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The Application Menu

When an application launches in Mac OS X, it creates an application menu based on its own name, and places it in the first position after Apple on the menu bar. For example, if you start an application named TextEdit, the first menu item after Apple will be TextEdit.

This menu contains items that act on the entire application rather than on its files. For example, traditionally, you would quit an application by choosing Quit from the File menu. Even though we're all familiar with this, it doesn't really make sense. Quitting an application has nothing to do with a File—it affects the running application. Because of this, the application menu was created to consolidate all the application-specific menus into one location. Figure 3.12 displays the application menu for Mail—an included application.

Figure 3.12 Application menus contain the functions, which act upon an entire application.

Seven default items make up the application menu:

  • About—The About menu, which reveals information about the running program, used to be located under the Apple menu. The Apple menu is now reserved for system-wide options, so About has been placed within the application menu.

  • Preferences...—For many years, preferences haven't really had a home. Some applications placed the option under the File menu, others under the Edit menu. The application menu provides a convenient location for preferences because they apply to the entire application.

  • Services—Services are one of the more interesting, but rarely advertised, features of Mac OS X. A service is installed by an application and can act on a selected item on the system. For example, if you want to e-mail some text from a Web page, you could select it, and then choose Mail Text from the Mail service menu. This would launch the Mail application and start a new message containing your text.

  • Hide—Hides the current application. This command hides all the frontmost application windows. This was previously located within the application switcher menu—in the upper-right corner of Mac OS 8 or 9. Command+H is a shortcut for Hide.

  • Hide Others—Hides all applications other than the frontmost application. This effectively clears the screen except for the program you're currently using. In earlier versions of the operating system, this was also located in the application switcher menu.

  • Show All—Shows all hidden applications.

  • Quit—Quits the current application. Command+Q is the universal Quit shortcut.

The application menu is a wise addition to the Apple menu, but does take a while to get used to. I still find myself hunting through the menus looking for preferences, even when I know where I should be looking. Unfortunately, just because there is a place for a preferences menu, it doesn't mean that developers will fully use it. If applications are not modified to take advantage of this new menu, you might have to continue searching through your software's menu bar to find the real location of your preference menu item.

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