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AskTog, February 2001

Reader Mail

Patching the Dock

Hi Tog, thanks for writing all these years!

Take a look at Apple's new OS X page at (after the Macworld announcement that the final version would ship in march). If you go through some of the information about the UI, you'll notice that they've added in (and simplified) the dock.

I don't know if it's exactly what you suggested, but I found a couple of real improvements right off the bat...

  1. They added (or extended?) the ability to place a file folder in the dock. This file folder will have a context menu that allows you to navigate the folder hierarchically. I was worried, because like many mac users, i keep a few of those tab-folders at the bottom of my screen and i really use them a lot. They still have not indicated very well the difference between an open app (the black triangle), a shortcut, and a functional unit like the trash can.
  2. The Apple Menu is back, but the rainbow is no more.
  3. Again on the dock, they discarded the windows- and X-windows-like "one window = one application = one task bar representation" model of thought that was apparent in Public Beta. Now, multiple windows of an open application, as well as certain commands like save and quit, can be accessed through a similar context menu (like #1) on the dock icon of the app (without viewing the app itself). I know it's old-headed, but I've always liked the way the mac didn't have to have windows open to have an app running, and i actually really like this new feature on the dock. (the dock itself may be another matter. . .) Also, control panels (like the control strip today) can be placed in the dock to switch settings through context menus.

I think this stuff adds up to biiiiig improvements in the OS X interface. Here's to hoping they continue to refine it.

Phillip Morelock

What we are witnessing is Apple's attempt to keep patching an object that simply doesn't work in the hopes that if enough of the old functionality is crammed back in, it somehow magically will work.

There is no doubt that the objects that were there could and should have been improved, but tearing out four high-density objects and replacing them with a single low-density object was a mistake from the start. What they are headed toward now is an unlabelled hodge-podge. It certainly is an improvement, as long as you don't have too many things on your desktop. However, as soon as the density goes up, the object will fail. It is a low-density object and nothing is going to change that. They need to resplit the functionality again.

Mousing and a Multi-Level Dock


The Dock in that it tries to do to much, so it needs to be split up, but how and where to do that splitting up is the problem. Also, The Dock is too big to be left always shown and Auto-hiding is just plain annoying.

I believe both of these problems can be solved with the mouse. Unfortunately, Apple is stuck on using only one button mice, so having an installed user base is a problem.

However, if Mac OS X were used with a multi-button mouse, I think the Dock could be greatly enhanced. While having the ability to right-click like Windows is a good idea, I think another button (maybe pressing down the scroll wheel) to activate the Dock would be great. The Dock would always be hidden, but when were needed, press the button to pop it right up. This gives the advantage of auto-hiding, but without those annoying mouse-over accidents.

But the Dock is still too cluttered. When the mouse button is pressed, only the program shortcuts and minimized windows should pop-up (a la Window's Task Bar). But us Mac users still want the use of pop-up folders and the control strip, which probably aren't used quite as much as the "Task Bar" stuff. So the Dock should be made into levels (the best word I can think of). After the Dock mouse button is pressed, you could use the scroll wheel to cycle through these "layers." Scroll up once, "Task Bar" disappears, and you get to the pop-up folders and stuff. Or scroll down once to get to the control strip items.

In order to avoid annoyance, don't make this scrolling through levels cyclic (e.g. if you scroll up two clicks, you don't end up and the control strip, you stay at the pop-up folders). Then when you make your choice, click the Dock mouse button again and the Dock disappears.

Having 3 "levels" would reduce clutter and open up vast amounts of customization. Also, if you use a Dock mouse button, the Dock is only shown when you want it to and along with the reduced clutter, should allow for the icon name to be shown above it at all times. Also, these new Apple wide screen monitors should help give this possibility space.


Nice idea, David. It is worth prototyping. Perhaps someone can whip it up as one of the many fixes that will be appearing for OS X.

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