Take Control of Your Dock(s) with DragThing

Process Dock

DragThing is a tool that gives you more Dock options.

If people are going to complain about OS X, there are two items that consistently get negative reviews: the Dock and the Finder. I’m not one of those people who feels that either of these applications needs a complete rebuild, but ever since I made the move to the Mac platform, I have had a sense of dissatisfaction with the Dock.

My issue lies in that I for some reason feel the need for the items in my Dock to be organized by the type of work I’m doing. For example, all the apps I use when writing a blog post—it ‘feels’ like it would be more intuitive if they were all together in the Dock. But over the past three years, experience has shown me that no matter how you try, the Dock in its current form is not the tool for the job.

During this time, I’ve tried various other tools to meet this need. The solution that came the closest was a carefully thought out implementation of Spaces. But over time the need to have a few tools used in all Spaces made this feel too clumsy.

There are also a lot of other utilities out there that seem to be attempting to improve this area. Tools such as Hyperspaces and Dock Spaces for example. But after a brief look at each, nothing seemed to work for me.

That was until I gave DragThing a long try.

The Dock Replacement Tool

For those who have used Macs for a while, you may know that DragThing has been a round for a long time. Version 1.0 was released on May 1st 1995, just over 14 years ago. Developer James Thomson describes his application as so:

DragThing is the original dock designed to tidy up your Macintosh desktop.

It puts all your documents, folders, and applications just a single click away. Highly flexible, it allows multiple docks, each customised to suit your exact needs.

Prefs - Docks

There is no shortage of options in this application.

As you can see, this application has a lot of features, which can be a drawback for some. It takes investing some time to check out all the features and configure your desired docks. But if you are even a little dissatisfied with the OS X Dock, I would encourage you to take the time to try out the various options DragThing gives you.

After several hours of playing with it, I was able to create the Dock experience I had been looking for these past three years.

Dock Categories

My desired setup separates two functions of the Dock: an application/document launcher and a process monitor. This is the key issue why OS X’s Dock has never fit my workflow—it combines the two functions together in an unintuitive manner.

With DragThing, the user is able to separate the two functions into different Docks. Or exclude one altogether. How is this done?

First of all, there is an option to use a Process Dock. You can see this in action in the screenshot at the beginning of the post. It simply displays all running applications. Rather than having a Dock full of open applications plus the applications you’ve chosen to always keep in the Dock plus any documents or folders (Stacks) you’ve added , you only see the applications that are running currently.

Because of my dependance on Quicksilver to launch apps or switch windows, I really only want to see my running applications.

You can then create separate Docks to launch various applications or documents. And this is where DragThing allows you to organize your items by workflow or function. As you can see from the image below, I’ve got a right aligned Dock that has three separate panels, each containing items that are relevant to a particular type of work I do.

Functional Dock 1

All my Fusion items in one place.

This is particularly handy because for some things. For example, for one client I have, the work involves opening up ten to twelve web sites all at once. With this setup, I can create each URL shortcut, drag the mouse to select them all in the Dock and then click Return to open them all at once. It beats hitting CMD + T in Safari and then browsing to each one in my bookmarks.

The other usage I enjoy is creating a Dock with working files. I simply have a Dock at the bottom that I drag and drop files I will be working with onto it. Think of it as a Pending folder for your GTD-minded folks. It’s a temporary location for files in the immediate future.

But the nice part is that files are not actually stored there. Rather, when you complete the drag and drop action, an alias is created to that file. The actual file remains in the same place. You can move that file from folder to folder on your machine, and the alias in DragThing is automatically updated to point to the new location4.

Dock usage is so varied from user to user that it’s inevitable that the default OS X Dock does not meet everyone’s needs and is often criticized. Your Dock needs may be completely different than what I’ve described above in my own setup. But with DragThing, you have the ability and customization available to create the Dock(s) that fits just right with the way you use your Mac.

That’s all you can ask for.

  1. The entire set of screenshots can be seen here.
  2. There are also separate Docks for open windows (Windows Dock) and all disks (Disk Dock).
  3. Of course, you could clear the default OS X Dock of all items so you only see running applications, but then you have nowhere else to group apps or documents to launch.
  4. I find this especially helpful when combined with Dropbox.