Below are some really simple tips to manage the applications and get the "Start button" functionality using the existing Dock.
- Put Applications in the Dock: Begin by dragging the Applications folder to the dock. Open a Finder window, grab the Applications folder, drag it down to the dock, and let go of it to the left of the vertical bar that separates the applications from the Trash Can. Now, you have a "Start button." To use it, bring the mouse down to the dock, position it over the Applications folder, click and hold (for a second or two), and the list of applications will shoot up from the folder. Move the mouse over the application you want to launch and (finally) let go of the mouse button.
I've used this from the very beginning of when I started using OS X. It's so simple, but it makes the system so much easier to use. It drives me up the wall to work on a stock OS X system where you have to use the Finder to go to Applications to launch an application.
- Create local applications folder: Once you've installed more than a few applications on your Mac, the "start button" we created above will be too big - you'll have to scroll to find the application you're looking for. What you need is to organize the applications in the Applications folder by creating some folders within the Applications folder. Therefore, create a folder for your new applications. I called my folder "Local Applications." Anytime you install new applications, put them in there instead of Application.
If you have a bunch of existing applications, it seems to be OK to just move them into your folder. However, take it from me: do not move any of the Apple applications - when Software Update runs, it will install things in the original location. Now, those applications are available from the "start button" under the name for your folder - e.g., "Local Applications."
- Create a short list of favorite applications: Even with the benefits of the organization we set up above, the list is still long, and it contains a bunch of applications that you hardly, if ever, use. Create a new folder pretty much anywhere - e.g., in your home directory. Open a separate window in the Finder and navigate over to Applications. For any applications that you use regularly (either in Applications or Local Applications) create an alias of the application (right click/control click on the application icon and choose "Make alias") and drag the new alias into your new application folder. I also include aliases to Applications, Utilities, and Local Applications in my folder.
Finally, drag your new folder into the Dock (and optionally remove the original Applications folder you put there). From this new "start button," you can quickly reach the applications you use regularly, and if you included Applications in your folder, you can reach everything else, too - the best of both worlds: quick access and complete access.
- Change the icon: Optionally you can change the icon of your applications folder - I copied the icon from the original Applications folder into my personal applications folder, but you can use almost icon.