Working with Mac OS X Menus

One of the strengths of the Mac OS is that it has always featured certain menus that were very similar in all applications. Although the "standard" menus in Mac OS X are different than they were in previous versions of the OS, they are still consistent on the desktop and from application to application.

The Mac OS X Apple Menu

One of the staples of the Mac desktop has been the Apple menu. The Apple menu's main purpose has always been to provide access to certain items while you were working on the desktop as well as from within any application. Under previous versions of the Mac OS, the best thing about the Apple menu was that you could completely customize its contents so that you could access anything on your Mac from it.

Under Mac OS X, the Apple menu exists, but its functionality has changed significantly from previous versions. The Mac OS X Apple menu still provides access to specific commands from the desktop or from within any application. However, all the customizable aspects that it had in previous versions are now handled by the Dock or the Favorites feature.


The Apple menu was not part of early versions of Mac OS X at all. Rather than being a menu, the Apple icon appeared in the center of the menu bar, and did not have a menu associated with it. Because many longtime Mac users were unhappy about this, Apple added the Apple menu back, although certainly not with the same form or substance as the Apple menu in previous versions. This might require some significant changes in the way many Mac users work, but that's progress, right?

The Mac OS X Apple menu contains commands listed in Table 4.1.

Table 4.1. Commands on the Mac OS X Apple Menu
Command What It Does
About This Mac Opens a window showing the version of Mac OS X installed, the physical RAM installed, and the number and type of processors. You can also open the Apple System Profiler from this window to get more information about your Mac.
Get Mac OS X Software Opens the default Web browser and moves to the Mac OS X software downloads Web page.
System Preferences Opens the System Preferences utility.
Dock Provides control over the Dock's magnification and other configuration properties and enables you to open the Dock Preferences pane of the System Preferences utility.
Location Enables you to choose a location for your Mac, which changes the network settings you are using.
Recent Items Provides a menu of applications and documents you have recently accessed; you can choose an item to move back to it. The menu is organized into separate sections for applications or documents. It also has the Clear Recent Items command, which clears the menu. (You access recent folders or servers from the Finder Go menu.)
Force Quit Opens the Force Quit Applications window that enables you to kill open applications (for example, when they are hung).
Sleep Puts the Mac to sleep.
Restart Restarts the Mac.
Shut Down Shuts down the Mac.
Log Out Logs the current user off the Mac and opens the Login dialog box.

To learn more about working with locations, see "Configuring and Using Locations," p. 872.

To learn more about Mac OS X's Force Quit command, see "Controlling Open Applications," p. 201. (Chapter 8)


If you use an Apple Cinema Display, you can put your Mac to sleep by pressing the Power button on the display.

Mac OS X Application Menus

Under Mac OS X, every application has its own Application menu. The Application menu provides the commands you use to control the application you are working in. There is a certain set of commands that are consistent among all Mac OS X applications. Specific applications can have more commands on their Application menus, but they must support certain basic commands on that menu. The name of the Application menu is the name of the application itself. For example, the Finder's Application menu is "Finder."


If you have used previous versions of the Mac OS, don't confuse the Application menu in those versions with Application menus under Mac OS X. In previous Mac OS versions, the Application menu was a single menu that showed you all the applications that were running on the computer; this menu was always located in the upper-right corner of the desktop. You used the Application menu to hide or show applications as well as to switch between running applications. Under Mac OS X, this functionality is provided by the Dock and the Application menus.

The following commands appear on all Application menus:

  • About The About command displays version information about the application. Some About windows also provide links to support sites, the publisher's Web site, and so on. The Finder's About command displays the version of the Finder you are using, which was Mac OS X (v10.2.1) when this book was written.

  • Preferences You use the Preferences command to set the preferences for an application. For example, you can use Finder Preferences to control specific properties of the desktop.

    To learn about Finder Preferences, see "Changing the Desktop's Appearance," p. 100.

