Three quick tips for managing the Dock in OS X

DockIconXIf you use OS X, then you likely make fairly decent use of the Dock for storing common applications, or switching between them. While you can somewhat adjust the Dock’s default behaviors, overall it is a fairly static element of OS X. However, there are some neat features of the Dock that might give you another level of utility for it.

Quickly Access Expose for any app

This may perhaps be one of the more useful hidden features of the Dock. If you hover your mouse over an icon and then scroll up, or double-tap with two fingers on a Magic trackpad, you will enter Expose view for that app, regardless of what apps are open and in the foreground. Even if the program is closed, the screen will still enter Expose, and though no windows will be shown, you will still be able to open recent documents.

Note that this can similarly be done by right-clicking the icon and accessing windows and recent items from the contextual menu; however, Expose offers a preview that can be invaluable.

Dim hidden apps

One approach for managing the clutter from open apps in OS X is to hide them, where they will still run but all their windows will disappear from view. This can be quickly invoked by pressing Command-H in an open app, and with this feature you may better concentrate on some work without needing to quit programs and interrupt their various tasks. However, by default the Dock does not indicate whether an app is hidden or shown, which may be a bit confusing.

To change this, open the OS X Terminal and run the following command (copy and paste it from here):

defaults write showhidden -bool TRUE; killall Dock

When you do this, the Dock will disappear and re-appear, and now when you hide an app it will appear dimmed in the Dock, allowing a quick indication of the app’s status. To undo this option, just run the following command:

defaults delete showhidden; killall Dock

Use a hotkey to access the Dock

The Dock is intended to be accessed primarily with the mouse; however, you can also access it using the keyboard, if you get accustomed to a few hotkeys:

  • Control-F3 — Move keyboard focus to the Dock
  • Option-Command-D — Hide or Show the Dock

The first of these is the main hotkey of use, and once invoked you can manage the Dock with the following options:

  1. Left and Right arrows — Select item to the left or right of the current one.
  2. Tab or Shift-Tab — (similar to left and right arrows)
  3. Option-left/right arrow — Move selected item left or right
  4. Up — Access contextual menu
  5. Down — Close contextual menu, if open
  6. Enter/Space — Open or activate a selected item
  7. Escape — Release focus from the Dock

In addition, you can start typing the name of an item to switch focus directly to that item (this works for items in the Dock, as well as for items in contextual menus). Lastly, while Control-F3 is the default hotkey for accessing the Dock with the keyboard, you can use the Shortcuts section of the Keyboard system preferences to change this to something more convenient (I use Option-Tab, because it’s similar to Command-Tab for app-switching) if you find this feature useful.

One thought on “Three quick tips for managing the Dock in OS X

  1. MaX

    Is there a way to put folders of application aliases on the left side of the Dock (without third-party hacks) to access them as popup lists (much as can be done with folders of items on the right side)?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *