Miscellaneous Ramblings

WorkStrip: Much More than a Dock Replacment

Charles Moore - 2005.08.08 - Tip Jar

There are a number of Dock alternatives available for OS X, all intended to address the various shortcomings of what is arguably the most controversial feature of the OS X user interface. Personally, I've made my peace with the the Dock. I still don't like it a whole lot, but it serves its function tolerably well for me positioned vertically on the right of the screen where I used to keep the old Application Menu tear-off palette in OS 9.

I've checked out several alternative Dock substitutes and launchers, and I've found that most of them offer some cool additional functionality. One that I've stuck with almost since Day One in OS X is TigerLaunch, but it's a menu-based program launcher &emdash; a Dock compliment, not a Dock substitute. I also admire the elegant minimalism of Quicksilver, but it's not a Dock substitute either. Another add-on that is a Dock substitute is 3D-Space VFS, whose 3D effects are very interesting.

The subject of this review, WorkStrip 3.2.1, is a full Dock alternative, as well as a system wide productivity enhancement and file management tool that provides a raft of innovative features including:

  • Multiple workspaces to keep project-related items in a meaningful order
  • Instant previews to facilitate access to files without loading an application
  • Advanced tracking of applications, documents, and websites to simplify organization
  • Panel views for easy and fast access to files and folders without switching to the Finder
  • Global management of open document windows across applications
  • Fast and configurable keyboard navigation
  • Bookmarked favorite items for ease of access
  • Ability to place folders and files directly on the strip
  • Flexible auto-hide options to suit your tastes
  • Instant access to all your document windows across all applications
  • Keep track of the documents you are using on a per-project (workspace) basis

WorkStrip resembles the Dock in many respects, but it's like a Dock on steroids and a lot more besides.


Like the Dock, WorkStrip displays icons arranged as a strip on the edge of the screen. It can be configured to appear at the top, bottom, or on either side. the WorkStrip tabThe anchor WorkStrip icon (right) is always available, but WorkStrip can be set to hide all other icons automatically, letting them appear only on mouseover. It would be nice if there were an option to make the mouseover show/hide function limited to just the anchor WorkStrip icon instead of the entire screen edge.

The strip can also be configured to show all or a subset of running applications, the Windows item, and a variable number of applications, files, folders, and Workspaces. Each item on the strip has both an icon and a coaxial tab from which the item's menu or its associated panel window is opened. Clicking on an item's icon will either launch it or switch to it.

To help distinguish among similar-looking items on the strip, a tint (like Apple's Labels) can be applied to some items using the Tint menu in the top right hand corner of the item's panel window. Dragging an item's tab allows you to reposition the item on the strip or remove it from the strip. To reposition an item, simply drag it to its new location on the strip. To remove it from the strip, drag it away from the strip.

Clicking and holding or Control-clicking an item's icon will open a menu that provides access to the features associated with that item (right). Clicking an item's tab brings out a panel window that gives an alternate way of working with the item's contents.

The Panel window of an application lists that application's recently accessed and Bookmarked files.

The Panel window of a folder lists its contents.

The Panel window of a Workspace lists the items in the Workspace.

features menu


custom icon

When you launch WorkStrip 3 for the first time, a Setup Assistant will appear to walk you through some of the program's main features. It will outline some of the different ways that WorkStrip can be configured. All settings in the Setup Assistant can be also be set from the WorkStrip Preferences window (below).

WorkStrip Preferences

A set of actions can be performed on selected items in a list, either from the Selected Item Options menu in the panel window or from the item's contextual menu, which can be accessed by Control-clicking or right-clicking the item. The actions available vary depending on the item selected.

WorkStrip offers functionality similar to the Dock, making the latter redundant, which raises the dilemma of what to do with the Dock. You can't turn the Dock off, but it can be configured to auto-hide. I settled for keeping the Dock at the right of the screen and have WorkStrip along the bottom. However, WorkStrip's preferences include an option to keep the Dock hidden while WorkStrip is running - this moves the Dock to the top of the screen and turns on Dock Hiding, keeping the Dock out of the way, but retaining its notification and minimized window functionality.

Instant Previews

instant previewWorkStrip automatically displays instant previews for common file types that can be viewed from WorkStrip's menus, within panel windows, and in the Finder's contextual menu. While using any of WorkStrip's menus, any files encountered will have an associated preview. Additionally, movies and audio files (such as MP3s) can be played in menus by moving the mouse over the preview area. Panel windows with lists have a preview area that shows previews of selected items in the list, and when the icon size of the list is anything but the smallest, WorkStrip will show previews of graphic files instead of their icons.

