Article: MOSX Menu Bar Shareware


By

Alan Cook, a Mac OS X developer, recently gave me a simple request: "Could you do a third party Menu Bar item review?" As an incentive he provided me with a free copy of his own shareware, AquilaCalendar. That's marketing I can admire. Consider me challenged, and bribed! Actually, Alan is a rather brave fellow. As you will see, calendar shareware for the X Menu Bar is diverse and plentiful. Thus builds the suspense: How will AquilaCalendar fare against its competition? Will Alan knock me into the middle of next week if I think his software sucks? Let's find out!

But first, how does one research currently available MOSX menu bar shareware? I decided to search both MacUpdate and VersionTracker using the key words 'Menu Bar'. Clearly MacUpdate is the underdog of Mac software update sites. But, I also have to wonder if the site takes itself seriously. What I found was a meager list of Menu Bar shareware, 5 times smaller than the list at VersionTracker. Certainly, VersionTracker is guilty of regularly missing new Mac shareware. For example, good luck finding any reference to the iMac Folders freeware I suggested in my last article. (Available at the Xicons site.) But, the number of the listings I found at MacUpdate was unacceptable. I had actually looked forward to spotlighting their site in this article! Instead, I am going to skip them and provide only VersionTracker URLs for each of the programs featured below. Let's hope MacUpdate get their act together. VersionTracker could use some competition.

Should I present an alphabetical listing of the shareware? That would put AquilaCalendar on top of the list! So let's taunt Alan Cook and go in reverse alphabetical order instead.

[Please note that all my screenshots include two non-Apple must-have Menu Bar items I use daily: StuffIt Deluxe Magic Menu in blue, and ASM on the far right. Also, note that there are, in some cases, new and improved versions of the shareware reviewed here. The provided URLs should get you to them].

XMasLightsCocoa:

Stats: Freeware, Version 1.1, 560K, by Good Doug Software.
Review: Cute, but the images are a bit big! What I have pictured here is "Tiny lights" mode, would you believe. The "Big Lights" are obnoxiously big. The Blink images used in "Big Lights" mode also need some work as they make poor use of transparency. However, Normal and Tiny mode images are quite good. One quirk: I found that sometimes the Preferences window would not launch. Restart the app and it will work again.

Conclusion: Surprise! Not all "Menu Bar" apps provide Menu Bar icons. I hope this program gets some refinement in the future and incorporates other holidays. But hey, it’s free! Enjoy.

wStock:

Stats: Freeware, Version 2.0, 300 KB, by Wolfware. Requires an Internet connection to access Yahoo! "...wStock will not work if your computer is behind a firewall which prevents outbound http (web) requests or requires a proxy."
Review: Simple to use. Click on the ticker running in the Menu Bar to access control. You can personalize your portfolio, including stock order. It includes ^IXIC and ^DJI index reports. The menu must be accessed from the Finder. My only quibble is that I cannot to customize the speed of the ticker tape. It's a bit slow for my hyperactive brain. This application has no Dock icon, a good thing. It has built-in MOSX Help, a nice feature.
Conclusion: A very good implementation for Freeware. But, I suggest you check out PTHStockTicker, reviewed below, for more features.

wClock:

Stats: Freeware, Version 1.9, by Wolfware.
Review: This is the first of our calendar programs. It doubles as a Menu Bar clock. But, MOSX now has a Menu Bar clock! So you will find the clocks initially overlap each other. You have to option-drag wClock over the left, to get it out of the way of other Menu Bar items. It stays where you put it, which is actually a problem. If you have another program that uses a lot of Menu Bar space, like my beloved Tex-Edit Plus, it ends up overlapping menu text on top of wClock, creating a mess. If you click on the clock, you will get a drop down calendar highlighting today's date. Arrows let you move to other months.
Conclusion: This software is out-of-date with the current Menu Bar standards in MOSX. What it does is minimal and redundant. Sorry, but I say: don't bother with it.

Tiny Clock:

Stats: Freeware, Version 1.0, by Wunderbear Software.
Review: This software is dated 2000. When MOSX was in beta it was a really nice idea, a free way to get back the Menu Bar clock. But, now it is redundant, actually obscuring the clock in 10.1.2, as well as my beloved ASM menu.
Conclusion: I suggest you ignore it.

Spy: DIY install version OR Installer Version.

