, you can examine the windows for all your active programs, and choose the one you want to see by clicking on it.

5. Hop to System Preferences

Need to change your desktop background or tweak your Energy Saver settings? It’s easy to jump to any of OS X’s System Preferences panes using the Dock. Click and hold the System Preferences icon (it looks like a set of gears) to see a list of preference panes appear. Then simply choose the one you want, click on its name, and System Preferences will open to that preference pane.

6. Access program options

Dock controls
You can access many useful options by control-clicking (or right-clicking) on a program icon in the Dock. For example, you can pause or play a song in iTunes without having to switch your focus over to that program.

If you Control-click or right-click on a running program’s Dock icon, you may find useful options in the contextual menu that appears. For example, if you Control-click on the iTunes icon when the program is running, you can choose Play, Pause, Next, Previous and some other functions. If you Control-click on Word’s icon, you get access to an Open Recent menu; its sub-menu lists the documents you’ve used recently. Try this with the applications you use most and you’ll start enjoying some of the Dock’s real potential.

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

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