The basis of this article was published a couple of years ago and at that stage began its’ life as brief explanation of a couple of the features in the Launcher which were introduced in System 7.5. Over the last couple of years, Apple have added more features to the MacOS that compliment the original article, so I thought I should update and publish it again.
What is the Apple Menu?
Believe it or not – I could not find in any of my Apple Macintosh manuals, (from when Apple actually used to publish manuals for the MacOS rather than hiding all the useful information and tips away in Apple Guides) a description of what the Apple Menu is actually used for. Plenty of stuff on how to add and remove items from it, but nothing to suggest some meaningful use of it.
So here’s how I would describe it; The Apple Menu appears in all Macintosh applications in the far left of the top menu bar. It normally contains an “About” screen which provides information on the current application, like the author, copyright and version information, and often contains helpscreens.
The “About” screen in the Finder is called “About This Macintosh” or “About This Computer” in later versions of MacOS and provides information about the version of System Software you are running, the amount of built-in and total memory your system has. Built-in memory is the amount of physical RAM you have in the form of silicon chips actually physically installed in the computer. Total memory is the total amount of RAM achieved when you add you “physical” memory and that created by an application like RAM Doubler or Apple’s Virtual Memory together. You are also shown a graphic representation of how much RAM is allocated to each running application and how much they are actually using.
In System software prior to System 7.5, the About This Macintosh screen also used to show the actual model of Macintosh you where working on and I think an icon for that particular machine. For some reason this feature was removed in System 7.5 and now only lists Macintosh and a generic icon. In MacOS 8.x, it now has a pretty picture of the top half of the globe with the wording MacOS Computer listed. (See Figure 1)
In System 6 and earlier, the Apple Menu was used to house special applications called Desk Accessories and the Control Panel. These could only be added or removed from the Apple Menu by using a special application called Font/DA Mover. With the advent of System 7, Font/DA Mover was made obsolete and to make items appear in the Apple Menu, now you just drag items in to the Apple Menu Items folder, which is located in the System folder.
Control Panel’s are placed in their own folder, also located in the System Folder, which are accessed from the Apple Menu via an alias of the Control Panel folder placed in the Apple Menu Items folder.
Desk Accessories are now treated as applications and are normally just placed straight in to the Apple Menu Items folder. The advantage of this is now you can drag applications that you use regularly in there for ready access and launching. Although, I recommend you leave the application in its’ normal folder and use an alias.
Using the Apple Menu
A typical Apple Menu can quickly become cluttered with all sorts of garbage making it difficult to find items – which defeats the purpose of the Apple Menu. I have seen many Apple Menus that scroll of the bottom of the screen. In addition to the many items added by a standard system install, many people add aliases of their favourite word processor, spreadsheet, a couple of regularly used utilities, a handful of often accessed data files and templates, Then add the many applications that now automatically install items directly into the Apple Menu, it is easy to see how this can be come so full.
There has to be a better way of managing all of this and thankfully, there is – System 7.5 introduced a Control Panel called Apple Menu Options that allows the Apple Menu to contain submenus. These submenus are created by creating folders, or using aliases of folders, and placing them inside the Apple Menu Items folder. (See Figure 2)
Figure 3 shows the contents of my Apple Menu Items folder (viewed by Name). The items with a triangle to the left of them are folders. The items without the triangles and with their names in italics are aliases pointing to other folders located elsewhere.
Figure 4 is the actual Apple Menu produced from Figure 3’s contents.
What are the folders with the $ for?
You’ll notice in Figure 3 that there are a bunch of folders all ending with a Dollar sign and according to the size appear to contain nothing – So what are they there for?
Well, if you look at Figure 4, you’ll see that my Apple Menu has divider lines breaking different sections up. This is created by installing an extension called Divider Lines. Where I originally got it from a few years ago, I don’t know, but it still works under MacOS 8.5 and it make the Apple Menu even more user friendly. You’ll notice that where a folder that ends in a dollar sign ($) appears in the listing of the Apple Menu Items folder, you get a divider line in the actual Apple Menu. It would be nice if Apple actually included this as an option in the Apple Menu Options control panel, to save having to add a third party extension each time I do a system re-build.
This is a folder I create within the Apple Menu Items folder and then move all the Desk Accessories that the System Installer placed in the “root” level of the Apple Menu.
The Control Panels item is an alias of the Control Panels folder located in the System Folder. This is automatically created when installing a fresh System Folder.
This is an alias of my Documents folder, which is actually located on a separate partition on my hard drive to my System Disk. The original item contains all my data files and is broken up into further folders based on subject. Common templates and stationary like Fax Headers and Letterheads (I have numerous quantities of these – ones from AUSOM, Work, my own business and then personal) are stored with the relevant sub folder and all begin with a bullet to place them at the bottom of each group where they are easy to locate. It has also been suggested to used a leading space or exclamation mark (!) to place them at the top of the listing.
