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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Dan Moren

Dock tales: What’s in your Mac’s Dock?

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.

MacStories’s Federico Viticci recently asked me to share my home screen with readers of the site’s newsletter and I happily obliged. But that got me thinking: much as the strictures of the iOS home screen provide a framework for talking about our most frequently used mobile apps, what about our Macs?

The Dock has been a staple of OS X since the beginning, and as of Yosemite and El Capitan it actually looks remarkably similar to its humble origins in the Public Beta. I use it probably hundreds of times in a day, without even thinking about it. Here’s how I have this staple of my workflow configured.



Let’s start with the important Dock configuration questions:

  • Orientation: Horizontal, of course. Call me names if you must, but to me the Dock is an anchor, and not having it at the bottom there always makes me a little anxious.1 For years, I used a command-line hack to actually pin the end in the bottom right corner, thus ensuring that the Trash was always in the same place. But as of Yosemite, that hack has gone the way of Mac clones. I will pour out a white plastic trash bin in its memory.
  • Magnification: Off! What are you, mad? How could there be any other option?

  • Hiding: Off as well. See my previously stated anxiety about a missing Dock.

  • Minimize: The scale effect. Because the genie effect is so very 2000s.

Regular apps

The meat of the Dock. Above you can see my Dock as I was writing this, but here’s a rundown of the apps that permanently reside here.

  • Finder: Well, obviously. Unless you’re willing to get super hacky, you’re stuck with it. I’m okay with that.
  • Mail: I don’t love Mail. It’s caused me a ton of headaches over the years, but its built-in integration with the OS has kept me using it all this time. I’m sure I don’t use even a fraction of its potential (I’m not one for filing, labeling, or tagging), but it lets me send and receive email2, so it gets the job done.

  • Safari: My browser of choice. I keep Chrome around as a backup, because I still run into some sites where Safari just doesn’t play nice, but again integration with the OS and the Apple ecosystem keeps me using it, despite its flaws.

  • Messages: For a long, long, long time Adium was my messaging app of choice, but two things moved me to Apple’s own app: 1) iMessage integration and 2) the fact that my .Mac AIM username would no longer work with anything other than Messages. To be fair, though, Messages has come a long way over the years, and if it doesn’t have the high degree of customization that Adium does, well, it at least does its job well enough.

  • iTunes: I’m sensing a pattern here with Apple’s built-in apps. I’m on record as iTunes being problematic, but I’ve also been using it for years, and generally it’s fine. Really. It’s fine. I mean, I’m not on fire or anything.

  • Calendar: The Mac actually has some great calendar apps, including Fantastical and BusyCal, but I find Calendar to be sufficient for my needs these days. It’s nothing fancy, but it gets the job done.

  • Tweetbot: Ah ha, the first third-party app in my Dock and it’s, unsurprisingly, a Twitter client. I’m still getting used to the square icon, but Tweetbot remains my favorite Twitter app: it’s great looking, has solid support for multiple accounts, and generally stays out of my way. Twitterrific a close second.

  • BBEdit: Still my go-to writing program for many things, including my weekly Macworld column. Incredibly powerful tools for writing or coding, and a no-frills interface that lets me concentrate on getting down to work.

  • Terminal: Because sometimes there’s just no substitute for the command-line.

  • App Store: Not, as you might suspect, because I love being bothered by badges telling me to update my apps, but because, well, I need to run updates a lot and check out new apps. Part of the job.

Currently running apps

I like to keep my Dock pretty lean, so as a result, there are a lot of apps that I’ve got running most of the time, but which I don’t end up using regularly.

  • Scrivener: BBEdit’s great, but when it comes to my more creative ventures, I’ve found Scrivener to be my hands-down favorite. It handles large documents with aplomb and lets me organize my thoughts exactly as I want to. My only wish is for the long-gestating iPad version to arrive.
  • Slack: Twitter’s my public-facing social network, and Slack’s my private social network. Both Relay FM and The Incomparable maintain fairly active chat rooms, as well as a few other groups I belong to.

  • Reeder: I still read RSS. Weird, right? I know. But it’s remained the easiest way for me to quickly flip through and triage a large volume of stories. Reeder’s support for cloud-based reading service Feedly and the fact that it exists on iOS and OS X provides a consistent experience across platforms. Lately I’ve been running the 3.0 public beta and have found it perfectly solid.

  • MarsEdit: We have a long on-again-off-again history, MarsEdit and I.3 Back when I started at the MacUser blog, we used Movable Type, so I embraced MarsEdit. Then, when MacUser got absorbed back into MacUser, we used a custom CMS, which meant no MarsEdit for me. But now I’m right back where I started on a Movable Type-based blog! So MarsEdit and I are once again the best of friends.

  • Acorn: My image editor of choice. Like so many apps, I only use it for a small portion of what it can really do, but I deal with a lot of images (mostly screenshots) that I need something, and Acorn has never given me any trouble.


Ah, the right side of the Dock. I don’t keep much there, but I find it’s handy to have quick access to a couple of frequently used folders.

  • Applications: I mainly launch apps–the ones not in my Dock anyway–via Spotlight, but I like having the Applications folder there just to have a full, top-down view of all my programs. (Sort by name, display as folder, view content as list.)
  • Downloads: So much stuff gets dumped into Downloads that being able to sort through it and easily browse the files there makes my life a lot easier. (Sort by date added, display as folder, view content as grid.)

There you have it

So that’s my Dock; it really hasn’t changed much in the last few years, and I’m not sure that it’ll change much in the next few either. What about you, what’s in your Dock?

  1. El Capitan has an option to turn off the menu bar, and oh boy, I’m starting to hyperventilate a little bit right now. 
  2. Usually. Like, 9 times out of 10. 
  3. The app’s current developer, Daniel Jalkut, is a good friend. Perhaps too good

[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Mastodon at or reach him by email at His latest novel, the supernatural detective story All Souls Lost, is out now.]

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