MacBook Menu Bar Icons - dummies

By Mark L. Chambers

Ever stared at a menu bar for inspiration? Fortunately for MacBook owners like you, people in Cupertino are paid to do just that, and these designers get the big bucks to make the Mac OS X menu bar the best that it can be. Thus were born menu bar icons, which add useful controls in what would otherwise be a wasted expanse of white.

Mac OS X might install several menu bar icons. The Volume icon is always there by default, along with the Clock display, which is actually an icon in disguise.


Some icons won’t appear unless you turn them on. For instance, the Displays icon won’t appear unless you enable the Show Displays in Menu Bar check box within the Displays pane in System Preferences.

The Displays menu bar icon, which looks like a monitor, allows you to choose the recommended resolutions and color depth settings for your graphics card and monitor.

For example, the recommended settings for my MacBook Pro’s LCD monitor include 1024 x 768, 1280 x 800, and 1440 x 900 resolutions, and your display can be set to thousands or millions of colors. Typically, it’s a good idea to choose the highest resolution and the highest color depth. You can also jump directly to the System Preferences’ Display settings by clicking Open Displays Preferences in the menu.

To quickly change the audio volume level within Mac OS X, click the Sound Volume icon (it looks like a speaker with emanating sound waves) once to display its slider control; then click and drag the slider to adjust the level up or down.

After you select a level by lifting your finger from the trackpad, your MacBook thoughtfully plays the default system sound to help you gauge the new volume level.

Depending on the functionality that you’re using with Mac OS X, these other menu bar icons might also appear:

  • Modem status: You can turn on the display of the Modem status icon from the corresponding modem panel on the Network pane in System Preferences. The icon can be set to show the time that you’ve been connected to the Internet as well as the status of the connection procedure. (Naturally, your MacBook will need a Lion-compatible external USB modem to use this status icon.)

  • Wi-Fi: Because your MacBook is equipped with AirPort Extreme hardware, you can enable the Show Wi-Fi Status in Menu Bar check box within System Preferences. To do so, click the Network icon and then choose your Wi-Fi connection in the column at the left.

    The Wi-Fi status icon displays the status of the Wi-Fi connection; click the Wi-Fi icon to toggle Wi-Fi on or off. The icon displays the relative strength of your Wi-Fi signal, whether you’re connected to a Base Station or a peer-to-peer computer network, or whether Wi-Fi is turned off. You can also switch between multiple Wi-Fi networks from the menu.

  • Bluetooth: You can toggle Bluetooth networking on or off. You can also make your MacBook discoverable or hidden to other Bluetooth devices, send a file to a Bluetooth device, or browse for new Bluetooth devices in your vicinity.

    Additionally, you can set up a Bluetooth device that’s already recognized or open the Bluetooth pane within System Preferences. (If you don’t see the angular Bluetooth icon in your menu bar, display the Bluetooth pane within System Preferences and make sure that the Show Bluetooth Status in the Menu Bar check box is enabled.)

  • Time Machine: If you’re using Time Machine to back up your MacBook automatically, this icon displays the date of your last backup. You can also manually start a backup from the menu bar icon. To display the icon, open System Preferences and click the Time Machine icon; then click the Show Time Machine Status in the Menu Bar check box to select it.

  • PPoE: The display of this icon is controlled from the PPoE settings on the Network pane within System Preferences. Click this icon to connect to or disconnect from the Internet using Point-to-Point over Ethernet (PPoE), which is a type of Internet connection offered by some digital subscriber line (DSL) providers.