How to make the Dock disappear in Panther
by Bill Catambay

Posted: 3-24-2004

When Apple moved from OS 9 to OS X, they made some big improvements in terms of OS stability, but they also made some big blunders in terms of the user interface. To be fair, there were a fair number of blunders in OS 9 as well. The Launcher quickly comes to mind. How many people actually used the Launcher? (if you raised your hand, you might as well close this browser window right now)

The Launcher was obtrusive at best, but Apple did one thing very right in OS 9 - they built in preferences to turn off options we were not interested in. So what about OS X? Someone must have decided that the reason people did not catch on to the Launcher was because of the option to turn it off. Their solution? Change the name to the "Dock", add some cheesy effects (that wear off quickly in a "I need to be productive" environment), and no longer provide the option to turn it off. That last feature is the kicker.

No matter how snazzy the OS X engineers think the new Dock is, I have a strong dislike for this kind of gestapo-style enforcement of shoving technology down our throats. Long before the "invention" of the OS X Dock, I had been using docks in a different style, and under OS 9. The most useful and feature rich desktop tool I found for the Mac is
DragThing, the "super dock" for both OS 9 and OS X. The problem is that in OS X, there is a screen real estate issue because the OS X Dock wants to stick around no matter how bad you want it to leave (think of the scary lady that haunted Michael Douglas in Fatal Attraction).

The Dock's hide feature is less than satisfying. Imagine the Jaws theme playing in the background as you go about your work, and then your mouse innocently floats over the edge of your screen and triggers the Dock to surface. Dock attack! Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water. Once is annoying enough, but I found this happening to me quite often. I got fed up and stood on the virtual rooftop and shouted, "that's all I can stands, cause I can't stands no more!" Off to the web I went to find a better way to get rid of the dock. That's when I discovered Kevin Schmitt's article
Killing the Undead, a nifty trick for totally eliminating the Dock. The only problem with this solution is that while it works great in Jaguar (10.2), it presents an issue in Panther (10.3). In short, when you kill the dock in Panther, you lose Exposé, Apple's new OS X protegy. It's almost as if the Dock-hounds at Apple are plotting to thwart our plans to live a Dock-free lifestyle.

I haven't quite decided that I actually need Exposé (having all windows miniaturized and displaced usually confuses me more than it helps me, and having the same windows hidden to the edges is far less useful than the old "hide application" routine). However, I'm not yet ready to completely abandon Exposé, so I wanted to hunt down a new trick. Just recently, I was listening to Shawn King's
Your Mac Life show, and heard them mention a trick to make the Dock go away.

The trick is to edit the Dock's preference file, and manually change the position of the Dock to "top" (this is not a choice provided in the preference panel). By setting the Dock to the top and setting it to hide, the Dock does not show, and its trigger point is under the menu bar. It's highly improbable that you'll trigger it to show (although I found it was still possible if you really tried). If you are going to do this, you want to make sure that you have a Dock replacement tool, such as the venerable DragThing, and you should also have Unsanity's
WindowShade. WindowShade allows you to change your OS X window behaviors so that windows are not minimized into the Dock anymore.

For those ready to join the ranks of Dock-free living, here are the nitty gritty details on how to make the Dock go away. The first thing you need to do is find the Dock's preference file. It is called, and its path is:


<System_Volume> is the volume that your System is installed on, and <your-account> is your OS X account ID.

Open the .plist file (I used BBEdit, but TextEdit should work as well) and look for the "orientation" key. The line following the orientation key is the value, usually "<string>bottom</string>" (unless you've already changed your dock to be on the side). Whatever the value is, change it to "top", then save the file. See the figure below for a snapshot of a typical .plist document for the Dock (the orientation lines with the changed value are highlighted).

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC "-//Apple Computer//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN" "">
<plist version="1.0">

Snapshot of beginning of file

If you are not completely comfortable with making the above change, then first make a copy of your .plist file as a backup. That way, if anything goes wrong, you can delete the changed file, and rename the backup copy.

To activate the change, log out of your account and log back in. Voilá! You are now Dock-free.

Knowing that the Dock, in reality, is still there (hiding), I admit that I'm not completely satisfied - something about wanting "Big Brother" to just go away and leave me alone. However, I am slowly forgetting that it's there, so this is currently a very good option if you want to live in a Dock-free environment and still get to experiment with what Exposé may have to offer. It's also much easier to implement than the hack trick in
Killing the Undead. For me, it's a breath of fresh air to live with DragThing without the obtrusive Dock getting in my way.

Copyright © 2004, Bill Catambay