Linux Dock Roundup

Maybe you like OSX, maybe you want a quick place to launch and manage applications, maybe you just want a little eye candy. Whatever the reason, many of us like to use a dock on our desktop. As with most Linux software, there’s no shortage of options and not a lot of clear information on the benefits of each. Some can handle compositing, some can be placed anywhere on the desktop, some can be configured on the fly while others need a restart. We’ve gathered five of the best docks for Linux to see how they stack up against each other.

SimDock

dockroundup-simdock

This is a fairly simple, no-nonsense dock. It includes icons for launchers as well as running applications, and will resize appropriately when items are added or removed. SimDock is quick and easy to get running, but somewhat lacking in configuration. SimDock is one of the few items on this list that requires a restart for most changes. If you don’t need anything fancy and just want a quick, slick dock, SimDock might be a good way to go, because it does not require 3D acceleration or compositing but still looks nice.

Avant Window Navigator

dockroundup-awn

AWN is among the more well known docks, and for good reason. It’s extremely configurable, nice looking, and interactive. The dock can be placed at any point along the edges of your screen. AWN has applet support for things like the CPU monitor shown in the screenshot above, and there are packages such as awn-applets-c-core and awn-applets-python-core in the Ubuntu repositories to add functionality to AWN.

Docky

dockroundup-docky

Docky is a part of the Gnome Do application launcher. It’s a fairly minimal but supports some useful applets like a Gmail checker and media player controls. We’ve covered Docky a bit previously, but it is now available as a standalone download and does not require the complex setup.

Cairo Dock

dockroundup-cairo

Cairo Dock may be the most advanced on the list when it comes to flexibility. Cairo comes with an extremely detailed configuration utility and several useful applets like a mini terminal, desktop pager, system monitor and more. It can run in a fully accelerated OpenGL mode and provide some impressive effects.

Kiba Dock

dockroundup-kiba

Kiba’s big claim to fame is the physics engine behind it. If you can get it working, you can get some great effects, as seen in this video.

The reason I said “If you can get it working” is because Akamaru, the software behind the physics, can be rather painful to compile. Since Kiba Dock does not seem to be actively developed, this isn’t likely to change in the near future.

Even without the physics, Kiba is still a perfectly functional dock. It doesn’t have the applets or plugins that other docks have, but it makes a simple, beautiful application launcher.

Conclusion

All the options shown here have valid uses, and some may fit your situation better than others, but AWN and Cairo appear to lead the pack in power and flexibility. Both provide far more than a basic application launcher and can actively increase your productivity. If you’ve got any other recommended docks, let us know in the comments!

7 comments

  1. nice round up…i often tinker with a dock for a while and then uninstall it…might have another go with one of these…cairo probably…

  2. I'm using Gnome Do “Docky” – is there a way of locking icons so they cannot be removed from the dock?

  3. I have been using Cairo dock for about a year. Love it, and thanks to the developers, it is highly maintain and they give quick and useful feed back if there is a problem. 10 / 10 from me.

  4. Cairo is my favorite, in the rare instance I deploy docks on Linux. AWN’s good, but it’s not very flexible in the end, at least, not like Cairo.

    The reason I don’t usually stick with docks is because ALL of them rely heavily on compositing, and when they can’t get it, they don’t really respond in a way I would call “good design.”

    For example, Avant Window Navigator will eat itself and you won’t get its use until you can get Compiz running again. Not to mention AWN assumes far too much that you’re using Compiz instead of any other compositing window manager. Since I use KDE, this is a dealbreaker for me, as I feel KWin’s visual effects portfolio, while not as numerous as Compiz, looks MUCH better.

    Cairo-Dock, on the other hand, will keep running without compositing, but it will not try to emulate the transparency it needs to actually look any good. This means black squares everywhere it is going to try to render. BUT it has the perk of working fine with any compositor you throw at it, whereas AWN often refuses to run unless it can detect an instance of Compiz running.

    I don’t touch Docky. Docky is Gnome-Do. Gnome-Do requires Mono. And Mono is just downright evil.

    BUT.

    I use KDE.

    KDE’s panels look a lot nicer than any Linux dock, and are far FAR more flexible and offer more applets to boot. It’s actually pretty much impossible to find anything on Linux that beats Plasma’s flexibility and functionality as a desktop manager/applet engine. On top of this, if you lose compositing, your panels don’t A. Stop running or B. Look indescribably ugly.

    • AWN can work with metacity compositing manager too, but that will require you to turn it on manually. Personally I prefer Cairo too as I find it less resource consuming.

      I have not tried KDE, but I have plenty of good things about it, so I guess it must be really good.

    • I fully agree with with just about everything you’ve got in there, and actually decided a few months ago to start doing something about it. I’ve been working with a friend on a free, open, non-composited dock aimed squarely at utility and flexibility, no fancy compositing or physics or 3D.

      If you’ve got any Python or C experience, and a little free time, we could use a hand. It’s GTK not QT, but if it’s still interesting we could talk.

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