Menulets: Apple's Little Helpers
By Graham K. Rogers
Earlier Mac operating systems had a number of ways that allowed a user to control operations including the Apple menu and the control strip. With OSX, the former had its functions reduced; the control strip disappeared and was in part replaced by the enhanced Dock. There was, and is, the menubar.
On the left side of the menubar is the menu for the current program. To the right are menubar icons: menulets (or menu extras). Operating these allow instant access to functions that could otherwise be hidden in the system preferences or in unactivated programs. A quick click and the user is in charge.
Some icons cannot be moved but with others, holding down the Apple key and clicking, allows the icon to be moved; or it may be dropped onto the desktop to disappear like a Dock icon.
From left to right, here are my menulets and how they work:
- Having access to weather information is useful. Meteorologist is a small program written by a student in the US. It may be downloaded from http://www.versiontracker.com and appears as a disk image. This is moved to the Applications folder. When started for the first time, a "cities" panel is displayed. Type the name of the town you need information for. http://www.weather.com is the default and, when you are online, it downloads data for current conditions and up to ten days of extended forecasts. The time interval to check for data can be adjusted.
Settings may be changed in terms of units (e.g. celsius or fahrenheit), update frequency, display (I changed the menu colour) and other details. If you are online for only a short time, you can order Meteorologist to update. The time for this varies (of course) but usually took less than a minute. I added Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Songkhla to my list of cities. I was unable to get Meteorologist to work at my office due to the firewall.
- The little mobile phone icon is one of the more exciting. It is Clicker, an application that allows use of an Ericsson Bluetooth phone with the Macintosh. This little gem came from Jonas Salling at and the use of this was covered on 19 March 2003.
- One of the most useful icons when I first ran OSX was Classic Spy, which starts up "Classic": system 9. Instead of activating the System Preferences, or clicking on a Classic application (or file) this is a far neater way; and once finished, the icon can be used to close Classic. When Classic is running the icon displays a 9 instead of X.
- The Bluetooth icon changes depending on use. With no adapter attached to a USB port, the icon is greyed and has a wavy line through it. When the adapter is plugged in, the Bluetooth symbol is displayed clearly.
When the computer is actually linked to a device (for example, when Clicker is running), the icon greys and three horizontal dots appear: an instant guide to status.
There is a fourth Bluetooth icon: one with a cross (X). If this appears, Bluetooth has a problem. Taking the adapter out and replacing it may not fix this and it will need a restart.
Accessing the Bluetooth menu allows several functions: current devices, new devices, and access to System Preferences.
- The menulet I use most is the Telephone icon -- the one that looks like it is emitting a signal. This is for modem access. It is activated initially from the Modem panel in Network preferences. With this menulet, I can simply activate the modem with one click on Connect.
I can also open "Internet Connect" which allows me to change settings. The alternative would be three clicks: on the hard disk, on the Applications icon, then on the application itself.
- Apple did not really intend the Eject icon for the iMac but for tray-loading CDROMs where there is no eject key. To install this, in the Finder menu, click on the Go menu and select "Go To Folder". In the panel, type /System/Library/CoreServices/Menu Extras/ and press the Go button. Click twice on the "Eject" folder.
- The Sound icon reveals a simple slider: up for loud; down for quiet. As the volume changes, so the tiny arcs increase or decrease: a visual guide to output. These arcs also change when the keyboard volume controls are used.
- The Time icon can display the current time either in text or as a tiny clock. Put the cursor on the icon and you can view the date (always grey rather than black) and access the time settings in System Preferences.
- Although I rarely use iChat, I keep the icon there as a quick way into the application should I need it when online.
- The penultimate menulet is for Displays and allows one to change settings on any monitor. It is also a shortcut to the Displays settings in System Preferences.
- The final icon on my menubar is a simple calendar. Click once and the current month is displayed (with the day highlighted); click again and the panel disappears. MenuCalendar was available at Versiontracker. It was created by Guido Neitzer (firstname.lastname@example.org).
- I recently found another four menulets that came together in one package and monitor computer activity. The whole package is known as "MenuMeters" and this was the work of one Alex Harper. The package installs in the username/library/PreferencePanes folder (like Clicker) and contains tools to display CPU activity, disk activity, memory use and network.
Each of these has several settings (graphs, numerical data, arrows, "thermometer"), or a combination of these. Not only do these display computer data but allow access to several other related utilities. Each icon is a bit small but the pull-down menus revealed display plenty of useful data.
There is also an AppleScript icon that I found in the AppleScript folder -- scripts are something like a DOS batch file (remember those?). Moving the Script Menu folder to the menubar gives a selection of pre-written scripts to play with.
(One icon I do not have on my home computer -- will Broadband ever arrive? -- is the Ethernet icon for showing PPoE status (Point to Point on Ethernet). This would only be valid where Ethernet connections were in use.)
Other menu extras are for the Airport network, battery condition (on a laptop), and a PC Card menu. The official Apple ones are all kept in that Menu Extras folder. According to David Pogue (Mac OSX: The Missing Manual), if you boot into System 9 these menu-folders can be opened and the .tiff file in each can be altered in a graphics program.
Although I have 16 menulets (I like the way they work), we are getting a bit squeezed for space and some disappear if I am using an application with a wider menu. Those icons with text displays exacerbate this problem.
I like the way that the menulets give me flexibility in operating the computer; and I like the way they give me quick access to make operating changes and to System Preferences.
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