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Mac OS X in a Nutshell by Chris Stone, Chuck Toporek, Jason McIntosh

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The Menu Bar

Regardless of which application you’re using, Mac OS X’s menu bar is always located across the top of the screen. This is different from Microsoft Windows or Linux GNOME or KDE Desktop environments, where the menu bar is attached to each individual window. There are some standard items that you’ll always find in the menu bar, but as you switch from application to application, you’ll notice that the menu names and some of their options change according to which application is active. Figure 1-2 shows the menu bar as it appears when the Finder is active.

The Mac OS X menu bar (with the Finder active)

Figure 1-2. The Mac OS X menu bar (with the Finder active)

As Figure 1-2 shows, the following menus and items can be found in the menu bar.

Menu Basics

All Aqua menus work the same: click once on a word or symbol in the menu bar, and the appropriate menu appears beneath it. The menu closes when you select something from it, pull down a different menu from the menu bar, or click somewhere outside the menu.

Menus can contain two types of things: commands and submenus.


Every row that’s not a submenu heading is a command. Mousing over a command highlights it; clicking on a menu option closes the menu and invokes the command.

Commands that end in an ellipse (...) require more information from the user before they can do anything. Typically, these menu items summon a dialog box requiring the user to do something else. For example, if you select File Open..., the Open dialog box appears, prompting you to select a file to open. If you decide that you don’t want to open a file (or if you’ve selected the wrong menu item), click on the Cancel button to close the window.

Most menu commands have keyboard shortcuts (also known as key bindings ). The keyboard shortcuts, if available, are on the right edge of the menu, and act as an alternate way to invoke a menu command without requiring you to use the mouse to select the menu item. A common example involves saving files, during which you could either select the menu option of File Save, or issue the


-S shortcut.

Bindings for common commands, such as


-S for saving a file, are the same across all applications. This is in accordance with Apple’s Aqua Human Interface Guidelines, more commonly known among developers as “the HIG.” The HIG specifies the default key bindings for standard menu options, and should be the interface design Bible of every Macintosh developer. If you’ve installed the Developer Tools on your system, a copy of the HIG can be found in /Developer/Documentation/Essentials/AquaHIGuidelines in both HTML and PDF form. The HIG can also be accessed online at http://developer.apple.com.


Submenus appear as menu choices with little gray triangles at the right edge of the menu. Mousing over a submenu heading causes another menu to pop up beside the first, as seen in Figure 1-3. Submenus can contain additional menu items or more submenus.

A typical menu with key bindings

Figure 1-3. A typical menu with key bindings

Contextual Menus

Some objects in the Mac OS X desktop secretly keep contextual menus (shown in Figure 1-4), which are special lists of commands and submenus that appear only when you Control-click the objects. In web browsers such as Internet Explorer, hypertext links have contextual menus that let you copy their addresses to the clipboard or open them in separate windows (see Figure 1-5). In the Finder, icons have contextual menus with commands for quickly moving them to the Trash or getting info about them.

A contextual menu in Finder

Figure 1-4. A contextual menu in Finder

A contextual menu in Internet Explorer

Figure 1-5. A contextual menu in Internet Explorer

When you’re in the Finder (or on the Desktop) and you Control-click an item, the mouse pointer’s shape will change to include a menu image next to it, as shown in Figure 1-6.

The Finder’s contextual menu cursor

Figure 1-6. The Finder’s contextual menu cursor

The Apple Menu

The Apple menu, shown in Figure 1-7, is displayed as a blue apple symbol (

The Apple Menu

), and is always the left-most item in the menu bar.

If you’ve used an earlier version of the Mac OS, you’ll notice that the Apple menu is now completely different. You can no longer store aliases for files, folders, or applications there. Its new purpose is to provide you with information about your system, and to give you quick access to system preferences, network locations, and recently used files and applications, as well as a means to log out, put your system to sleep, or shut down.

The Apple menu

Figure 1-7. The Apple menu

The items you’ll find in the Apple menu are listed here:

About This Mac

This window, shown in Figure 1-8, provides you with useful information about your Mac. Here you’ll find details about the version of Mac OS X you’re running, how much memory your machine has, and the speed and type of processor in your computer. Clicking on the More Info button launches the Apple System Profiler application (/Applications/Utilities), which reveals specific details about your hardware, as well as its devices, applications, and extensions. The Apple System Profiler is covered in Chapter 6.