The Downloads is similar to the Documents – it is an alias of a folder on another drive. This folder contains the contents of stuff I have downloaded from the BBS, the Internet, or for temporary storage of new “toys” to play with.
The Favorites folder is a new addition to MacOS 8.5 and is used by applications that have Navigation Services enabled (another new feature to MacOS 8.5 that is a vastly improved Open/Save dialog). The Favorites folder is located inside your system folder and contains aliases for your most common documents, servers, web pages, etc.
Again a new feature of MacOS 8.5. This allows you to navigate network servers in a similar fashion to using the Network Neighbourhood under Windows 95 or NT 4.0.
This is just the standard Chooser renamed so that it appears in the set as the Network Browser. I could just have easily rename Network Browser to just Browser.
This folder is created via the Apple Menu Options Control Panel when you active Remember recently used items. (See Figure 2). The system automatically keeps track of the most recent applications launched (you can control the number remembered) and places an alias of the application in the folder. This is very handy if the application was deeply buried within folders – you can quickly access it again.
Like Recent Applications, this is controlled via the Apple Menu Options Control Panel but keeps tracks of recently opened document files. Great for finding that file that you were just working on, but can’t remember where it came from. Note that it only seems to records those documents that are accessed by double clicking on in the Finder. If you open the document using File, Open from inside most applications, they are not recorded in the Recent Documents menu, but then many programs keep their own list of documents they opened themselves in their File menu.
Yet again controlled via the Apple Menu Options Control Panel, this folder records recently opened AppleShare File Servers and thus is only of use if you are connected to a AppleTalk network. If your not, set the number of remembered servers to zero.
This is an alias of the Launcher Items folder located in System Folder. It has been renamed with a leading bullet, •, (Option-8) so that it appears at the bottom of the Apple Menu and thus easy to locate. See the section below labelled “The Launcher” to see how I manage this item. I have seen others place a leading space or an exclamation mark (!) rather than the bullet to put it the top of the Apple Menu.
The icons for the “Recent” folders were automatically created by the Apple Menu Options Control Panel. The Control Panels, Favorites and •Launcher Items are aliases of the original folder, thus they inherit the same icon as the original. The Documents and Downloads in the Apple Menu Items folder are actually aliases, but the original folder icons were created using a utility can Folder Icon Maker which can be downloaded from AUSOM FirstClass and I used a Read-Only SimpleText document to create the Documents icon and SimpleText Stationary Pad document to create the Downloads icon. The Apple DA’s icon was taken from the actual Apple Menu Items folder icon.
Introduced with System 7.5, the Launcher provides a convenient program selector. In its’ simplest form, the Launcher displays icons for the selected applications in a single flat menu.
Based on this knowledge, I didn’t have much use for the Launcher and used to create folders for the various types of applications (Apps, Comms, Games, Utilities, etc) within the Apple Menu Items folder and then manually create aliases of the applications I wanted. This was a very time consuming process every time I wanted to rebuild any of my System Folders from scratch – something I seem to do so regularly and I now have a single Zip Disk dedicated to my System Installer Software to ease the install and save having to hunt for different CD’s and updaters. I would also have to rename the aliases, removing the trailing ” alias” from the name.
When System 7.5.1 introduced an updated version of the Launcher, which supported Drag & Drop I looked at the Launcher again, but as far as I could see it still only supported a single flat menu. However, by dragging the icon of the application I wanted to include in my Apple Menu on to the new version of the Launcher, I found that it created an alias of the file WITHOUT the trailing text ” alias” in the Launcher Items folder located in the System Folder. Well, this obviously was quicker then doing it all manually. I now created the alias via the Launcher and then just dragged it into the appropriate folder under the Apple Menu. MacOS 8.0 has since introduced an even easier way to create aliases without the suffix “alias” – just hold down the both the Cmd and Apple keys while holding down the mouse button, which should now show a small crooked arrow next to the cursor and drag it to the new location. Hey Presto, a new alias has been created!
For quite a while this is how I used the Launcher and Apple Menu. Then a day of revelations!
I went to visit Bronwyn Halls to either pick up and/or drop off something and I took a quick look at her computer monitor and saw this lovely program selector that had categories at the top and pretty icons of applications below. I asked Bronwyn what the program was called and where could I obtain a copy, expecting it to be one of her many shareware downloads.
To my utter amazement, she calmly informed me that it was called the Launcher and shipped with System 7.5. After recovering from my initial shock, I asked how did she achieve the different categories at the top. The answer was simple – Create folders within the Launcher Items folder and make sure they commence with a bullet (•, created by pressing Option-8) and then the Launcher will display the folders as submenus.
I now sat down in front of the computer and began to play it the Launcher. I noticed that is some of Bronwyn’s menus she had different sized icons to other menus. I again asked Bronwyn how she achieved this and the answer was to hold down the Cmd key while clicking within the Launcher background (ie NOT on one of the icons) and this produces a small menu as shown in Figure 10.
