I'm a big fan of the dock. Be it on the Linux or the Mac desktop - the dock always makes the desktop look cleaner and programs more easily accessed. So I set out to find five good docks for the Windows 7 environment. Each of these docks is still under development and offers a clean style and easy configuration. All five of these docks offer a free version and some have added features offered in a paid-for release. No matter which version you go with, they will all do just what you need — extend your desktop's functionality.
Note: This list is also available as a photo gallery.
1: ObjectDockObjectDock (Figure A) is one of the more feature-rich of the available docks. With a free and a paid version, ObjectDock automatically imports quick launch, has special effects, offers applets, any-edge positioning, and auto-hide, lets you minimize windows to dock with live animation, and much more. The paid version ($19.95) adds better organization, easier app switching, and dock tabs, among other features.
2: XWindows DockXWindows Dock (Figure B) is a fairly straightforward dock that offers less in the way of thrills and more in the way of simplicity. With XWindows Dock you just drag any icon from the desktop onto the dock and voila! — instant launcher. This dock is still in beta, so features like plug-ins aren't exactly there yet (although they have the groundwork for them). XWindows Dock does contain two nice plug-ins — the stack container (quick navigation through folders) and a Gmail mail checker.
3: SliderDockSliderDock (Figure C) is unique in the dock apps in that it's more a psuedo 3D ring dock than a static dock that sits at the bottom or top of your desktop. You can add as many icons to SliderDock as you like and then scroll the ring around with your mouse wheel to find the icon you want to launch. SliderDock is highly customizable and easy to use — just have a clean desktop before you try to use it; otherwise, your myriad icons will make the application launchers on Slider impossible to see.
4: RocketDockRocketDock (Figure D) is one of my favorite docks. It's highly customizable (and skinnable), and it offers smooth animations, alpha blending, an easy drag-and-drop interface, real-time windows previews, positioning and layering options, the best documentation of all the docks listed, and solid customizations for each item added to the dock. RocketDock also offers taskbar support, so all minimized applications will appear as icons (a la Mac Dock). RocketDock is free and has a fairly nice listing of add-ons.
5: NexusNexus (Figure E) comes the closest to resembling (and behaving) like the Mac OS X dock. There are two versions: Free and Ultimate. The Ultimate edition ($24.95), in my opinion, is really worth the coin. Offering unlimited docks, subdocks, tabs, and more, Nexus Ultimate does an outstanding job of extending your desktop far beyond anything the standard Windows 7 interface can offer. Both the Free and the Ultimate versions are the only docks to also include system tray support and multiple mouse-over effects. Of the five docks here, Nexus is by far the most powerful you will try.
The desktop dock may not be for everyone. But if you're looking for an easy way to extend the functionality of your desktop and give it a little pizzazz at the same time, one of these docks should suit your needs perfectly. They are all incredibly simple to use, consume very little resources, and are stable enough for production-use machines.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.