The Macintosh menu at the left end of the menu bar, indicated by the Apple logo. A quick and simple way to gain access to control panels, desk accessories, applicaitons, folders, or anything else you choose to put in the Apple Menu Items folder. I have an alias of all my hard drives in the Apple Menu, so every application and document on my computer is one click away. In addition, the Apple Menu contains easy access to memory allocation information and apps' "about" boxes. A well-organized Apple Menu is usually a sign of some decent level of Macintosh proficiency.

Shamelessly ripped off by Microsoft's still inferior Start button. In danger of being inadequately replaced by the Mac OS X dock.

The Apple Menu, found right at the left of the menu bar gave quick access to much of your Macintosh. Its functionality is however severely curtailed in Mac OS X.

A brief history of the Apple Menu
I haven't listed all System Software releases as not all of them changed the Apple Menu. /msg me if I missed something.

The original Apple Menu

The first item is usually an "About this application" type item, followed by a separator. Next came some Desk accessories : Alarm Clock, Calculator, Control Panel, Key Caps, Note pad, Puzzle, and Scrapbook. Desk accessories were special pseudo-applications that could run at the same time as another application (Proper multitasking was not available in those days). Selecting one of these items launched the appropriate desk accessory. You couldn't add anything else to the Apple Menu.

The System 7 Apple Menu:

The magic really began when Apple released System 7 in 1991. Inside the System Folder was a folder called "Apple Menu Items". Anything you put there (folders, documents, applications etc...) would appear in the Apple Menu and was thereafter only a click away. This was also more convenient than System 6 where one had to use Font/DA Mover in order to make DAs (Desk Accessories) available. Apple menu items were sorted alphabetically, and it was a common trick to prepend special characters to names in order to force items them to appear at the top or the bottom of the menu.

Of course it would be inconvenient to actually put your applications or documents there, but that didn't matter, because System 7 had aliases. Aliases are similar to the shortcuts found in Windows or Unix's symbolic links, except more robust. Adding an alias to the Apple Menu had exactly the same effect as adding the original item itself. The Apple Menu was becoming an important time saver. Another difference was that each item in the Apple menu had a 16x16 icon on the left of their label. The icon used was the same one used when the corresponding file or folder was displayed in the Finder.

BeHierarchic or the Apple Menu on steroids

BeHierarchic was a shareware developed by Fabien Octave that extended the Apple Menu in several ways, but the main enhancement was that the Apple Menu became hierarchic: it could have submenus. Whereas before a folder added in the Apple menu just enabled you to open that folder in the Finder, with BeHierarchic you could also access all of the folder's contents via its submenus. Did I say all? Not quite true, due to limitations of the Menu Manager, only 5 levels of menus were available (including the Apple Menu itself).

This functionality was incredibly useful. I used to have aliases to folders with my documents in the apple menu, other folders with applications grouped by type (to avoid having enormous hard to navigate menus). Almost anything I needed was almost instantly accessible. BeHierarchic also added 3 items to the top of the Apple Menu: Recent Applications, Recent Documents and Desktop. The first two are self explanatory, the third contained anything that was on the desktop (including external drives, floppies etc. (although you could choose not have slow disks included))

The System 7.5 Apple Menu

The hierarchical concept was so good that it was added to System 7.5 as the "Apple Menu Options" control panel (minus the "Desktop" item). It did however lack BeHierarchic's more advanced options such as configurable fonts, sorting and special key combos that allowed you to perform tasks other than opening an item selected in the Apple Menu (for example open in the front application (very useful) or displaying the file info in the Finder).

System 7.5 had a handy applescript (by default in a subfolder of the Apple Menu) that would add an alias of the selected file or folder to the Apple Menu, thus avoiding a long trip through the depths of the system folder.

Over the next few years the Apple Menu was more or less unchanged (Mac OS 8.5 added a "Favourites" folder to the Apple Menu and a "Add to Favourites" menu command to the Finder) and was much loved and used.

Mac OS X

When Steve showed the first previews of Mac OS X people oohed and ahhed at the pretty Aqua interface, the fancy eye-candy and the BSD underpinnings, but something was not quite right. Where was the Apple Menu? It was gone, vanished, disparu. There was however a pretty Aqua apple smack in the middle of the menu bar that served no actual purpose. People ranted and raved and in the final version of Mac OS X the Apple Menu returned, albeit in a severely diminished form: no more user configurability. It currently contains the following items:

  • About this Mac
  • Get Mac OS X Software: sends you to http://www.apple.com/downloads/macosx/
  • System Preferences
  • Dock: allows some configuration of dock options
  • Location: switches between Locations. Each location has separate network settings. Very handy if you move between home and the office for example
  • Recent Items: The last few applications and documents used
  • Force Quit
  • Sleep
  • Restart
  • Shutdown
  • Logout
Understandably many people were not (and some still aren't) happy at having functionality that they had enjoyed for over a decade suddenly removed. The Dock goes some way towards replacing the Apple Menu but is lacking in many respects. The loss of the Apple Menu did however spark the creation of several utilities that bring back its former glory.

Apples through the Ages

The icon used for the Apple Menu went through several changes over the years:

  • From the original Mac OS to System 6 (inclusive), the apple was black. This simple black apple is also used in later versions of the System when the screen was not colour capable.
  • With System 7 came the colour apple. Slightly larger than the black and white apple, it was coloured in the colours of the rainbow, like the badges that adorned the cases of of Macintoshes until the iMac.
  • When Mac OS 8 was released in 1997 the apple got an overhaul as part of new platinum theme . It retained its basic design, but was now slightly embossed giving it a slight 3-D look.
  • In Mac OS X the apple lost its rainbow colours (some would say its soul) and is now a tasteful blue (or grey if the Graphite appearance is used). Pretty but in many ways a mere shadow of its formal self.

The Apple Menu was wonderful because it was always available, hierarchical and user configurable. It allowed quick access to everything you needed without taking up vast amounts of screen space. Rest in peace.

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