  • Hide and Show commands The Hide and Show commands enable you to control which running applications are visible. There are three of these commands on the Application menu. The Hide CurrentApplication command (where CurrentApplication is the name of the running application) hides the current application. The Hide Others command hides all the running applications except the current one. The Show All command shows all open applications.

All Application menus, except the Finder menu, also contain the following commands:

  • Quit The Quit command does the same thing as it always has?it stops the running application.

  • Services This Services command on the Application menu is actually a new set of commands for Mac OS X. The purpose of these commands is to enable you to work with other applications from within the current application. For example, if you are using the TextEdit word processing application, you will see the Grab command on its Services menu. Choosing this command activates the Grab application that enables you to capture something on the screen. After you capture the image, it is automatically pasted into the TextEdit document. There are many other commands you will see on this menu; the commands available to you depend on the applications installed on your Mac.

To learn more about using the Services command with Mac OS X applications, see "Working with Mac OS X Application Menus," p. 129.

The Finder's Application menu (the Finder menu) also has the Empty Trash command, which is unique to its Application menu (the Application menu in other applications can also contain unique commands).


The keyboard shortcut for the Quit command hasn't changed. It is still graphics/symbol.gif+Q. When you are working on the desktop, graphics/symbol.gif+Q doesn't do anything because you can't quit the Finder. However, you can relaunch the Finder using the Force Quit command.

Mac OS X File Menus

The Mac has always had a File menu; under Mac OS X, this menu is more "pure" than it was in previous versions of the OS. For example, in previous versions, the File menu contained commands for working with files as well as controlling the application. Under Mac OS X, the File menu contains only commands for working with files or folders.

The specific commands you see on an application's File menu depend on the application. Most applications' File menus will have the New, Open, Save, Save As, Print, and Page Setup commands. There might be many other commands on the File menu as well.

The Finder's File menu contains the commands listed in Table 4.2.

Table 4.2. Commands on the Finder's File Menu
Command What It Does
New Finder Window Opens a new Finder window
New Folder Creates a new folder
Open Opens the selected item
Open With Enables you to open a selected file with a specific application
Close Window Closes the active window
Get Info Opens the Info window
Duplicate Creates a duplicate of the selected item
Make Alias Creates an alias of the selected item
Show Original Exposes the original item for which an alias was created
Add to Favorites Adds an alias of the selected item to the Favorites directory
Move to Trash Moves the selected item to the Trash
Eject Ejects the selected item (disc, server volume, and so on)
Burn Disc Burns the selected CD or DVD
Find Opens the Finder's Find tool so that you can locate files and folders

Mac OS X Edit Menus

Under Mac OS X, the Edit menu is much as it has always been. The Edit menu contains commands for editing, or changing, data. The commands that will always appear on the Edit menu are Cut, Copy, and Paste. Applications can provide many more commands on this menu, such as Undo, Redo, Select All, and so on.

In addition to the standard Edit commands, the Finder's Edit menu also has the Select All command, which selects everything in the active window, and the Show Clipboard command, which shows what has been copied to the Clipboard.

The Finder View Menu

The Finder's View menu contains the commands you use to view Finder windows.

To learn about using the Finder's View commands, see Chapter 3, "Viewing and Navigating Mac OS X Finder Windows," p. 41.

The Finder Go Menu

The Finder's Go menu is new with Mac OS X. As you might guess from its name, this menu contains commands you use to go places. The Go menu enables you to move to the following locations:

  • Back or Forward You can move among the windows in a chain of open Finder windows by using the Back and Forward commands.

  • Directories You can move to any of the directories listed on the Go menu by choosing the directory you want to move into.

  • Favorites This command provides a menu that enables you to choose any of the items stored in your Favorites directory.

  • Recent Folders This command lists the ten most recent folders you have used; choose a folder to return to it.

  • Folders Use the Go To Folder command to enter the path to a specific folder to open it.

  • Servers Use the Connect To Server command to open a server on your network.

To learn how to use the Go menu to navigate directories, see "Changing Directories with the Go Menu," p. 56.