The About This Mac window

Figure 1-8. The About This Mac window

In earlier versions of the Mac OS, the About box would change depending on which application was active. For information about the application, you now have to use the application menu (located to the right of the Apple menu) and select the About option.

When you first select

The About This Mac window

About This Mac, the window shown on the left side of Figure 1-8 shows you the currently installed version number of Mac OS X. However, if you want to find out which build of Mac OS X you’re using, click on the version number and that text will change to show you the versions’ build number (center image). Mine, for example, shows that I’m running Build 6C115. Click the build number and you’ll see the serial number for your machine.

This provides you with quick access to basic information about your system. The information in the About This Mac window comes in handy when you’re on the phone with Apple’s customer support, trying to troubleshoot a problem. It also gives you a quick way to launch the Apple System Profiler.

Get Mac OS X Software

Selecting this option takes you to Apple’s Mac OS X page (http://www.apple.com/downloads/macosx) in your default web browser.

System Preferences

This menu option launches the System Preferences panel. (You can also launch System Preferences by clicking on the light switch icon in the Dock, or by locating and double-clicking on its icon in the Finder. System Preferences allow you to configure the settings on your computer, and includes panels for setting your screen saver or configuring your network connection. You will learn about System Preferences in greater detail in Chapter 5.


This menu offers a quick way to change settings for the Dock (see the later section Section 1.3).


This allows you to quickly change locations for connecting to a network and/or the Internet. This is similar to the Location Manager Control Panel from earlier versions of the Mac OS.

Recent Items

This menu option combines the Recent Applications and Recent Documents options from Mac OS 9’s Apple menu into one convenient menu. The Clear Menu option allows you to reset the recent items from the menu, giving you a clean slate to work from.

Force Quit

This window lets you target any running Aqua application for a force quit. See Section, later in this chapter.


Sleep, Restart, Shutdown, and Log Out have moved from Mac OS 9’s Special menu into Mac OS X’s Apple menu. If you’re looking for a menu option for the Empty Trash option, you need to be in the Finder (Finder Empty Trash or Shift-

The About This Mac window



Just as its name implies, this menu item will instantly put your Mac into sleep mode. Selecting this option will result in your screen going dark; the hard drive on your system will spin down and go into energy saver mode. This is different from the settings you dictate in the Energy Saver preference pane (see Chapter 5 for more on auto-sleep functionality).

To “wake” your computer from sleep mode, simply press any key, or click the mouse if you have a desktop system. However, clicking the mouse on an iBook or PowerBook as an attempt to wake your system from sleep mode is useless; it won’t do anything. Instead, you need to press one of the keys on the keyboard (or the Power-On button) to revive your laptop. Opening a sleeping and closed Mac laptop will also wake it up.


If you are connecting your Mac to an overhead projector to give a presentation, put your Mac to sleep, and then wake your Mac up after the projector has been connected.


This option will open a window (Figure 1-9) to restart your Mac. All active applications will automatically quit; however, you are first prompted to save changes for any files that were open with unsaved changes.

The Restart window

Figure 1-9. The Restart window


System administrators can remove the Restart and Shut Down items from the Apple menu, as described in Chapter 5.


Selecting this option pops up a window (shown in Figure 1-10) for shutting down your Mac. You can also shut down by pressing the Power-On button, which will open the dialog box shown in Figure 1-11 with the options for restarting, shutting down, or putting your Mac to sleep.

The Shutdown window

Figure 1-10. The Shutdown window

The Shutdown window is displayed after pressing the Power-On button

Figure 1-11. The Shutdown window is displayed after pressing the Power-On button

Log Out

This option pops open the window shown in Figure 1-12 to log out of your system. This window takes you back to a login screen. The keyboard shortcut for the Log Out menu option is Shift-

The Shutdown window is displayed after pressing the Power-On button


The logout window

Figure 1-12. The logout window

Force-quitting applications

As in previous versions of Mac OS, if an application hangs—ceasing to respond to any user input—you can send it a Force Quit command. This causes it to quit immediately. Unlike a normal Quit operation, the application won’t give you a chance to save any changes to document windows or perform any other clean-up activity; the application simply and ungraciously becomes inactive.