Control-click on any file in the Finder, and WorkStrip will show the preview of the item. This preview can be closed by moving the mouse, or pressing the 'Esc' key, and the normal Finder contextual menu will then appear. You do not need to move the mouse over these previews to play them.

file typesAs well as supporting most common image, audio, and movie formats, WorkStrip can provide previews for the following file types:

  • Adobe Acrobat (PDF)
  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Adobe InDesign
  • HTML
  • Microsoft Word
  • Microsoft Excel
  • Microsoft PowerPoint
  • Text
  • Quark Xpress
  • RTF and RTFD
  • Keynote


hot menuWorkStrip's HotMenus give you access to WorkStrip's preview and menu features at any time.

HotMenus are activated using keyboard shortcuts and appear at your current mouse position. There are five different HotMenus:

Navigator HotMenu (F8)

Provides quick access to your Desktop, Documents, Home and Applications folders and their sub-items. As always with WorkStrip, you can quickly preview many files directly in the menu and navigate down through subfolders. The Navigator HotMenu also shows any items that you have selected in the Finder. This is a great way of quickly previewing/opening the contents of folders without having to open numerous Finder windows.

Application Switching HotMenuApplication Switching HotMenu (control-tab)

The Application Switching HotMenu (right) allows you to quickly switch among running applications and launch recently used applications. Once you have been using WorkStrip for a while, it will also list recently used files for each application.

Windows HotMenu (ctrl-op-W)

The Windows HotMenu (left) allows you to quickly switch amongst the open windows on your computer.

Active Workspace HotMenu (ctrl-opt-S)

Provides quick access to all the Bookmarked items and recent items in your current Workspace.

Active Application HotMenu (control-option-A)

Provides quick access to the front application's Bookmarked and recent items, its windows and other options.

The keyboard shortcuts to toggle the HotMenus can be custom configured in the preferences.


WorkStrip can organize files into workspaces to represent a particular project, client, or other category of your work. By default, WorkStrip creates one Workspace, "My Workspace", but you can create as many Workspaces as you need.

A Workspace keeps all project-related items together, regardless of where they exist on the computer. No matter how files and folders are added to a Workspace, WorkStrip does not copy or move the original items; it only keeps references to them. If an item that exists in a Workspace is deleted from the computer, it will no longer show up in the Workspace.

Only one Workspace can be active at a time. The active Workspace will automatically appear on the strip and will keep track of:

  • Documents that have been opened
  • Websites that have been visited (Safari and Internet Explorer only)

Each workspace can keep track of up to 100 documents and 50 websites. Once exceeded, the newest item will replace the oldest one.

The Panel window shows the files and folders of the Workspace. Each item is listed inside the application that it is associated with. Double-clicking an item will open the item using that application.

To remove an item from a workspace, select the item in the panel window and press Delete. (This will not delete the original item on disk.)

To provide visual clues as to which workspace is active, it's possible to assign a different Desktop Picture and icon to each Workspace in the Manage Workspaces Window, which is accessed from the WorkStrip Item's menu.


In addition to recent items in a workspace, specific documents, folders, and websites can be added manually. This is known as bookmarking. A bookmarked item will remain as such until it is physically removed from the workspace or deleted from the machine.

You can bookmark the same item in multiple applications and multiple workspaces. Next to each item in the panel window is a checkbox that indicates whether the item is bookmarked. Clicking on the checkbox will toggle the bookmarked state of the selected items. Files and folders can be bookmarked by dragging them from the Finder into the Panel window's list.

A WorkStrip feature I didn't try (because I don't use MS Office) is previewing Microsoft Office documents, but it sounds like it could be useful for Office users.

I like WorkStrip. Sometimes it takes a while to warm up to a utility like this, but I found WorkStrip slick and intuitive from the get-go. There is a learning curve, but the documentation is clear and thorough, and the operative procedures make logical sense.

The program seems to be unbuggy. I encountered no glitches or hiccups, and stability was fine. WorkStrip does use more system resources than the Dock, and things like refreshing the strip display when items were added or removed is a tad sluggish on my 700 MHz G3 iBook, but menus and panels pop open smartly, but I'm making more an observation than a complaint.

For more detail about WorkStrip features, see the Appendix below.

System Requirements: Any computer running Mac OS X version 10.2 or newer can run WorkStrip. Some features require Mac OS X 10.2.4 or later.

