A Beginner’s Guide to the Mac Menu Bar

The way you access most commands in apps on your Mac is to use the Menu Bar. Unlike on Windows, the menu bar stays at the top of the screen at all times, but changes depending on which app you are using. The menus and commands change to reflect the capabilities of the app. You can access these commands with clicks, find them with the Help menu, and learn the keyboard shortcuts as you use them. Sometimes menu bar items are inactive because they can't be used at the moment.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: A Beginner’s Guide to the Mac Menu Bar.

So let's take a look a the Menu Bar. The menu bar is the strip that you see at the very top of the screen. We're just going to look at the left side of it which contain the menus. On the right side, over here, are menu bar icons. We'll deal with them in another tutorial.

On the left side you always see the Apple Menu. It stays here no matter what's going on in your Mac. This is how you would access functions like Restart, Shutdown, and other things. The second item changes depending upon what app you're using. As a matter of fact the name of that item is the app you're currently using. In this case we're using the Finder which is how we view Files and Folders. If I were to switch to say Pages you can see this menu changes to Pages. If I were to switch to say Mail it changes to Mail. Safari it changes to Safari. So we get a menu specific to that app.

Now with a few exceptions you'll find here the ability to Quit the current app at the bottom of the menu with the apps name. Then you'll find a bunch of other menus. What they contain depends upon what app you're using. But there is, kind of, a general sequence. Usually you find the File and Edit menus as the very next thing. File allows you to do things like open documents, save documents, close documents. Things like that. You'll also find Print commands at the bottom there. Edit usually has things like Copy, Cut, Paste, Spelling and Grammar and things like that.

Then it really changes depending upon the app. So here in Pages we have Insert, Format, Arrange, which are things you would do on a word processor. If we switch to say Safari then you can see View, History, Bookmarks. These are things that you would do in a web browser. So to select anything in one of these menus what you basically would do is you would click on the menu bar name here. You can click and hold down on your trackpad or mouse, move down to the item you want, and release. Or you can click once. Then you will come down and stay there. You have released your hold on your mouse or trackpad. You can go to what you want and then click again on the item that you want to choose. There are two different ways to choose which command you want to execute.

Also notice that most commands here in the menus have these symbols over here to the right. These symbols tell you what the keyboard shortcut is for this command. So if you don't want to go all the way up to the menu but you want to keep your hands on the keyboard you can use these keyboard shortcuts to do the same thing. So you look for the special symbol. This symbol right here represents the Command key on your keyboard. You can see that symbol on the Command key. The up arrow is the shift key. This symbol right here is the Option key. You'll also see a symbol like this, a caret it's called, and that represents a control key. So you see different combinations of these. For instance, to use the Home command you do Shift, Command, and then the H key on the keyboard. So if you find yourself using a command pretty often you can look in the menu for these shortcuts and try to learn them. You don't always have to go to the Menu to use that command.

The one menu item you'll almost always find in every app is Help. Help, of course as you can imagine, allows you to get to documentation for the app that you're currently using. There's also a Search command and you can use this to search not just in the documentation but for a command in another menu that may be hard to find. So if you know you want to do something like export bookmarks, you can start typing the word book and you can see all the different menu commands that have those characters in it. As you move your cursor over them it actually shows you where they're located. So you can select it from here but you can also learn where it is by looking elsewhere. So I can see that it's in the File menu. So next time I don't have to search for it, I know where to go.

Now you'll notice that as you look through menus you see some of the items are grayed out, or inactive. You can't select them. Like Cut, Copy and Paste cannot be selected right now. This is because these commands don't have the ability to work with the way things are. For instance, I don't have any text selected so there's nothing to cut or copy. However if I were to go over to the webpage here and select some text, then go to Edit, you can see now copy is available. I can't cut because this is a webpage. I can't change what's on the page but I can copy text from it. So that becomes active. So if you see something that's grayed out that means it's just not available to be used right now in the context. Maybe you need to select something. Maybe you need to go to a different screen. Or you need to be using the app in a different way.

Comments: One Response to “A Beginner’s Guide to the Mac Menu Bar”

    George Rubin
    2 years ago

    Great for Beginners. Gary you have a great knack of making it simple for beginners to understand.

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