In Mac OS 9 and earlier, force-quitting an application tended to throw the whole system off-kilter, prompting users to save all their work and restart the machine before continuing. Mac OS X’s protected memory scheme makes force-quitting a lot safer, affecting nothing but the application itself. Veteran Mac users trained to be hesitant about force-quitting can now do so with impunity with Mac OS X.

However, force-quitting a Classic application can spell trouble to any other Classic applications running at the same time, due to the Classic environment’s emulation of Mac OS 9’s unprotected memory handling. See Chapter 3.

Thanks to Mac OS X’s protected memory, you don’t have to restart the entire system if an application crashes or freezes. Instead, you can open the Force Quit window (shown in Figure 1-13). This lists the applications that are running on your system. To force-quit a stuck application, simply click on the application name, then click on Force Quit.

The Force Quit window

Figure 1-13. The Force Quit window


Under the hood, Mac OS X sends a KILL signal to the application’s process, which is equivalent to running kill -9 on it from the Terminal.

To quit the troublesome application, follow these steps:

  1. Select the application name in the Force Quit Applications window.

  2. Click on the Force Quit button.

  3. A warning sheet, shown in Figure 1-14, will appear, alerting you that force-quitting the application will cause you to lose any unsaved changes.

  4. If you’re sure you want to quit the application, click on the Force Quit button; otherwise, click on the Cancel button (or hit

    The Force Quit window


A warning sheet will appear before you can force an application to quit

Figure 1-14. A warning sheet will appear before you can force an application to quit

When you’ve forced the offending application to quit, click the red Close window button in the titlebar to close the Force Quit Applications window.


You can also force-quit an application by holding down Control-Option and clicking on its icon in the Dock. This pops open the application’s context menu, from which you can select Force Quit; however, this quits the application without a warning message, and any unsaved changes will be lost.

The Application Menu

Immediately to the right of the Apple menu in the menu bar is the Application menu, shown in Figure 1-15. As the Apple menu holds commands relevant to the whole system, the Application menu, which is rendered in boldface and named after the active application, holds commands relevant to the active application itself and not any of its windows or documents.

The Finder’s Application menu

Figure 1-15. The Finder’s Application menu

The following are some of the typical Application menu commands:

About Application Name

Displays a small window that typically features the application’s name, icon, version number, authors, copyright information, web links, and whatever else the developers felt appropriate.


Calls up the application’s preferences window.


Brings up the Services submenu, covered later in Section 1.6.

Hide Application Name

Makes the application and all its windows (including minimized windows on the Dock) invisible to Aqua, and brings the next active application to the foreground. Clicking this application’s Dock icon (or bringing forth any of its individual windows through its Dock menu) reveals it once again.

Hide Others

Hides all running Aqua applications besides the current one.

Show All

Reveals all hidden applications.

Quit Application Name

Quits the application. When selected, every open window belonging to that application receives the signal to close. Windows with unsaved changes[2] will alert the user with a dialog sheet (as seen in Figure 1-33). Hitting Cancel on any of these sheets dismisses that sheet and keeps the window open, cancelling the application’s Quit request.

The one exception to this rule is the Finder. The Finder lacks a Quit option in its application menu, since the Finder is constantly running. However, if the Finder is frozen or otherwise acting up, you can force it to relaunch; see Chapter 2.

Standard Application Menus

In addition to the Application menu, each application (including the Finder) has at least four additional menus in the menu bar:

  • File

  • Edit

  • Window

  • Help

The following list touches on the common menu commands found in many Mac OS X applications.


This menu contains commands for working with documents on disk:

New (Standard Application Menus-N)

Opens a new, empty document window.

Open... (Standard Application Menus-O)

Summons a dialog box for selecting a document from the filesystem. Once selected, its content appears in a new window.

Open Recent

Contains the names of the last few documents that this application worked with. Selecting one quickly opens it into a new window.

Close (Standard Application Menus-W)

Asks to close the foremost window; this is equivalent to hitting the window’s red titlebar button. Some menus also offer Close All (Shift-

Standard Application Menus

-W), which is equivalent to Option-clicking the window’s Close button.

