: The Dock (what's good about it?)

5 Feb 2004 - 5:29pm
458 reads
cfmdesigns
2004

From: Andrei Herasimchuk <andrei at adobe.com>

At 2:56 PM -0800 2/4/04, Andrei Herasimchuk wrote:
>On Feb 4, 2004, at 12:23 PM, Jim Drew wrote:
>
>>The tight packing of items. To get that tight of packing on the
>>desktop or in a folder, I have to turn off the grid, which means I
>>lose the consistency of location I get with a grid.
>
>This is actually one of my gripes about the dock. I often
>accidentally click the wrong icon just a wee bit to the left or
>right side and find I inadvertently launch a new app instead of
>switch to the one I wanted. Launching a new apps sucks down serious
>computing cycles. This doesn't happen in Windows because the taskbar
>only shows you currently open windows.

I'll skip the matter of how the Dock shows that apps are running.
This thread was about what is *good* with the Dock rather than what
might not be. I don't disagree, but I've never noticed having
problems with that, either.

I would submit that the tight packing of items in the Dock isn't why
you sometimes click the wrong one. Instead, it's because of how many
items you have and the size you have them at (which is probably
linked to the number of items but can be affected by user settings as
well, since some people not only don't want it big, they want it as
small as possible).

I've seen many people who have every app on their system in their
Dock at once giving 40 or more 8 pt high icons across the bottom of
the screen. It's no wonder someone would have clicking problems with
that, having an 8 pt target with the next target only a point or so
away.

My Dock regularly has 16 items (just the things I use every day,
although I could shed a couple more with ease, and another will be
going off soon) in it at 32 pt or so, providing decent size targets
(and icons at a recognizable size). (I also avoid some of Tog's
complaint points by not putting folders and files in the Dock, for
some of the reasons he mentions, leaving them -- or usually aliases
to them -- on the desktop instead. This also keeps the number of
items in the Dock smaller.)

As a side angle, I always have the Dock on the right side of my
screen rather than the default at the bottom. Much of my work is
done in portrait-shaped docs -- and much in a Classic app, which
doesn't respect Dock position -- so losing screen real estate at the
bottom is painful. (I also use two monitors, so the vertical Dock
takes up that much smaller a percentage of the usable space.) I
wonder if there are any studies about targeting things with a mouse
when moving horizontally vs. vertically. That is, do you sometimes
click wrong because you are scrubbing right/left rather than up/down?
(I note that with a vertical Dock, the app name that appears can be
more readily connected to the icon because it "points" to it rather
than sprawling above it.)

With Windows, I never move the taskbar to vertical because of the
horizontal nature of the app names, which makes it eat a greater
portion of the screen real estate than it does when it is left
horizontal. (Can you even do that in XP today? I don't easily find
the setting.)

>>The relative placement of items stays consistent, whether the exact
>>location remains constant or not. (That is, the Trash is always at
>>a known relative location -- end of the Dock -- and you know that
>>App2 is between App1 and App3, since you put them there.) Compare
>>to trying to find an app in the Applications folder or other
>>listing, where the addition of things to the system disrupts
>>placement and you may have to open folders and such to get to the
>>app itself.
>
>I agree, but in Windows, you can just use the QuickLaunch area for
>the same thing, which has been available on that system since 1998
>or 1999. The benefit the QL area has is that icons are not clustered
>together with normal content so you hardly ever inadvertently do
>what I mention above.

I do use QuickLaunch on XP. Mine right now holds 6 items. That and
a couple launch-at-login things are nearly all I ever use on Windows,
but if I used it to hold 16 items (much less 40) like with the Dock,
the thing would be sprawling across half the taskbar (or I would have
to drag a handle to get at the things every time I wanted them, which
doesn't seem efficient). (There may be handy ways of using it I
don't know yet, of course.)

But see my above comments on targeting itty-bitty icons. The spread
is a little bit better, but I've hit the wrong one on many occasions.
(And the lack of a name and a color and an indication attached to the
icon that it is already running -- rather than scanning the rest of
the taskbar, away from the QL area -- are little different from the
Dock issues.

>>Easy access to actions like Quit/Force Quit, list of open windows,
>>etc. Better than things were in OS 9 or on Windows.
>
>Sure. I can buy that. Of course... the fact you need to use Force
>Quit at all seems to be the real problem, not finding where the
>command for it is. Windows has had the list of Open windows and
>clusters items together as an option as of WinXP.

I have to kill apps with Task Manager on XP on occasion, too.

I don't cluster app instances in the taskbar on Windows. I want to
know just how many separate Explorer processes I've managed to spawn.
<grin> (So I just turned it on to check it out, and couldn't get it
to group IE instances, despite that being what is shown in the Props
dialog. What is the UI for accessing the separate instances inside a
grouped one?)

>>It's there with *every* system. It's not an add-on which needs to
>>be download or even an extra which needs to be activated.
>
>Ok... but how is that different or better than other systems? I'm
>not sure what real benefit this is.

The benefit being that a user doesn't have to activate or otherwise
go out and get it. LaunchBar or DragThing or DockFun! are great apps
or add-ons which give desired functionality or improve the Dock's
usability, but they have to be sought out, and the person has to know
that they *can* be sought out. Some of Tog's issues seemed to be
that it's not as good as some shareware; are those truly Dock
weaknesses or other app strengths?

>>It is customizable: size, location, behavior. Users have to choose
>>to do this, admittedly, but Tog's Issue #9 makes the size issue
>>bigger (ahem) than it really is, I think. (I match my Dock size to
>>that of my desktop icons.)
>
>The taskbar in Windows adjust its size based on font size, which I
>find a better rule to follow than icon size. But that would require
>the Dock to use text labels. So the resizable nature of the Dock is
>lost on me since I never change it. However, I would prefer to see
>Apple give the Dock the option of paying attention to my display
>size, so when I unhook my Powerbook from my work station, the Dock
>readjusts to be smaller on that smaller screen. As it stands, on my
>1600 x 1200 screen, the Dock stays small because I have no desire to
>spend time every morning readjusting it and then switching it back
>manually at night when I go home.

Very good idea.

Some complaints (Tog's and others) center on the huge initial size
and the magnifier and other things, ignoring the value in being able
to control or turn off a lot of the things that might be issues about
it. No argument that good choices for initial values are good and
serve basic users better, but customization (and of more than size)
is certainly a good point.

>>I watch Windows users -- both home and office -- and I'm often
>>amazed that they can get anything done. Many of them have 20-30 or
>>more shortcuts on their desktop [...]
>
>BTW, I often see Mac OS users with cluttered desktops and shortcuts
>as well. that little criticism is hardly applicable to the design of
>the Dock. Messy users are messy users, regardless of Mac or Windows
>use.

I agree. I think that the Dock encourages "group app links in one
place" behavior better than the Taskbar does, and any such
encouragement is probably good.

As well, messy desktop syndrome is probably more prone to occur in
people who upgrade to the new OS (or get new hardware; same diff) but
don't investigate the features of the new OS and instead continue
with their old behaviors. (We are all apt to do that, of course.)
If a messy desktop is what you had to have before, and it's what
you're used to, you continue with it.

Are there other good things about the Dock I've not noted?
--

Jim Drew
Seattle, WA

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