Spotty Dock

Thursday, 2007-10-11; 00:31:00

I have a bone to pick with John Gruber.

A week and a half ago, Gruber posted a lame rant about the Leopard Dock. Somehow he thinks that it's a great solution to have bottom-positioned Docks in Leopard show the new eye-candy while side-positioned Docks retain Tiger's Dock's look. And this is predicated on the idea that it's "silly" to have your Dock positioned on the bottom.

Gruber rightly points out that vertical screen real estate is more precious than horizontal real estate, especially in light of Apple's years-long tradition of using widescreen displays. But there's perhaps an even bigger argument for keeping the Dock on the bottom: Fitt's Law.
Side-Positioned Dock

When you have a Dock positioned on the bottom, there's more room for icons. And if you have a lot of icons in your Dock, positioning it on the bottom means that each icon can be bigger, giving you a larger target for each item in your Dock. Now, maybe the difference is that Gruber only has a few items in his Dock, while I like to stuff mine full. You can see the size of icons in my side-positioned Dock at the right; below is the bottom-positioned Dock.

Bottom-Positioned Dock

You can laugh at how many things I have in my Dock (those shots show about a third of my Dock), but the truth is that it's always the fastest way to launch an application, so I like to stick a lot of applications in there. (I used to have close to 100 things; I've pared it down to about 60 now.) The icons in the bottom-positioned Dock have a target area of about 29 x 37 pixels, while the ones in the side-positioned Dock have an area of 26 x 19. Remember, as you put more things in the Dock, it shrinks in both directions, exacerbating the problem.

The upshot is that my bottom-positioned Dock's icons have target areas that are over twice as large as the side-positioned Dock. So if I'd call anything silly, I'd call it the side-positioned Dock, not the bottom-positioned Dock.

The other thing that's stupid on Gruber's rant on the Dock is this: why should the appearance be based on what position you have it in? Why not have the default preference be the eye-candy one, and just have a hidden preference to change the Dock back to Tiger's look? That way even bottom-positioned Dock users can have the traditional appearance. Oh wait, that's right, bottom-positioned Docks are silly.

(Is Gruber's rant supposed to be tongue-in-cheek? While that's a possibility, it strikes me that he actually believes what he's saying. Even if it is supposed to be sarcastic, though, the Fitt's Law argument still stands.)

Here's another criticism of Leopard's Dock that irks me. AppleInsider's Prince McLean:

The biggest complaints have been that [...] it looks silly when used on either side of the screen vertically; that's because the more dimensional icons appear to hang in space next to the Dock, rather than seeming to rest on it or float above it as they do in its default bottom position. Of course, if it bothers you that the Docks' icons float in space with no physical structure holding them up when it is positioned vertically, how did you ever survive the logical conundrum of desktop icons floating in space against the Mac desktop, as they have for decades?

Yes. A million times yes. I found some of the comments regarding Leopard's Dock completely stupid.

It's OK to be frustrated that Leopard's Dock has a lot of unnecessary eye-candy, like the window reflections, the weird "currently running" lights, and I can even buy the argument that the new perspective violates Apple's own HIG for icons.

But the whole thing about the Dock looking stupid while on the left or right side is... well... stupid. If you think that gravity is an argument against the Leopard's Dock appearance, then why don't you argue that gravity is an argument against being able to position your windows wherever you want them -- why don't your windows always fall to the bottom of the screen? Furthermore, who says Tiger's Dock doesn't have any gravity? In that case, Tiger's Dock also looks stupid when positioned on the side of the screen.

I really hate it when UI people go off the deep end.

It's funny. UI people like to go on and on about how certain superficial aspects of applications detract from their overall usability. But sometimes they completely ignore real usability improvements, ones that far eclipse the superficial ones.

Case in point: the new "stack" functionality is potentially going to make my Dock much less cluttered. The default Applications stack will likely be almost as fast as the main Dock area for launching apps: you can see the names and icons of items in a stack after just one click, and unlike the main Dock area, you don't have to mouse over each item to see its title (see the images at the bottom of that page of AppleInsider's article). A regular folder in the Dock doesn't work nearly as well: you have to rely solely on the app name to target the item, and you have to either have your hand on the keyboard to hold down control or you have to hold down the mouse button for a second to wait for the popup.

Beneficial changes were also ignored when iTunes 5 was released; everybody was hemming and hawing about how OH MY GOD THE RADIUS OF THE WINDOW'S CORNERS ARE TOO SMALL! But completely glossed over were the real, functional improvements: that iTunes 5's mini controller window presented more information in a better-organized way, and even allowed you to do more.

Don't get me wrong, it's OK to nitpick about things. (The whole translucent menubar thing in Leopard was a dumb move on Apple's part, and the outcry caused Apple to tone down the effect.) But sometimes the UI people take it way overboard.

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