Save (Standard Application Menus-S)

If the foremost window represents an existing file (i.e., its titlebar has a real title and a proxy icon), it resynchs its contents with the file, writing all changes made since the last save. Otherwise, it presents the user with a sheet for creating a new file.

Save As... (Shift-Standard Application Menus-S)

Presents the user with a file-creation sheet, regardless of whether the window already has a file associated with it. After saving, the system reassociates the window with this new file, though the previous one continues to exist in the state in which it was last saved.

Page Setup... (Shift-Standard Application Menus-P)

This command sets up how the window will present its contents to a printing device.

Print... (Standard Application Menus-P)

Prepares a document for printing. Chapter 8 covers document printing in more detail.


The Edit menu almost always holds the all-important clipboard controls and text-editing commands.

Undo action (Standard Application Menus-Z)

This handy command undoes the last action you performed in this application, be it typing, moving stuff around, drawing a circle, and just about anything else. (This is within limits—it can’t, for example, unsend an emotional email you find yourself suddenly regretting.) If you invoke this command repeatedly, then you can undo a whole sequence of actions.

Redo action (Shift-Standard Application Menus-Z)

This command is simply the antidote of Undo, restoring the last thing you undid, should you change your mind (or go one step too far while performing a multiple Undo). Note that this command is available only immediately after you perform an Undo.

Cut (Standard Application Menus-X)

Copies the selected text or images onto the system’s clipboard, and then deletes it from the window.

Copy (Standard Application Menus-C)

Copies the selected text or images onto the system’s clipboard, leaving it in place in the window.

Paste (Standard Application Menus-V)

Tries to copy the current clipboard contents to the cursor’s current position in the window.

Delete, Clear

Erases whatever’s selected. Usually equivalent to hitting the Delete key.

Select All (Standard Application Menus-A)

Selects all the text or objects in the window.

Find, Spelling

These submenus usually hold some standard interfaces for finding text and using the system’s built-in spellchecker.


Like the application’s Dock menu, the Window menu usually holds a list of all the windows currently open; selecting one brings it into focus. The menu also often holds the Minimize Window option (

Standard Application Menus

-M), which, when selected, minimizes the window to the Dock. You can also minimize a window by clicking on the yellow button in the window’s titlebar, or by double-clicking on the titlebar. To bring the window back into focus, simply click on its icon in the Dock.

Some applications also assign keyboard shortcuts to open windows. For example, the Terminal application assigns a Command-number keyboard shortcut for each open Terminal window (see Figure 1-16). This allows you to quickly switch back and forth between windows when you need to.


This menu varies greatly among applications. Some offer just a single command, Application Help (

Standard Application Menus

-?), which usually displays the application’s documentation in Help Center or your web browser. Other applications fill this menu with commands that let you browse various pieces of documentation and tutorials.

The Terminal’s Window menu offers keyboard shortcuts to open windows

Figure 1-16. The Terminal’s Window menu offers keyboard shortcuts to open windows

Menu Extras

Mac OS X programs and services can place menu extras on the right side of the menu bar. Like the Apple menu, these little symbols remain constant on the menu bar, regardless of which application you’re using.

Menu extras’ appearance typically reflects their function, and they often carry menus loaded with commands, just like the other menus. Figure 1-17 shows the menu extra for the Clock.

The Clock menu extra

Figure 1-17. The Clock menu extra

By default, the Clock menu extra is located on the far right edge of the menu bar. The clock shows the day and the current time. Clicking on the clock, as in Figure 1-17, summons a menu where you can read the date, change the clock’s appearance, or go to the Date & Time preferences panel.

You can move the menu extras to a different location in the menu bar by Command-clicking the icon and dragging it left or right. As you move the menu extra around, the other menu extras will move out of the way to make room for the menu extra you’re moving. When you let go of the mouse button, the menu extra will take its new place in the menu bar. To remove a menu extra from the menu bar, Command-click on the icon, drag it off the menu bar, and let go of the mouse button.


For reference, executables for most of the standard menu extras can be found in /System/Library/CoreServices/Menu Extras as folders with .menu extensions.

As we cover various Mac OS X applications and preference panes throughout this book, we’ll make note of the ones that offer menu extras.

[2] This includes windows that are reluctant to close for other reasons, such as Terminal windows whose shells still have active child processes.

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