November 16, 2016 at 2:28 p.m. PST
As the MacBook gets more compact, a smaller screen makes it harder to get things done. This article examines how to tweak the Mac OS X and macOS Dock to get more screen area.
I was using the YouTube app on my Apple TV, when I came across a video entitled “You’re Doing the Mac Dock Wrong”. The title immediately piqued my interest and I’m glad I watched the video. The insightful video explains how to position the Mac Dock and show and hide it automatically. I knew how to do these things already. The video goes on to show how to tweak the OS X Dock, making it fast and responsive using terminal commands.
I now have my Mac set up just as the video suggests, and I love it! I am getting more screen space. I also don’t accidentally click or interact with the dock when I am working at the bottom of the screen.
I have to give credit where it’s due. Snazzy Labs makes great videos about technology, and I highly recommend subscribing to their YouTube channel.
The video is very insightful and provides a great overview of how to tweak your Mac to get more usable screen area. That said, I don’t think videos are always the best way to follow tutorials. Some people prefer them. Other people like to read articles. I found it hard to execute some of the terminal commands using the video, and only one of them is listed in the video’s comments. For this reason, I am presenting these steps in written format and greatly expanding on them. This article goes beyond the tweaks, providing tips on how to clean up the dock, make it more visible and access apps that aren’t in your dock.
Move Dock to the Left or Right
The Snazzy Labs video suggests placing your dock on the left. By default, OS X and macOS put folders and icons on the right of the desktop. If you automatically arrange the icons using the “clean up” options, they will be shifted to the right. This doesn’t actually present a problem with the dock being on the right. I just couldn’t find a good reason it should be on the left. In fact, most apps have some sort of tool bar on the left. I found myself triggering the dock to expand when I was trying to click on a toolbar feature. Choose whichever side works best for you. Given the space between the right-most icon and the edge of the screen, I actually think the right side of the screen is better. You can easily select all of the icons on your desktop and slide them over if you find yourself clicking on them.
There are a few ways to move the Dock’s position. You can quickly access Dock options by moving the mouse pointer to the divider (which displays a white, double-sided arrow) and right-clicking.
Right-clicking on the Mac varies depending on your pointing device and configuration. With a Magic Trackpad or MacBook trackpad, right-clicks are accomplished by clicking with two fingers. A pop-up menu appears. Select “Position on Screen”. Another pop up menu appears with position options. Click on either right or left. Your dock will be placed in the appropriate position.
The System Preferences tool also offers settings for controlling the dock. Simply launch System Preferences and click on Dock. Select the appropriate screen position from the Dock settings panel.
You can see the Dock is now either on the left or right. It’s always there, but we’ll fix that soon. Leave the Dock visible for now. It makes it easier to remove apps, resize the dock and turn magnification on.
Remove Rarely Used Apps
The consequence of moving the Dock to the left or right is that these vertical spaces are smaller. If you have a lot of apps on your Dock, the icons become tiny. The best way to fix this is to remove rarely used apps from the Dock. This is easily accomplished by simply dragging them off the Dock with the mouse pointer. Simply move the pointer to an app then click and hold your mouse or trackpad while dragging the icons away from the Dock. This won’t uninstall the app from your system. It simply removes the app from the Dock. We’ll take a look at how to quickly access these apps later in this article.
Adjust Dock Size
Now that you’ve removed apps that you don’t use often, you can increase the Dock size so that apps are more visible. Simply move the mouse pointer to the divider, click and hold the trackpad or mouse button and move the pointer away or toward the Dock. Moving it away makes the dock bigger.
If this requires too much manual dexterity, you can adjust the size of the Dock by clicking on System Preferences > Dock. Adjust the size slider to the appropriate position.
If you still have a lot of apps on the Dock, or you have a small MacBook, the Dock icons might still be too small. The magnification feature will expand the size of icons when you hover the mouse pointer over them. You can turn this feature on by clicking on System Preferences > Dock and then adjust the magnification slider. Hover the mouse pointer over the dock icons to test magnification.
