Zen and the Art of an Uncluttered Dock

desktop snapshots

I’ve never been a big fan of the Mac OS X Dock. It’s never fully adapted itself into my workflow; it’s more of a nuisance than anything else. The problem with the Dock, as I see it, is that in its default implementation, the Dock’s contents add visual noise to my computing environment. As it stands, a typical Mac OS X Dock typically contains running applications, frequently used applications, minimized windows and folders (as shown above). To me, there’s too much going on with it. (In my own usage over the years, I’ve almost never used the Minimize to Dock functionality.)

So this week, after nearly 10 years of putting up with the Dock’s irritating inefficiencies, I came across a neat little trick to make the Dock’s display much more meaningful to me. My dock is now set to display only the apps I am currently running. At a glance, I can easily see which apps I have open. This is exactly how I want my Dock to behave.

My Dock shows only running apps

If entering a few command lines in the Terminal intimidates you, the same trick can be performed with a simple checkbox tick within the excellent Onyx utility.

When coupled with the excellent shareware HyperDock utility, I have a truly useful Dock setup.


Do you use the Dock? How have you customized it for your workflow? Sound off in the comments below!


These beautiful and intelligent people wrote

  • qka
    October 25, 2011 at 11:19 am

    1) Enable automatically hiding the Dock. Why look at it if you aren’t using it?

    2) Move the dock to the side, not the bottom. Everyone’s screen is much wider than high, so use the horizontal space. Left or right is your choice, how you use the corners for Expose, etc. may affect your choice.

    3) Set Dock icons smaller. Granted, as you add items to the Dock, they will be shrunk to fit as needed, but I like to start smaller.

    4) Enable Magnification, and set it to a level that makes it easy to see the icons as you mouse over them. Too large is ridiculous, too small is pointless. I use about 50-60% on the slider. Magnification at first seems gimmicky, but I think it is useful when not overdone. It’s part of the idea of showing the user what is going on with immediate feedback.

    I’ve been using these setting since Panther, although I have to say I have not moved up to Lion. They have been good enough for me, so I haven’t investigated third party tools like you have.

    • Krishna
      October 25, 2011 at 11:25 am

      I’ve now enabled Dock auto-hiding. Thanks!

      Don’t get me wrong, the Dock isn’t ALL bad. I like to use the Dock more as a visual showing me which apps and windows (via HyperDock) that I have open.

      • qka
        October 25, 2011 at 12:30 pm

        No worries!

        I should also add another thing – remove from the Dock apps you don’t use. Also, remove those apps you invoke by opening docs. For example, I never open Preview directly. Rather, I might open a PDF by double clicking the PDF file, that will open Preview.

  • Miche Doherty
    October 25, 2011 at 11:56 am

    I like to keep the dock visible, but on the side of the screen, where it’s less in the way, and “pinned” to the lower corner so that the trashcan stays in one place.


    I do like to keep a few frequently-used apps in the dock when they’re not running, so I can launch them quickly. There are currently ten apps (plus the Finder) in my dock. To keep the clutter down, I also put a folder in the dock and filled it with aliases to another 20 or so apps that I use less often – much as I used to use the Favorites item in the old mac OS Apple menu.

    If my hands happen to be on the keyboard, I’ll often use Spotlight to launch apps, but if I happen to be using the mouse I know that the apps I use fairly often are at most two clicks away, without having a dock with two dozen tiny icons in it.

  • Patrick
    October 25, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    Knowing which apps are running is a holdover from an earlier era of computing. Presumably you’re used to seeing what’s running, and you’ve created some workflows that use this information. Or maybe you’re just compulsive on this issue.

    In any case, the concept of an app “running” will go away some time in the future. Running/not running is hidden in iOS, and Lion now has an option to not turn on the “I’m Running” dot under your apps in the Dock. You may want to start getting used to the new way of looking at apps.

  • Mark
    October 25, 2011 at 8:27 pm

    My dock is hidden, and has no application icons in it other then the Finder and of course the Trash. I use LaunchBar for everything. I’ve also set it so it has the much nicer ‘grey’ appeararance rather then the 3D one. The 3D one looks great but only if you have your Dock so each icon is the size of your thumb.

    And… ‘visual inefficences’? I’ve never seen so many icons in the menu bar Krishna!! How do you manage… :-)