To learn how to connect to servers, see "Accessing Shared Files from a Mac OS X Computer," p. 732.

Mac OS X Window Menus

Another standard Mac OS X menu is the Window menu. This menu provides commands you use to work with windows that are currently open. Common choices on the Window menu include the following:

  • Minimize Window This does the same thing as clicking the Minimize button in a window?it moves the window onto the Dock.

  • Bring All to Front This command brings all open windows to the front. For example, if you have a lot of open Finder windows, and then you switch to an application and then back to the Finder, you might not see all your open Finder windows. If you use this command, they will all come to the foreground so that you can see them.

  • List of Open Windows The Window menu always displays a list of the windows open for the application providing that menu. You can switch to an open window by choosing it on the menu.

  • Close Window This closes the active window. (You won't see this command on the Finder's Window menu.)

  • Zoom Window This does the same thing as the Maximize button.


The Window menu is not really new; many Mac applications have always used a Window menu to enable you to switch between open documents. However, the menu is new to the Finder, and because it is now a system function, it should appear in all applications.

The active window in the application you are currently using is marked with some sort of icon. The active Finder window is marked with a diamond; other applications might use a different indicator (for example, Word's menu uses a check mark). Be aware that a window can be both active and minimized, in which case the active icon on the Window menu can help you identify the active window even if you can't see that window.

You might see more or fewer commands on the Window menu when you are working in specific applications, but the previous list contains most of the "standard" Window menu choices.


Note that the Window menu provided by Classic applications is not the same as the Window menu provided by Carbonized or Cocoa applications. For example, if you are running the Classic version of Word 2001, you will see its Window menu rather than one provided by Mac OS X (so you won't see the Minimize or other commands you would expect to see on an OS X Window menu).

Mac OS X Help Menus

Most applications provide a Help menu that enables you to open their help system.

The Finder's Help menu contains one command?Mac Help. This command opens the Mac Help application, which provides extensive help for many areas of the OS. Many applications you install integrate their help system into the OS's help system. This enables you to access plenty of help from one place.

The Help application is based on HTML, so it works the same way Web pages do. You can search for help and click links and buttons to access information and move around.

The Help Center icon in the Help Center's toolbar takes you back to the Help Center home page, which lists each of the help systems that can be accessed by the Mac Help application (see Figure 4.2).

Figure 4.2. The Mac Help Center Home page lists each help system that can be accessed by the Mac Help application.



When you search for help, you will frequently see the Tell Me More link. This link opens another Answers page that will contain topics that are related to the one for which you searched.

New to Mac OS X is the ability for the Help Center to download new help resources from the Internet. Occasionally, you will see the Help Center downloading resources for help you request.

Some help pages will assist you in performing the action about which you are asking by providing hyperlinks that open the related application or resource.

Mac OS X Contextual Menus

As with previous versions of the OS, Mac OS X supports contextual menus. Contextual menus are pop-up menus that appear in various locations and contain commands specifically related to the context in which you are working. You can access contextual menus by pointing to an "object"that provides a contextual menu, holding down the Control key, and clicking the mouse button. The contextual menu will appear and you can choose a command from it.

The desktop and Finder provide contextual menus as do many applications, including those not provided by Apple. For example, the Microsoft Office application provides excellent support for contextual menus.


Most Mac OS 9 applications still provide their contextual menus when you run them under the Mac OS X Classic environment.

In Finder windows or on the desktop, you can tell when a contextual menu is provided by pointing to something and pressing the Control key. If a contextual menu is available, you will see the contextual menu pointer, which is a small rectangle containing horizontal lines. When you see this pointer, click the mouse button to see the menu.


Contextual menus are one of the best arguments for using something other than the standard Apple mouse. A mouse or other input device that has more than one button enables you to program a second button to open contextual menus, making them much more accessible. This is one area where Windows has been ahead of the Mac for some time; all Windows mice have at least two buttons.

    Part I: Mac OS X: Exploring the Core
    Part III: Mac OS X: Living the Digital Lifestyle