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Add a Customizable, Free Application Launcher to your Windows Desktop

00_lead_image_rocketdock_browsers_stack

RocketDock is an application launcher for Windows modeled after the Mac OS X launch toolbar. It’s a dock that sits along an edge of your screen and contains a collection of shortcuts that expand when you hover over them and launch programs when clicked.

You can easily add shortcuts to programs, files, documents, folders, and even actions to the dock. The look of the dock is customizable using themes and icons. Docklets are available to help extend the functionality of your dock.

We’ll show you how to install RocketDock, change the dock settings, add shortcuts to the dock, change the settings for shortcut icons, and add new themes to your dock. We’ll also show you how to install and setup a docklet, using the Stacks docklet as an example.

Install RocketDock

To begin, double-click the .exe file you downloaded (see the link at the end of this article).

01_running_rocketdock_install

If the User Account Control dialog box displays, click Yes to continue.

NOTE: You may not see this dialog box, depending on your User Account Control settings.

02_uac_dialog_for_install

Select the language for the setup program from the drop-down list on the Select Setup Language dialog box and click OK.

03_select_setup_language

The Welcome screen on the setup wizard displays. Click Next.

04_setup_wizard_welcome

Read through the License Agreement and select the I accept the agreement radio button. Click Next.

05_license_agreement

The Select Destination Location screen displays. If you want to install RocketDock to a different location other than the default location listed in the edit box, use the Browse button to select another location. We accepted the default location. Click Next to continue.

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On the Select Additional Tasks screen, you can select the Create a desktop icon check box to put a shortcut to RocketDock on the desktop. This option is not selected by default. Click Next.

07_select_additional_tasks

The Ready to Install screen displays with a summary of the settings you selected. If you want to change any of the settings, use the Back button. Otherwise, click Install to continue with the installation.

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Once the installation is done, the Completing the RocketDock Setup Wizard screen displays. Click Finish to close the setup wizard.

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Start RocketDock

If you chose to put a shortcut to RocketDock on the desktop, double-click it to start RocketDock. If not, you can find a shortcut to start RocketDock on the Start menu.

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A dock displays at the top of your screen with some default icons, which are shortcuts with PNG images as icons. By default, common folders including My Computer, My Documents, Network Places, My Music, My Pictures, and Control Panel. The Recycle Bin is also available on the dock.

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Change Dock Settings

Right-click anywhere on the dock or the icons to display a popup menu for RocketDock that includes options such as Icon Settings, Dock Settings, AutoHide, and Lock Items. The Screen Position item displays additional options so you can choose to which part of the screen you would like to anchor the dock (top, bottom, left, or right edges). The Lock Items option locks the dock so the items cannot be accidentally removed or edited.

The look and behavior of RocketDock is completely customizable. To change the settings for your dock, right-click on the dock and select Dock Settings from the popup menu.

12_selecting_dock_settings

The Dock Settings dialog box displays. The General screen allows you to choose to run RocketDock when Windows starts (Run at Startup). You can also choose to minimize applications to the dock instead of to the Taskbar (Minimize Windows to the Dock), which display on the dock as window thumbnails.

12a_choosing_run_at_startup

Click Icons on the toolbar on the left to access general icon settings. This screen allows you to specify a minimum (Size) and maximum size (Zoom) for all the icons on the dock, as well as the Zoom Width and Zoom Duration. You can also choose the Hover Effect.

13_changing_icon_size

Click Position on the left to select the Screen Position for your dock. You can also choose how it is centered on the chosen edge (Centering) and how much it is offset from the edge of the screen (Edge Offset). If you have multiple monitors, you can choose on which Monitor your dock displays.

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The Style section allows you to change the theme for the dock, change the font for the icon labels or disable them, and change the opacity for the outline, shadow, and for the dock itself. Click Get More to go to the official

15_clicking_get_more

The Behavior screen allows you to select the Icon Attention Effect, which indicates how the icons on the dock behave, and to toggle and fine-tune the AutoHide and Popup behavior.

15a_behavior_settings_screen

Add Icons to Your Dock

Adding icons to your dock is easy. You can drag shortcuts from your desktop or files and folders from Windows Explorer and drop them anywhere on the dock, and rearrange the icons by dragging and dropping, also. To remove an icon from the dock, simply drag the icon off the dock to anywhere else.

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Here, we’ve added Mozilla Firefox to our dock.

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Customize Icons on Your Dock

To customize an icon, simply right-click on the icon you want to customize and select Icon Settings from the popup menu.

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RocketDock comes with a few icons you can use, but you can download additional icons using the Get More button on the Icon Settings dialog box. There are icon packs available on Deviantart. that include icons for common programs as well as standalone icons for lesser-known programs. You can also find icons on the RocketDock Icons Addons page.