WorkStrip is £22.95 (about US$44) demoware.


Items In WorkStrip

The WorkStrip Item

From a WorkStrip item's menu you can:

  • Access the files and subfolders on the Desktop and in the Home folder
  • Open recently used applications and documents
  • Open and manage Workspaces
  • Configure WorkStrip's preferences
  • Quit WorkStrip
  • Validate your WorkStrip License

Similar to the Dock, dragging an application, file, or folder onto the WorkStrip icon will add that item to the strip. Items can also be added to the strip, regardless of which Workspace is active, by dragging them onto the WorkStrip item's icon. Running applications and active Workspaces can be kept on the strip by choosing the Keep in Strip option in the item's menu. Items that have been added to the strip can be removed by either dragging them off the strip, or by selecting "Remove From Strip" option from the items menu.

Windows Item

The Windows Item gives access to all open document windows on your computer, including minimized windows (shown with a '×'). Selecting a window will bring it to the front. Selecting an application will bring all of that application's windows to the front. The Windows Panel window can also be used to bring windows to the front.

Application Items

When you launch an application, it will automatically appear on the strip. Clicking on an application's icon will bring that application and all of its windows to the front.

From an application item's menu you can:

  • Open Bookmarked and recently accessed items that are associated with the application in the active Workspace
  • Switch to any of its open windows, including minimized ones
  • Unminimize all of its minimized windows
  • Choose to keep the application on the strip when it is not running.
  • Navigate the application's path on disk
  • Hide the application
  • Hide all other applications
  • Quit the application if it is running, or launch it if it is not.

Some applications have additional options:

  • From some email applications, new emails can be created from the contacts in the Address Book application.
  • From some web-browser applications, Bookmarked and recently visited web sites can be opened
  • From the Finder, you can quit all other applications

The Panel Window

The Panel window for an application shows the items associated with that application in the active Workspace. Dragging a file or folder into the panel window's list will Bookmark the item for that application regardless of whether the application is the default application for it.

Web Browser Application Items

When an application on the strip is a recognized Web browser, WorkStrip will allow the application to Bookmark local HTML files, as well as Internet addresses (URLs). To bookmark an Internet address, drag a URL from a Web browser into the application item's Panel window. The Panel window will also show the most recent web sites visited in the active Workspace. Bookmarked and recent web sites are not stored on a per-web browser basis. All web browsers will share the same set of items.

Folder Items

By default, WorkStrip will automatically add your Desktop, Home and Applications folders onto the strip. A folder item's menu will show the folder's contents (sorted by type) and its subfolders. It is possible to navigate through many levels of hierarchy to select a file or folder to open.

Dragging files and folders onto the folder icon behaves in the same way as in the Finder. I.e. The item will be moved or copied into the folder.

The panel window for a folder provides a list view of the folder's contents that is similar to the list view in the Finder. Using this list or its contextual menu you can:

  • Navigate down through subfolders
  • Move or copy items using Drag & Drop
  • Move items to the Trash
  • Rename items

WorkStrip's panel windows float above most other windows, so WorkStrip can be used for file management without having to switch out of the front application.

File Items

To add a file to the strip, drag it from the Finder onto the WorkStrip item's icon. To add it onto the strip only when a particular Workspace is active, drag it to that Workspace item's icon instead.

WorkStrip Desktop Trash

WorkStrip includes its own Desktop Trash that can be positioned anywhere on the screen, including on the menu bar.

It is configurable and provides several features, including:

  • Showing the number of items in the Trash and the space used.
  • Using custom icons for the empty and full states

WorkStrip also includes a Trash item on the strip. This item is always the last item on WorkStrip.

WorkStrip 3.2.1 Release Notes - Changes since 3.2

What's New

Instant previews of the selected file in Finder can now be triggered using a keyboard shortcut (F7), as well as via the file's contextual menu. This will work regardless of the 'Use WorkStrip in Finder Contextual Menus' preference settings.

You can now choose to join the WorkStrip mailing list directly from within WorkStrip. Use the button in the WorkStrip item's panel window to be kept informed of WorkStrip news and offers.

What's Fixed

WorkStrip can now access window information of Java-based applications if Java 1.4.2 or later is installed. If an earlier version of Java is installed, no information will be gathered as attempting to do so can trigger a crashing bug in Mac OS X's Java implementation.

The application 'LimeWire' is now recognized as being Java-based and will no longer trigger the above crash for pre-1.4.2 Java users.

Some unnecessary console messages have been removed.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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