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Chapter 3. Exploring the Dock > Applications and the Dock

Applications and the Dock

The left (or top) portion of the Dock contains all docked and currently running applications.

To launch an application whose icon is in the Dock, just click its icon once, and your computer takes it from there. When you launch an application that isn't in the Dock, its icon then appears in the Dock.

As the application launches, you'll see the icon bounce. When opened, a small triangle appears with its icon to show that it is running—as you can see with the first icon on the left in Figure 3.1. When you quit or close the application, the triangle disappears. (For applications that haven't been set to remain in the Dock, the icon also disappears from the Dock.)

To switch between active applications, just click the icon in the Dock that you want to become the active application. You can also switch between open applications by holding down Command-Tab. This moves you through active applications in the Dock in the order in which they appear. When you reach the item you want to bring to the front, release the keys to select it.

Dropping is a shortcut for opening document files in a specific application. To drop a file, you can drag and drop a document icon on top of the icon of the application in which you want it to open. In Mac OS X, you can use the application's Dock icon instead of having to locate the original application file on your hard drive.

Also, to force a docked application to accept a dropped document that it doesn't recognize, hold down Command-Option when holding the document over the application icon. The application icon is immediately highlighted, enabling you to perform your drag-and-drop action. (Keep in mind, however, that many applications can work with files in only certain formats—forcing an application to open something it doesn't have the capacity to read won't get you very far!)

Adding and Removing Docked Applications

You can add applications to the left side (or top) of the Dock to create a quick launching point, no matter where the software is located on your hard drive. Dragging an application icon to the Dock adds it to that location in the Dock.

When the Dock expands to the full width of the screen, it automatically decreases the scale of its icons to fit along the edge of your screen. As you open more applications or add more icons to it, each icon appears smaller.

To make an open application a permanent member of the Dock, simply do the following:

Locate the application's icon if it appears in the Dock. (If it's not in the Dock, the application isn't open!)

Click and hold on the icon to pop up a menu, as shown in Figure 3.2.

Figure 3.2. Click and hold on an application's icon in the dock.

Choose the option Keep in Dock. (If the application already has a place in the Dock, you won't be given this option.)

After you've placed an application on the Dock, you can launch it by single-clicking the icon.

Moving an icon to the Dock doesn't change the location of the original file or folder. The Dock icon is merely an alias to the real file. Unfortunately, if the original files for a docked application have been moved since it was added to the Dock, the Dock can no longer launch that application.

To remove an application's icon from the Dock, make sure that the application isn't running and drag it out of the Dock. It disappears in a puff of smoke (try it and see).

Getting Information from the Dock

In addition to providing easy access to commonly used applications, the Dock also gives you feedback about the functioning of applications through their icons.

The icon of an application that's opening bounces in the Dock (unless configured not to) and continues bouncing until the software is ready. Also, if an open application needs to get your attention, its icon bounces intermittently until you interact with it.

The Dock also signals which applications are running by displaying a small triangle, or arrow, with their application icons. This is a good way to see which applications are open, even if you've hidden them or closed all their windows.

In addition to telling you which applications are open, Dock icons can also give you a convenient way to close applications. Simply click and hold the icon of an open application and choose Quit from the menu that appears.

Dock icons also offer quick access to documents open in an application. For example, when you have multiple Finder windows open, you can view a list of those windows by clicking and holding on the Finder icon in the Dock. From the list, as shown in Figure 3.3, you can easily choose the one you want.

Figure 3.3. Click and hold on the Dock icon of an open application for a list of open windows.

Some applications, such as System Preferences and Sherlock, take “Dock menuing” even further. If they are open, you can choose from among all their sections, whether those sections are open or not, by click-holding on their icons in the Dock.

Some applications even have customized Dock's icons to display information about events occurring in the application itself. For example, the Mail program displays the number of unread email messages in a red seal that appears in the icon in the Dock, as shown in Figure 3.4. (Mail is covered in detail in Chapter 17, “Using Mail.”)

Figure 3.4. View the Number of Unread Messages on Your Mail Icon in the Dock.

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