I personally don’t use the magnification feature. I find that it makes it a little harder to click on an app. I recommend removing more apps from the Dock if the icons are too small.
Minimize Windows into an Application Icon
Given that vertical screen space is smaller, it may be necessary to further modify Dock behavior. By default, when you minimize an open window, it will appear on the Dock, below the divider. This expands the size of the Dock, which can cause icons to appear smaller. If you have a lot of minimized apps, this can have a dramatic effect on icon size. In general, it’s best to have minimized apps appear below the divider, which is the default behavior. It makes it easier to see which apps you’re working on. If you have a small MacBook, however, it’s probably best to minimize windows back into their Dock icons.
Turning on “Minimize windows into an application icon” is easy. First, click on System Preferences > Dock. Next, check the box next to “minimize windows into an application icon”. With this change in effect, your Dock will no longer grow in size as you minimize applications. You can right-click on a Dock icon to see its minimized windows. Restore a minimized window by clicking on its title in the list.
Turn Dock Hiding On
Now that you have the Dock in the ideal position and have it cleaned up and appropriately sized, it’s time to activate the hiding feature. This will make the Dock appear only when you move the mouse pointer to the edge of the screen. Moving the pointer away hides the Dock again. This allows you to get the most out of a small MacBook screen. Open windows will be able to fully expand to the right or left.
First, move the mouse pointer over the divider on the Dock. When you see the double-sided arrow, right-click on the dock. A menu of options is displayed. Click on “Turn Hiding On”. Once you move the pointer off the Dock, it will disappear. You can also turn on Dock hiding by clicking on System Preferences > Dock. Next, check the box next to “Automatically hide and show the Dock”.
Speed up Dock Hiding
Mac OS X and macOS implement a small delay when showing and hiding the Dock. It’s probably done so that it doesn’t pop up instantly if you accidentally move the pointer to the trigger area. The reality is, it’s not the best behavior for most people. You’re probably coordinated enough to show and hide the dock intentionally. Fortunately, you can use some handy terminal commands to speed up the dock’s hiding behavior.
Terminal is an application that allows users to interact with OS X and macOS at a deeper level. It’s a very powerful tool, but it’s not user-friendly. First, launch the Terminal app. If it’s not on your Dock, click on the magnifying glass icon on the top right of your screen, and type in “terminal”. You’ll probably see the terminal app presented as the top search result before you finish typing. Press the return key to launch the app. A window with some text will appear. Copy and paste the following text into the Terminal window:
defaults write com.apple.dock autohide-time-modifier -int 0
Press the return key to run the command. This will set the automatic show/hide delay timer to 0, which makes it show and hide instantly. Next, we want to restart the Dock so the changes take effect immediately. Copy and paste the following text into the Terminal window:
Press the return key to run the command. This will reset the Dock, putting the change you made previously into effect immediately.
If you move the Dock, you may need to rerun these two commands again. I found that moving it from the left to the right caused it to revert to the default delay time.
Open Apps with Spotlight
If you’ve cleaned up the Dock to display only frequently used apps, you need to be aware of the best ways to launch infrequently used apps. My favorite app launcher is Spotlight. In fact, I sometimes use it to launch apps that are in the Dock. Indeed, that’s all the more reason to get the Dock off the screen.
Spotlight is Apple’s search tool. You can launch Spotlight by clicking on the magnifying glass on the top right. Enter the first few letters of the app. Usually, only one or two letters are needed. Once your app is at the top of the search results, press the return key to launch it.
There’s an even easier way to launch Spotlight. Simply hold the command key down while pressing the space bar. Spotlight will launch immediately. This is how I launch most of my apps — even the ones that are in my Dock. It’s just faster. I also use Spotlight to launch apps on my iPhone and iPad.
Open Apps with Launchpad
Launchpad is another great tool for opening infrequently used apps. You can add the Launchpad icon to your Dock, but I don’t recommend it, as it will take up valuable space. Apple has a few easy shortcuts to start Launchpad.