Stats: Freeware, Version 2.1, 360 KB, requires MOSX 10.1, by James "007" Bond.
Review: What you get is a bull's-eye icon in the Menu Bar that indicates your CPU activity. But, this software has the worst documentation and installation I have ever seen. The ReadMe and other doc aliases are broken. The installer version is so obnoxious that it dumps the Spy.prefPane software into your System/Library/Preference Panes folder, which is strictly a big fat no-no! Bad idea 007. It belongs in your user account Preference Panes folder. No developer should be putting anything into the System folder, with extremely few exceptions. This isn't one of them.
Conclusion: The developer of this software made quite a mess. He even admits he used APIs that may not be valid beyond MOSX 10.1, so at least he is honest. Use with caution. Better yet, skip it and check out PTHCPUMonitor, reviewed below.

ProcessWizard:

Stats: Freeware, Version 1.02 (1.04 is currently available), requires 10.1, by La Chose Interactive (with a little help from Frank Vercruesse and Brian Hill).
Review: This is a power user-only Menu Bar item. It serves a couple purposes. The most simple is an easily accessible method of killing MOSX processes. You simply click the Menu Bar icon, choose what process you would like to kill by control-clicking, then click on the 'Kill' popup button. It gives you access to ALL processes running, not just running applications. You will find the same list in Apple's ProcessViewer application. The new feature it provides is control of process priority in the OS. This is power which any typical MOSX user would not care about or want to know. But power users, who hate CLUIs (me!), love it. For example, it has been most useful for versions 5.0 and 5.0.1 of Virtual PC.
Conclusion: A power user must-have. Warning: Keep this product out of the hands of newbies, due to choking hazard.

PTHVolume:

Stats: Freeware, Version 1.3.1 (1.3.2 is currently available), 295 KB, by PTH Consulting.
Review: Bless PTH for their of excellent freeware. They have provided a number of useful since the release of the beta version of MOSX. They have been so popular that Apple tossed two of them, the menu bar clock and the volume control, into the MOS 10.1. Sadly that makes both of them redundant. PTHVolume puts a big speaker icon into the Menu Bar. You can't miss it. Click the icon and you get a cute genie effect that reveals a big volume control. One thing it has that Apple's version doesn't is a mute check box.
Conclusion: You don't need it, but it's classier than Apple's. Simply turn off Apple's version in the Sound system preference window.

PTHStockTicker:

Stats: Freeware, Version 1.0.2, 416 KB, by PTH Consulting.
Review: This is the shining star of freeware stock tickers. The preferences let you choose your portfolio, colors for profit and loss, ticker tape speed (hurray!), ticker tape width, text formatting, update period, and which local Yahoo server to use. As with any stock ticker, you need to be on the Internet to obtain data.
Conclusion: Excellent. If you even occasionally like watching stocks, this is a great program.

PTHCPUMonitor:

Stats: Freeware, Version 1.0.1, 592 KB, by PTH Consulting.
Review: This is a very nice application that simply puts a thermometer guage of your CPU use into the menu bar. If there is no CPU use, it is empty. A very busy CPU will fill the thermometer.
Conclusion: How can you get more simple? If you want it to load at startup, just add it in your Login System Preferences.

PTHClock:

Stats: Freeware, Version 1.7.1 (1.9.0 is currently available), 496 KB, by PTH Consulting.
Review: Sadly PTHClock now interferes with the new standard menu bar clock in MOSX 10.1.x. Happily, you can turn off Apple's Menu Bar Clock in the Date & Time System Preferences. PTHClock has much nicer features than Apple's. These include being able to change the font and its color. Another nice feature is being able to make the date appear by merely moving your cursor over the clock.
Conclusion: Very tempting. It is not a must-have, but it is nicer than Apple's menu bar clock.
(Note: MOSX 10.1.3 users MUST update to at least version 1.7.1. Earlier versions will not work).

NetBadge:

Stats: Freeware, Version 2.0 Beta, 120 KB, by Phillip George.
Review: NetBadge is most useful when you are connected to a network. It shows your IP address as well as account name and owner name. It also gives you another way to get to your Home directory, as does the Finder Go menu. NetBadge is only accessible from the Finder. The screenshot here shows you what it looks like when you are not on a network. Planned features of the finished version include access to ping, DNS lookup, traceroute, AppleTalk zone info, quick logout and login as another user.
Conclusion: I am not sure how often I would use it, but it is nice to see one's name on the Menu Bar. If you are a networking fiend, the finished version 2.0 sounds very promising.

Mr 9 Menu:

Stats: $5 Shareware, Version 1.1 (1.2 is currently available), 1100 KB, by Peter Berglund.
Review: This program purports to bring back the old Apple Menu. Actually, all it does is start up Classic and give you a minimal application running in Classic that, like any other Classic application, gives you access to the Classic Apple Menu and the Classic Application Menu. Yawn! A better option is the freeware AppleScript called 'The Classic Environment?' It shows when Classic is running by putting its icon into the Dock. It also gives you access to exactly the same thing as Mr 9 Menu.
Conclusion: Skip it. Get the freeware alternative. You have been a very naughty boy Peter for asking a shareware fee.

