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AskTog, March 2001

Reader Mail

Mail for this month:

A respectful disagreement

Note: both the Apple Dock and some of my positions on the Dock have shifted somewhat since this reader mail. If something doesn't seem to track the current behavior, that's why.

Some comments about your Dock critique:

  1. the current Applications menu, which you seem to like so much, is terrible. You shouldn't have to go to a menu at all to switch between apps.
  2. your die hard stance that "It is a total failure" is an affront to all the people that actually like the dock - in essence you alienate part of your audience. You fail to explain why, or even observe that, a lot of people clearly like the Dock. And many do, including some who aren't Apple zealots.
  3. I like the trash on the dock a lot more on the desktop. it sucks on the desktop. i'm always moving crap out of the way just to get to it.


I don't like the current Applications menu at all. It has always been in the wrong place. It belongs between the Apple menu and the File menu.

As for people liking the dock, of course they do. Many people like trackballs, too, although you can easily prove, objectively, that the trackball is far less productive than the mouse. If the Dock weren't so badly designed and if it didn't take up such valuable real estate, I would have no problems with it.

As for the trash can, yes, a change needs to be made. I'd rather have seen them fix the trash as I suggested, which would, indeed, give you rapid access to the trash at all times without moving windows, while decreasing target acquisition time by at least 50% over the Dock solution.

More about the Application Menu

Dear Tog

Your `Top 10 reasons the Apple Dock Sucks' was truly excellent ... until you tried to suggest what Apple should replace the Dock with. …You suggest that `The Applications menu ... should take the place it should have always had, fitting between the Apple menu and the File menu in the menu bar'.

If the Application menu is on the left, the ability to expand the menu to show the name of the current application in its title will make the width of that menu highly variable, with the result that your muscle memory for the position of the `File' and `Edit' menus will be ruined -- exactly what you argue against in reason #7.

Having an Application menu at all -- rather than a Window menu, like the Windows taskbar is -- would repeat one of the worst usability problems Mac OS has had throughout its history: the emphasis on applications rather than documents. As someone who has watched, first in mirth, then in disbelief and finally in pity, as users spent three or four minutes repeatedly double-clicking the icon for an application which was already open but which had no open windows, I have absolutely no sympathy for those who like the application-centric view of the world which Mac OS (and, to a lesser extent, Windows) espouses. It's time for the emphasis to move to documents rather than applications, and I am surprised to see the author of /Tog on software design/ -- which argues for just this -- promoting the idea of an Application menu at all….


Matthew `mpt' Thomas

Paradoxically, I think that destroying the muscle memory of exactly where File and Edit are is in desperate need of destruction, a point I've argued for many years.

One of the problems people have always faced with the Macintosh is understanding at all moments exactly what application they are in. This becomes a particular problem when they think they are in one application, but are, instead, in another.

By making the File and Edit menus stable within an application, rather than across all applications, people will be given a strong secondary clue that the application they are in is not the one expected.

I have long advocated eliminating the concept of applications entirely, in favor of documents and stationery with coupled toolkits. OS X does not achieve this lofty goal at all.

As for people making the error you suggest, in repeatedly clicking on the application, expecting to see a window, this is easily solved by making a blank window, in such a circumstance, appear. IE5 does just this if you attempt to relaunch it when no windows are open. Were this behavior extended to the applications menu, the problem would be eliminated.

Distinguishing folders on the Dock

In regards to people not being able to tell one folder from aother, why not give your folders icons that make them identifiable?


Several readers suggested this fix to the label free Dock. Few Macintosh users have any idea how to change the icon on a folder or anything else, and fewer still would take the time to create such an icon in Photoshop or to search the web. Nor should they have to when a simple text label would solve the problem far better.

A NeXT user speaks out on the Dock

As an old NeXT user, the original NeXT dock, while still bad, was far better than the OS X Dock. At least the NeXT dock could be shoved all the way off the screen and out of your face, like the control strip.

I am also a Launcher fan, and find the Dock to be a poor replacement with dramatically reduced functionality.

I'm basically an X-windows user (I usually use eXodus on the Mac with a 21 inch monitor) and much prefer the ability to stick Icons wherever I want them, and the ability to modify my cursor based menus - that pop-up when one presses a mouse button with the cursor on the desktop (I use the Kensington Expert Pro, with 4 of them, plus chords) to suite my mood or work load. The important thing here is -- I CAN MODIFY the contents and actions!!! With the Dock, I'm screwed.

The dock represents more than a simple ego trip. It represents several million dollars worth of development costs -- especially in time diverted from other more useful activities -- to develop the pretty swirlings and other wastes of time and CPU cycles. There is no productive functionality provided by them. They are strickly eye-candy that some one refuses to admit were a big-time waste. Design is unquestionably an important consideration. However, as with the Cube, there comes a time to admit that a screw-up is a screw-up with zero economic benefits, only costs.

One of the nastiest things about the dock which you omitted from your list... Items "under" the dock are no longer accessible. Drag a window to full screen size and you suddenly discover that the scroll buttons and resizing tab are now blocked by the dock! The only way you can get them back is to hide the dock, shrink the window to smaller than the dock, and then bring the dock back.... very nasty.

University of Pennsylvania

The Dock: It's no Control Strip

I agree completely with this article. This needs to be said, loudly and frequently. The hot demo "features" such as the "morphing window" are *exceedingly* annoying.

And how about the fact that some Dock items get two icons? For instance, if you put Chess in the Dock, you get one Dock item for the Chess app and another for the Chess "document" (the current game). But if you click the Chess app, nothing happens--it brings the chess app to the front, but with no window. You have to click the document icon to bring up the current game. Very lame.

