Basics of the Menu in OS X Mavericks

Mac menus are often referred to as pull-down menus. To check out the OS X Mavericks menus, click the Finder button in the Dock to activate the Finder and then look at the top of your screen. From left to right, you see the Apple menu, the Finder menu, and six other menus.

To use an OS X menu, click its name to make the menu appear and then pull (drag) down to select a menu item. Ever since Mac OS 8, menus stay down after you click their names until you either select an item or click outside a menu’s boundaries.

Before you start working with OS X menus, you really, really should know this about menus in general: They can change unexpectedly. Why? Well, the menus you see on the menu bar at the top of the screen always reflect the program that’s active at the time.

When you switch from the Finder to a particular program — or from one program to another — the menus change immediately to match whatever program you switched to.

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An easy way to tell which program is active is to look at the application menu — it’s the leftmost menu with a name, just to the right of the app menu. When you’re in the Finder, of course, the application menu reads Finder.

But if you switch to another program (by clicking its icon in the Dock or by clicking any window associated with the program) or launch a new program, that menu changes to the name of the active program.

When you have an application open, the commands on the menu change, too — but just a little bit. What makes this cool is that you have access to some standard application menu items whether you’re running Mail or Safari.

For example, most (but not all) applications have Cut, Copy, and Paste commands in their Edit menus, and Open, Save, and Print commands in their File menus. You can find much more about commands for applications in Part III, which explains how applications that come with OS X Mavericks can help you get things you want to do done.

Basics of shortcut menus in OS X Mavericks

Shortcut menus (also known as contextual menus) list commands that apply only to the item that is currently selected. Shortcut menus might be available in windows, on icons, and in most places on the Desktop.

To use them, you either hold down the Control key and click — which you can call a Control-click to sound cool to your Mac friends — or, if your mouse has two or more buttons, right-click.

Most Mac laptops (as well as the Magic Trackpad and the Magic Mouse) let you click the trackpad using two fingers to simulate a right-click or Control-click.

If this doesn’t work for you, make sure the Secondary Click check box is enabled in the Two Fingers section of the Trackpad System Preference pane.

Actions appear in shortcut menus only if they make sense for the item that you Control-click or right-click. (That’s why people call ’em shortcuts! They stick to the immediate context.) Here’s the shortcut menu that appears when you Control-click (or right-click) a document icon on the left and the shortcut menu for the Desktop on the right.

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Shortcut menus are also available in most applications. Open your favorite app and try Control-clicking to find out whether those menus are there. In most cases, using a shortcut menu is a quick way to avoid going to the menu bar to choose a command. In some programs — such as iMovie, iTunes, and many more — shortcut menus are the only way to access some commands.

Get in the habit of Control-clicking (or right-clicking or two-finger clicking) items on your screen. Before you know it, using shortcut menus will become second nature to you.

How to recognize disabled options in OS X Mavericks

Menu items that appear in black on a menu are currently available. Menu items that aren’t currently available are grayed out, meaning that they’re disabled for the time being. You can’t select a disabled menu item.

The File menu on the left is pulled down while nothing is selected in the Finder; this is why many of the menu items are disabled (in gray). These items are disabled because an item (such as a window or icon) must be selected for you to use one of these menu items.

For example, the Show Original command is grayed out because it works only if the selected item is an alias. On the right side a document is selected before the menu is pulled down; notice that many of the formerly disabled commands are enabled when an icon is selected. (The Show Original command is still grayed out because the selected icon is not an alias.)

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Finally, notice that items that end in an ellipsis (. . .), such as the Burn “I Am a Document.png” to Disc command, will open a dialog with additional options.

How to navigate submenus in OS X Mavericks

Some menu items have more menus attached to them, and these are called submenus — menus that are subordinate to a menu item. If a menu has a black triangle to the right of its name, it has a submenu.

To use a submenu, click a menu name once (to drop the menu down) and then slide your cursor down to any item with a black triangle. When the item is highlighted, move your mouse to the right just slightly. The submenu should pop out of the original menu’s item.

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