MenuStrip:

Stats: $12 Shareware, Version 2.0a1, 1027 KB total, by MacPowerUser.com.
Review: When it is started the first time, MenuStrip will ask whether you want to use its Menu Bar clock (which has more features than Apple's) and if you want it to start at login. Sadly, this application is NOT compatible with MOSX 10.1.x. As you can see above, running it results in a mess on your Menu Bar. Boohoo. Hopefully it will be updated. It provides a collection of Menu Bar buttons that give you access to such things as an Application Menu, a 'Hide All' Button, 'Show All' Button, and 'Single App Mode'. Its redundant features are a Display menu and Volume menu. To access its preferences you have to run a separate 'MenuStrip Prefs' application, which I find to be an obnoxious approach to programming.
Conclusion: Skip it. If they fix it and get rid of the prefs application I might consider giving it a second glance.

MenuCalendar:  [MenuCalendar1.gif]

Stats: Freeware, Version 1.1a (1.1b is currently available), 164 KB, by Guido Neitzer.
Review: This is a very elegant little calendar application. It tosses a simple icon in the menu bar next to the clock. You click it and the current month's calendar appears with today's date highlighted. The current week of the year is listed down the left margin. You can use arrow buttons to access adjacent months. Hit the 'Today' button and you are back at the current month. Click the MenuBar icon a second time and the calendar will close.
Conclusion: If all you need is access to a current calendar, you want this. It is simple and elegant, like the Mac. If you need more from your calendar, read on...

JetClock:

Stats: Freeware, Version 1.5.1, 336 KB, by Jerome Lebel
Review: There is no documentation with this app, so you have to play with it to figure it out. It is also not MOSX 10.1.x compatible as it overwrites the Menu Bar Clock, and everything else for that matter. Happily you can overcome this problem by moving and resizing the clock inside its preferences. (In the pictures here I provide a 'before' and 'after' view. In the 'after' view I have set the x coordinate from the left to be 350 pixels and the width to be 150 pixels). If you click on the clock once you get the date listed. Clicking on it twice provides a cute little calendar with the current month. You can make the calendar fill the screen if you like. Control-Clicking it provides access to the preferences and Quit command. The font used in the calendar can be changed via the Font Panel.
Conclusion: This program has not been updated that I know of since November of 2000, before MOSX was officially released. Thus it has bugs. But with a little fiddling you can overcome all its problems and use this app as both an Apple clock replacement and a simple calendar.

FuzzyClock:

Stats: Freeware, Version 1.0.1 (1.0.2 is currently available), 280 KB, by Guido Neitzer.
Review: What is a calendar without a clock? So here is Guido Neitzer's clock to accompany his MenuCalendar, reviewed above. What you get is NOT accurate time, but 'Fuzzy Time.' As you can see in the image above. Fuzzy Time means the time given in text, referencing only five-minute increments. Other examples of Fuzzy Time: "quarter to five," "ten of two," etc. If you hold your cursor over the fuzzy time for a second it will pop up a little box with the date, and the 24 hour time (20:14...). This clock works great right along side Apple's clock.
Conclusion: What use is fuzzy time? I wonder. It certainly is amusing if you turn off your Apple clock and watch the expressions of people seeing Fuzzy Time in your menu bar. "How did you do that?" I suppose you could call this a novelty clock. Have fun!

EyeBalls:

Stats: $10 Shareware, Version 2.0.1, 248 KB, by Ben Haller of Stick Software.
Review: Yup, it's a pair of eyeballs in the MenuBar that follows your cursor, with some fun new twists. You can also use the preferences to make the eyes dragable on your desktop. It is fun to make the eyes wander around the screen while avoiding your cursor. That is only the beginning of the silliness. You will enjoy customizing your eyeballs in ways only Ben Haller could imagine. He provides a few custom personalities to get you started, including 'Charlotte' (with three eyes, like the storybook spider), Kermit (with green eyes), Meatloaf (with yellow cat eyes), Slug (with a single sleepy eye), Twitch (who has been smoking too much weed), and Zaphod (three eyes that blink like a camera iris). You can even choose to make your eyeballs straight, bi, or gay. I personally like having 5 gigantic eyes.

Conclusion: EyeBalls is totally useless and totally fun. Thanks to Quartz graphics in MOSX, Ben Haller has pulled out the stops here to provide the ultimate Eyeballs. If you like Mac-toys, you love this, you need this.

