Launch Apps Beautifully with RocketDock

While I find the whole Mac vs. PC debate quite pointless, there’s one good thing that came out of it: apps for each OS that bring in some desirable functionality from the other. For Mac OS X, there’s RightZoom which allows for true window maximization and Witch, that offers more comprehensive window-switching.

For Windows, you can try Dexpot to get Exposé- and Spaces-like desktop behavior, and for the ubiquitous dock, you can try one of my favorite apps of all time – RocketDock.

RocketDock is an app launcher that puts a dock on your desktop with icons to launch apps from. It comes with a nice feature set and offers plenty of room for customization. If you love the OS X dock or simply enjoy a clutter-free desktop, you should definitely give it a try. Plus, there are lots of things it can do apart from displaying app shortcuts. Let’s take a closer look.

What Exactly is RocketDock?

A typical desktop with RocketDock at the top of the screen

A typical desktop with RocketDock at the top of the screen

RocketDock is a free app launcher for Windows that you can use to beautify your desktop, clear out icon clutter or simply make your PC look more professional. The dock supports themes to change the way it looks and you can add shortcuts to programs, files, documents, folders and even actions.

You can also docklets to extend the functionality of your dock. There are other dock apps available for Windows, including ObjectDock and XWindows Dock – but the advantages of RocketDock over each of these is that its free (while ObjectDock’s Pro version costs $19.95) and offers numerous features.

Getting Started

Installing RocketDock is simple enough and takes just a few clicks. The app uses about 10-20 MB of RAM, which isn’t terrible. On running the app you’ll see a dock appear on the top of your screen with a few icons. The icons are essentially shortcuts with PNG graphics as icons.

By default, RocketDock displays icons for common folders such as My Computer, Network Places, My Documents, My Music, My Pictures, Control Panel and a few others, but you can easily modify or remove these and add your own.

RocketDock's default icons

RocketDock's default icons

 

Right-clicking on the dock or the icons brings up a menu with options, including Icon Settings, Dock Settings, Autohide and Lock items. You can also choose which part of the screen you’d like to set the dock in (top, bottom, left or right edges) and if you’ve multiple monitors, which monitor you’d like to place it on. Locking items keeps them from getting accidentally removed or edited.

Dock options accessed by right-clicking the dock or icons

Dock options accessed by right-clicking the dock or icons

Adding and Customizing Icons

It’s easy to add icons to RocketDock – you can either drag icons from your desktop or files and folders from Explorer and drop them anywhere on the dock, and rearrange them by dragging and dropping too. Deleting an icon is as simple as dragging an icon off the dock and dropping it anywhere else.

To customize an icon, simply right-click it on the dock and click Icon Settings… to change the text label that appears below it and to change the icon to a new one. You can assign PNG or ICO files to shortcuts and Rocketdock displays them at sizes from 16×16 pixels to 128×128 pixels.

Customizing an icon

Customizing an icon

Customizing the Dock

RocketDock offers plenty of control over how it looks and behaves. To access these settings, right-click anywhere on the dock or icons and select Dock Settings… The simple menu is divided into five sections. In the General section you can choose to run RocketDock at startup (which I recommend), minimize program windows to the dock (which are shown as window thumbnails), toggle indicators which let you know if apps on your dock are running and toggle opening of new instances of apps (so you can choose to allow RocketDock to open only one or multiple instances of an app).

Dock settings

Dock settings

In the Icons section, you can customize their minimum and maximum size, as well as the zoom width and zoom effect, which determines how many icons are brought to the forefront when you hover over them. Apart from positioning your dock on the edges of the screen, you can also finely tune exactly how it is centered and spaced from the chosen edge. To do this, head to the Position section and move the sliders about.

In the Style section you can select a dock theme to use, modify the dock opacity and configure the icon label font or hide them if you wish. Lastly, the Behavior section allows you to select an icon attention effect, as well as toggle and fine-tune Autohide and Popup behavior.

More Themes and Icons

While RocketDock comes with a few PNG icons and a selection of themes, you can download more from the web or create your own to suit the look and feel of your desktop. There are plenty of icon packs which include icons for common programs as well as standalone icons for lesser-known ones. Icons for games, TV shows, folders and actions (such as toggling desktop icon display, shutdown, etc.) are also available.

I recommend creating a folder somewhere on your hard drive to store all your icons and placing them all there so they’re easy to retrieve when you want to change a dock icon. I’ve put together a small bunch of icon packs and icons over at Deviantart to help you get started with your collection.

A few game icons on RocketDock

A few game icons on RocketDock

To add themes to RocketDock, simply download and unzip them, navigate to Program Files > RocketDock > Skins and place the unzipped folders there. Here’s a collection of some really great themes I’ve collected for you on Deviantart to download and get ideas for customizing your desktop.

Addons and Effects

RocketDock also supports a bucketload of other functions that you can get from their website. The first thing I’d like to cover is UberIcon – a little program that adds effects (like exploding/flying/blurring) to icons when clicked. I haven’t seen it working on Explorer or anywhere else in Windows 7 but the effects work on RocketDock icons. To get this to work, install UberIcon and a few plugins, run it and select an effect from the UberIcon menu in your system tray, and in RocketDock’s Behavior settings, set the Icon Attention Effect to UberIcon Effects.

Want widgets for your dock? Try some docklets – they add cool features to RocketDock, including clocks, calendars, shutdown/restart/log off functions, email notifiers, quick notes, battery indicators, hidden folders and file extensions toggles and more.

My favorite is another idea borrowed from OS X – Stacks. With this docklet, you can add a single icon to your dock which shows a folder’s contents when clicked right from the dock. I’ve compiled a list of docklets that you should definitely check out over at Pinterest.

Docklets - including Stacks, Shutdown, Eject disc drive, calendar and clock

Docklets - including Stacks, Shutdown, Eject disc drive, calendar and clock

Conclusion

RocketDock is a great implementation of the dock as an app launcher for the price of FREE. If you’re looking for additional features like multiple docks and tabbed docks you can try ObjectDock, but for the rest of us, this is a simple way to begin customizing desktops and reducing on-screen clutter.

If you try it, be sure to upload your desktop screenshots and share them with us here in the comments! Thank you so much for reading!


Summary

RocketDock is a free dock-style app launcher that looks great and offers many features and a lot of room for customization.

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