View Full Version : Getting More from the Dock Part 2: Stacks

8th March 2010, 10:20 AM
<a href="http://www.mactalk.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Stacks06_Highlight.PNG"><img class="alignleft size-medium wp-image-5506" title="Stacks06_Highlight" src="http://www.mactalk.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Stacks06_Highlight-300x231.PNG" alt="Stacks06_Highlight" width="300" height="231" /></a>When Stacks were launched in Leopard in October 2007, you’d think Apple had unleashed <em>Chlamydia With A Side Of Gout™. </em>Apple news and reviews sites were rife with reports that Stacks were <em>‘broken’</em> and <em>‘inferior to Tiger’s dock functionality’</em> . I was far too busy enjoying them to care, stoked with the simple fact that my current Safari download would now be always be right in front of me in the Dock, offering a progress bar while downloading and that all-too-familiar bounce when complete. Maybe I’m just a glass-half-full guy, but Stacks floated my boat from day one, and thanks to Apple’s continual efforts to develop them, they’re getting better all the time.<!--more-->

Stacks are a very simple concept, but after a short time customizing them to suit your needs, they give you the ability to transform the Dock into a portal for every frequently used app and file in your digital life, with far more elegance and accessibility than previously possible.

So let’s take a few minutes to explore some tips that will help you get the most out of that oft-neglected right hand side of your Dock!
<h2>New to Stacks?</h2>
<img class="alignright size-full wp-image-5501" src="http://www.mactalk.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Stacks01_Downloads.PNG" alt="Stacks01_Downloads" width="165" height="241" />For any who are new to the name, Stacks are the handy little folders next to your Dock where all your downloads and applications pop up in a fan-like display or grid when clicked (if you’ve never changed them). Glad we got that out of the way. But if the name’s new to you, so may be the fact these are actually very versatile and can be added or removed at will and filled with pretty much anything you want.

At their core, all Stacks really are is a new way of displaying folders that already exist on your hard drive, making them highly accessible and easy (and even <em>enjoyable</em>) to navigate directly from the Dock. The advantages of this are faster access to your frequently used files, and the fact that you no longer need to open a window or application like Finder to navigate them (which is just another window you’ll want to close later on).
<h2>Add a Recent Items Stack</h2>
If you’ve moved from a Windows platform, one thing you may have wondered is where on earth the Mac OS X equivalent to the Recent Documents folder (in Start menu on Windows) is hiding. Fear not, it may not be immediately visible, but it’s in there!

This is another Leopard/Snow Leopard easter egg that’s only unlockable via Terminal (or some third party apps like <a href="http://secrets.blacktree.com/">Secrets</a> that invoke terminal commands). To create your Recent Items stack, open Terminal and type the following:

<em>defaults write com.apple.dock persistent-others -array-add '{ "tile-data" = { "list-type" = 1; }; "tile-type" = "recents-tile"; }</em>

Press Return, then type <em>killall Dock</em> (paying note to the capital <em>d</em>) and press Return again to restart the dock. You’ll see a new stack appear next to Trash. Click to expand and you’ll see a grid of your most recently opened applications, as below:
<p style="text-align: center"><img class="size-full wp-image-5502 aligncenter" src="http://www.mactalk.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Stacks02_RecentApps.PNG" alt="Stacks02_RecentApps" width="415" height="236" /></p>
<p style="text-align: left">This is only the default setting. Right-click the stack and you’ll see options to change this to a Recent Documents, Recent Servers, Favourite Volumes or Favourite Items stack. Very cool. <em>Recent Documents</em> is probably the most useful of these, as your most used apps should all be in your dock anyway.</p>

Of course, like any other stack, the view can also be changed from Grid to <em>Fan</em> or <em>List</em> view to taste. For the purposes of a Recent Documents stack, I use <em>Fan</em> view, which handily orders these in descending order of <em>last opened</em>. Which leads nicely into our next hint...
<h2 style="text-align: left">Mix It Up</h2>
<img class="alignright size-full wp-image-5503" src="http://www.mactalk.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Stacks03_StackOptions.PNG" alt="Stacks03_StackOptions" width="88" height="213" />Just a general tip. Don’t try and pick a single view for all your stacks. It may seem nice and neat, but different stack styles are good for different things; comparing the standard Downloads stack with an Applications stack is a great example of this.

Having your downloads fanned out in descending order of <em>Date Added</em> is perfect for scanning your latest downloads (default), but trying to navigate your Applications list this way makes little sense. So for Applications, try List View, which you can use your keyboard to most quickly navigate (punch in the first letter/s of the app’s name to jump to it). For anything that behaves like a frequently-modified drop box vis-a-vis <em>Downloads</em>, use Fan view in Date Added order. This is just one example, but you can try modifying the view settings on an existing stack from the contextual menu to see what works for you (shown right).
<h2>Alternate (better) List Style</h2>
The standard list view for Stacks is fine for the most part, but it emits a foul odour when you start navigating sub-folders. The odour is that of the Pre-Vista Start menu, where the expansion of folders pop up a new panels horizontally across the screen, giving subsequent popup panels for each level. Stacks reflect this nasty behavior below:
<p style="text-align: center"></p>

<img class="size-full wp-image-5504 " src="http://www.mactalk.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Stacks04_UglyList.PNG" alt="Expanding List Uglification" width="557" height="238" />
<p style="text-align: left">To Make matters worse, since stacks appear at the right hand side of your dock, there is no room to expand right, leaving each pop-up window expanding <em>the wrong way</em> according to the arrow indicators (as above). Gross.</p>