AquilaCalendar:

Stats: $20 Shareware, Version 1.0.8 (1.1.2 is currently available), 3.6 MB, by Alan Cook of AvCore Systems, Inc.
Review: Of course, I intentionally saved the best for last. Yes you have to pay for it, but what you get it elegant and extremely useful. This blows away all the other shareware menu bar calendar programs for Mac OS X, with a vengeance! It sits quietly on the Menu Bar with a calendar icon. Version 1.1.2 embeds the current day's date into the icon, a nifty trick. Click the icon once and the current month's calendar appears highlighting today's date as well as holidays. Click it again and it disappears. If you Option-Click the icon or calendar while it is open, you can change to an extended calendar view and back again. The latest version lets you tear the calendar off the menu bar and put it anywhere on your desktop. Click the menu bar icon again to kill it. The next time you click the menu bar icon the calendar will be just where you left it last time! Control-click the desktop calendar and it locks right back onto the menu bar. Nice stuff.

Note that the menu bar version of the calendar floats in front of everything else, which can be annoying. Happily, the Command-Click version of the calendar is very friendly with other applications.

Where the fun really begins is if you choose to make a 'New Calendar' inside the application's Calendar menu, or you Command-Click the Menu Bar icon. You now get a three-month view with the current month in the center. You can also extend this calendar via radio buttons to 6 or 12 month views. Quite kewl. (Easter Egg! Click to the side of the radio buttons to choose a big fat single month view, great for Granny).

Hit the pencil button and a side drawer opens up revealing tabbed notes, both general and dated. Double-click a date on the calendar to change to its Notes page. You can add or delete as many notes as you like. You have to save your current note before you add another. There is hot help for all the buttons.

Hit the Check Marks icon to swap your drawer to a ToDo list that works exactly like the Notes drawer.

Hit the Year button to change to another year. Or you can hit the Months and Years arrows to change the calendar as well. There is a list of month letters above the buttons to let you jump where you like. If you get lost in time, you just have to hit the T button to return to today.

The Preferences button (recently updated from the eagle icon seen above) lets you customize to your hearts content. This includes custom colors, turning on and off the Menu Bar, showing the main calendar at startup, and showing the week numbers in the left margin.

On the far right on your calendar is the button to customize the its toolbar. If your toolbar gets too full, you get an arrow button pointing to the right telling you there is more to access. You can even add spacers between buttons.

The application's menus have varying selections according to where you are in the application. All the buttons mentioned above are accessible from the menus. There is yet another option available in the Views menu called "Date Calculations." It pops out a little drawer at the bottom of your calendar and lets you enter two dates. Hit the tab key and AquilaCalendar will calculate the time difference between them. For example, you can enter your birth date, then today's date. If you are in 'Total' mode you can see how old you are in years, months and days. If you change the radio button to 'Separate' mode you can see the number of years old you are as a decimal, months as a decimal and the total number of days old you are. Would you believe I am 16298 days old today?

Alan Cook wanted me to be sure to point out the built-in, full featured, MOSX native Help. It includes hot links and great graphics. If you would like to test the Help interface, look up 'Special Days', which is a kewl feature I have not covered here.

No, this is not Claris Organizer: It has no alarms, and I have to complain that it is often slow, a victim of 'The Spinning Rainbow Cursor Of Snooze'. I think the blame for this rests with both Alan Cook and Apple. But, AquilaCalendar is fully integrated into MOSX thanks to being written in Cocoa. This means that all the MOSX services are available, including the Spelling checker. If anyone tells you they don't like the AquilaCalendar icon, send them to me so I can pound them. The latest version now features today's date, just like the menu bar icon.

Conclusion: Recent updates to AquilaCalendar have been frequent, and have added both functionality and elegance. Hopefully, future versions will kill off the snooze factor and add an alarm system (hey Alan! Nudge, nudge!). Meanwhile, if you want the very best Menu Bar shareware going, hands down it is AquilaCalendar. I find that its features easily justify the $20 price. To step beyond AquilaCalendar brings you into the realm of something like Now Up-To-Date, for considerably more money. Alternatively, you could run your old reliable copy of Claris Organizer in Classic (cringe!). AquilaCalendar keeps things simple, customizes your calendar to the max, and takes as many notes as you like: dated, undated, or ToDo list. Get it, try it, buy it.

Summary: The must-try Menu Bar applications currently available for Mac OS X are PTHStockTicker (its functional and free!), EyeBalls (its fun!), and AquilaCalendar (its elegant and useful!). They represent the multitude of high quality shareware already available and fully functional in 10.1.x. Cheers to MOSX shareware developers everywhere! Companies like Adobe and Quark might have dragged their butts moving to X, but shareware developers from all over the world are already here in droves, creating hot software for low prices. Don't miss out!

[Apologies to those developers whose Menu Bar shareware I have missed, and those who have published software or updates since the date this article was written. :-DC]


Share and Enjoy!

:-Derek