Going Dockless

by Giles Turnbull

From MacJournals, Let’s make it “Understand the Dock Day” instead:

Yet from the first public descriptions of “Mac OS X” from Apple, the company has made it clear that the Dock is not optional and not replaceable. It’s a poor amalgamation of a program launcher, status center, and application menu/switcher--but Apple has affirmatively acted at every revision to make sure that you can’t do away with it without losing access to exclusive features like badges, notifications, and Dock menus.

I read this piece and nodded my head in agreement with every point, but there’s one point I’d differ with: the Dock is optional, and you can live without it. There’s a minority of people who do, including me.

The gist of the MacJournals argument is that you need the Dock visible to make use of its unique ability to display changing icons. Third-party Dock alternatives like Dragthing often do the Dock’s job better than the Dock does, but they cannot display dynamic icons - those icons that act as status indicators in the Dock.

Personally, I think the Menu Bar is a much better place for anything that displays any kind of small-scale, constantly changing information. That’s where I want my status indicators to live. I don’t want them in the Dock. The Menu Bar takes up less space than the Dock, and is always present without being intrusive.

Furthermore, a little searching uncovers third-party Menu Bar status displays for many commonly used Apple apps. What to keep an eye on the unread message count in Mail? Try Mail Unread Menu. Need access to iCal? MenuCalendarClock or High Priority might do the trick.

I’ve been living without the Dock for a while now, probably 18 months or so. I didn’t bother to kill the process - as the MacJournals article points out, that would also kill Dashboard, which I occasionally make use of - I just kept it hidden out of sight. It’s no big deal. And on the rare occasion when I need to drag something to a Dock icon (this happens about once a month), it’s right there.

Using a combination of Quicksilver for launching apps and finding files, the Menu Bar for keeping me informed about what the system is doing, and my frequent use of Command+Tab to remind me what’s running, I managed to go Dockless without any problems.


2007-07-18 07:01:02
Your point about the menu bar taking up less space than the dock is only half accurate: system menu bar items are fixed in size, and it shares real estate with the menus (it being a menu bar, after all). The problem arises when you use an app with a lot of menus - Xcode is a good example - you don't have much guaranteed space left for system menu items.

Reading from right to left across the menu bar, personally I have Spotlight, my user name (which in my case is just 'ken' but could in theory be a longer string), the clock, the battery level, and then 4 menu bar icons. And there's about 100 pixels spare room between the last menu of Xcode, and the first menu bar item on my display.

By the time you factor in localisation of menus requiring more / less space for a given app (the menu titles are longer / shorter in different foreign languages), the length of the user name for Fast User Switching (although you could just set the login icon I think, which is fixed size), and the differing amount of space for the clock (and customisations where user might want "Wednesday July 18th 2007 14:55:03pm" instead of a shorter form), then there isn't much space guaranteed for menu bar items to fit on.

I guess what I'm saying is: if you're thinking of being a system menu item developer, you can't assume there is any space left for your important one-trick pony on users' monitors, less so than on the Dock (where at least non-active apps don't have to be on there, and it scales the size to fit them on)...

Well unless you've got a 30" display of course...

2007-07-18 07:18:15
U don't use the Dock but u do use Dashboard?

No accounting for user habits...but it seems like your way involves a lot more work sourcing shareware, more background processes (in some cases just duplicating what's already there), the Dock still running in the background and all to achieve....the same as switching Dock hiding on?

Time to get out more, u think? :)

2007-07-18 09:54:13
As TheBoyKen pointed out, the menu bar estate is very scarce. For example, I am using (left-to-right): Salling Clicker, Temperature Monitor, Desktop Manager (with 5 Desktops => very broad, but absolutely necessary & beneficial), SlimBatteryMonitor, Konfabulator, Volume, WLAN, Country Settings, Bluetooth, MagiCal, and Spotlight.
In Safari, at least Salling Clicker disappears. And though User Switch is also activated, it doesn't show up anymore at all. Sometimes one of the other icons is gone until explicitly re-activated.

So, does anyone know a trick or yet another utility to manage menu bar utilities?? Any help greatly appreciated, thanks a lot!!

2007-07-18 10:27:26
The Dock doesn't take up any space if you automatically show or hide it. You can also control the size of the icons. Although I don't use it that much, it doesn't get in the way either.
2007-07-18 11:14:24
Personally, I don't have a problem with the Dock. As with most software, there's room for improvement. But contrary to MacJournals' vague criticism, I actually think the Dock does a pretty good job as a basic, multi-purpose launcher/switcher/status indicator. There are several more capable solutions, but they add a lot of complexity that appeals primarily to power users.

Apple needs a simple, elegant mechanism to handle these tasks, one that can satisfy a variety of users, requires little or no explanation or configuration, and that helps visually define the Mac OS X identity. For the most part, the Dock achieves all of these goals.

If Apple went wrong somewhere, it was only in making the Dock difficult to replace. But the Dock itself is still a fine piece of software.

As for showing status, I think the Dock is usually a better place than the Menu Bar. In addition to the scalability/space issues mentioned by others, the Dock allows status information to be directly associated with an application by modifying its icon. This greatly reduces ambiguity, particularly when dealing with multiple objects of a similar nature. Imagine having several "item count" badges in the Menu Bar from applications like Mail, iChat, Skype, and NetNewsWire. It'd be difficult to tell which count was for which app.

Ed K
2007-07-18 13:45:59
I also missed using the Apple Menu rather than the dock. Friends recommended either Butler or QuickSilver, but it just seemed like overkill to me. I prefer simplicity.

