Get more from the OS X menu bar

The menu bar in OS X (s aapl) doesn’t just contain the menus for the application you’re currently using; it can also hold all sorts of helpful extras that can be accessed from any application with just one click. Here are a few of those extras, plus some handy tips for use in the menu bar.

Free menu extras

There are a few icons that are in the menu bar by default, such as the Wi-Fi menu, the date and time display and the volume menu. There are also a lot of built-in system menus available, but not shown by default. To find them, navigate to System > Library > CoreServices > Menu Extras in the Finder. Here you’ll find even more menu items, such as an Eject item, which lets you eject CDs and DVDs from your optical drive, and Universal Access menu. To add one to the menu bar, simply double-click it in the Finder.

Another way to find additional menus for the menu bar is in the Mac App Store. There are hundreds available, but here are a couple which really stand out.

  • MenuWeather Lite. This lets you put a weather forecast in your menu bar. You can choose for the icon to display either a temperature (in either celsius or fahrenheit), an icon to show the forecast, or both. The functionality doesn’t stop there, though; if you click on the icon, you can see details about the current conditions, a five-day forecast and access the preferences. MenuWeather Lite is free, and although there is a paid version with a few more features, the Lite version is good enough for my needs. It can be downloaded from the Mac App Store.
  • Brightness menu bar. Similar to the built-in volume menu item, this adds a slider which allows you to control the brightness of your Mac’s screen. This is really good if you don’t have an Apple keyboard which has the brightness control keys on F1 and F2. The only downside is, like the keyboard keys, this only controls the brightness of your Mac’s built-in display, not any external displays you may have connected. Brightness menu bar is also free, and again, available in the Mac App Store. If you’re looking for a way to control external display brightness from the menu bard, check out Shades.

Tips and tricks

Here are a few tricks to get more from the menus you already have, without downloading new ones:

  • Hold the option key. Nearly all of the built-in menu items have some hidden extras that reveal themselves if you hold “option” before clicking them. For example, if you hold option and click the Wi-Fi menu, you’ll see some extra information about your current Wi-Fi connection, such as the channel the router is set to and the type of security used. Even more useful: Holding option and clicking the volume button will let you quick choose from your available audio input and output options. Some other menu items with extras include the Bluetooth menu, which allows you to see extra information, and the battery menu which tells you the condition of your battery if you hold option.
  • Hold the command key. If you hold the command key and drag a menu icon, you can change the order of the icons in the men bar. This only works with the built-in ones for some reason, and excludes Spotlight (which has to stay on the far right). You can also hold command and drag an icon off the menu bar to remove it altogether.
  • Make the menu bar opaque. If you don’t like being able to see the desktop through the menu bar, you can set it to be opaque. Open System Preferences and open the Dock & Screensaver pane. Under the Desktop tab is a checkbox called Translucent menu bar; uncheck that to set the menu bar to opaque.
Any other great menu bar utilities or tips/tricks/hacks to share? Let us know in the comments.