The menu bar debate


One of the more notable user interface differences between Macs and PCs is the location of the menu bar. On Macs, one menu bar is located at the top of the primary display. On Windows, every application gets its own menu bar. The advantage of the Mac approach is that it saves screen real estate. Only one bar is visible at any given time, since you only interact with one application at a time. The Windows approach makes more sense from a speed perspective. It’s quicker to move your mouse pointer to the top of the application window than to the top of the screen.

Back in 1984 it made a lot of sense to keep the user interface uncluttered, since there weren’t a lot of pixels to work with. The original Mac had a screen resolution of 512 x 324. Today’s 13″ MacBook Pro has a 1280 x 800 resolution. The 27″ iMac has a whopping 2560 x 1440 resolution. You could easily fit additional menu bars without diminishing the usability of applications. That said, Apple will never move to the Windows menu bar paradigm. Steve Jobs always liked keeping things simple. One application menu bar is cleaner than several, just like one mouse button is simpler than two. Of course, Steve’s “forced simplicity” doesn’t work for everyone.

The most vexing problem with OS X’s single menu bar is that it’s dreadfully slow when using two monitors. If you have an application displayed on a second monitor, you need to drag your mouse to the menu bar on the first monitor. This requirement is ridiculous in 2013.

Thankfully, there are utilities to give you a menu bar on your second monitor. SecondBar is free. Regardless of the third-party options, it’s about time Apple added this functionality to OS X. The next version of OS X is rumored to include better handling of full screen apps on secondary displays. Let’s hope additional multi-monitor features are added. This is one of the few areas where the Mac is still playing catch-up with Windows.

Update: Secondary monitor menu bars will be coming to Mavericks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *