Mac 101: The menu bar

See that semi-transparent bar that spans across the entire width of your desktop at the top of your screen? That's the menu bar—a vital component of Mac OS X. The menu bar hosts many functions and commands to complete your tasks at hand.

This article applies to Mac OS X v10.5 and earlier. For Mac OS X v10.6 or later information, see this article instead.

This article has been archived and is no longer updated by Apple.

When you need to accomplish a task, you can access just about any application's
functions, commands, and more from the menu bar.

The menu bar contains some words that represent the menus for the active application. The menu bar also contains a few icons on its right side that represent menus for other features on your Mac, such as Spotlight (the magnifying glass icon) and sound volume (the speaker icon). When you click a menu, it displays a sheet (the actual menu) full of menu items. To perform a task or command that's listed in a menu, just select the item and your Mac will perform the action.

What's on the menu?

The menu bar menus will change as you switch applications. For example, when the Finder is active, you'll see the following menus across the menu bar: the Apple logo, Finder, File, Edit, View, Go, Window, and Help. When you click the Window menu, its menu displays the following menu items: Minimize, Zoom, Cycle Through Windows, and Bring All to Front. (Depending on whether or not you have any Finder windows open, your Window menu may contain a few more items.)

Tip: If you're unsure of which application (including the Finder) is active, look at the word to the right of the Apple logo in the menu bar.

If a menu item is dimmed (the text isn't black), then that particular item isn't applicable at that moment. For example, if you currently don't have any Finder windows open and you make the Finder active, all of the items in the Window menu will be dimmed because you need to have a Finder window open in order to perform any of the Window menu commands. If you have a window open, some or all items in the Window menu will be available, depending on whether a window is currently selected.

Because we didn't have anything in our Trash,
the Empty Trash commands are dimmed in the Finder menu.

Every application you use will have a set of menus with menu items—some more than others. You'll notice that many applications share the same common commands, such as Save, Select All, Copy, Paste, and Undo. Most applications also use their own set of specialized commands. For example, iTunes (the music-playing application included with Leopard) features Controls, Visualizer, and Advanced menus that contain many functions and commands for controlling iTunes play.

As you learn how to use applications or read any of our how-to articles we publish on our Service & Support site, you will more than likely come across some instructions that have you choosing items from menus, like this:

From the File menu, choose Save.

This means that you need to click on the word "File" in the menu bar to display the menu, and then click "Save" from the menu. Some menus contain submenus. For example, in the Finder, the View menu has the menu item "Arrange By," which has a right-facing triangle to its right. When you move your arrow over Arrange By, its submenu opens with more items to choose.

Cleaning your desktop

To help get you familiar with how menus and menu commands work, here's how to clean up your desktop using Finder menu commands.

  1. To tidy up your files and folders so that they all line up in nice, neat rows, click on the desktop to make the Finder active.
  2. From the View menu, choose Clean Up.
  3. If you want to organize files and folders by name, kind, or other criteria do this: From the View menu, choose Arrange By, then choose Name or Kind or another choice in the submenu.

  4. By choosing Name, all items on our desktop were rearranged in alphabetical order,
    to make finding things easier.

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