Ubuntu Docking

Jarret B

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Staff member
May 22, 2017
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Operating Systems have some type of docking mechanism that allows a user to choose the apps to run.

By default, Ubuntu 20 and 21 use Gnome. The typical dock placement is to the left side of the desktop. With Linux being modular, we can change the docking program and try something new.

Looking around, a lot of users seem to talk about Plank.

Plank Dock

We can see the default dock in Ubuntu in Figure 1. The dock is what we’ll be changing.

Figure 01.JPG


If any of you are familiar with MacOS, we will add on a dock that looks and acts like the Apple one.

Keep in mind that this is for Ubuntu systems 18.04 and above. It may work on a lower version, but I wouldn’t try it in case it causes major issues with the desktop.

To start, we need to install Plank Dock with:

sudo apt install plank

The install is small and shouldn’t take too long.

After it has completed the install, run the following command in a terminal:

gnome-extensions disable [email protected]

Once the command completes, Ubuntu’s dock will disappear.

If you should want to disable the dock through a Graphical User Interface (GUI), then you need to install the GNOME Shell Extensions with the command:

sudo apt install gnome-shell-extensions

If you already removed Ubuntu’s dock, then press the Window key, in the lower left hand of the keyboard, and ‘A’ to open the Applications Drawer. Type ‘Extensions’ in the search window and you should see the icon appear, as shown in Figure 2. The ‘Extensions’ app is the icon on the left.

Figure 02.JPG


Once opened, scroll down to ‘Ubuntu Dock’ (shown in Figure 3) which allows you to turn the Ubuntu Dock off and on. Make sure it is off before we continue.

Figure 03.JPG


Open the Applications Drawer again and type in ‘Plank’. Click to open the ‘Plank’ app, shown in Figure 4, and you should have a new dock appear at the bottom of the screen.

Figure 04.JPG


Looking at Figure 5, you can see what the new dock will look like. Try all the apps on the dock. My Terminal would not work, so I right-clicked on the terminal and selected ‘Keep in dock’. The entry was ‘checked’, but by removing it, the app disappears. Open the Application Drawer and start the terminal. A new icon appears on the dock. Right-click it and select ‘Keep in dock’. This will place a check next to the option and keep the icon on the dock even if the terminal isn’t running.

Figure 05.JPG


For any shortcut, you want to place on the dock, perform the same steps of opening the app. Right-click on the docked icon and select ‘Keep in dock’. Remove any icons you do not want on the dock.

Ubuntu 21.10 (and 21.04)

If Plank will not start, open a terminal and type ‘plank’. After pressing ‘enter’, you may see a message similar to:

[CRITICAL 16:37:24.604206] [AbstractMain:255] Only X11 environments are supported.

Ubuntu 21 uses Wayland and not X11. Plank requires X11.
To start with X11, log out or restart the system. At the login screen, there is a little cog in the lower-right corner of the screen (see Figure 6). Select the cog and then select ‘Ubuntu on Xorg’. Enter your password and log into the OS.

Figure 06.JPG


Open the Application Drawer and type ‘plank’. Your new dock should appear.

Configure Plank

Press the Control key on the keyboard and right-click on the Plank Dock and select ‘Preferences’. Here, you can change the Plank Dock.
At the bottom of the ‘Appearances’ tab, select to enable ‘Icon Zoom’. Now, when the mouse cursor hovers over an icon in the dock, it appears to grow.
On the ‘Appearances’ tab, there is an option for ‘Theme’. From the drop-down list, you have the options: Default, Gtk+, Matte and Transparent. ‘Default’ and ‘Gtk+’ are the same. ‘Matte’ places a rectangle around the docked icons. The Gtk+ has the rectangle low, so the icons look like they are on a flat surface. ‘Transparent’ removes the rectangle completely.
On the ‘Docklets’ tab, select and double-click the icon for ‘Applications’. A new icon for the docklet should appear on the dock. When you right-click on the icon, you will get access to the whole applications menu for your system.
If you add a docklet, you no longer want on the dock, click and drag the icon from the dock. It will disappear in a puff of smoke.

Autostart Plank

From the Application Drawer, type in ‘Startup Application Preferences’. Once the app starts press the ‘Add’ button.
A new window appears asking for information about a new startup program. For ‘Name’, enter ‘Plank’. On the second line for ‘Command’, enter ‘/usr/bin/plank’. For the third line, enter whatever you like. Click ‘Add’ to save the entry, so plank starts automatically every time the system starts.

Removing Plank

Sometimes, you may want to change back to the dock you originally had to start. Open ‘Extensions’ as we covered previously and turn on the Ubuntu Dock. Click the Ubuntu Dock as enabled. The Ubuntu Dock should reappear.
Open the Application Drawer and type in Startup. Open the ‘Startup Application Preferences’ and uncheck ‘Plank’.
Reboot and the system should start back up as it originally was before Plank.
If you ever want to re-enable Plank, just redo the two steps we undid and reboot if needed.
You may even want to uninstall Plank. If so, do:

sudo apt remove --purge plank


Sometimes after being used to Windows, it is hard to remember that Linux is very modular. We can replace parts of the OS with other apps that can look or act differently.
We can change parts of Linux to an OS that will suit your needs and be more pleasant to you. Computing should be enjoyable for all users who all have different tastes.

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