Luckily I stumbled across FinderPop which has turned out to work just fine for me. http://www.finderpop.com/

2007-07-18 13:50:18
Yep, I'm a big fan of menubar icons, much preferred over the Dock.

My OSX Menubar on 30-03-07

2007-07-18 14:04:22
Dockless? A new word it made me think of John Milton's _Sampson Agonistes_:

Dockless in Gaza at the mill with slaves,
Himself in bonds under Menu's yoke;

2007-07-18 15:17:41
I can understand going dockless. I've mostly done this. Throwing everything into the menu though is pure insanity in my eyes. I share the same views as a few others here in that it's incredibly easy to run out of room in the menubar.

Going back to the OS 7.5 days when I first joined the Mac ranks I despised how so many developers put crap into the menubar that simply doesn't serve any real purpose there in needing to be accessible all the time and sometimes cannot be disabled. Zooming back to the modern times I see a number of developers still do this. I even go so far to avoid software that forces this with no option to either disable or make better use of the dock.

Oh, but wait, make better use of the dock? Wasn't the idea to go dockless? What I've done is simply hide the dock under the menubar and with a simple hotkey or click of a mouse button I can bring the dock into view when needed and then back it goes.

BTW, I use menushade to hide the menubar as it helps eliminate distractions. Hiding the dock and menubar is one of the best things I've ever done on my powerbook.

2007-07-18 15:57:33
Maybe it is the 24" screen I use, but I consider the Dock's benefits to outweigh the fairly intrusive amount of space it uses. Icons on the menu bar are smaller and harder to make out, apple-tabbing takes more steps then just using the dock, and I admittedly have never used Quicksilver, although I also have never felt the need to.
2007-07-18 21:37:41
I don't like the dock and I agree with what the author said in regards to using the menubar.
That said, I wish the dock was modified so that you could have it fit automatically from screen edge to screen edge (filled or unfilled) and I wish there as about 20% of it dedicated to system status indicators done right. I also wish somebody would make some good applets for the dock that display stock info on any stock you want (and with optional graph). My two other gripes about the dock are that it is hard to find those tiny triangles that indicate a running app. There has to be a better way and the new LED's in 10.5 aren't the better way. Apple should also make it possible to double click on an opened app's icon and the double click would bring up that hide AND hide all other apps.

Personally, after using TASKMENUBAR for OS 9, I wish Apple would take this idea and make a menubar dock (a dock for the menubar).

- Mark

Sebastian Lewis
2007-07-19 02:01:19
I too have done away with the dock other then the occasional daily force quit of WebKit.app and of course, the Trash. I don't need the extra "at a glance" information either.

What I basically do is I keep everything I'm not using out of the Dock so I don't have to worry or bother with the Dock, use Quicksilver for all of my application launching needs, and Cmd+Tab and Cmd+` are my Application and Window switchers with the Dock hidden. Vienna and Mail are pulled up at a whim, both with Growl alerts enabled so the extra information they provide is essentially useless to me. Stacks will be the third Dock task I'll use, only for the default downloads stack though, I like to keep my desktop clean and those nightly builds of WebKit are not helping one bit.


2007-07-19 06:30:32
I've been a UNIX guy long enough to remember when CDE was an exciting new thing. I like the Dock (I do auto hide it so that it only takes up screen real estate when I need it). I've tried Quicksilver and don't see why anybody would use it. And I honestly don't understand why people have a problem with the dock.

If you don't like the dock, turn on auto hide and never move your mouse to the bottom of your screen. Your problem is solved and the rest of us don't have to listen to you whine...


Sebastian Lewis
2007-07-19 10:30:40

The easiest way to figure out why someone would use it is because people like it. Spotlight is slow and crappy and you can see in my screenshot it's no longer there as a result. I originally downloaded it as a replacement for Spotlight but it was so good at what it does it ended up helping me replace the Dock.


2007-07-19 14:03:07
I hate the Dock with the white-hot heat of a thousand suns. I find it to be the single worst thing in the entire history of computer user interfaces. I've been living without it since the day I figured out how to hide it properly.

By "properly" I mean, NOT the useless auto-hiding that Apple provides, where the stupid thing pops up and gets in the way constantly every time you move your mouse to the screen edge in something like Photoshop. I hide it behind the menu bar at the top, so it doesn't pop up unwanted every 30 seconds. And minimize it to the smallest possible size, so when it does pop up, it doesn't get in the way too much.

I never, ever use it for anything at all.

2007-07-23 00:32:22
People use Quicksilver because it's bloody brilliant. As a launcher and mulipurpose app (like resize a picture in about 3 seconds, rate an iTunes song to 4.5, etc.) it's great.

But I think the Dock is under-rated as well. Click hold on those icons often throws up pretty handy commands. Sure you can do many of them in Quicksilver but that's not for everyone, and sometimes the Dock is better anyway. It seems natural that many users would like a function like Pause an iTunes song, a click hold away.

The Finder's problems don't really lie with the dock but with the ability to have multiple Windows all showing the same thing. Dragging Windows to the bottom of the screen was so useful in OS 9. If only there was a simple and instant way to do that still.

2007-07-25 05:13:52
I think the Dock is under-rated as well. Or rather, as an Application launcher it works fine for my needs. I know where it is (on the left) and it doesn't get in the way.

However, I wouldn't be able to survive without cmd+tab or cmd+`.

I do agree with previous comments about Finder deficiencies. For instance, cmd+m to minimise is useless when you cannot use similar kbd command to maximise. Perhaps this is the reason to use QS or similar?