Menu bar

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The menu bar resides at the top of the screen. It allows you to see which is the current active application and to perform various commands. The different parts of the menu bar are described in this article.


The menu bar in OS X 10.4 (Tiger) with the Finder active

Contents

The Apple Menu

The Apple menu is found on the far left of the menu bar. It is always visible and provides access to a few system-wide commands, preferences and recent items.

Menu Extras

Menu Extras are found the far right of the menu bar. They are small, application-like icons or text that provide access to certain functions. Typically, they are used to provide a shortcut to an exisitng application or service on your machine, whereby you click on an item to bring up its menu. These are controlled by the SystemUIServer process, so if it crashes and restarts, so will the menu extras.

A list of most of the Apple-supplied menu extras includes:

If the active application has more menus than can fit between the Apple menu and the menu extras, then some of the menu extras will be hidden.

Removing and Arranging Menu Extras

For most menu extras, you can remove them from the menu bar or re-arrange their ordering by holding the command key and dragging the icon. To remove an item, drag it off the menu bar while holding down the command key.

Unfortunately, not all icons that appear in the menu bar are actually menu extras, and so will not move properly when command-dragged. This includes the Spotlight menu, and most icons provided by 3rd party applications. 3rd party applications typically use another mechanism, Status Items, which are immobile, rather than true Menu Extras, the API for which is not public. This has not stopped several developers from reverse-engineering the Menu Extra API, and so there are a limited number of full-fledged Menu Extras available from these developers.

The Spotlight menu is some other construct entirely, as it is immobile and does not work like any other menu or status item; when clicked and held, menus will snap closed when released (this is how menus behaved all the time prior to Mac OS 8, no matter how long they were held open). The Spotlight menu never snaps closed. However, the Spotlight menu can be removed (with some caveats, such as the keyboard shortcuts for Spotlight not working) by following these directions on macosxhints.com.

Application Menus

Application menus are those menu items that the application you are using provides. It is almost entirely up to the application what menus it provides, but as a general rule you can expect to find at least some of the following:

The Application Menu

This is the first menu item provided. It is always present and is located next to the Apple menu. The title of this menu will change to reflect what the current application is.

The Application menu is there for any commands that apply to the application as a whole. In the menu, you can often expect to find:

  • "About" - displays a window with some information about the application, such as its version number
  • "Preferences" - brings up the application's preferences window
  • "Services" - a list of services that the system can provide you with for use in the application
  • "Hide" - hides the application
  • "Quit" - quits the application

You may often find other items in this menu, such as "Donate," " Check for Updates" & "Provide Feedback."

File

Most applications provide a File menu and this lists commands for use with the current document in the application. The file menu generally contains commands for:

  • Creating new windows
  • Saving
  • Opening documents
  • Closing documents
  • Printing

Edit

Most applications have an Edit menu that allows you to perform some standard edit commands with text in the application. The edit menu generally contains commands to:

Window

All applications should provide a Window menu. This contains commands for working with the windows of the application, and generally contains:

  • Commands to "Minimize" and "Zoom" the frontmost window
  • Shortcuts to some of the most commonly used windows of the application
  • A command to bring all of the application's windows to the foreground
  • A list of all the windows belonging to the application

Help

Some applications provide a Help menu that allows you to access any help files or documentation provided with the application

Others

Of course, there are plenty of other menus that may be provided by an application, such as "View," "Font," "Advanced" and "Format."

Notes

Of note, is that next to every menu item, Mac OS X will display the keyboard shortcut for that command (if a shortcut exists).

Troubleshooting

Occasionally, the system part of the menu bar may lock up (the spinning wait cursor appears over such things as the clock and the Airport signal strength meter. This indicates that the controlling process, the SystemUIServer, has locked up. It may need to be force quitted via Activity Monitor or the Terminal.

One known cause of this lockup is trouble with iTunes while an iPod is plugged in to the firewire port. Simply unplugging the iPod may cause the SystemUIServer to resume.