iCal Dock icon: Can’t it tell the date even when it’s not running?

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
February 22nd, 2007 • 4:27 pm

This is something that has puzzled me since the very early days of Mac OS X and continues to puzzle me today. iCal is Mac OS X’s default calendar application, and it has a Dock icon that consists of a picture of a calendar with a big number for the date:

iCal Dock icon

I don’t know about other Mac OS X users, but I find that this Dock icon is the most convenient way for me to quickly check what today’s date is. Lest we forget, the menu bar clock in Mac OS X’s menu bar (on the right-hand side) only shows the current time and you actually have to click on it to pull down the menu that shows (among other things) the current date.

It’s not that I am lazy, but really, I don’t think I should have to travel with my mouse pointer all the way to the top-right corner of my screen and click on that menu bar clock just to see what today’s date is.

The iCal Dock icon, on the other hand, is always visible (unless you hide your Dock) and only shows what I really need, i.e. the day’s number. (I don’t really need the month. I am not that out of touch with reality.)

There is only a slight problem with this. iCal’s Dock icon only shows the correct date if iCal is actually running. If it’s not running, then iCal’s Dock icon appears to indicate that the day is always the 17th of the month, as can be seen in the screen shot above.

Of course, there is a relatively easy way to work around this problem. The solution is to add iCal to one’s list of login items, so that it is automatically launched when logging in. But the thing is that I already have quite a list of login items, and starting up already takes quite a bit of time on my machine. Adding iCal to it would just make the startup process even longer.

And then sometimes I have to start up with the Shift key down to prevent login items from being launched (for various reasons), and then I launch whatever I need to run manually. But then I invariably forget to launch iCal, and a couple of hours later I automatically look at the date on the iCal Dock icon and… it’s the 17th again. I have to manually launch iCal just to get it to update its Dock icon.

The bottom-line is that I don’t really need to have iCal running: iCal’s alarms work just fine even if the application itself is not working, because Mac OS X always has an invisible background process called “iCalAlarmScheduler” running, which takes care of your calendar’s alarms.

I just need iCal’s Dock icon to show the correct date.

I realize that there’s probably something in the underlying architecture of the Dock that prevents it from updating its icons in any way unless the applications involved are actually running. But couldn’t Apple make a small exception just for this particular Dock icon? It really is quite misleading to have a Dock icon that seems to be saying that today is the 17th.

If, like me, you use iCal’s Dock icon as a quick way to check today’s date, then like me, you must find it quite abnormal that, when the application is not running, it is saying that today’s date is the 17th. I would actually prefer it if it didn’t show any date at all when it’s not running. But the fact that it shows the actual number of the day when it’s running and “17” when it is not is just strange.

It’s a small thing, and I suppose that the slightly longer startup time involved when iCal is added to the list of login items is a small price to pay for a reliable date display, but I find it rather inelegant to have to launch iCal just to get its Dock icon to display the correct date.

20 Responses to “iCal Dock icon: Can’t it tell the date even when it’s not running?”

  1. ssp says:

    I guess a simple fix for this problem (which probably annoys any Mac user) would require an ugly hack and a more elaborate fix would be – well – elaborate.

    Still it’d be much appreciated, particularly around the 18th of a month. (I’d even go so far to say that iCal’s icon choice is a bad one with the current capabilities of the Dock).

    Fun thing to do: Force quit iCal. That’ll at least leave the current date in the Dock :)

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    Yes, the situation is especially problematic when the actual date is precisely around the 17th of the month.

    I don’t know how you made the current date stick after a force quit. When I force quit iCal, the icon reverts to 17.

  3. ssp says:

    Looks like I’ve been overenthusiastic with my fun ‘hint’. I have seen that phenomenon a number of times though. Admittedly, after a crash of iCal – so i had assumed force quitting would do the same.

    Don’t know how to crash iCal though. Not using it enough to be that familiar with it.

  4. Gabriel Tichy says:

    The icon is misleading indeed. I think iCal should use a neutral icon (with no obvious reference to any date). Current date should be displayed via badge when iCal is launched (just as any other application does it – Mail, iChat, etc).

    The workaround I used was to remove iCal from the Dock and launch it via Quicksilver.

  5. Pierre Igot says:

    The basic problem is that there is no readily visible display of the date in the current Mac OS X environment. iCal provides that when it’s running, but is unfortunately misleading when it’s not. I guess I should try and find some third-party utility that would display the date somewhere visible (next to the menu bar clock, for example) and just remove iCal from the Dock, as you said. (I use LaunchBar.)

  6. ssp says:

    You still have the Dashboard and the menu bar clock can also be displayed as a floating calendar window. Not that I’m suggesting that’s pretty, but it’s at least possible.

    Personally I think I need to look up the current day at most once per day, so I don’t really mind.

    Besides… it’s always good to have an excuse to buy a nice day-by-day Gary Larson calendar for your desk :)

  7. danridley says:

    Consider MenuCalendarClock. Lovely little app.

  8. Pierre Igot says:

    Lovely little application indeed. Thanks for the link!

  9. Paul Ingraham says:

    For a long time now I’ve used You Control for a more full-featured menu bar clock/calendar. Right now it tells me it’s “Monday, February 26 11:17”. Ah, wide screen!

    It’s always baffled me that I couldn’t display the date with the time on my Mac without a 3rd party solution… all this power… and no date? Strange…

  10. Pierre Igot says:

    Thanks Paul, but it’s not the cheapest and does lots of things that I don’t need. I already have quite a bit of stuff on the right-hand side of the menu bar, even on my 30″ screen! :)

    I just need the date and MenuCalendarClock works quite well. And it’s free for such a basic feature.

  11. benjamin says:

    You don’t need a third party app to display the date next to the time in the menubar.

    Just follow the steps outlined .

    Works a treat.

  12. PECourtejoie says:

    Pierre, it is possible to display the date alongside the time in the menubar, without using a third party program:

    Have a great day!


  13. Pierre Igot says:

    Thanks Benjamin & PE. The only drawback of this method is that it forces you to customize a time format (the “Medium” one) that you might want to use elsewhere without having the date attached to it or that other applications might use without knowing that it now includes the date.

    For example, if you use Pages’s “Insert > Date & Time…” command after the customization, then one of the time format options provided by Pages in its dialog box now includes the date as well.

    It’s a minor inconvenience, but one to be aware of just the same. I think I’ll keep using MenuCalendarClock myself :).

  14. Mike Lauder says:

    From what I remember, older versions of iCal used to have the date persist on the Dock icon after the application had quit. Obviously this didn’t help the user before iCal had been launched but at least the date was correct until you logged out.

  15. MT36000 says:

    I think you could have a look to http://www.charcoaldesign.co.uk/magical and go to its preferences to customise them to your test ! It’s a freeware !

  16. Arden says:

    iCal’s icon’s default day should be 32.

  17. Pierre Igot says:

    Good idea!

  18. danridley says:

    Fixed in the latest Leopard seed.

  19. Pierre Igot says:

    Thanks for the update :).

  20. Resuna says:

    I just went into the iCal.app/Contents/Resources folder and renamed “App.icns” to “App-orig.icns” and copied “App-empty.icns” to “App.icns”, so now I get no date when ical isn’t running.

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