Top 10 Reasons the Apple Dock Sucks
The Dock, though derived from NeXTStep, will be seen by many as a clumsy attempt to copy the Windows task bar, but to make it look "cooler," at the expense of usability. Here are the ten most obvious flaws in their result. The solution to all this follows.
The comparison with the Task bar is flawed, they server different functions based on the different modality of the systems.
10. The Dock is big and clumsy
The Dock normally sucks up around 70 pixels minimum, more than four times as much vertical space as either the Windows task bar or the Macintosh menu bar. (Yes, you can set it much smaller, but then you have no chance of identifying a document without "scrubbing" the screen with your mouse.) Couple that with Apple's move to 16:9 wide screens (read: short screens) on their laptops, and you have a real problem. For good measure, add in the Dock's habit of floating on top of working windows, and you have little choice but to hide it.
Bull, you have the option to move it to a side, where there is lots of space. The Dock provides more information than the Task Bar.
9. Dock objects have no labels
The objects in the dock, as you can see above, do not have labels. That works fine in the demo, since every object shown is completely unlike every other object. However, put in six or seven folders next to each other and the user becomes clueless. Yes, the user can "scrub" up and down the Dock, forcing one label at a time to appear as they paw around for the right folder. However, that takes time and, when dragging a document, ensures a high rate of serious error.
The "User" (why not the "person" or the "human") can also put icons in the folders to distinguish them...
8. Identical pictures look identical
Using pictures instead of icons is a bad idea. The fabulous demo shows documents, such as the Apple home page, with title areas featuring 500 point type that scale down nicely into recognizable thumbnails. Real documents are not so obliging. The Macintosh does need greater document-differentiation, but we don't need a picture of the first page. We need information on data types, file sizes (as represented by the thickness of the icon), age, etc. Only when a representation is significantly enlarged should it transform into a thumbnail image.
So, because some documents can be identified we shouldn't use it with the documents that can? Do you know how wonderful the system is for pictures? At most, ask for the option to turn off preview in the dock, but you are exagerating
7. Users cannot build motor memory
Because everything in the Dock jumps around when you add new items, items do not have a stable location on the screen. Motor memory was always a strong consideration in the original Macintosh. Hence, the Apple, File, and Edit menus always came first, in that order. Now, "demoability" takes precedence.
Turn off Dock maginification.
6. The Trash Can belongs in the corner
This decision was so wrong that myriad hacks have already appeared on the net to address it. Apple's solution has been to enable you to pin the Dock to the right side of the screen, so that the trash can, alone, remains stable. This is great unless you happen to have another monitor to the right, so that the Dock ends up a foot away from your prime real estate.
So put a fucking alias of the trash can! Jesus, is whinning an olympic sport? Some people like their desktop clean from disks and other things, they like to have nothing in there or only documents, is that wrong?
5. Hiding the Dock makes things worse
Apple's latest solution to the firestorm of protest over the Dock is to allow the user to hide it. That way, it doesn't float over all your applications. Slide below the screen with your mouse and the Dock appears. This further Windows copy job, unfortunately, suffers from the same defect as the Windows Task Bar: You can't predict where a given object is until you reach the bottom of the screen and cause the Dock to reappear. Worse than with Windows, your job is not now over. Now, you begin the task of scrubbing back and forth vertically, trying to force the labels to appear, hoping you won't go far enough out of range in the process to cause the bar to disappear on you.
So don't hide it. But don't lie, the option to hide was there from the beginning...
4. The Dock ignores Fitts's Law
The corners and edges of the screen are predicted by Fitts's Law to be the most easily reached targets. The Dock hovers just above the bottom of the screen where it can safely avoid being in any way efficient.
So move it!. It is easy to do and in the left side it satisfies Fitts's Law beautifully. Furthermore, use Tinkertool to pin it to the bottom of the scree. Now you have a fix target for the Trash, legibility, and space...
3. Dock objects have holes
Carefully reproducing a bug in the original Macintosh, the new architects have built the Dock in such a way that users cannot click on transparent areas. Users go right to the middle of the object they want, click, and then wait for something to happen. It will be a long wait because nothing is going to happen if they happen to have clicked in an area with background showing through.
Thanks to the original bug, most user know how to deal with it. This is a bug, yes, but not a big deal...
Ensuring confusion, these same engineers have coded the objects such that hovering over a transparent area does, in fact, show the label. This way, the user receives feedback that everything is cool, when, in fact, everything is anything but.
Actually, it depends on the icon. Micro$oft icons do not have holes, so the option to do the right thing is there for developers.
