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Tools We Use: Menuette

Applications these days seem to sport more and more menus, and the menubar is becoming increasingly crowded thanks to the new wider Application menu title, the keyboard menu icon, and the clock, not to mention third-party icons such as OneClick, OSA Menu, StuffIt’s Magic Menu, Conflict Catcher, and Timbuktu Pro. Certainly large monitors are more common today than they were five years ago, but I’m still using some narrow ones. For years I’ve relied on Menuette, a clever shareware control panel that solves the problem once and for all.

Menuette substitutes small icons of your choosing (or even of your creation) for menu names in your menubar, a seemingly obvious, and to me, essential interface enhancement. Mostly, the purpose is to save space, which is a major achievement because space needs saving. But I find Menuette important in other ways as well.

Many years of dancing with Menuette have wrought a curious change in my gestalt: I no longer want to see menu names. Doubtless many won’t share this opinion, but for me, menubar icons are better! They’re easier to see, and easier for my mind to encompass. I know at a glance, from its row of menu icons, what program is frontmost. And I know more viscerally what each menu does. Most programs, after all, have certain menus in common (File, Edit, Help), and certain menus recur frequently (Tools, Options, Insert, Format); so I’ve become used to icons representing those concepts. Moreover, it isn’t the name of a menu that’s important, but what it signifies, so that if the Options menu in one program and the Preferences menu in another end up represented by the same icon, so much the better. I’m far more word-oriented than picture-oriented, so my strong feelings for Menuette speak volumes for its power. Besides, which icons appear is completely up to the user: you can toggle instantly between icons and names, and any menu can be designated always to show a name instead of an icon. So even if you think you’re anti-icon, you might want to give Menuette a try, since you can make it work however best suits you.

Menuette’s recent 3.0 and 3.0.1 updates, the first since 1994, add menu font control, WYSIWYG font menus, menu icons with varying widths, and the capability to turn off icons entirely to focus on Menuette’s menu font controls. Most remarkable, Menuette can now animate menu icons, either when you’re selecting from the menu or (don’t try this at home) all the time. This makes choosing from the menu bar downright fun; with the icons waggling at you, it’s a little like playing Snood all the time (don’t get me started about that, unless you’d like to rename this column "Games We Play Constantly")! The interface has been brilliantly rewritten, including an icon editor and superbly intuitive use of drag & drop; Menuette can import animations from Christopher Suley’s earlier menu animation program Zipple, animated GIFs, and application icons, and it includes a large base of icons. Menuette comes from Tiger Technologies, workshop of legendary Mac programmer Robert L. Mathews (and home of perennial favorite Holiday Lights). It’s $20 shareware, with a free ten-day trial.



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