By Dan Moren
February 12, 2021 2:14 PM PT
Customizing your toolbar in Mac apps
We all get so used to the way that our Macs work that we sometimes forget that one of reasons that we love the platform is its flexibility—and I’m just as guilty of this as anybody.
When I recently upgraded my iMac to Big Sur, I opened up Mail and was dismayed to find the Search box, which I use all the time, was gone from the menu bar, replaced instead with a measly magnifying glass icon.
“Wait, now I have to click that icon to expand the search box before I can even type in my search terms?” I thought. “What a pain.”
But then I remembered that those Mail icons up in that toolbar aren’t set in stone, thanks to one of my very favorite Mac features: Customize Toolbar.
You can usually find the command in the View menu in any app that supports it, which is pretty much any Mac app that has that standard toolbar there, including many third-party apps. When you select it, a sheet slides down displaying every button that the app allows you to put in the toolbar. And, in a move familiar to users of iOS, the icons currently in the toolbar start to jiggle, allowing you to drag them.
Drag them where? Well, pretty much anywhere. Want to rearrange the order of those toolbar icons? Drag and drop them. Got an icon you don’t want in the toolbar—in my case, the very large Move dropdown? Just drag it back into the sheet and poof, it’s gone from the toolbar, leaving enough empty space to return the full Search box.
My favorite thing about Customize Toolbar is that a lot of the time it contains buttons for things that you do frequently and perhaps that you wish there was a simple way to access rather than hunting through menus or trying to remember an arcane keyboard shortcut. That’s why my Mail toolbar has the Flag option on it, for example. In Safari you can add buttons for features like the Web Inspector or iCloud Tabs. And the Finder has options for AirDrop—saving you clicking through the Share sheet—Get Info, and more.
Even if it’s just the spacing of icons in the toolbar that you don’t care for, Customize Toolbar generally lets you add both static and flexible space items, to control exactly how far apart the buttons are. Some apps, like Mail, also provide alternative interfaces for the same command: a trio of Reply/Reply All/Forward buttons as one widget, as well as individual buttons if you just want one or two of them. It’s all up to you.
If you decide you want to go back to the default toolbar options, that’s easy too: there’s usually a “Default Set” shown at the bottom, which you can drag to the toolbar to reset back to the original state.
In fact, the only thing that makes me sad about Customize Toolbar is that it seems to be disappearing from Mac apps, as fewer and fewer of them rely on the standard toolbar interface. Especially with the influx of Mac Catalyst-based apps—and, on M1 Macs, iOS apps—the toolbar seems to be a dying breed, which is a real shame. Because most of those iOS-inspired apps don’t offer that level of flexibility and easy customization, once a hallmark of Apple’s products. (I do at least appreciate that Big Sur’s Control Center implementation does allow you similar sort of customization, even if it’s a bit more spare.)
But until they come and pry the toolbar from my grasp, I will continue customizing all of my apps like my life depends on it.
[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Twitter at @dmoren or reach him by email at email@example.com. His latest novel, The Nova Incident, comes out in July and is available to pre-order now, so do it!]
This is a Six Colors members-only story that's been unlocked for all to read.
Become a member for access to exclusive articles, a members-only podcast, and other benefits.