How to Customize Your MacBook Dock

By Mark L. Chambers

If the customizable MacBook Dock seems like a nifty contraption to you, you’re right!— it’s like one of those big control rooms that NASA uses. From the Dock — that icon toolbar at the bottom of Mountain Lion’s desktop — you can launch an application, monitor what’s running, and even use the pop-up menu commands to control the applications that you launch.

By default, the Dock hangs out at the bottom of your screen, but you can move it to another edge, change the size of the icons, or even hide it until you need it.

When you launch an application — either by clicking an icon in the Dock, clicking an icon in Launchpad, or by double-clicking an icon in a Finder window or on the desktop — the icon begins to bounce hilariously in the Dock to indicate that the application is loading.

After an application is running, the application icon, with a shiny blue below it, appears in the Dock. Thusly, you can easily see what’s running at any time just by glancing at the Dock.

You can hide most applications by pressing cmd+H.

How to add Dock icons

Ah, but we’ve only scratched the surface: The Dock can offer more than just a set of default icons! You can add your own MIS (or Most Important Stuff) to the Dock, making it the most convenient method of taking care of business without cluttering your desktop. You can add

  • Applications: Add any application to your Dock by dragging the application icon into the area to the left of the separator line (the vertical line in the Dock that appears between applications and folders or documents). The existing Dock icons move aside so that you can place the new neighbor in a choice location.

    Do not try to add an application anywhere to the right of the separator line. You can’t put applications there — and Mountain Lion might even think that you want the application dumped in the Trash! (You can, however, add a stack filled with applications.)

  • Folders: Here’s where you want to add things to the area to the right of the separator line. A folder or volume icon that you drag to the Dock is called a stack in Mountain Lion, and you can display the contents with a single click. To open or launch an item, just click it in the stack display.

    Mountain Lion already includes two stacks in the Dock by default: your Documents folder and your Downloads folder.

  • Web URLs: Sure, you can add your favorite website from Safari! Drag it right from the Safari address bar into the area to the right of the separator line. When you click the URL icon, Safari opens the page automatically.

How to remove Dock icons

You can remove an icon from the Dock at any time (as long as the application isn’t running). In fact, it’s usually recommended that every Mountain Lion user remove the default icons that never get used to make more room available for your favorite icons.

The only two icons you can’t remove are the Finder and the Trash icons. To remove an icon from the Dock, just click and drag it off the Dock. You’re rewarded with a ridiculous puff of smoke straight out of a Warner Brothers cartoon!

When you delete an icon from the Dock, all you delete is the Dock icon. The original application, folder, or volume is not deleted.

Dock icon menus

From the Dock menu, you can open documents, open the location in a Finder window, set an application as a login item, control the features in some applications, and other assorted fun, depending on the item.

To display the Dock shortcut menu for an icon:

  1. Move your cursor over the icon.

  2. Right-click.

You can also change the same settings from the Apple menu if you hover your mouse over the Dock menu item, which displays a submenu with the settings.