Mac users tend to form a strong attachment to their utilities--particularly those they use to launch applications and open their computer's files. I'm not immune to such attachments. Within minutes of unboxing any new Mac, I install DragThing, TLA Systems $29 dock-based application launcher, on it. In the seven years since we last reviewed it , DragThing has been updated to add greater functionality and improve the interface.
Long before OS X and its Dock, DragThing allowed you to organize applications, folders, files, disks, servers, and URLs into docks. You'd create an empty dock, drag an item into it, and then be able to access the item by clicking on it. (In the case of containers such as folders, disks, and servers, you could drag items onto a container to copy or move them to it.)
DragThing docks can have multiple, tab-selectable layers and can be customized with a variety of themes; you can also assign keyboard shortcuts to dock items to launch them. Docks can display all of the applications that are currently running or all of the windows that are open in all of those apps. One feature I particularly enjoy: You can configure DragThing to hide all other applications when you select a running program from a dock. And, for those who like to work old-school, DragThing enables you to place the Trash on the Desktop.
TLA has been busy the past seven years. Among other new features, DragThing now supports drawers, clippings, spring-loaded folders, previews, and that dock of open windows I just mentioned.
Drawers are docks that hide off-screen; only a small tab remains on the top, bottom, left, or right edge of your display. Click that tab and the dock emerges. This is really useful if you have a lot docks and don't want them cluttering up your desktop.
Clippings are bits of boilerplate text. Control-click on a dock, choose New Text Clipping, and in the window that appears paste or create your text. You can then insert that text into a document (or e-mail or whatever) either by dragging-and-dropping it from the dock to wherever you want it or by selecting Copy to Clipboard or Paste Clip Into (and then choosing a target application) from a contextual menu. Clippings support gives DragThing some of the capabilities of a dedicated text-expansion utility like TextExpander or TypeIt4Me ( Macworld rated 4.5 out of 5 mice ) .
If you like spring-loaded folders in OS X, you'll love them in DragThing. When you drag an item onto a DragThing container, the container's icon will blink and then its contents will appear. Drag the item to wherever you'd like it and let go of the mouse button: the item will be copied or moved to that location.
You can preview a container's contents from its contextual menu: If an item can be previewed, a small triangle icon appears next to it. Select that item and a small preview window appears, displaying its contents. DragThing can preview a variety of files, in many graphics, text, movie, and audio formats.
What it is and isn't
Praise for any launching utility is going to elicit a chorus of "Yeah, buts" from those who've aligned themselves with a different one. LaunchBar ( Macworld rated 5 out of 5 mice ) , Butler ( Macworld rated 5 out of 5 mice ), and QuickSilver ( Macworld rated 4.5 out of 5 mice ) all have their adherents, and for good reason--they're all solid utilities that can do more than simply launch applications.
But they're keyboard-focused. That focus can be useful, because if you can think of the name of a thing, you can launch it. DragThing requires that you do a certain amount of legwork ahead of time, to think of the things you're going to want to launch and then to populate your docks with them. But once you've done that, the items you need are just a click or drag away--there's no need to think of names, commands, paths, or addresses.
One could argue that, with OS X's Dock, DragThing is less necessary than it was in the OS 9 days. Apple's Dock supports spring-loaded folders, displays currently running as well as favorite applications and folders, and can house launchable Web links. But the Dock is also far more limited than DragThing. There are only so many items you can pack into it before it's unmanageably crowded, you can have only one instance of it, it doesn't support clippings, and it can't show document previews.
Macworld's buying advice
Whether DragThing is a good fit for you depends a lot on how you like to interact with your Mac. If you're the kind of person who routinely calls up Spotlight to launch applications and locate items on your Mac using your keyboard, DragThing's mouse-focused interface may not be for you. If, on the other hand, you appreciate having the items you use most often available as clickable icons in nicely defined, customizable docks, you owe yourself a test drive.