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The Dock is a graphical user interface feature first introduced in the NeXTSTEP and OPENSTEP operating systems, and radically changed and refined in Mac OS X, where it behaves more like the Apple Newton's Newton OS Dock.

In NeXTSTEP and OPENSTEP, the Dock is an application launcher that holds icons for frequently used programs. The icon for the Workspace Manager and the Recycler are always visible. The Dock indicates the program's current state (running or not running) by showing an ellipsis below its icon if the program is not running and nothing if it is currently running (contrast this behavior with the Dock in Mac OS X, which uses a triangle to indicate that the program is running and nothing if it has not yet been launched).

Apple and Mac OS X
In Mac OS X, however, the Dock is used as a repository for any program or file in the operating system. It can hold any number of items, and resizes them dynamically to fit while using magnification to clarify smaller resized items. Applications that do not normally keep icons in the Dock will still appear there when running and remain until the applications are exited. These features are unlike those of the dock in the NeXT operating systems, where the capacity of the Dock is dependent on the current display resolution. This may be an attempt to recover some Shelf functionality, since Mac OS X had no effective Shelf technology carried over from its NeXT heritage. Some of the shelf functionality has been integrated in the Macintosh Finder.

The changes to the Dock bring its functionality also close to that of Apple's Newton OS Button Bar, as found in the MessagePad 2x00 series and the likes. Applications could be dragged in and out of the Extras Drawer, a Finder-like app, onto the bar. Also, when the screen was put into landscape mode, the user could choose to position the Button Bar at the right or left side of the screen, just like the Dock in Mac OS X.

The Mac OS X Dock also has extended menus that can control applications without making them visible on-screen. On most applications it has simple options such as Quit, Keep On Dock and other options, but iTunes uses this menu as a way for a user to control the playback options from iTunes. Other Applications include changing the status of an online alias (MSN, AIM/iChat etc.) or automatically saving the changes that have been made in a document (There is no current application with this feature made available for Mac OS X). Docklings can also be opened by using the right-mouse button, if the mouse has one, but most of the time either clicking and holding or control-click will bring the menu up.

Other operating systems
A similar feature has been a fundamental part of the RISC OS operating system and its predecessor Arthur since its inception, beginning in 1987, which may pre-date the NeXTSTEP dock (released in 1989).

The Windows taskbar is its equivalent of the dock. Many programs which emulate the OS X dock (like ObjectDock or RocketDock) have sprung up due to the popularity of Mac OS X. Earlier versions of Mac OS did not have a dock, but an add-on such as A-dock adds a dock for users of earlier versions.

Various docks are also used in Linux. Some examples are Gnome Dock for Gnome DE, Kiba-dock, which needs a composite manager running and integrates best with Gnome, KXDocker (amongst others) for KDE and various other gdesklet/ADesklet docks.

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