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OS X El Capitan: The Missing Manual by David Pogue

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Menulets: The Missing Manual

See the menu-bar icons in Figure 4-11? Apple calls them Menu Extras, but Mac fans on the Internet have named them menulets. Each is both an indicator and a menu that provides direct access to certain settings: sound, monitor resolution, Wi-Fi, and so on.

To make the various menulets appear, you generally visit a certain pane of System Preferences (Chapter 8) and turn on a checkbox called, for example, “Show volume in menu bar.” Here’s a rundown of the various Apple menulets you may encounter, complete with instructions on where to find the magic on/off checkbox for each.

Along the way, you’ll discover that secondary, hidden features lurk in many of these menulets, if you happen to know the secret: Press the Option key.

Tip

The following descriptions indicate the official, authorized steps for installing a menulet. There is, however, a folder on your hard drive that contains 24 of them in a single window, so you can install one with a quick double-click. To find them, open your hard drive→System→Library→CoreServices→Menu Extras folder.

  • AirPort () lets you turn your Wi-Fi (wireless networking) circuitry on or off, join existing wireless networks, and create your own private ones. To find the Show checkbox: Open System Preferences→Network. Click Wi-Fi.

    Tip

    Once you’ve installed this menulet, you can Option-click it to produce a secret menu full of details about the wireless network you’re on right now. You see its channel number, password-security method (WEP, WPA, None, whatever), speed, and such geeky details as the MCS Index and RSSI.

    These little guys are the cousins of the controls found on the Windows system tray.

    Figure 4-11. These little guys are the cousins of the controls found on the Windows system tray.

  • Battery () shows how much power remains in your laptop’s battery, how much time is left to charge it, whether it’s plugged in, and more. When you click the icon to open the menu, you see how many actual hours and minutes are left on the charge. You can also choose Show Percentage to add a percentage-remaining readout (43%) to the menu bar.

    Sadly, OS X no longer lets you put a time-remaining display right in the menu bar. On the other hand, the Battery menu now shows something that can be even more useful: a list of the most power-hungry open programs (“Apps Using Significant Energy”). That’s handy when you’re trying to eke out every last drop of battery life for your laptop. To find the Show checkbox: Open System Preferences→Energy Saver.

    Tip

    If you Option-click the Battery menulet, you get to see the status of your battery’s health. A Condition command appears. It might say, for example, “Condition: Normal,” or “Service Battery,” “Replace Soon,” or “Replace Now.” Of course, we all know laptop batteries don’t last forever; they begin to hold less of a charge as they approach 500 or 1,000 recharges, depending on the model.

    Is Apple looking out for you, or just trying to goose the sale of replacement batteries? You decide.

  • Bluetooth () connects to Bluetooth devices, “pairs” your Mac with a cellphone, lets you send or receive files wirelessly (without the hassle of setting up a wireless network), and so on. To find the Show checkbox: Open System Preferences→Bluetooth.

    Tip

    You can Option-click this menulet to see three additional lines of nerdy details about your Bluetooth setup: the Bluetooth software version you’re using, the name of your Mac (which is helpful when you’re trying to make it show up on another Bluetooth gadget), and its Bluetooth MAC [hardware] address.

  • Clock is the menu-bar clock that’s been sitting at the upper-right corner of your screen from Day One. Click it to open a menu where you can check today’s date, convert the menu-bar display to a tiny analog clock, and so on. To find the Show checkbox: Open System Preferences→Date & Time. On the Clock tab, turn on “Show date and time in menu bar.”

  • Displays () adjusts screen resolution. On Macs with a projector or second monitor attached, it lets you turn screen mirroring on or off—a tremendous convenience to anyone who gives PowerPoint or Keynote presentations. And if you have an Apple TV, this menulet also lets you turn AirPlay on or off—meaning that you can send the Mac’s screen image to a TV. The menulet turns blue when you’re projecting. To find the Show checkbox: Open System Preferences→Displays→Display tab.

  • Eject () is a relic of the days when Macs had DVD drives. There’s no checkbox in System Preferences to make this menulet appear. The fact that it even exists is something of a secret, but if you ever buy an external DVD drive, you’ll be glad to know that this one exists.

    To make it appear, open your System→Library→CoreServices→Menu Extras folder as described above, and then double-click the Eject menu icon. That’s it! The menulet appears.

    You’ll discover that its wording changes—“Open Combo Drive,” “Close DVD-ROM Drive,” “Eject [Name of Disc],” or whatever—to reflect your particular drive type and what’s in it at the moment.

  • Messages () is a quick way to let the world know, via the Messages application (Chapter 18) and the Internet, that you’re away from your keyboard, or available and ready to chat. Via the New Message command, it’s also a quick way to open Messages itself. To find the Show checkbox: Open Messages; it’s in your Applications folder. Choose Messages→Preferences→General.

  • Remote Desktop () is a program, sold separately, that lets teachers or system administrators tap into your Mac from across a network. In fact, they can actually see what’s on your screen, move the cursor around, and so on. The menulet lets you do things like send a message to the administrator. To find the Show checkbox: Open System Preferences→Sharing, and then click Remote Management.

  • Script Menu () lists a variety of useful, ready-to-run AppleScript programs. To find the Show checkbox: Open the Script Editor program (in your Applications Utilities folder). Choose Script Editor→Preferences→General.

  • Text Input () switches among different text input modes. For example, if your language uses a different alphabet, like Russian, or thousands of characters, like Chinese, this menulet summons and dismisses the alternative keyboards and input methods you need. Details are on The Many Languages of OS X Text. To find the Show checkbox: Open System Preferences→Keyboard→Input Sources.

  • Time Machine () lets you start and stop Time Machine backups (see Editing the Share Menu). To find the Show checkbox: Open System Preferences→Time Machine.

  • Accessibility () offers on/off status indicators for features that are designed to help with visual, hearing, and muscle impairments. Chapter 8 has a rundown of what they do. To find the Show checkbox: Open System Preferences→Accessibility.

  • User () identifies the account holder (Chapter 11) who’s logged in at the moment. To make this menulet appear (at the far-right end of the menu bar), turn on fast user switching, which is described on Fast User Switching.

  • Volume (), of course, adjusts your Mac’s speaker or headphone volume. To find the Show checkbox: Open System Preferences→Sound.

  • VPN () stands for virtual private networking, which allows you to tap into a corporation’s network so you can, for example, check your work email from home. You can use the menulet to connect and disconnect, for example. To find the Show checkbox: Open System Preferences→Network. Click the name of your VPN.

  • WWAN () is useful only if you have a cellular modem from Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, or T-Mobile. This menulet lets you start and stop that connection. To find the Show checkbox: Open System Preferences→Network. Click the name of your cellular modem.

Note

A few other items may lurk in the Menu Extras folder: PPPoE, Ink, IrDA, and ExpressCard. Most are relics of an earlier age, when laptops had features like card slots and infrared lenses.

To remove a menulet, ⌘-drag it off your menu bar, or turn off the corresponding checkbox in System Preferences. You can also rearrange menulets by ⌘-dragging them horizontally.

These little guys are useful, good-looking, and respectful of your screen space. The world could use more inventions like menulets.

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