If you have a Magic Trackpad or MacBook trackpad, simply pinch the trackpad with 4 fingers. Launchpad will appear. If you use an iPhone or iPad, Launchpad is very familiar. It works just like the Home screens on iOS devices. Simply click on an app to launch it. The app will launch and Launchpad will fade away. You can also exit Launchpad by expanding 4 fingers outward on the trackpad, in a reverse-pinch gesture. Pressing the esc key will also exit Launchpad.
You can rearrange apps in Launchpad by dragging them around. Simply click and hold on an app and move it to its desired location. Dragging an app on top of another app will create a new folder. It’s exactly like the Home screens on your iPhone or iPad.
I don’t use Launchpad very often. It’s useful for browsing apps, but Spotlight is my go-to method for launching apps.
Open Apps with Siri
If you have macOS Sierra, you can use Siri to launch apps. Siri can be launched by clicking on the Siri icon on the Dock or on the top right of menu bar. Siri can also be launched by holding down the command and space bar. When Siri is activated, simply say “launch [app name]” and the app will launch automatically. I use Siri to launch apps on my Apple TV, but not on my Mac or iPhone. I still think Spotlight is faster on the latter two devices. Apple TV doesn’t have a keyboard or touch screen, making Siri the quickest way to launch apps on that device.
Switch Between Open Apps with Command + Tab
The Dock may be your preferred method to switch between open apps. You can still do this after you have moved the Dock to the side. Any app you open, regardless of whether it is in the Dock by default, will appear in the Dock. If you open it using Spotlight, Launchpad or Siri, it will appear in the Dock until the app is closed.
There’s an easier way to switch between open apps. Simply hold down the command key and press tab. Your open apps will be displayed on-screen as a row of icons. Keep holding down the command key while pressing the tab key to select the app you want to use. When you release both keys, the desired app will come to the front of your open windows. You can even quit apps by pressing the Q key while holding down the command key.
Switch Between Open Apps with Mission Control
Mission Control is another easy way to switch between apps. If you have a Magic Trackpad or MacBook trackpad, simply swipe three fingers up to view all open apps. An overview of all of your open apps is displayed. Click on the app you’d like to use, and Mission Control will fade away, with your desired app in focus. Swiping three fingers down on the trackpad displays open windows of the currently used app. You can click on a window to bring it to the front.
I really liked Mission Control, even back when it was called Exposé. After I discovered the command + tab trick, however, that became my favorite way to switch between apps. I still use Mission Control to get an overview of open apps and windows.
Use Hot Corners for Quick Access to Mission Control and Launchpad
Hot Corners is a convenient feature that’s been in Mac OS X for years. It allows users to quickly launch a Mac OS X feature, such as Mission Control or Launchpad, by moving the mouse pointer to a specific corner of the screen. This feature is more useful for those who aren’t using a trackpad. It’s essential if you have one of the older Apple mice.
Configuring Hot Corners is easy. First, go to System Preferences > Desktop & Screensaver. The Desktop & Screensaver settings panel appears. Click on the Hot Corners button toward the bottom right of the panel. Use the drop down menus to pick a desired corner to fire off the feature of your choice. As you can see, there’s a lot that Hot Corners can control.
Mac OS X and macOS are Very Flexible
I know people who have never owned a Mac, yet they claim it is a simple toy. When I bought my first Mac, I was under the same impression. That’s the beauty of the Mac. Its complexity is hidden behind a very simple user interface. You don’t have to be a genius to use a Mac, but it is a very flexible and customizable operating system. It’s far more customizable than Microsoft Windows.
This article just scratches the surface of what you can do with a Mac. There’s so much more you can do. You can use AppleScript or the Automator tool to completely control your Mac. There are countless Terminal commands that dig deep into the operating system’s capabilities. Mac OS X is the first consumer operating system to offer widgets. I encourage you to explore Mac OS X and macOS and push it to its limits. You’ll probably agree that the Macintosh offers users the most advanced operating system.