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Add Themes to RocketDock

There are several themes that come with RocketDock that you can use to change the appearance of your dock. You can find additional themes on the RocketDock Skins Addons page. There are also some available on Deviantart.

To add a downloaded theme to RocketDock, download it and unzip the downloaded file. Place the folder containing the skin files in the following folder.

C:\Program Files\RocketDock\Skins

The following dialog box may display. If it does, click Continue to paste the folder.

20_pasting_theme_folder

The new theme folder is pasted into the Skins folder along with the skins that came with RocketDock.

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Now, when you select Dock Settings from the popup menu on your dock, and click Style, you’ll see your new theme as an option in the Theme drop-down list. Select it and click OK to apply it to your dock.

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Here is our dock with the Smoked Glass theme applied.

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Add Functionality to RocketDock

In addition to adding icons to your dock and customizing your dock’s appearance, you can also add functionality to your dock, by adding Docklets to RocketDock. One very useful docklet is called Stacks. This docklet adds a single icon to your dock that displays a folder’s contents when clicked on the dock. You can create folders of shortcuts to programs, files, and folders and add each folder as a stack to categorize your dock.

We’ll use the Stacks docklet as an example when showing you how to add a docklet and set it up. There are also docklets that add clocks, calendars, email notifiers, battery indicators, shutdown/restart/log off functions, among others to your dock. You can download docklets at the official RocketDock Docklets page.

To add a docklet to RocketDock, extract the contents of the downloaded file and move or copy the docklet folder to the following folder:

C:\Program Files\RocketDock\Docklets

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If RocketDock is running, exit it by right-clicking anywhere on the dock and selecting Quit. Restart RocketDock and right-click on an empty area of the dock. Select Add Item from the popup menu and then select the option for the docklet you added to RocketDock. In our case, we selected Stack Docklet.

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A default stack icon with a down arrow is added to the dock. Clicking on it does nothing initially because you have to add a folder containing program shortcuts, files, or folders. To setup the stack, right-click on the stack icon and select Icon Settings from the popup menu.

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The Stacks Docklet dialog box displays. To select a folder, click the browse (…) button to the right of the Folder edit box.

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Select a folder containing shortcuts, files, and/or additional folders on the Browse for Folder dialog box and click OK.

NOTE: Once you select a folder, be sure that folder remains in the same location. Otherwise, the Stacks docklet will not be able to find the folder. When you add or remove files from the folder, the changes are reflected on the corresponding stack icon on your dock.

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To change the icon for the current stack, click the browse (…) button to the right of the Icon edit box.

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The Icon Settings dialog box displays. Select a folder from the Folders list on the left (if you have more than one folder available) and then select an icon from the Icons box on the right. Click OK.

NOTE: Remember you can download additional icons from the RocketDock Icons Addons page (the Get More button takes you to this page) and from Deviantart. To make the downloaded icons available in RocketDock, use the ‘+’ button below the Folders box on the Icon Settings dialog box to add your extracted icons folder to the list of Folders.

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Select an option by which you want to sort the icons in your stack (Name, Creation time, Last modified time, Last access time, or Kind) from the Sort by drop-down list and how you want the icons displayed when you click the stack on your dock (Automatic, Fan, or Grid) from the Mode drop-down list. Click OK to accept your changes and close the Stacks Docklet dialog box.

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When you click the stack icon on your dock, the contents of the chosen folder displays. Click an icon to start the program or open the file or folder.

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You may encounter an issue with getting the Stacks docklet to keep its settings. When you quit RocketDock and then start it again, any Stacks docklets you added to your dock may lose their icons and not display any shortcuts, files, or folders. The download page for the Stacks docklet explains how to fix this.

Download RocketDock from http://rocketdock.com/.

Lori Kaufman is a freelance technical writer who likes to write geeky how-to articles to help make people's lives easier through the use of technology. She loves watching and reading mysteries and is an avid Doctor Who fan.

  • Published 06/6/12

Comments (18)

  1. grimlock

    I used to use RocketDock up until about year ago when I switched to ObjectDock (by Stardock). I prefer ObjectDock to RocketDock as ObjectDock has more capabilities (even the free version) and there are more icons/add-ons.

  2. Mike

    non-usable by the growing majority of people as it doesn’t support 64 bit yet

  3. Flynn

    I use Rocket Dock and Object Dock

  4. Jon

    I used to install RD on all my PCs until I realized that its kind-a useless. I mean, it is popping above some windows even I set it not to, sometimes it does not appear at all and the only way to fix it is to restart. Since then, I just place the most used icons on the right side of the screen since everything that gets downloaded in the desktop gets messy with all the programs. Now its much simpler and less resource hungry.

