Menu Bar Basics and Tricks

The menu bar is the most basic part of any app's user interface. But new Mac users may not look for commands there. More advanced users can use the Help menu to find menu items, and keyboard commands to navigate the menus without using the mouse or trackpad.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: Menu Bar Basics and Tricks.

Hi, this is Gary with Today let's take a look at the Menu Bar.

The Menu Bar is what is here at the very top of your screen. It is always at the top of the screen. Never a part of the window. New Mac users sometimes get confused because they are used to operating systems where the menus are attached to different windows. So somebody says go to File/Save and you look here inside the application for a file button or something. But usually when somebody says Choose or do a command they mean to go all the way to the top of the screen and look here at the Menu Bar.

Now the Menu Bar always has an Apple menu here at the top left. It has a little apple as a symbol and we call it the Apple menu. The interesting thing about the Apple menu is it's the same no matter what application you are running whereas everything else in the Menu Bar will change depending upon what application you are running.

Here we see things like About This Mac. We see Sleep, Log Out. All general things that apply to the computer and to the operating system itself never to the actual application.

The second menu is always named after the application you are currently using. In this case I am using Safari so I have Safari here and this is one way to figure out what application is currently at the front, the one that I am currently using. The menu items here are very similar from app to app. For instance the Quit menu choice is always here and as is usually About and things like that. You also find Hide here and Preferences, usually. But this menu will change depending upon which app you are using.

So say if we switched applications here we would see that this menu would change. Let's go and switch to Maps. We see now it changes to say Maps instead of Safari and some of the menu items change but some are the same. There is Quit, there is Hide, and Show. Notice there is no Preferences here in Maps so that is not listed here.

Also notice many of these other menu choices are about the same. There are some standard menus like File, Edit, View, Window, and Help. Even if I were to switch back to Safari I would see those same menus. There are some new ones. For instance Bookmarks make sense for Safari. So you can see some similarities and some differences.

When developers make apps usually there are some standards that developers like to follow and one of those is to include things like the Edit menu even if the Edit menu isn't used very much in a certain app. You will find similar items there like Copy and Paste are always under Edit and it doesn't matter which application you are in you are always going to find Copy and Paste there. The same for a lot of these other Menu items.

Now let's look at some more advanced tricks. One of the things that I do all the time but a lot of you Mac users don't know about is that you don't have to search for a menu item. For instance say if I were to remember that there is an option somewhere to show the downloads here in Safari but I don't remember which menu it is under. I could start looking and say is it under File, is it under Edit, and eventually find it under View. I don't need to search for it because sometimes it is very difficult to find these. Sometimes they are very deep down in submenus.

It is easier simply to go to the Help here and there is a little search field right inside the menu there and start typing. When you do that you will see a list of menu items at the top. Simply rollover it and not only will it allow you to choose it from here but it will show you that, for instance this one is in the View menu and that is exactly where it is, and I can just choose it from here if I wanted to. So very easy to find a menu item. You don't need to hunt for it.

Now another advanced trick is to use the Option key to find hidden menu commands. I'll give you an example here. If I go to File here I can see there is a Close Tab feature. I will actually open a second tab here so you can see, Close Tab. Now if I were to hold down the Option key I will see that the Close Tab changes to Close Other Tabs. So there is a second command there hidden and I only see it if I use the Option key.

There are a lot of different hidden commands just about in very app. For instance see where it says Quit Safari. If I hold the Option key down it will Quit and Close All Windows in Safari. So there is a lot of different things that you can do here by holding the Option key down and changing the menu items. Some of the best, coolest features of complex apps are hidden in these Option menu commands.

So another cool thing you can do is you can control menus with the keyboard. The simplest way to do this is the use the mouse first to click on any Menu and then use the down arrow to go and select. You see the cursor stays there at the top and I'm using the arrow keys to navigate. The right arrow goes into a submenu. If I'm on an item that doesn't have a submenu I can use the right and left to go back and forth between these menus.

Then I can choose one and use spacebar or return to issue that command.

Now let's say you want to do that but you never want to use the mouse at all. So I don't want to have to go up here and click. Well, under System Preferences you can go to System Preferences/Keyboard and under Shortcuts you can go to the Keyboard subset in here and then look for this one, Move focus to the menu bar. The default is Control, not Command but Control, F2. Keep in mind also that if you have this thing set or not set it will change how that works. You may have to use the fn key in addition to Control and F2 depending upon how you have that toggle set.

So here I'm going to go in and do Control F2 and you can see that the Apple menu on the top left is selected. I can move over and do what I want to issue a command from the menu bar without ever touching the mouse or trackpad.

Comments: 3 Responses to “Menu Bar Basics and Tricks”

    5 years ago

    How do you like that. Been using a Mac for 10 years and just learned about the option key feature in menus. Got my entertainment for the night all set, now! Thanks, Gary.

    5 years ago

    With Steve on this…. never knew about the option key option (that’s a mouthful) with menus. I feel like such a nubie.

    5 years ago

    The option key isn’t the only one that can modify the menus. ( I using OSX 10.9.4, with Safari 7.0.5) In Safari, when I go to the File menu, and select “Share”, the top item of the menu that pops up shows “Email This Page”. If I hold down the Shift key, that changes to “Email Link to This Page”. When I used the search in the Help Menu to find “email link” it pointed out where it was, but didn’t indicate that you needed to press the Shift key to make it show up.

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