Ditch The Dock To Speed Up Your Mac Workflow

Bakari Chavanu 17-03-2015

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.

Dock Preferences

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 10 Hidden Terminal Commands for Customizing the Mac Dock From simple tweaks like adding hidden stacks for recent items, to only displaying the currently open applications – there's a lot you can do to customize your Mac's dock. Read More .

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.


dock settings

Type to Launch

Perhaps the most popular way to reduce the need for the dock is to use the default Mac app switcher, Spotlight, or one of two third-party application and file launchers, Alfred Power Up Your Mac Workflow With Alfred's New Remote App When it comes to getting more done on your Mac, Alfred Remote puts many common tasks quite literally at your fingertips via your iPhone or iPad. Read More or Launchbar Go Way Beyond Apple's Spotlight With LaunchBar 6 for Mac Spotlight and Alfred not cutting it? LaunchBar puts applications, web searches and a whole load of functions at your fingertips while you type. Read More .

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.

app 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 Search More Efficiently In Mac OS X With Our Top Spotlight Tips Spotlight has been a killer Mac feature for years, with Cupertino regularly schooling Redmond in the art of desktop search. Here are a few tips to help you find more on your Mac. Read More . 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 6 Amazing Alfred Workflows to Make You More Productive Now that users and developers are able to extend Alfred's capabilities by adding their own workflows, calling it an 'application launcher' seems a bit limiting. Read More .


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.

Tab Docks

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 SuperTab Launches Apps, Pastes Text, Takes Screenshots and Lots More If you want quick access to nearly everything on your Mac, without opening Finder windows or remembering dozens of keyboard shortcuts, then you need SpriTec's SuperTab for Mac. Read More , 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.

Automation Solutions

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 Power Up Mac Productivity Using Named Clipboards in Keyboard Maestro No clipboard manager can do what versatile named clipboards can in Mac automation program Keyboard Maestro. Read More , the finger gesture program, BetterTouchTool Even More Powerful BetterTouchTool Actions You Should Know About If you want more control over your Mac using your Magic Mouse or trackpad, BetterTouchTool puts hundreds of actions at your finger tips. Read More , and the voice dictation program, Dragon Dictate How To Dictate Writing On Your Mac: Apple's Dictation vs DragonDictate For a long time if you wanted or needed to use a speech-to-text dictation program on your Mac, your only choices were MacSpeech Dictate (now defunct) and Nuance's DragonDictate. But with the release of Mountain... Read More  —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.

Keyboard Maestro_launch_app

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 How To Dictate Writing On Your Mac: Apple's Dictation vs DragonDictate For a long time if you wanted or needed to use a speech-to-text dictation program on your Mac, your only choices were MacSpeech Dictate (now defunct) and Nuance's DragonDictate. But with the release of Mountain... Read More , 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 Do More With Siri Using The New iOS 7 Siri Commands If you find yourself fumbling with your iPhone to make a simple phone call, launch an app, set a reminder or wake-up alarm then you're probably not using Siri enough. Read More .

Dragon Dictate_commands

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?

Related topics: Application Dock, Mac App Launcher, OS X Mavericks, OS X Yosemite.

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  1. George Klein
    April 5, 2015 at 10:21 pm

    I seriously doubt that you can move the mouse vertically using only your wrist.
    To move your palm vertically holding the mouse without engaging your arm looks like a miracle to me.
    I tried everything, but I couldn't do it. Maybe because I am a piano player . . .
    The trackpad is different. That doesn't require any movement of the arm, moving the pointer on the screen depends on the dexterity of your fingers.
    I use the trackpad almost exclusively. My fingers' dexterity are there because . . . I am a piano player.

  2. George Klein
    March 18, 2015 at 2:22 pm

    First, it's much more convenient to have the dock on the left side of the screen instead of the bottom of it. It's much easier to access it with the mouse. I advise everyone to try it.
    The mouse can be easily moved horizontally on the desk, because it can can come from the wrist and the elbow, and not from the shoulder. To move the mouse vertically the whole arm has to be engaged, which is more difficult.
    I advise anybody to try that, to see how much easier to move the mouse horizontally.
    I keep the dock hidden all the time, unless I bring the mouse cursor close to the left edge of the screen. I like the dock to launch applications, I don't really need an app to launch another app.

    • Diana
      April 5, 2015 at 8:42 pm

      Umm.....I can move the pointer vertically from the top of the page to the bottom without "[engaging] the whole arm," both using a track pad and a mouse. The only part of my arm that moves is from the wrist up (or down, depending on how you're looking at it). If it easier for you that's cool but don't state it like a categorical fact.

    • Bakari Chavanu
      April 7, 2015 at 5:24 pm

      George, I tried putting the dock on the side of my 27" iMac, and it just doesn't work for me. In fact, I don't like using the dock much on the iMac at all. Whereas on my 11" MacBook Air, the dock is always on the right side, hidden. But I also have SuperTab on there because it provides more options than the dock. And now I prefer launching applications with my voice commands. I can actually be doing something else and have Dictate open application with a simple voice command. Thanks for your feedback.

  3. Myrian Coursi
    March 18, 2015 at 3:36 am

    So adding extra steps is your idea of a workflow improvement?

    • AshenWonderland
      March 18, 2015 at 3:49 am

      As a Linux user, I can see the point in using a launcher such as Alfred to speed up your workflow, as I use something similar, called dmenu. You'll find you get a lot more efficient if you have to use your mouse less, as long as you're acclimated to it.

      I don't think most of this is as helpful to the average user, though, as it is to a power user such as myself (not of OS X, admittedly, but still).

    • Myrian Coursi
      March 18, 2015 at 10:59 pm

      Yes, I use Alfred. That's not what I was talking about. I was talking about suggestions like hiding the dock, SuperTab or TabLauncher. They are not workflow friendly. They all add additional steps in the workflow. The title of this article is misleading.

    • Bakari Chavanu
      March 19, 2015 at 5:06 pm

      Myrian, how do you see it as adding extra steps. For example, SuperTab works just like the Dock, but provides more options. And the voice dictation commands circumvent the Dock all together. It does take time to set up the alternatives, but depending on what your needs are, the tools could save you some clicking and needless navigation.

    • Myrian Coursi
      March 19, 2015 at 5:13 pm

      Really? You can't see how it adds any step? SuperTab requires you to switch around tabs to find your application. Hiding the dock means that you have to wait a split second for the dock to show up, and only then can you start visually scanning it to find your app. these seemingly insignificant disturbances do break the workflow. Voice dictation is slower than typing something in spotlight or Alfred so that is not an improvement either.

    • Myrian Coursi
      March 19, 2015 at 5:16 pm

      I meant TabLauncher rather than SuperTab.

    • Bakari Chavanu
      April 7, 2015 at 5:20 pm

      Well, agreed, TabLauncher is sort of like the Dock, but I added it because it allows for adding and organizing items in ways that the regular dock doesn't. And I agree that the split second to make a dock appear can be an annoyance, but on smaller laptop screens, hiding the dock is sometimes very useful for regaining screen space. And for me, voice dictation is faster than typing. Maybe it's because I'm a slower typist than you. I can say, "Alfred" and have it pop up faster than switching my fingers to activate the keyboard shortcut. I can be typing an article, and issue the command, "Next track," a lot faster than using a keyboard shortcut to move to the next song in Rdio. But anyway, thanks for your feedback.