  5. Lisa Wang

    @Mike: My machine is 64-bit 7 and I has yet to encounter any problem with it, except the ones caused by StackDocklets.
    @Jon: Quite the contrary, with RD and StackDocklets I’m able to access my library of folders faster and it provides me easy access only when I need to instead of sticking like sore thumb all the time.
    Different people, different preference, so I won’t argue further.

  6. Lisa Wang

    @grimlock: To my knowledge RD can use some ObjectDock addons. For icons, why bother with the default offerings? Go to DeviantArt and the like and you can hunt icons to your heart’s content, or make one yourself. It can use any *.ico and *.png’s.

  7. MsMax

    I agree with grimlock, I use the free version of ObjectDock (by Stardock). I’d be lost without it anymore and whenever I populate a new computer, it’s one of the first programs that’s a must. It’s so nice having everything I need by way of programs or files or browsers so handy, yet tucked away out of site when I don’t need to look at them. ObjectDock has this terrific little weather icon, too, that opens and spreads to show you temps and conditions for the next 4 days.

  8. beergas

    Thanks but looks like lot of busy work. Prefer to set actions w/ MS KB & mouse s/w. Easy to hit a F
    key to get a much used website or proggy. Yes desktop will have lot of icons but if see not using one I dump it to a folder icon.

  9. ESC

    quick search on start menu ftw

  10. Doc

    @Mike: It runs on Windows 7 64-bit just fine; there’s just no 64-bit version of the *program* yet.

  11. Jon

    @Lisa Wang

    Well, I don’t go to my hard drive folders that often, everything useful (a couple of game icons, ccleaner etc.) I leave on the screen. But if it’s like in your case, RD probably works well.

  12. james emerson

    Thank-you

  13. jami

    I just keep my more frequently used shortcuts in a folder on my desktop.

  14. Anonymous

    I tried Rocket Dock (RD) for some family members but eventually I just gave up. RD is a nice menu app but I suspect the schools or whatever have them all brainwashed into doing things “the Macintosh way.” (BTW, they live and work in a fairly affluent community where the schools apparently have a lot of money to waste on the most expensive computer systems known to man – Apple with the Apple version of Microsoft Office even. So not too surprisingly, that’s what they’re used to.) And if left to their own methods with their Windows machines at home, RD will eventually stop working correctly and cause me more problems than it’s worth. This is very confusing since RD is a lot more “mac like” than anything else I’ve seen for Windows. Nevertheless, my solution was to just stop helping and gave them the address of the nearest Apple store. Thank you Rocket Dock!

    (Can you imagine what it might be like to load Windows virtually with a Linux host OS and then throw RD on top of that whole mess? Or even just running a Linux distro like Ubuntu without RD?! No thanks!!! I won’t even go into the obvious problems on the horizon with regard to Windows 8.)

  15. Kevalin

    My experience with RocketDock has been that it runs fine on both XP and both bit versions of Windows 7, that, though it’s initially a bit of a pain in ass to set up, it works quite well, and that my desktop looks a whole lot cleaner with than without it. I greatly appreciate being able to quickly access certain programs and folders that I use on a frequent basis, and enjoy the artistry of the icons and wallpapers that its many members create and contribute.

    One thing I started doing early on (because I periodically strip and reload my OS) was to make a copy of the Icons folder and save it elsewhere. Now, when I reinstall RD or load it on a new computer, I close the program and immediately trade the basic Icons folder with my “pre-loaded” one. This saves me the trouble of having to go to the site to hunt up icons I’ve previously enjoyed every time I reinstall it–though in fact, I usually visit the site every few days to see what’s new, anyway.

  16. TheProudNoob

    In my experience, object dock is better. There’s a free version too!

    I have the paid one, and it fulfills my needs. If I hadn’t bought object dock, I would give this one a try.

  17. KayakBill

    I just use the QuickLaunch toolbar. Shortcuts to My Computer, my User folder, God Mode, a PC Maintenance folder, Control Panel, Virtual Machines, My Documents, an Address Book, Delphi 7 IDE, programming projects, my music, Chrome, IE and Outlook. Oh, and a ShutDown link. And the Recycle Bin. 15 one-click links in all. Takes up less than 25% of my taskbar and leaves my desktop Icom Free.

  18. d

    You guys should check out XLaunchpad. Gives you instant access to all your shortcuts.Arrange apps in XLaunchpad any way you like by dragging icons to different locations or by grouping apps in folders. Simply drag one icon over another to create a folder. you can name the folder whatever you like when you open the folder. I use XLaunchpad and rainmerter and done!

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