Making (more) use of the menu bar

A while back I wrote about some of my then-favorite menu-bar utilities for Mac OS X. But there are many, many more such utilities out there. Here are a few new favorites, which, when active, use only this much space in your menu bar:

Menu bar space

AirPort network notifier

Last year I reviewed Canary Wireless’s Digital Hotspotter, a network detector that not only looks for wireless networks in your vicinity, but also tells you which ones are open vs. private. It’s a useful device because you can check for wireless networks without having to open your laptops.

But if you’ve already got your laptop open, Coconut Flavour’s coconutWiFi 1.2 (   ; donation requested) is just as useful. It puts a small item in your menu bar that displays both the number of wireless networks in range and—via the menu’s icon—the status of those networks. If you choose to use a color-based display, a red dot means “no networks,” yellow means “only encrypted networks found,” and green means “at least one open network found.” Alternatively, you can choose to use symbolic icons.

coconutWiFi preferences

For example, in the screenshot below, coconutWiFi tells me that there are two wireless networks in the area, but both are encrypted:

coconutWiFi menu

Clicking on the menu icon displays a listing of any networks found as well as the status—open or closed—of each. CoconutWiFi can also alert you—via a system alert sound—when you’re in range of an open network. Unfortunately, you can’t switch networks using coconutWiFi’s menu; you still need to use Apple’s AirPort Status menu for that.

Caps lock indicator

Last week, a Macworld reader asked for some help via the Macworld forums:

I love my [Logitech] s530 wireless keyboard but....there is now way to see if caps lock is on or off. Is there a way to get an on screen notification much like in the log on window only in the menu bar??

The reader was talking about Logitech’s new S530 keyboard/mouse system; the keyboard has no caps lock light, so you don’t realize you’ve enabled caps lock until you start typing and everything comes up in all caps.

The solution to this problem? John Woodward’s CAPS Warn 1.3 (   ; free). When CAPS Warn is running, you get the outline of a red upward-facing arrow in your menu bar. If the shift key or caps lock key is pressed, the arrow becomes solid red, alerting you to the fact. Instant caps lock indicator—and because the indicator is on the screen, rather than on the keyboard, you’re more likely to see it.

CAPS Warn menu item

Unless you’re a hunt-and-peck typist who spends more time looking at the keyboard than the screen; in which case, you’ll appreciate CAPS Warn’s other features. For example, CAPS Warn can also flash the screen and/or notify you with an alert sound whenever the caps lock key is pressed. It can also warn you after you type a user-specified number (1 to 9) of characters with shift or caps lock enabled.

My biggest complaint about CAPS Warn is that if you enable its preferences dialog (via its menu-bar menu) and then switch to another application, it’s a major hassle to find the preferences dialog again—and while you’re trying, CAPS Warn will “beep” every time you press a key. So be sure to close the preferences dialog when you’re done with it.

Enhanced Window menu

Last year I showed you Witch, a utility that gives you the ability to access any window in any application via a single, onscreen display similar to Mac OS X’s Command+Tab application switcher. But if you’d like to see similar functionality via a menu, Sanity Software’s WindowFinder 1.4 (   ; $10) gives you just that: It sticks a new menu in the menu bar that lists all windows in all applications, grouped by application.

WindowFinder menu

Choosing a window from the menu switches to its application and brings it to the front. (Former Mac OS 9 users will also enjoy WindowFinder, as it’s similar to OS 9’s Application Menu, except that you switch to a window in an application rather than to the application itself.)

In terms of options, you can choose the size of the menu’s application icons—or to omit them altogether, listing only names—and you can exclude particular applications (such as those that don’t have windows) so they don’t appear in the menu. (Note that for some reason, certain applications don’t display icons in WindowFinder’s menu; I haven’t figured out why this happens, but WindowFinder still lets you switch to any of those applications’ windows.) If you’re mouse-inclined, WindowFinder is a nifty utility.

CoconutWiFi requires Mac OS X 10.3.9 or later. CAPS Warn requires Mac OS X 10.3 or later and is a Universal Binary. Window Finder requires Mac OS X 10.4 or later and is a Universal Binary.

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