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Elementary OS is an increasingly popular Linux operating system, one that features a striking desktop. A key reason for this desktop environment’s pull is the dock, which invariably features in screenshots.

It’s easy to see why. The dock is a key aspect of the macOS desktop experience. Elementary OS It's Time to Try Something New: Elementary OS Loki It's Time to Try Something New: Elementary OS Loki Elementary OS isn't your typical Linux distribution. Some would say it isn't a distro at all. But is Elementary really a usable alternative to Windows and macOS as its developers claim? Read More mimics this look, utilizing the Pantheon desktop environment to good effect. It feels like macOS, too. While Pantheon can be time-consuming to set up as a new desktop environment, installing a new dock is far quicker, and simpler.

Perhaps you’ve switched to Linux from macOS; or perhaps you just like the idea of a dock. Whichever it is, these five desktop docks for Linux will help you to improve your productivity.

1. Docky

If looking for a straightforward dock, this tool is the one for you. Evoking the feel of the macOS dock, Docky is considered one of the best solutions on Linux. Indeed, it styles itself “the best dock no money can buy.”

Better still, Docky is both easy to install, and simple to use, and it has recently been integrated into the GNOME desktop GNOME Explained: A Look at One of Linux's Most Popular Desktops GNOME Explained: A Look at One of Linux's Most Popular Desktops You're interested in Linux, and you've come across "GNOME", an acronym for GNU Network Object Model Environment. GNOME is one of the most popular open source interfaces, but what does that mean? Read More .

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To install on Ubuntu, simply look in the software center. Alternatively, install in the command line using

sudo apt-get install docky

Fedora users, meanwhile, can employ the usual yum command:

su -c 'yum install docky'

If you’re not using Ubuntu or Fedora, check your distro’s support forums for more information.

Once Docky is installed, you can add apps to the launcher, and select from a number of docklets. These widget-esque tools can display weather details, your CPU activity, a clock, and more.

2. Avant Window Navigator (AWN)

With this dock installed, you can expect to be able to quickly launch and control your favorite applications. External applets can also be embedded, which are available via Synaptic Package Manager (and other Linux package managers Which Linux Package Manager (and Distro) Is Right for You? Which Linux Package Manager (and Distro) Is Right for You? A key difference between the main Linux distros is the package manager; the differences are strong enough that it can influence your choice of distro. Let's look at how the various package managers work. Read More ).

Because AWN has not been maintained for some time, you’ll need to add a repository in order to install it. For Ubuntu-like systems, enter:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:nilarimogard/webupd8

Once the repository is added, simply update, and install.

sudo apt update 
sudo apt install --install-recommends avant-window-navigator

If not, follow the instructions on the GitHub page for installing dependencies and building from source.

Using AWN is usually an okay experience, but it is not without its problems. As an older dock solution, developer interest in the project seems to have waned in recent years. In short, AWN doesn’t appear to be maintained, but as it still works we’ve included it here.

3. GLX Dock/Cairo Dock

Designed to be light, fast and easily customized to your preferences, GLX Dock (also known as Cairo Dock) is designed to be desktop agnostic. This basically means that it should run in any desktop environment.

GLX Dock will support your choice of apps added to the dock, as well as provide notifications from those apps. Customizable menus (background, shape, and support for your own CSS 10 Simple CSS Code Examples You Can Learn in 10 Minutes 10 Simple CSS Code Examples You Can Learn in 10 Minutes We'll go over how to create an inline stylesheet so you can practice your CSS skills. Then we'll move onto 10 basic CSS examples. From there, your imagination is the limit! Read More ) can be managed from the config panel, along with add-ons themes and keyboard shortcuts.

To install, you’ll need to add the Cairo Dock PPA:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:cairo-dock-team/ppa
sudo apt-get update

…then install:

sudo apt-get install cairo-dock cairo-dock-plug-ins

GLX Dock is surprisingly simple to configure (right-click the dock, select Cairo-Dock > Menu) and use, making it one of the best Linux dock options in this list.

4. Plank

Claiming to be the simplest dock on the planet, Plank is certainly lightweight. It is also configurable and comes pre-installed on some versions of Ubuntu, such as MATE.

Typically, installation is via a PPA:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ricotz/docky

Once this is done, update, and install.

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install plank

Once installed, you can manage the configuration either by clicking the Plank icon and adjusting the settings, as illustrated above.

Changes can also be made via a text file:

sudo nano ~/.config/plank/dock1/settings

Here you can change various settings. For instance, the icon size can be edited:

IconSize=48

There is also a HideMode setting:

HideMode=1

Option 1 will intelligently hide the dock. Alternatives are 0 (hiding disabled), 2 (auto-hide) and 3 (dodges active window). You can also change the position of the Plank dock:

Position=3

This is the bottom of the display. Left is 0, right is 1, and top is 2. Browse the configuration file for other options.

Simple to use and straightforward to configure, Plank is a satisfying desktop dock experience.

5. DockBarX

Perhaps the most flexible of all the options in this roundup, DockbarX is designed as a lightweight taskbar that can also be a panel replacement. And several other things:

  • A standalone dock (known as DockX)
  • An Avant Window Navigator applet
  • An Xfce 4-panel applet
  • A MATE panel applet
  • A GNOME 2-panel applet

Installation again requires that a PPA is installed first:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:dockbar-main/ppa

As ever, wait for the PPA’s installation, then run the update and install.

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install dockbarx

For use on Xfce desktops, you’ll need:

sudo apt-get install xfce4-dockbarx-plugin

Use the GitHub instructions for the full list of dependencies for a manual installation. You can also theme the dock with

sudo apt-get install dockbarx-themes-extra

Once installed, get DockbarX up and running with

dockx

…or open it from the menu (typically Accessories).

DockX is highly configurable. Not only you use it as a dock, it also does a good job as a Unity-style launcher (useful if you’re sad about Unity being abandoned What Ubuntu Unity Fans Can Do to Keep Your Favorite Interface What Ubuntu Unity Fans Can Do to Keep Your Favorite Interface Ubuntu's Unity interface is going away. So what's a Unity lover to do? Fortunately, the interface isn't gone forever - Unity lives on, with other ways to create a similar look and feel. Read More ). This and other features can be configured by right-clicking the DockX bar and choosing Properties, or by opening the DockbarX Preferences window from the Accessories menu.

Why Install a Dock?

Although they can make your Linux desktop look pretty sexy, that’s not really the reason to install a dock. The main argument in favor of a compact desktop launcher is productivity. Can you do more with a dock?

Well, yes, of course you can. But you’ll need to make sure that the apps and tools you regularly use are easily accessed from it. In addition, it’s position (bottom of screen, sides, or top) is important, as is its size. There’s also the matter of the auto-hide delay.

If your chosen Linux dock offers control over these things, then you should be able to boost your productivity.

Have you tried a Linux dock? Been shopping around for one, and found one you like above? Try one out, and tell us what you think!

Image Credit: Pheniti Prasomphethiran via Shutterstock.com

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