However, I would add one problem to this list which for me is number 1: The Doc lacks the funtionality of the Control Strip.

I use the Control Strip constantly to connect/disconnect to DSL or dial a modem, to set sound levels, to eject CDs, to check battery levels on PowerBooks, to turn file sharing on and off, launch SoundJam or iTunes, etc. It has glitches, but beats opening windows to do these things.

It looks like the Dock may have some of this functionality in the March version, but not all. And it still has the problems you mention (pictures instead of icons, transparency, etc), which make you want to hide it, which adds access steps and defeats the purpose.

I like OS X, but I need the Control Strip, and will gladly pay for it if I can find it for OS X.

John Rizzo Publisher Columnist for CNET (MacFAQ)

No more Control Strips or Application Menus!

I would really hate to see the control strip and application menu return. The dock replaces those two things with a much more intuitive feel. It could be improved with some of your suggestions, such as separating the trash and keeping things in a stable place. But improve it; don't replace it!

John C.
Department of Psychology University of Washington.

The cute little control strip started out as such a simple device, offering a couple of options to PowerBook users. Then., it grew and grew. It was never up to the task.

A different control object, fired from the lower left corner, with larger icons and perhaps labels, might be a worthy follow-on device.

One could argue that we could get there by improving the Doc, instead of improving the older devices. I suspect that is what will actually happen (just as SUVs are now appearing, suddenly, based on automobile frames. We used to call them station wagons). The tragic flaw in the Dock is that it is attempting to combine so many different objects into one, overloading the new object and making it difficult for people to sort out what is what. At some point, Apple may well announce “several new Docks” which look suspiously like old objects revisited. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

Dock good enough?

I just read your article about why the Dock sucks. I agree with most of your points. And none of them matter.

I just finished giving Mac OS X the "Mom Test." My mom has been using a Mac for three years. She is comfortable with it, but hardly adventurous. She hasn't even learned about keyboard shortcuts yet. Nor does she want to.

She took to Mac OS X fairly easily. And she absolutely loved the Dock. The Dock suits her perfectly.

The real purpose of the Dock is to sell more Macs. You're right -- it demos great. And for inexperienced users, it is a perfect tool.

For power users, the Dock makes a great task-switcher. I wouldn't even try to use it for anything else. All the aliases will come off my copy. I'll drop in some pop-up folder menus. And I'll be placing it up again the right edge of my screen, where I have my Mac OS 9 application switcher now. And I think that will suit me well.

All I really need from the Dock now is spring-loaded folders.

Jim Royal

What Jim is pointing out is that naïve users, with few applications and documents on their system, will have few problems, and that expert users will be able to overcome their problems. For me, an object should scale naturally to the needs of all users, and people should not have to cast about for ways to make things work properly.

Simpler scrolling ideas

Here's an idea for your readers to think about:

A mouse with the ability to scroll windows.

Yeah, it's been done before.

But here's the difference: This doesn't have to be a true wheel - more of a 2-way hat switch. (spring loaded to return to the center, uses potentiometers to determine how far in either direction it's moved).

Furthermore, it would be mounted along the left side (sorry southpaws) so that it was convenient to the last joint of the thumb.

The software would treat it as a jog switch. Push it in either axis and scrolling occurs in the corresponding window axis (as always for a mouse away is up and towards is down) with speed determined by how far the switch is pushed. The default preference would be reasonably slow but power users could speed it up.

True, you couldn't really click it as a 3rd button, but people generally tend to need 3rd buttons less than they scroll. Furthermore, rather than have to scroll down via the annoying and uncomfortable process of moving the first finger OFF the left mouse button and sweeping it back and forth with the periodic 'pickups' one simple gesture, with a digit that's not being used anyway, and is held suffices.

Josh Stratton

Round mouse not so bad

Hi! I read your article about the "ten reasons why the Apple Dock Sucks", and you're somewhat right on some points, though I personally think the Dock is a real improvement of one of NeXTStep's most useful features... But what I disagree the most with is when you say: "Apple seems to have lost all ability to tell real from imaginary. We saw this phenomenon with the round mouse, a "cool" design that was completely impractical" Well let me tell you one thing. To me, the round mouse is the best thing Apple ever produced since the original Macintosh. The kind of things that have you say "Why the hell didn't they do this before ?" You know, I bought the new optical mouse and... that really sucks ! It feels like you're working with a soap box in the hand with a click so loud it could wake your neighbours in the night. Honestly, the round mouse is a helluva good mouse. I've never used such a precise (the only thing better is a graphics tablet) and effortless (my wrist never felt so good) mouse in my whole life and I wouldn't change it for anything in the world... Just wanted to let you guys know, and I'd be surprised if I were the only one on earth to think so...

Sébastien (Marseille, France)

I agree with you about the defects of the new mouse. I immediately replaced it. What I have observed with the round mouse is something an expert user might not suffer from: Naive users grab it in the wrong position and have the most terrible time figuring out why the mouse is moving up and down, while the mouse pointer is moving side to side. A mouse that lets the hand know what direction it should be pointed is a superior design. Even the changes they made to the round mouse in later production were not sufficient to address the problem, particularly when such an elegant solution--designing the mouse to fit the human hand, rather than the starfish hand--already existed.

A window menu

About the application menu that should be restored in OSX...

Why not add a submenu that would list all the windows opened in the clicked (or better, entered) application?

Regards Francois

A standard Windows menu should have entered the Macintosh Human Interface Guidelines a decade ago.

...and last but not least

Right on, brother! Let Apple read it and weep. Intuitive and functional or wither and die.

Juan on Maui

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