I'm OCD about my desktop. I keep exactly six icons on it, tucked in the upper left hand corner. So Dell's OS X wannabe dock-actually made by Stardock and licensed to Dell, but let's not pretend it's not an Apple reaction-sounds like a great way to keep my desktop immaculate. Who originated the dock or why it came to be aren't really that important. The fact is, lots of people who never would've used a dock are now going to when Dell ships these out. And that would be awesome, if the dock weren't so dumb.

Our review unit is an XPS M1330-Dell shipped us a fresh hard drive with Vista Ultimate and the latest Dell software. (The Dock will arrive on new Studio laptops, and eventually ship on some legacy systems, like the XPS M1330 and 1530.) Problem one is right when you boot it up. Windows started, and I thought they had accidentally given me a drive without the dock. The dock appeared a full minute after I started wondering WTF it was. Not a great start to the dock experience! A less savvy user might think the dock is just slow balls and turn it off. I did what I usually do when I get a notebook: Yank out the crapware, plus, in this case, the fingerprint reader and other Dell-specific software. Then reboot.

Dock comes up instantly. Yay. Okay, so while I don't find the default options useful, they were easy enough to swap out, move around, whatever. My desktop is spotless, the dock itself is beautiful. I'm happy-until I start using the computer. That's when I realize the dock's fatal flaw.


It's not a real "dock" but just a dumb, pretty shortcut bar. It can make your desktop tidy, but you still have to use the regular Windows taskbar to interact with applications and see what they're up to. When I minimize Firefox, it goes to the taskbar, and I can't pop the window back open from the dock. The AIM icon doesn't bounce when I have a new message. It just sits there, lifeless, looking high-res and pretty. And what I want, what I expect, what I'm subtly promised is something like OS X's dock. (Even if they won't let you stick it on the bottom.) If it was, and I could ditch the Windows taskbar, I would be in love with it. It would change the way a hefty chunk of the masses use their Vista computers, and maybe, just maybe, even keep them from making The Switch.

But it's not that. So instead of being in love with it, I'm just in like with it. [Dell]