Macs may have popularized launcher docks, but it’s Linux where they were perfected. Apps like Plank allow you to have such a dock on your desktop. From there, you can launch your favorite apps, juggle the active ones, and check out useful information.
Let’s see how you can install, use, and configure Plank in Ubuntu for quick and snazzy-looking access to your favorite apps.
If you’re on Ubuntu or a compatible distribution like Mint, you can find Plank in the default repositories. To bring it on-board, fire up your favorite terminal and enter:
When Plank is installed, locate it among the rest of your software and run it.
This may very well be the last time you’re launching your apps “the official way.”
Plank’s use is straightforward and doesn’t differ from any typical toolbar-with-icons on any desktop or any operating system. The program comes pre-configured with some of the most popular apps stuck on it, out of which you’re probably using at least one or two. You can click their icon there to launch them.
If you don’t recognize some icons, Plank doesn’t display labels by default. However, it will show the name of each app if you hover your cursor over its icon.
Plank supports dynamic menus that expose some functionality of each app. For example, by right-clicking on an icon for the terminal, you can open a new window or access its preferences.
By right-clicking the icon of a media player app, though, you’ll be able to pause or resume playing, skip tracks, etc.
To rearrange the icons on Plank, click on one of them and keep the mouse button pressed. Then, drag the icon where you want it on the dock.
To remove an icon from the dock, either left-click and drag it outside the dock or right-click and uncheck “Keep in Dock.”
Right-clicking to quickly access your apps’ functions without having to visit their windows is fantastic. However, if the right-click shows each app’s menu, how can you access Plank’s options?
Theoretically, you can right-click directly in the empty space to the left or right of the dock, and, supposedly, its menu will pop up.
This practically never worked for me, so I’m using the easier shortcut instead: keep Ctrl held down and right-click anywhere on the dock. Plank’s menu will appear. Choose Preferences from this menu to access the program’s options.
There aren’t many options available, but those that exist can radically change how Plank looks and performs. You’ll find them in three groups: Appearance, Behaviour, and Docklets.
In Appearance, you can change Plank’s Theme and its Position on the screen (top, right, bottom, or left). You can disable the default restriction that keeps it on your Primary Display to have it show up on your other monitors.
Plank appears by default at the center of the screen. You can change that with the Alignment drop-down menu and fine-tune its position with the slider on the right.
There’s also some control over how the icons look. You can change the Icon Alignment and the Icon Size. Plank might not be the fanciest dock, but it does offer a zoom effect that you can enable. When enabled, it will make the icons larger when you hover over them. There’s a slider that controls the zoom level, too. However, when we tried the largest value, it made the icons look somewhat fuzzy.
In the Behaviour tab, you can choose how Plank will hide when a window tries to share the same screen space. There are different ways it can respond to an approaching window, and you can also add a Hide Delay and Unhide Delay. Or you can disable the feature altogether and have Plank always stay on your screen – even if that means it will overlap with window content.
The subtitle Item Management doesn’t clarify that the options underneath it refer to the icons that appear on Plank.
By disabling “Show Unpinned” (that’s on by default), you can force Plank only to show the apps you’ve manually pinned on it and ignore everything else. Take heed, though; if you disable all other toolbars on your desktop and this option in Plank, you’ll have to jump between your active windows using shortcuts.
Enabling “Lock Icons” will stick the current icons where they are and forbid any tweaks to their placement.
Finally, “Restrict to Workspace” will have Plank only show the apps that are active on the current workspace and ignore the rest.
The last group, Docklets, allows you to add the functionality of a proper toolbar to Plank. Instead of only presenting icons for pinned and active apps, you can add a “start menu” equivalent for instant access to all your installed software, a battery indicator, a clock, etc.
Plank might not be the most impressive dock, but it offers a perfect balance between looks, functionality, and customizability. Meanwhile, do also check out some other dock applications for Linux.