You then select the size of the icons you want for that submenu. I now tend to use Medium sized button, but if screen real estate is at premium (as it was for me on my SE/30 with it’s 9″ screen when I first wrote this article a few years ago, you can use small icons. I don’t use the large icons at all, as they are just far too large and besides don’t look very nice.
After visiting Bronwyn, I began playing with the newly discovered features. To create the first Launcher menu, I just copied the folders I had created in the Apple Menu Items folder onto the Launcher Items folder and renamed them to commence with a bullet. It worked like a charm. I still have my menus under the Apple Menu, plus I had a pretty and useful program selector.
For a few weeks I continued to use this setup. Then a couple of things occurred;
First, I upgraded some of my software and wanted the new items in both the Apple Menu and in the launcher. Not a major problem I just did what I had been doing for a while – I dragged the icon on to the Launcher and it created the correctly named alias. I then opened the Launcher Items folder and the Apple Menu Items folder and began to copy the icons across. Occasionally, I forgot to hold down the Option key as I was moving the original alias, so it would be moved across. Not a major problem, I just copied it back across. However, at the time I had three computers sitting here and they all had new software installed on them or else they required aliases pointing to the updated software on my file server – in total there were SIX sets of aliases to be created (2 on each machine).
I also removed the aliases of the old versions from each machine (along with the old programs themselves).
Anyway, all in all this didn’t seem a major problem. It just added a few extra minutes to the work.
A week or so later I was playing around with some ethernet cards on the Mac II and DuoDock and installing various drivers to try and get them to work. To cut a long story short, I didn’t get the cards work and managed to corrupt the System Folders along the way, so I had to rebuild them on both machines. As mentioned before, now that I have all my installers on a single zip disk, this isn’t such a problem as it used to be, but when it came to setting up the Launcher and my Apple Menu again, I thought there had to be an easier way. I didn’t think of it then and just created them the way I had previously.
It wasn’t until a couple of months later that I realised the simplest solution – Create an alias of the Launcher Items folder and place that into the Apple Menu Items folder. Now I only had one set of aliases to create on each machine, and as stated previously the new version of the Launcher made this quite simple – I just created the folders in the Launcher Items folder and then dragged the files onto the appropriate section and there appeared my icons.
I had been used to my Applications menu under the Apple Menu been near the top of the menu as it was sorted alphabetically and thus was easy to find. The alias of the Launcher Items seemed to get lost in the middle of the Apple Menu, so after a while I renamed the alias to begin with bullet (•, Option-8) and it appeared at the bottom of the list – Very easy to find. Again it has been suggested to use a space or exclamation mark to place it at the top, but I personally prefer the look of the bullet and I try and keep the Apple Menu fairly short anyway.
Launching the Launcher
Normally, the Launcher is accessed via the Control Panel menu under the Apple Menu, but it can also be launched automatically when the system starts up. To do this, activate the option “Show Launcher at system startup” in the General Control Panel.
The Launcher is such a simple application to use, yet extremely powerful. It is one of Apple’s little gems that I think has been underrated or glossed over in the past. I have been amazed that nowhere in any printed manuals could I find any clue on how to maximise the potential of the Launcher, but have since discovered that some of these tips are explained in the Apple Guide menu in the Finder. This is an area I haven’t looked into yet, but when I get some time I intend to, and I would strongly suggest you do. You just never know what little trick you might discover.
MacOS 8.0 introduced a brand new style of folders, called Pop-up Windows which are displayed at the bottom of the Finder’s screen as Tabs (see Figure 14)
To make a regular Finder Window in to a Pop-up window, make sure it is foremost window in the Finder and then select “View as Pop-up Window” from the View Menu. Alternatively click in the title bar, and while still holding down the mouse button, drag the window down to the bottom of the screen.
I use the folders inside of my Launcher Items to create the Pop-up Windows, as well as the occasional data folder of projects I’m currently working on, particularly if they contain a lot of files that I constantly need to refer to or open. Just like a normal Finder window under MacOS 8 you can con customise the look of the folder. In my case, I set them all to view as a List, and only show the name. (See Figure 15)
A friend of mine uses a combination of Large Buttons for launching applications and List, with type and modified date for current projects.
To set the view, just choose the type from the Views Menu in the Finder and then set your options in the View Options… screen (See Figure 16)
Users of Systems earlier than 7.5
Much of what has been described in this article can be achieved in earlier versions of System 7. In fact I began using many of the techniques under System 7.1 by using readily available shareware applications like Be-Hierarchic. I have also had some experience using System 7.1 with System 7.5’s Apple Menu Options. System 6 users may be out of luck, my knowledge doesn’t extend back to System 6 – Hopefully Pam or someone else may be able to provide information on similar applications for System 6.
A copy of this article, with colour images, is available from my website, http://www.nicholaspyers.com.
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