By Dan Moren
January 13, 2022 1:03 PM PT
What’s in my menu bar, 2022 edition
I’m kind of a sucker for menu bar apps. I’m not sure why, but there’s tons of software that I would never just leave running in my Dock, but I’m more than happy to reduce to an icon up at the top of my screen.
Over the years, I’ve accumulated a wide variety of these programs, and though in I’ve occasionally tried to cut back and slim down, in the last year or so, I may have gone a bit overboard—even for my 27-inch iMac and its expansive display. I chalk that up to finally becoming a Bartender convert1; it’s made me far less picky about what I’m willing to have in my menu bar, since it doesn’t really clutter up my screen.
So, starting from the rightmost and moving to the left, let’s take a quick survey through these menu bar widgets, some of which may even surprise you,
An analog clock? I can see why that seems like a weird choice, and I’ll admit: the only time I ever interact with this is when I rarely—and usually accidentally—open macOS’s less-than-useful Notification Center. Unfortunately, you can’t totally get rid of the system clock anymore, thanks to it pulling double duty, but I’ve reduced it down to its smallest footprint, for reasons I’ll get into a moment.
I do use Control Center, but not nearly as much as I do on my iOS devices. Mainly because a lot of those features are available via keyboard shortcuts or other, dedicated menu bar items. On my MacBook Air, it’s handy for AirPlaying my screen to my Apple TV, but on my iMac, I almost never open it.
Wait, is that another clock? Well, yes, but this time it’s The Clock, my go-to clock replacement. I’ve got it set up to mimic the way I would normally have macOS display the time (day abbreviation, month abbreviation, date, and digital 12-hour time), but it also adds a bunch of other useful features, including a drop-down calendar, my next event (including the ability to quickly join an associated Zoom meeting), and customizable world clocks. Compared to those supercharged options, macOS’s built-in clock is really pretty underwhelming.
A sound widget is pretty standard. Except that’s not just any sound widget, it’s Rogue Amoeba’s SoundSource utility. Like The Clock, SoundSource one ups the built-in option with a ton of extra features, like the ability to quickly choose your sound input (something you have to hold down the Option key to do with macOS’s own widget), access to volume levels and output sources for individual apps, and additional sound tweaks like balance, overdrive, a 10-band equalizer, and more.
That mic widget next to it is also part of SoundSource, letting me see my input volume levels at a glance, as well as quickly mute my mic by clicking on it.
Next up, Shortcuts. A relatively new addition to the menu bar, given its introduction in macOS Monterey, I’ve mainly been leaving it there for testing over the last few months, so I can quickly access Shortcuts that I might be working on, without having to set up and remember a keyboard shortcut. I’m not sure if it’ll stick around in that valued real estate, but for the moment, it’s earning its keep.
A handful of SwiftBar widgets are up next, starting with my previously detailed weather widget, which pulls from my Netatmo weather station. Next to it is a script I made to display the current UV level, though it’s less critical in winter than in the height of summer. (There’s also a currently hidden widget to display how many people are listening to the livestream when Relay FM, The Incomparable, or The Rebound are broadcasting.)
And now, we jump behind the curtain. These apps are in Bartender’s “hidden” section, so they aren’t display by default, but pop up when I mouseover the menu bar.
Wi-Fi status isn’t actually that important to my iMac, since it’s connected to Ethernet. But other features like Handoff and AirDrop rely on Wi-Fi being active, so I leave the widget there, just in case I need to troubleshoot something.
I’m relying more and more on iCloud Keychain these days, especially since it added two-factor verification codes last year, but I keep an older version of Agile Bits’s 1Password around to store secure notes and other logins that don’t work well in iCloud Keychain. (Server credentials, for example, since iCloud Keychain doesn’t work in Terminal.)
With two Macs in the house, Edovia’s Screens 4 is a handy way to quickly reference something on my other machine, especially since they’re now often on different floors. It used to be more critical when I had a headless Mac mini server, but those days are long gone.
I’m not even sure why Spotlight is still there, to be honest. If I need it, I summon it from the keyboard.
Even I can’t escape Bluetooth! Every once in a while, I need to check the status or connect or disconnect a peripheral, and it’s faster than going into the System Preferences pane.
I back up with Time Machine, naturally. Unfortunately, it’s not the smoothest experience, so it can be useful to see what it’s up to.
ManyTricks’s Moom is a window manager par excellence that I use for basically one purpose: rearranging all the apps that I need when I’m streaming our D&D podcast, Total Party Kill, on YouTube so that the apps both fit onscreen and are correctly laid out for the broadcast.
While I’ve moved to iCloud for most of my online storage needs, I still use Dropbox in cases where I need to share files with others or request files from people. iCloud Drive just doesn’t have a good substitute for that yet.
Everybody needs a good clipboard management app, and I’ve long used Tapbot’s Pastebot for its powerful text manipulation features.
Screens Connect makes it easy for me to connect to my home computer even when I’m out of the house—or even out of the state or country—by taking care of annoying necessities like port forwarding.
I love a good emoji, and Rocket lets me use the Slack-style double colons to insert them in my typing, rather than having to deal with the Mac’s floating emoji palette.
I’ve been playing around with using my Stream Deck more and more, but not to the point where I need to have the menu bar item visible all the time.
I recently bought a ScanSnap to help me digitize old paper documents and get them out of the way. Fortunately, interactions with it can mainly be managed from the device itself.
Inspired by Jason’s post, I’ve started using Hazel to automate archiving files, especially space-consuming podcast files, to my NAS for long-term storage.
So that’s a quick survey of my many many menu bar icons. Do I have a problem? Perhaps! But I’m also not willing to rule out future additions to my menu bar if I need them. Perhaps some day I can make it all the way across to the Help menu.
Update: A previous version of this piece erroneously listed SoundSource as free.
- Honestly, I’m not sure what took me so long, but I think it was Bartender 4’s “quick hover” feature that really sold me. All those apps are still at my fingertips, but I don’t have to look at them constantly, and they remain at my fingertips. ↩
[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 firstname.lastname@example.org. The latest novel in his Galactic Cold War series of sci-fi space adventures, The Nova Incident, is available now.]