Menu Bar Essentials

Mac OS X includes a few system-level menu bar items that are incredibly useful, but if you’ve ever wanted to have a few extras to your menu bar consider these four essentials. All free, they’ll bring a wide variety of function to the menu bar, where you’ll be able to quickly see the weather, make using your computer at night much easier on the eyes, control sleep and screen saver behavior, and even toggle some really useful system functions.

Check out each below, and don’t forget to let us know in the comments if we’re missing a menu bar essential.

Degrees – Weather in the Menu Bar

Degrees menu bar item shows the weather

Maybe it’s because so many of us work in doors these days, but there’s something about knowing the weather and temperature that is just greatly appreciated. You’ll know whether you need to put on a coat or take off that sweater before going outside, and one of the easiest ways to determine what the temperature is outside is to use a simple menu bar utility like Degrees. With Degrees, you’ll always know the current temperature (in celcius or fahrenheit), and the current weather conditions as indicated by a little icon that sits in your menu bar. Set it to discover your location and it’ll update itself if you’re on the go between locations. Simple, unobtrusive, free, and no hassle.

There are definitely other menubar items and apps out there to show you the weather, but Degrees is fairly new, is fairly lightweight, and arguably has the best icons, and thus has won me over.

Flux – Save Your Eyesight By Adjusting Screen Hue for Time of Day

Flux menu bar item

In early mornings and late evenings, the incredibly bright white light emitted from computer screens can be harsh on the eyes, cause eye strain, and this so-called “blue light” can even be disruptive to sleep patterns and melatonin production – yes, seriously, there is a lot of research on this stuff. This is where Flux comes in, it will automatically adjust the color hue of your screens display based on the lighting conditions and the time of day. It can be a little strange at first, but once you get accustomed to using it, you’ll find the sepia tones it casts on the display at night is just so much easier to look at. You’ll have less eye strain, and maybe even sleep better too.

Flux is best used when adjusting the brightness with it as well, so lower your screens brightness a bit at night and in early mornings and you’ll get the most benefit. Flux is available for other platforms as well, so if you have a PC you’ll also be able to run it too, and if you jailbreak iPhone or iPad, you can even get F.lux on those devices too through Cydia.

Caffeine or Wimoweh – Prevent Screen Savers & Sleep on Demand

Caffeine menu bar

Having your Mac screen automatically lock itself and require a password to use again is a simple common sense security trick, whether you’re at home, in an office, at school, or anywhere else. But oftentimes we’re still sitting at a desk and just not using the computer, whether it’s because we’re performing another task, or even just reading hands-free, and in these situations it’s kind of a pain for the screen saver to activate itself or the computer to put itself to sleep, and then have to enter a password again just to use it again. This is where both Caffeine and Wimoweh come into play.

Caffeine is very straight forward, click the coffee-cup icon and the Mac screen temporarily won’t go to sleep or activate a screen saver, click it again and things will sleep again as usual.

Wimoweh is similar but just slightly more advanced, letting you control sleep prevention on a per-app basis, in addition to having the standard no-sleep feature.

They’re both great apps, and they’re both free, so use whichever works best for your work flow. The screenshot shown is of Caffeine.

Desktop Utility – Toggle Useful Desktop Features

Desktop Utility menu bar item

DesktopUtility lets you toggle 3 incredibly useful features right in your menubar, without having to use the defaults writes commands and manually relaunching the Finder: hide desktop icons and show them again, show invisible files and hide them again, and show the user library or hide it again. No more launching Terminal to toggle those settings on and off again, just pull down the gear menu, select which you want, and the proper command will be executed, and the Finder will restart itself.

DesktopUtility is particularly useful for advanced users who frequently need to access the user library and see files that are otherwise invisible, and being able to quickly make desktop icons disappear (they still exist, they’re just not visible on the desktop) is a simple way to instantly clean up a desktop without having to do any work… we recommend other approaches for that of course but when all else fails just hiding the clutter can often be enough to relieve the stress of a busy desktop filled with icons of files and folders.

Got any essential OS X menu bar item recommendations?

Did we miss an essential menu bar item that you get a lot of use out of? Let us know in the comments!

And don’t forget, you can easily remove system menu bar items by command+dragging them out of the menubar, but for third party apps like those mentioned above you’ll need to individually quit out of the app itself.