Reduce wasted menubar space

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Way back in Mac OS 9, you used to be able to tell what application you were in by looking at the application menu, which lived at the far right of the menubar. But in OS X, this menu is gone. Instead, the full name of the active application displays in the menubar, between the iconic Apple logo and the File menu. Usually that’s no big deal. The File menu’s onscreen position might jump around a bit if the application name is particularly long or short, but most people probably don’t notice this at all.

You might have noticed, however, if your screen real estate is limited. On a 12-inch PowerBook there’s usually plenty of room for short application names—BBEdit, Finder, Safari, iChat—but launch Photoshop Elements (or any other app with a long-winded name) and prepare to lose fully 15 percent of your menubar space—nearly 150 pixels from the 1024 available! If you use even a few menubar icons and the menubar clock, you’ll quickly discover that the name Photoshop Elements causes icons to vanish. There’s just not enough room to display them, and the application menu has priority.

If you could just shorten the application’s name somehow, you could recover a significant amount of menubar space, as shown here:

Here I’ve made the system believe that Photoshop Elements is really called PSE3, and in the process recovered the pixels highlighted in yellow. This allowed me to bring back three menubar icons that were previously invisible.

No, you can’t work this magic by renaming the application in the Finder—all that will do is change the program’s name in the Dock and Command-Tab application switcher. You have to change the displayed name from within the program and there are two ways to do that—the easy way, and the free way.

The Easy Way

The easiest way to solve this problem is to purchase Unsanity’s $10 FruitMenu. This program not only lets you customize the Apple menu (another OS 9 feature that went the way of the dinosaurs with the release of OS X) to your heart’s content, but you can also choose to show the application’s icon in the menubar, in lieu of its name. This is a great spacesaver that still provides you a visual clue as to the active application.

What are the downsides? Well, it’s not free, and you’ll have to install a preferences panel known as APE, or Application Program Enhancer, in addition to FruitMenu. APE, which installs itself in all running apps on your machine, lets FruitMenu (and the other Unsanity applications) do its thing. Some people don’t like running such extensions, though Unsanity has shown that APE is a stable, mature technology.

The Free Way

The free (but more difficult) way of recovering lost menubar space is to make the changes yourself. It’s not overly difficult, but as with anything that modifies existing programs, you’ll want to make a backup first, just in case. Within the harder-but-free solution, exactly what you must do varies based on whether or not you have Apple’s Developer Tools (also know as Xcode Tools) installed. (You’ll find the Developer Tools on your OS X installation CD. Once installed, they reside at the root of your hard drive in the Developer folder.)

The first steps of this process are the same no matter what you have installed. To begin, go to your Applications folder and find the program with the menubar name you wish to shorten. Make sure the application is not running, and then make a duplicate of it—just in case something goes wrong during this simple procedure. Next, control-click on the application icon and choose Show Package Contents from the contextual menu. Navigate into the Contents folder, and look for a file named Info.plist .

Note: In some rare cases, you may not see an Info.plist file. Instead, you’ll see one named Info-macos.plist . If so, go ahead and edit that one; it’s the functional equivalent. (The difference in naming conventions is due to developers who want a specific plist file for OS X, and potentially another for Classic. A plist file for Classic would be named Info-macosclassic.plist .)

What to do next depends on whether or not you have the Developer tools installed:

With the Developer tools installed

Since you have the Developer tools, you can just double-click the Info.plist file, and it will open in the Property List Editor utility. Click the triangle next to Root to reveal the code. Now find CFBundleName in the list, double-click on the entry in the Value column, and type a new name for the application. In my case, I changed Photoshop Elements into PSE3 . Save the file and quit Property List Editor, and now jump ahead to the Wrap Up section.

Without Xcode installed

The easiest way to make the changes you need to make is to use TextEdit. Control-click on the Info.plist file, and choose the Open With menu item. This will slide out a drop-down menu, listing any number of applications. If you see TextEdit in the list, choose it; if you don’t, scroll to the bottom and select Other, then navigate to TextEdit and double-click it. You should then see the Info.plist file opened in TextEdit, ready for editing. Hit Command-F to run a find, and search for CFBundleName . TextEdit will jump down to the proper area in the document, where you should see something like this:

	<string>3.0x199,  ©1990-2004 Adobe Systems Incorporated</string>
	<string>Photoshop Elements</string>

This code appears in the Photoshop Elements preference file. Exactly what you’ll see will depend on what application’s file you’ve opened. Regardless, though, you’re looking for the CFBundleName line. The line below that is the one you need to change. Leave the string tags in place, and replace the text with the name as you’d like it to appear. For example, here’s the entry I used to get PSE3 in place of Photoshop Elements:

	<string>3.0x199,  ©1990-2004 Adobe Systems Incorporated</string>

When you’re done, save and close the file.

Wrap Up

That’s it, you’re done! Launch your modified application, and you should see the newly-shortened name in the menubar. If you really hate long names and want to change all of your apps, then FruitMenu is probably your best bet. But if you only have a few you wish to modify, doing it yourself is just a simple editing job. (Though I’ll reiterate, please make a backup of anything you intend to modify!)

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