Update: This "feature" may have been corrected. Dock users are reporting that they can now click in the background areas. This may be because Apple changed the code or because application programmers have learned to build a separate mask that includes the background areas. If the former, the problem is really solved. If the latter, the problem is usually solved.
It depends on the icon...
2. The Dock replaced better objects
Both Tab Menus and the Applications Menu are being forced into the dock. Tab menus are formed by dragging a Finder folder to the bottom of the screen, where it turns into a multi-level hierarchical menu. Tab menus have problems, not the least of which is that, every few weeks, the Mac crashes in such a way that they all disappear and must individually be restored, sometimes several times.
A Dock-like device, designed by interaction designers, could prove to be of great value in upgrading the current tab menu scheme. Unfortunately, since dropping Finder folders in the Dock results in a whole line of unlabeled folders, it isn't even close.
The Applications menu, in System 9, sits in the upper right hand corner of the screen, giving people reasonable access to running applications. It has its problems; for example, it neatly avoids high-speed access by not accepting a click from the absolute corner of the screen. Nonetheless, it works well enough and takes up little space.
The Dock throws the application menu's items in with everything else in the Dock, forming just one big jumble. (The applications are arranged on one end, but that doesn't seem much of a win; it is still one big jumble.)
No comment, I don't see what is the big deal. The Dock isn't worse than the previous "solutions", it's just different... Find a better solution first then we can talk...
1. The Dock adds bad behavior
The Dock adds a whole new behavior: Object annihilation. Drag an object off the dock and it disappears in a virtual puff of smoke. This is the single scariest idea introduced to the Macintosh since the original bomb icon. How would you feel if you spent eight hours working on your first Macintosh document, only to have it disappear entirely when you try to move it from the dock to the desktop? Pretty disorienting, no? This is a completely unnecessary concept for the user to have to learn, particularly in such a painful way. Makes for a "hot demo" though, doesn't it?
Your document is still there. You are stretching the metaphore too far and it fails. How do you propose people remove things from the Dock? Do you really think computer "users" have to be assumed so dumb that they can distinguish a document from its representation? By the same token, we shouldn't have aliases...
What needs to be done
The Dock must go. Completely. It is a total failure and will continue to embarrass Apple for as long as it is around.
The Applications menu needs to be restored. It should take the place it should have always had, fitting between the Apple menu and the File menu in the menu bar. Because OS X is multitasking, people should be able to manually add applications to the Applications menu (as they can with the Dock), so that the menu is a mix of both running and available applications.
The functionality of the tab menus should be restored, although it should be a single object, rather than independent objects.
The Control Strip should be brought back, although I would like to see it simplified and improved so that fewer objects can be more easily accessed.
The trash should return to its traditional location.
Apple's rationale for moving the trash to the Dock is to allow the trash to "float" above the working application, so that apps can make better use of trash from within applications. Fine. Put the trash can back in the lower right hand corner where it belongs (allowing you to move it, of course). Put a trigger for the trash just off the screen below the trash can (wherever you've placed it). If you go to the lower right hand corner of a window, you can size it. If the mouse continues to travel off the screen, the trash pops up with your mouse pointer hovering over it. In the usual case, with the trash can in the bottom right corner, slamming your mouse into that corner will produce the trash can, taking maximum advantage of Fitts's Law.
I think it's been so long that you've done something useful and successful that you should go and do that... Stop bothering us with nonsense, make products and then we talk... Anybody can be a critic, you should be better than that...
Confusing a demo design with a prototype for a working project is the kind of mistake amateurs make all the time--show a hot demo to the sales force and they want to know when it is going to ship.
Usually, the people actually engaged in the project well understand the difference. Apple seems to have lost all ability to tell real from imaginary. We saw this phenomenon with the round mouse, a "cool" design that was completely impractical. It took two years of the trade press calling them idiots before they finally pulled the mouse from the market. That protest was nothing compared to what the Dock has generated, and still they are hanging on.
The good news is that OS X is completely "hackable." We can expect that competently designed and engineered solutions to Apple's latest embarrassments will eventually appear
This is about the only thing that we agree on (I even like the round mouse which is great for small hands), but it kinds of defeats all the other arguments. Since it can be change it doesn't matter that much. And don't answer saying that full interface theming is not an answer but an excuse not to design the right interface. Apple is not doing much theming. They should provide options (buy Tinkertool!) in order to give people choices. It's been a while since the desktop metaphore was created it is time we grow up from it. For that we need more options and less sermons...
© Copyleft 2006 Alfredo Octavio.
Last update: 1/19/06; 3:38:53 PM.