Road to Mac OS X Leopard: Dock 1.6
The Applications Stack
Having the contents of your Applications folder ready for Exposé-esque access with a single click means you don't have to load the Dock with icons for apps you don't use every day. How well does it actually work? Extremely well: click on your Applications Stack to pop up its contents, and you don't even have to scan through all your icons to find what you're looking for; you can type the first letter (or first few letters) to select the app you want, then hit return to launch it. You can also move the selection around with arrow keys, then hit new characters to jump to a new selection. This is a great app launcher.
The only downside is that some developers insist of putting their applications into a folder of junk and then name their apps after themselves, notably Adobe and Microsoft. Dear Adobe, I know you make Photoshop. Don't call my Photoshop "Adobe Photoshop," and please don't stuff it inside an "Adobe Photoshop" folder. Anyone who knows how to transverse folders to install a plugin can probably also handle doing a Show Package Contents. Just give me a Photoshop icon. We're Mac users, remember? We don't need a Programs Folder so messed up that the operating system warns us not to peruse it, as Windows does, expecting that we set up a parallel bunch of icons hidden away in the Start Menu's program manager just to launch apps.
Of course, the Applications Stack isn't the only way to quickly launch a non-Docked app in Leopard. Spotlight is now a Quicksilver-like, fast app launcher as well. Type Apple+Space and then "ill" and it will almost instantly provide "Adobe Illustrator" as a result that can be launched with a hit on the spacebar. Between Spotlight and Application Stacks, you'll be able to launch apps in a flash without leaving piles of app icons loaded in the Dock or app aliases strewn across the desktop. That leaves more room for documents and minimized windows in the Dock.
The Documents Stack
Of course, you won't need to drop all your recent documents in the Dock either. In addition to the Apple Menu's Recent Documents menu that's always offered a quick link to your most commonly used files, the new Documents Stack in the Dock provides quick access to all your folders of documents just like the Application Stack. If you've organized all your client or project files into folders in whatever way makes sense to you, being able to click on the Dock's Documents Stack to pop up a window full of your folders makes it easy to quickly target the subset of files you're looking for in the Finder.
That saves you some clicks over selecting the Finder, creating a new window if you want to preserve the view of the existing one, selecting your Documents folder, then finding the intended folder by sorting through a long list. With the Documents Stack, you can quickly pop right to the subfolder you have in mind without any slow, deliberate navigation.
The fact that Leopard now dynamically depicts the actual contents of many types of documents in their Finder icon (as Windows Vista already does) makes the Document Stack a fast way to find loose documents too, without opening a Finder window and selecting an icon or Cover Flow view. The Documents Stack makes finding what you're looking for fast and intuitive. You can similarly create your own selection of graphics, documents, or movies and drop them into a Stack for easy reference.
The Downloads Stack
Leopard introduces a new convention for downloaded files. Rather than dumping web downloads and saved email attachments on the desktop, it now defaults to throwing all downloads into their own folder: ~/Downloads. The Downloads Stack of that folder makes it easy to find the last few items you've downloaded, without digging around through Finder windows or asking the browser to reveal where it dumped your download.
Once you download something, the Downloads Stack bounces once to indicate that the download completed. The Stack Dock icon is also updated to reflect that your most recent download is sitting on top of the stack. When you click on it to fan out your recent downloads, the newest item is at the bottom, which seems to make less sense but results in it being a closer target to your mouse pointer.
In earlier builds of Leopard (and as Apple depicts on its site), the Downloads Stack formerly put the newest item at the top of the fanned out icons, and put the "show in Finder" link at the bottom of the arc (as depicted in the graphic above left). The latest builds of Leopard switch that around; the Finder link is at the top, and the new download is the closest target at the bottom.
The Lean, Clean New Dock
Those three Stacks, stuck in the Dock by Apple (and removable by a simple drag poof), offer to greatly minimize the number of icons most users will want to leave in their Dock, leaving space open for more minimized windows without cramping down the size of icons. In other words, there's less to clutter in the Dock and on the desktop.
The new Dock, along with Spotlight, makes it easier to quickly locate and target both applications and files. In addition, the new Finder —with its slimmer, space conserving Dock-like sidebar —also acts like a Shelf for sticking files, folders, and applications for later use. As the Road to Mac OS X Leopard: Finder article noted, the new iTunes-like sidebar makes it easy to customize Finder windows with links to whatever files or folder the user desires.
The Finder's Dock icon also gains a few functional shortcuts in its dockling menus for creating a new folder, a new smart folder, performing a search, 'go to folder' (which allows you to type in a path, useful for browsing invisible directories), and 'connect to server' (for browsing or entering a URL address to a WebDAV, FTP, AppleShare, NFS, or SMB Windows file server). Screenshots of Leopard already published on the Web depict these features (below).
The only desktop problem that remains is tons of minimized windows in the Dock. If you hate having to choose between having a desktop cluttered with too many open windows or a Dock full of too many minimized open windows, Leopard provides another new feature to solve that dilemma, which will be examined in an upcoming Road to Leopard report.