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The Apple Menu

In 1984, Apple introduced what many MS Windows users now call the Start menu. The Apple menu has provided an access point for small applications and system controls. Originally, the Mac OS allowed only special applications called Desk Accessories to exist in the Apple menu. Later, the menu became a simple folder that a user could place an application or folder in, and then access that item from within any application, at any time.

Unfortunately, the Apple menu also became the dumping point for just about anything. Applications that could best be described as control panels (because they configured system-wide functionality) started to show up under the Apple menu. The more complex the menu became, the less user friendly was the result. Under Mac OS X, this has been corrected by restricting the Apple menu to system-wide tasks that are helpful to anyone using the operating system. The Mac OS X Apple menu is seen in Figure 3.6.

Figure 3.6 The Mac OS X menu can be used to access common system-wide functions.

The choices that are now available from the Apple menu are

  • About This Mac—Displays information about the computer. This shows the current version of the operating system, the amount of available memory, and the type of processor that the system is using.

  • Get Mac OS X Software...—Launches the user's preferred Web browser and loads the URL http://www.apple.com/downloads/macosx/. There, you can download third-party applications from Apple's list of available OS X software.

  • System Preferences...—The equivalent of the traditional control panels, the System Preferences... selection launches the application used to control almost all aspects of the Mac OS X configuration.

  • Dock—The Mac OS X Dock is one of the most visible additions to the new operating system—it is also one of the most controversial. This submenu provides quick access to common functions, such as the ability to hide the Dock. These functions, as you might expect, are also located in System Preferences.

  • Location—The Location submenu allows you to quickly reconfigure the Mac OS X network settings. This is the equivalent of the Location Manager Control Strip module. Unfortunately, Mac OS X can only alter network settings based on location, severely limiting the versatility provided in earlier versions of the Mac OS. Locations are configured within System Preferences. Future versions of Mac OS X might bring back Location Manager functionality, but for now, this will have to suffice.

  • Recent Items—Displays the most recently launched applications and documents. This submenu is visible in Figure 3.6.

  • Force Quit...—Causes the currently active application to quit, regardless of its current state. This is the equivalent of pressing Command+Option+Escape to force an application that has hung to exit. Unlike Mac OS 8 or 9, forcing an application to quit in Mac OS X does not disrupt operating system stability.

  • Sleep—Places your computer in a sleep state that requires very little power and can be started in a matter of seconds without the need for a full reboot. PowerBook/iBook users might want to shut down completely rather than put their computers to sleep. The power drain for these machines is higher than in Mac OS 8/9. It works, but you might find that your battery life has decreased from what you are accustomed.

  • Restart—Closes all applications, prompts the user to save open files, and gracefully reboots the computer.

  • Shut Down—Closes all applications, prompts the user to save open files, and shuts down the computer.

  • Log Out...—Closes all applications, prompts the user to save open files, and then returns to the Mac OS X login screen. If Mac OS X has not been configured to display a login screen (the default state), the system will simply shut down all open applications and return to the initial power-on state.


Three of the eleven Apple menu items can be accessed by pressing Command+Eject on the new Apple keyboards. This keystroke will display a dialog box with Restart, Shutdown, and Sleep options.

If you're the lucky owner of a machine with a power button on the keyboard, pressing the power button will have the same effect. Pressing the power button on an Apple monitor or computer will put the machine to sleep.

What's Changed?

For the most part, the Apple menu should seem familiar to Mac users, but is likely to leave some wondering where a few of the features have gone. The best phrase to keep repeating to yourself is, with all due respect to the late Douglas Adams, "Don't Panic!" Most of the features you are looking for are still present, they've just moved around. Here are the common Apple menu items, and where they've gone:

  • AirPort—The AirPort functionality is now moved to the Menu Extras as well as the System Preferences. Chapter 9 will provide information about the Mac OS X AirPort monitoring and configuration tools.

  • System Profiler—An OS X native version of the Apple System Profiler is located in the system Utilities folder.

  • Calculator—A Mac OS X calculator is located in the system Applications folder.

  • Chooser—After 15 years of existence, the Mac OS loses the Chooser! Mac OS X moves the functionality of mounting network volumes directly into the Finder, within the Go menu. Printer selection is handled by the Print Center application. Network connections will be covered at length in Chapter 9, whereas Print Center is documented in Chapter 10, "Printer and Font Configuration."

  • Recent Applications/Recent Documents—These menu items have moved to a single submenu, Recent Items. Mac OS X also adds a Recent Folders menu to the Finder so that you can quickly return to your most frequently visited locations.

  • Favorites—The Favorites menu has become integrated with the various network and file system features of Mac OS X.

  • Key Caps—A Mac OS X Key Caps program is located in the system Utilities folder.

  • Sherlock—Access to the Sherlock search utility is now consolidated to the Finder's Find command, located in the File menu. By default, Sherlock is also found directly in the Dock and can always be launched as an application from the system Applications folder.

  • Speakable Items—Although it is no longer accessible under the Apple menu, the Speakable Items folder still exists. You can have the system open it automatically for you from within the Speech panel of System Preferences. You can also find it by going to your home directory, opening the Library folder, and then opening the Speech folder inside of that (~/Library/Speech/Speakable Items/ from the Finder's Go To Folder..." option under Go).

  • Stickies—The Stickies application has been rewritten with new features for OS X. It can be found in the system Applications folder.

The remainder of the Mac OS Apple menu items have either gone the way of the dodo, or have become directly integrated into the Finder. The good news is that the functionality is still present. The bad news is that you're going to have to do some clicking to find it.

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