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Articles: DockStar: Supercharge the dock icon

In this day and age, between work e-mail, free e-mail, multiple home accounts and even newsfeeds, opening your inbox can seem an overwhelming task. Many of us have had the experience of shouting, "WHAT?! 264 new messages?! I just got everything caught up last night!"

Well, now, with the aid of a simple utility, you can help get yourself a little more organized, without a single change to the way you read your e-mail. No complicated e-mail filtering rules, no lectures on what can and can't stay in your inbox, no clandestine meetings at E-mailers Anonymous.

Enter DockStar, a clever little program that, as the developer states, supercharges your Apple Mail dock icon, plus much more.

The primary and most noticeable feature of DockStar is its ability to give you multiple e-mail count indicators (badges, they call them) in your dock icon.

Take, for instance, my home dock icon. Opening it up today without DockStar, it says I have 264 unread e-mails. Oy! But wait, that's across all of my e-mail accounts, and includes all of the RSS newsfeeds to which I've subscribed. Let's face it, some of those e-mail accounts are more important than others. So although I may have 264 unread messages, it may not be as overwhelming as it seems, because maybe I can ignore some of them for a while. Let's see what happens when I turn DockStar back on (which I've previously configured).

Wow! Huge difference! I still have 264 unread messages, but now, at a glance, I can see what is important, and what maybe isn't so.

Let's take a closer look at my overflowing inbox. As mentioned, DockStar allows up to five fully customizable badges on the dock icon. The most obvious use is for individual inboxes. I have four e-mail accounts that I check with Mail on my home computer. So naturally I set four of the badges to reflect the unread counts for those four inboxes.
I set my primary home e-mail account to the upper right position and made it red like the original dock icon (hey, it's tradition!). It's my primary e-mail account, so those messages are pretty important. Only 52 messages there. Not too bad.

Next is my .Mac account. This is the address I use for my writing and for an e-mail-discussion group. These are very important. Today, 35. Pretty good.

Ah, my spam catcher address. Technically, this is my "primary" account as far as my ISP is concerned, so it's the one that gets all the spam. So I don't use it that much (I consider my red account to be my primary account because it's the one I use the most). I also use this account when I need to give out a valid e-mail address when I sign up for stuff. Only 60 today. Hmm... light day. These are usually spam... but sometimes legit... so there's no rush to check them immediately. That's 60 messages I can skip for now, if I need to. Nice!

My work account. Twenty new e-mails?! What? Come on! It's the weekend! Geez! :-) Oh well, medium priority... (it is the weekend, after all!).
Maybe I'll take a peek and see if there's anything that I can address easily so I don't have to do it on Monday. (Or maybe I'll finish watching that movie instead.)

And finally, my fifth badge. With all of my inboxes covered, I use the fifth one to count all of the unread articles in the RSS newsfeeds to
which I've subscribed. In the six feeds, there are 97 new headlines...pretty average. Low priority.

And so, just like that, thanks to DockStar, in less than one second I can look at my inboxes and see that what USED to be 264 unread messages is really only now 87 important messages; the remaining I'll get to when I feel like it. I now only have one third as many e-mails that I NEED to look through.

DockStar has some other features that are pretty great as well. For the power users out there, you can never have too many add-ons in your menu bar,
right? Or suppose you have a small screen where desktop space is at a premium. You may decide to hide your dock. DockStar has the ability to display badges in the empty space of your menu bar as well. Busy working and hear that "new mail" DING? Without even moving your mouse, you can glance up at the menu bar and see into which inbox the e-mail arrived.

And speaking of DINGs, when a new message arrives, DockStar has the ability to play a different sound depending on where it arrived. You don't even have to LOOK to see where that e-mail went; you can tell just by which sound played. You can even add your own custom sounds if you'd like.

Just like a telemarketer might say... BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE!

As far as e-mail messages go, DockStar doesn't have to display the unread count. It can also display the counts of the number of total messages, the number of messages you've flagged as important, or the number of messages Mail has marked as junk.

If it's got a folder, DockStar can display a badge for it. E-mail accounts, Notes, To Dos, RSS feeds, even Junk, Trash, and Draft counts. Here's a snapshot of my work inbox.

My primary work account is in red and my .Mac account (where I get also Apple news) is in blue. But without my home accounts at work, that frees up space for three other notifications. The purple and orange badges show message counts in shared mailboxes. For example at my work there is a shared mailbox that everyone in my department can read. Since these messages DON'T get delivered to my inbox, it could be easy to miss them. Now I always know when a new message shows up.

And finally, the last badge, green, is set to my Drafts folder. I get interrupted a lot at work, and often times I'll start writing an e-mail, only to be drawn away for one reason or another. By the time I get back to it, my original e-mail might be buried under half a dozen other windows, and I've completely forgotten about it. This reminds me that I have one unfinished e-mail that I'm still writing. Very handy, especially if it's a time-sensitive message!

DockStar is fully customizable. I'm a fan of vibrant primary colors that stand out strongly, so I chose some basics... red, blue, green, etc. But if you want teal, mauve, and burnt umber, each at 50% opacity, that just as easily done as well. The shape and size of the badges is customizable too. There are six shapes from hearts to stars to circles, to the classic "seal" (pointy circle) as I call it.

And if that's not enough, DockStar also includes screensaver and Dashboard modules.

For all of this, the makers of DockStar ask only $9.95. For anyone who manages multiple e-mail accounts in their Apple Mail, I can say without reservation that it's the best $10 you'll ever spend. They even offer a free demo to help convince you.
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