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For many Mac users, the legendary dock is sometimes obtrusive on a smaller screen laptop, or a little too distant on a 21″ screen iMac. Though it’s a staple feature on the Mac, it often lacks other extra functions users need to get tasks done.
While the dock can’t be entirely eliminated, there are many powerful alternatives that can reduce your dependence on using the dock as an app launcher. Instead, there are tools for launching applications, opening files and automating tasks that take up less space on the desktop, and require less mouse and trackpad clicking.
Just in case you don’t know, there are options for changing the dock’s appearance in System Preferences > Dock. This allows you to change the size the dock and reposition it on the left or right side of the screen.
You can also turn on dock hiding, which when enabled causes the dock to automatically hide until you drag your cursor to the edge of the screen where the dock is positioned. There’s almost a second delay before it appears, but you can change that and more with a simple Terminal command.
I choose to keep the dock hidden on both my iMac and 11″ MacBook Air, because I have so many other ways to launch applications.
Type to Launch
To bring up the Mac apps switcher, press the command+tab keys. To keep the switcher open, you need to keep the command key pressed down. You can keep pressing the tab key to move through and select one of the opened applications in the switcher.
If you can perform a few tricky finger movements, you can click command+shift+tab to move the selection backwards through the open applications, and press command+q or command+h to quit or hide a selected application.
Spotlight is a highly capable native launcher. By pressing the assigned hotkey (spacebar+command), a window pops up on your desktop and from there you you can search for nearly anything stored on your Mac. This including recent bookmarks, files, Contacts information, mail messages and of course applications. In System Preferences > Spotlight, you can choose to disable certain search categories for more refined results among other Spotlight tweaks.
I personally don’t find Spotlight to be useful for Internet searches, but it certainly has improved over the years, and is very fast at locating and providing suggestions for searches. It also learns based on what you most use, which means oft-launched applications are only a few keystrokes away.
If you would like more control over launching applications and searching, but still don’t want to use a mouse or trackpad, Alfred and Launchbar work similar to Spotlight, with many more features and workflows.
Both applications have a significant learning curve, but if you wanting to ditch the dock and become a Mac power user, you should definitely try out one or both of these applications.
If you’re like me and you’re not keen on remembering keyboard shortcuts and typing, and you rely on your trackpad or mouse instead, there are a few good dock replacements for the Mac, including SuperTab ($20) and TabLauncher ($3.99).
Last year we reviewed the dock-less application launcher SuperTab, which can be activated using a hotkey or by moving your cursor to one of four designated hot corners on your Mac. Multiple tabs can be set up in SuperTab for launching applications, bookmarks, and even activating various types of screenshots. SuperTab stays hidden in the background until you need it.
TabLauncher is another less obtrusive application and file launcher, which can be parked one of four sides of your desktop. It also allows for multiple tabs, which take up less space than the traditional dock or SuperTab. You can create tabs for various types of files, (e.g., running applications, download folder items, groups of designated files and applications).
TabLauncher includes options for changing the colors and opacity of tabs and icons, activating AppleScript scripts, changing the font style and size of tab labels, creating custom icons, and a special tab for a mini music player for iTunes.
There’s a lot in TabLauncher that makes it a perfect dock replacement. And like the dock, this third-party solution includes automatic hiding feature so it stays out of the way until you need it.
You can download a trial version of TabLauncher to test it out. It’s also modestly priced for $3.99 in the Mac App Store.
Depending on how much work you do on your Mac, there three automation applications that provide a dock-less solution for performing hundreds of tasks on your Mac. The powerful automation application, Keyboard Maestro, the finger gesture program, BetterTouchTool, and the voice dictation program, Dragon Dictate —each in their own way can greatly reduce your dependance on the Mac dock. We reviewed and published several articles on these applications.
Keyboard Maestro is great for launching applications, files, and bookmarks using one or more assigned triggers, including a keyboard shortcut, a string of characters, a designated day(s) and time, or by a assigned launching or quitting of an application. KM also has its own hotkey-triggered application launcher that stays open without you having to keep the tab key pressed down.
BetterTouchTool can perform hundreds of computer tasks. It works like the default Mac OS X finger gesture feature for scrolling windows and opening the Launchpad and Exposé. But BTT is far more advanced, allowing users to apply one of hundreds of finger gestures to tasks, such as opening or quitting a designated application, activating a screenshot, or triggering menu items. The actions are limitless.
If you don’t like using keyboard shortcuts or the mouse, you can actually launch applications, bookmarks, and files using the voice command features in Yosemite, or better yet, use Dragon Dictate. I use DD throughout the day, and it has not only beefed up my productivity, but has greatly reduced the amount clicking and typing I perform.
Here’s a quick demo of what it can do. (Note: there’s a slight lag between commands, caused by memory issues when recording.)
In many ways, DD voice commands work better than the text dedication feature it’s mainly built for. DD includes a built-in command that will launch any application in your Mac, when you say, “Activate (or Launch) [name of application].” It’s just like launching an app using Siri on an iOS device.
But you can create hundreds more custom commands for activating menubar items, inserting snippets of text, running AppleScript scripts, accessing websites, and activating designated keyboard shortcuts. DD voice commands allow me to multi-tasks without much distraction. I can even send commands to show or hide the dock.
It’s unlikely Apple are going to replace this stalwart OS X feature any time soon, but you can take advantage of one or more of the above solutions and increase your productivity by not having to navigate to the dock to launch applications or perform other frequent tasks.
Let us know what other solutions you use for replacing the dock on your Mac. What other type of solutions would you like to see developed in this area?