What's in your menu bar?

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I spend a good deal of my time trying out new products and telling you about the best ones, but readers often ask me if I actually use the products I recommend. For the most part the answer is yes -- many of the products I feature in Mac Gems have found a permanent place on my Mac. People also ask me how I can actually use so many things at one time: Don't I forget about some of them? The answer to that one is that the more you make something part of your workflow, the less you have to remember to use it -- you just do. That being said, there are some cool products that I really like but just haven't been able to integrate into my day to day use; those get lost on my hard drive are are rarely used. So it's a fair question to ask.

In the spirit of these questions, I'm occasionally going to give you a snapshot of how I use my Mac. Sort of like those early 90s " What's on your PowerBook? " ads. Today's installment: What's in your menu bar?

I'm a big fan of menu bar utilities. Since the menu bar is always visible, you always have immediate acces to the functionality they provide. So my menu bar contains utilities that I want handy at all times. Here's a snapshot:


Menu Bar


Yes, that's a lot of menu bar items. Guilty as charged. But when I try to trim my menu bar down, I just can't seem to get rid of any of these. Here's what each does, from right to left:

  • You Control: Clock, iTunes, and Weather: Parts of the excellent You Control package, which lets you create custom menus using combinations of modules. This menu combines the Clock, iTunes, and Weather modules. The Clock module replaces Apple's menu bar clock, offering rollover dates (by passing the cursor over the time, I can see the date) and drop-down calendars. The iTunes module gives me complete control over iTunes without having to switch to iTunes. And the Weather module shows me the current weather and forecast for my favorite locations via a Weather submenu. ( www.yousoftware.com; $50)
  • You Control: File System: Another You Control module, this one provides a hierarchical menu of user-selected files, folders, and volumes; select an item to open it in the Finder. My File System menu includes mounted volumes, my home folder, and my Documents folder.
  • WinSwitch: Gives you the benefits of Fast User Switching without having to use a menu as wide as your long username. You can instead use your short username, a simple accounts icon, or -- as I've done -- your account picture. (   , June 2004 ; winswitch.wincent.com/; $5)
  • Stock Apple Item: Input Menu: Enabled via the International pane of System Preferences, I use the Input Menu for quick access to Apple's Character Palette and Keyboard Viewer.
  • Stock Apple Item: Script Menu: Enabled via the Install Script Menu utility in /Applications/AppleScript, the Script Menu provides quick access to AppleScripts -- both application-specific scripts and system-wide ones.
  • Stock Apple Item: VPN Menu: Enabled via Internet Connect, the VPN Menu lets you quickly connect to and disconnect from VPNs. It can also be configured to show connection status and time.
  • Stock Apple Item: Bluetooth Menu: Enabled via Bluetooth preferences, the Bluetooth menu lets you enable/disable Bluetooth, set up new Bluetooth devices, and send files to another device via Bluetooth.
  • SoundSource: Lets you easily switch between desired sound input sources and audio outputs. You can even choose a different output device for system sounds; for example, you can play music through external speakers, but have your alert sounds play through your Mac's tiny (and quieter) internal speaker. (   ; November 2004; www.rogueamoeba.com/freebies; free)
  • Ejector 0.6: Easily eject mounted volumes -- CDs, DVDs, iPods, FireWire drives, network volumes -- using this simple menu. Ejector is also a handy way to figure out if your iDisk is actually mounted. (   , November 2004; www.jeb.com.fr/en/ejector.shtml; donationware)
  • Rating Bar: Lets you rate the track currently playing in iTunes by simply clicking in the menu bar. I use ratings extensively -- mainly for Smart Playlists -- and I've found Rating Bar to be the easiest way to rate tracks without having to sit in front of iTunes and rate songs in bulk (   , January 2004 ; www.beveragesoftware.com; free)
  • MenuPrefs: Provides quick access to System Preferences panes -- all of them, or just your favorites. You can also choose to have the menu organized alphabetically, by category, by location (System, Library, or User PreferencePanes folder), or in an order you create. (   , June 2004 ; www.ithinksw.com/products/menuprefs; $5)
  • iDisk Menu: If you have multiple .Mac accounts, OS X doesn't provide an easy way to mount your iDisks without having to enter your member name and password each time. Instead, just enter the information in iDisk Menu once, and you can then connect to any of your iDisks by choosing it from the menu. You can also use iDisk Menu to connect to other user's iDisks and to mount other WebDAV and FTP servers in the Finder. ( www.arizona-software.ch/developer/; free)
  • Clipboard Sharing: Via the magic of Rendezvous, lets you share -- over a local network -- your clipboard with other computers running Clipboard Sharing, and access those computers' own clipboards. By entering a remote computer's IP address, you can even share/access clipboards over the Internet. (   , Mac Gems Online ; www.lagercrantz.ath.cx/software/clipboardsharing/; donationware)
  • iPaste: Stores "clips" of information -- text, images, etc. -- that you tend to use frequently and lets you paste those clips into any document or text field. It also keeps track of the ten most recent clipboard contents. (   , August 2004 ; www.iggsoftware.com/; $5)
  • iSeek: Via a keyboard shortcut -- in my case, command+option+/ -- you can search any of a number of websites by simply typing your search term into the search field that appears in the menu bar. You use the arrow keys to change the site being searched, and the return key starts the search. I've yet to find a more convenient way to search the web. (   , January 2004 ; www.ambrosiasw.com/utilities/iseek/; $15)
  • You Control: Fonts: Also a You Control module, but one that you purchase separately. The Fonts module menu groups your fonts into families and shows them, via hierarchical menus, in their own typeface so you can see exactly what each font looks like before using it in a document. Choosing a font from the menu switches to that font in the current application, just as you would expect. The Fonts menu also provides detailed information about each font. ( www.yousoftware.com; $30)

On my PowerBook, I also have Apple's AirPort Menu enabled. The only problem with having so many menu bar utilities is that some applications hog the menu bar thanks to their many menus, and a few of these will overlap my left-most custom menu items. When this happens, I have to switch to another application to see those items. But it's still worth it to me to have such easy access to all this functionality.

Have a favorite menu bar utility that I didn't mention? Leave a comment in the Macworld forums via the comment link below.

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