Customizing Your Mac: The Sacred Dock

The Dock has become an iconic feature on the OS X operating system, present from the very earliest versions. It provides a unique way to open applications and monitor what is running on your system, while also offering a space to minimize application windows to.
While I’m sure many of you are quite happy with the default appearance of your Dock, you may be interested to know that there are ways to alter the look and feel of the oft used menu.

This post will explore the different possibilities open to you, outline a variety of relevant websites and applications, along with providing a walkthrough of how to alter the style of your Dock.

Brief history of the Dock

As mentioned above, the Dock has been present since the very early days of OS X. Through the years, it has undergone a few major design changes.

OS X Puma and Cheetah

OS X Puma and Cheetah

OS X Tiger and Panther

OS X Tiger and Panther

OS X Leopard

OS X Leopard

These changes haven’t always been met favorably, particularly the reflections and gloss featured in the new Leopard dock (personally, I’ve never been a major fan). Ars Technica, along with others, have raised interesting critical points.

In-Built OS X Options

With recent updates to Leopard, Apple ha re-enabled the level of customization found in previous versions of OS X. It is possible to move the Dock to the left or right of your monitor, and experience a slightly different design. Other options such as auto-hiding and using different minimize effects are still available.

Many Mac users prefer to align the Dock to the side of the screen, making the most of the widescreen real estate present on new machines. These limited in-built options don’t come close to justifying a whole post on customizing your Dock, however, and far more fun can be had when third party applications are used to change its appearance.

Other Software Options

The Dock, as with any OS item, is made up of a collection of different images. Shortly after the release of Leopard, people found where these image ‘resources’ were located, and experimented with swapping them for others. As this is a fairly technical operation, several different Dock manipulation tools have abounded which are able to swap the image resources automatically. I’m only going to focus on a couple, so it’s worth searching for others if the ones mentioned don’t fit your needs. Here is a quick run-down of the main tools available:

  • Mirage – Clear all background material from your Dock
  • CandyBar – Complete customization control over the Dock
  • SuperDocker – Simple utility for making changes
  • Dock Library – Another simple swapping utility

Obviously, in addition to any of these applications, you’ll need to find a set of Dock resources which suit the look you are aiming for. A site called (very appropriately) Leopard Docks catalogs a huge range of different themes which you’ll be able to apply through the above applications. Jack Rebel also has a few nice options.

CandyBar is arguably the most popular option for quickly customizing your dock, so here is a quick walkthrough of the process.

Step 1: Download and install CandyBar.

Step 2: Head over to Leopard Docks to choose and download a Dock that catches your eye.

Step 3: Open CandyBar and select the ‘Dock’ icon in the top left corner.

Step 4: Drag and drop your downloaded Dock resources into the appropriate location on the right hand side. The files in the zip you downloaded from Leopard Docks should be appropriately named to make it obvious which ones to drag where.

Step 5 & 6: You will then need to enter your password (CandyBar requires authorization in order to replace the system files making up your dock), and then agree to restart your Dock (to refresh the graphics). If all goes well, you should then be looking at a delightful updated Dock style:

It’s important to note that CandyBar makes it easy to revert your Dock back to the original style if you grow tired of the altered version. It’s as simple as clicking ‘Restore’ in the top right corner, so you don’t need to worry about experimenting with a questionable ‘grass’ dock…

A Few Examples

Here are a few examples of some truly lick-able Docks to boost your levels of inspiration:

A wooden theme:

A ‘slick retro’ dock, with a glossy silver feel:

For all you chocolate lovers out there:

And finally, a dock to complement the default Leopard wallpaper – Aurora:

Conclusion

No longer does the Dock need to be an untouchable part of your system look and feel. With the tools outlined you’re able to take control and change it for the better (or worse –some themes are truly awful). I hope you have fun experimenting, and please feel free to look at our earlier customizing articles relating to wallpapers and icon applications if you grow tired of applying different Dock themes.

I’m always interested to see new themes and effects, so please feel free to post a link to screenshot below and share the masterpiece you’ve managed to create!

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