The <em>hidden/alternate list view</em>, however (which may be a preview of things to come?) solves this neatly by enabling drill-down within a single list window, making it a great little Finder replacement for basic navigation of common folders. It also adds a real scrollbar and displays icons, and generally spaces the list out, making it far more pleasing to the eye:
<p style="text-align: left"></p>

<img class="size-full wp-image-5505 " src="http://www.mactalk.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Stacks05_PrettyList.PNG" alt="Improved List View" width="249" height="273" />
<p style="text-align: left">To invoke this view, run the following Terminal command:</p>

<p style="text-align: left"><em>defaults write com.apple.dock use-new-list-stack -bool YES
</em>Press Return, then type <em>killall Dock</em> and press Return again to restart the dock. To reverse this setting, replace <em>YES</em> with <em>NO</em>.
<p style="text-align: left">So, now that we’ve got our lists looking pretty, let’s move on to possibly the handiest application for stacks.</p>

<h2 style="text-align: left">Top 10 Lists</h2>
Setting up stacks for your most used items (with a stack for each type) is the most handy everyday application for stacks, yet it’s something I see few people do. This is extremely easy to do for your favourite documents, URLs, text clippings, or for some handy little apps that don’t quite deserve a proper Dock icon.

Follow the steps below to build lists of your own:
<li>If you have multiple lists in mind, create a folder in Documents called ‘Top 10 Lists’ to store them in.</li>
<li>For the example ‘Top 10 URLs’ open your browser and drag each URL into the folder in Finder (use your Bookmarks manager to drag them out most quickly, provided the pages are bookmarked). This will create hyperlinks for each page which can be launched from Stacks once the stack is added</li>
<li>When your list is complete, drag the parent folder into the stacks area and customise the view to suit.</li>
<li>You’re done!</li>
<p style="text-align: center"></p>

<img class="size-full wp-image-5508 " src="http://www.mactalk.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Stacks08_Top10stack.PNG" alt="Top 10 URLs stack in action!" width="170" height="256" />
<h2>Highlight on Rollover</h2>
<p style="text-align: left">The lack of any kind of highlight on rollover for Grid and Fan views is curious. To remedy this, run the following Terminal Command:</p>

<em>defaults write com.apple.dock mouse-over-hilte-stack -boolean yes</em>
Press Return, then type <em>killall Dock</em> and press Return again to restart the dock. To reverse this setting, replace <em>yes</em> with <em>no</em>.

You’ll be rewarded with the following display when hovering over items (see <em>Parallels Desktop</em> icon):
<p style="text-align: center"><img class="aligncenter size-full wp-image-5506" src="http://www.mactalk.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Stacks06_Highlight.PNG" alt="Stacks06_Highlight" width="360" height="277" /></p>
<p style="text-align: left"></p>

<h2>Smart Folders Coming?</h2>
<p style="text-align: left">There’s only one major enhancement I’d really like to see Apple grace us with in a future update of Stacks: Support for <em>Smart Folders</em>. Smart Folders are an often overlooked feature of Mac OS X that give you almost endless filtering options for building self-updating virtual folders, and they are <em>awesome</em>. Unfortunately, though, if you drag a Smart Folder into the Dock and click the resulting icon, you’re simply taken to its contents in Finder, just like the old days. No Stacks For You!</p>

For now, Stacks are a great feature of Mac OS X and are worthy of more time and attention. They’ve opened up the Dock to many new fun and functional navigation options, particularly for anyone who’s prepared throw a little time into customising them. So get tweaking!

8th March 2010, 10:29 AM
Excellent stuff. These guides are exactly what I need to ensure I am really getting the most out of my Mac. PLEASE keep them coming.

8th March 2010, 11:15 AM
Great article. I encountered a couple of mistakes/problems though. To add the recent items it neeeds an end single quote (I also noticed the blog software formats the quotes differently from the forum view):
defaults write com.apple.dock persistent-others -array-add '{ "tile-data" = { "list-type" = 1; }; "tile-type" = "recents-tile"; }'

Also, to highlight in grid view, hilite is spelt incorrect:
defaults write com.apple.dock mouse-over-hilite-stack -boolean yes

8th March 2010, 11:20 AM
Nice article!

One additional tip: don't put commonly used apps in the Dock. Instead, make a series of folders, one for each group of apps. For example, I use:

Final Cut Studio
iLife + iWork
office + text

In each of those folders, put aliases to all the apps that belong in each group. The easiest way to do that is to open your Applications folder and command-option-drag each app into the right folder. No need to add everything, just your most common apps.

Now, add all those folders to the Dock. Loads of apps in stacks, conveniently organised.

8th March 2010, 01:21 PM
How do you change a recent items stack to list or fan view? There doesn't seem to be any options (in Leopard).

8th March 2010, 03:12 PM
nice! I especially like the tip for changing the default behaviour of lists. Much better now :)

8th March 2010, 04:09 PM
Is there a way to have recent items, documents etc instead of just recent apps

8th March 2010, 04:43 PM
Is there a way to have recent items, documents etc instead of just recent apps

Hi Moto,

From the article: "Right-click the stack and you’ll see options to change this to a Recent Documents, Recent Servers, Favourite Volumes or Favourite Items stack"

8th March 2010, 06:01 PM
Duh, I should learn to read... LOL I didn't see that

9th March 2010, 10:30 AM
thank you - excellent tutorial. Great tip from FunWithStuff too! Putting it to good use now.

9th March 2010, 11:02 AM
I love the alternate list view tip. I've been looking for something like that for ages but never knew that option existed. Great stuff!

12th March 2010, 09:54 PM
Fantastic article - Improved list view is awesome...!


20th March 2010, 01:16 PM
I've got a new MacBook and can't seam to change the stacks view. Every time I select a stack and then try to "right mouse" click nothing happens.

Anybody got a suggestion on what I'm doing wrong?