It feels a bit odd to call today’s Gem, MaxMenus a Promising Prospect. After all, Promising Prospects are usually brand-new products that aren’t quite ready for rating or recommendation, but that show a lot of potential. MaxMenus, on the other hand, was originally released back in 2001 or 2002, in the early days of Mac OS X—it was a Mac Gem, in fact, in our July 2002 issue and a Mac OS X Hints “Pick of the Week” back in December 2002. But as Mac OS X matured, MaxMenus didn’t keep up, and sometime over the past five or so years, MaxMenus stopped working with the latest versions of Mac OS X. There were even times when the developer of MaxMenus, Proteron, essentially dropped off the ‘net.
Proteron eventually released a Mac OS X 10.5-compatible version of MaxMenus, but when Snow Leopard (10.6) was released, MaxMenus again became a casualty of progress. So I was happy to hear, earlier this year, that Proteron had quietly resurfaced with Snow Leopard-compatible beta versions of both MaxMenus and LiteSwitchX (also a long-time favorite of mine).
If you’ve never used MaxMenus, it’s a Mac OS X System Preferences pane that lets you create multiple custom, hierarchical menus for quickly accessing your favorite files, folders, and programs. The number of menus you can have is, for practical purposes, unlimited. You can assign a menu to each corner of each display—just click in a corner to display that menu—plus create alternate menus that appear only when you click while holding down one or more modifier keys. That’s over 40 different menus for each display (up to two displays) connected to your Mac. But you can also create a menu that appears whenever you click in an open area of the menu bar (a la FinderPop), and you can create menus that appear under your mouse cursor when you press the keyboard shortcut of your choosing. Given how many possible keyboard shortcuts there are, it’s safe to say you’ll never run out of menus.
You can stock any MaxMenus menu with as many items as you like. For example, drag a file or folder into a menu’s configuration screen, and that item appears in the menu; you choose whether a folder appears as a single entry or if its contents appear instead. The program also provides a slew of pre-configured items you can include in any menu: mounted volumes, System Preferences, open programs, recent applications or documents, the contents of /Applications, and each of the folders inside your Home folder. You can even add separators and text labels within any menu.
For each menu, you can choose the size of the text and icons. For each item within a folder, you can choose a custom name, whether or not to display an icon, and (for folders) choose how folder contents are sorted and whether or not documents are displayed.
(MaxMenus comes pre-configured with 11 menus—two or three for each corner of your Mac’s primary display. The program’s Help file explains the contents of each menu as well as how to access it. You can delete any of these menus at any time.)
As you might expect, you can navigate unlimited levels down into a folder’s hierarchy, and choosing any item from one of MaxMenus’ menus opens that item. But MaxMenus lets you do much more. Perhaps the most popular feature for many users is the capability to assign keyboard shortcuts to items on the fly. While an item is highlighted in a MaxMenus menu, simply press the desired keyboard shortcut; that shortcut is assigned immediately, and the shortcut’s keys are displayed next to the item in the menu. (You can remove any shortcut by highlighting the item in the menu and pressing the Delete key. The MaxMenus preference pane also lets you manage these shortcuts, as well as to assign a keyboard shortcut to any item on your hard drive, even if it doesn’t appear in a MaxMenus menu.)
There are also keyboard shortcuts you can use within menus. For example, select a mounted volume in a MaxMenus menu and press Command+E to eject the volume; select any file or folder and press Command+Delete to move the item to the Trash; or select an item and press Command+I to use the Finder’s Get Info command on the item. Similar to the behavior of the Dock, if you Command+click an item in a MaxMenus menu, the item is revealed in the Finder.
As with folders in the Finder, MaxMenus’ menus—and folders in those menus—are spring-loaded, meaning you can drop an item onto a MaxMenus menu and then navigate to the location you want to move or copy that item. (You can create an alias to an item using the Finder’s Command+Option shortcut while dragging.) Similarly, you can drag an item onto an application icon in a MaxMenus menu to open the item in that program. Finally, if you’re navigating a menu and you see an item you want to move or copy elsewhere, you just highlight the item and press Command+G to “grab” it and then drag it where you want it.
I’ve been using the Snow Leopard-compatible version of MaxMenus since the first beta and it’s (again) become one of my most-used system add-ons—I access my custom menus literally scores of times each day.
Of course, the current version is a beta, and it does have some issues. For example, I’ve found the “grab” feature to be less than reliable, and you can’t test your menu settings while the MaxMenus preference pane is open—you must close System Preferences and wait a few moments for MaxMenus to activate its menus again. I’d also like to see better menu-management features—for example, the capability to have the same menu accessible via multiple locations or actions, and a way to duplicate an existing set of menu contents for use in another menu.
But perhaps the biggest issue with this beta version of MaxMenus is uncertainty. The Proteron Website still isn’t up and running—only the home page is functioning, and it’s outdated. Even the company’s online store is down, which means you can’t currently pay for MaxMenus (and, thus, you won’t be able to get rid of the annoying daily nag dialog that reminds you to pay for the program). I’ve contacted Proteron to ask for a status update, but haven’t received a response.
Hopefully Proteron isn’t done with MaxMenus and we’ll soon see an official release—along with a way to purchase it. The program’s prospects for (again) becoming a Mac Gem are, well, promising.
(Because the Proteron Website is currently messy, here’s a direct link to download MaxMenus 1.6b2.)
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