Why Mac menus are on the top

Disclaimer: despite the title, this is not a post about junk food. 🙂

I always wondered why Apple decided to place their menu bar on top on the screen, rather than inside the window it belongs to. I couldn’t find any good reason for that choice until last week, when I spoke with a couple of colleagues.

Mac OS X menu bar

It turned that not only there is a reason, but it’s also quite clever! And it’s the same that led Microsoft to put the Start menu on the bottom left corner: stuff on the edges of the screen is just easier to hit.

Almost no aim is needed to bring the mouse over something that lies right on the border of the screen: you just have throw the cursor in the right direction and it will stop by bumping against the frame of your monitor. It makes things a lot easier, especially for those users who are not that nimble with the mouse. 😉

Back to Mac OS menus: if you move the mouse cursor up on the screen, it stops right over the menus. Clever, isn’t it?

Now that I understand that I can’t help but consider the title bars of maximized windows on Windows a waste of potentially high value space. But there are at least a couple of notable exceptions.

a. Microsoft Office 2007, which allows users to put buttons on the title bar

Office 2007

b. Google Chrome, which dropped the plain old title bar and uses that space to display tabs

title bar hosts tabs

Could that be the beginning of a trend?


Published by

Alessandro Bahgat

Master geek, developer, avid reader and one of the minds behind novlet.com and bitlet.org

4 thoughts on “Why Mac menus are on the top”

  1. That might be one of the reasons why i’m confortable enough when using my mac laptop trackpad even when i have a mouse plugged in.

    having a fixed menu brings also a subtle bonus: on windows systems, keyboard shortcuts for explorer (and i mean the file manager) are system wide, while on mac os, since it also treats the file manager as a separate (alt-tabbable) application, you can have unique shortcuts for your file manager, and have the same shortcuts available for other applications.

    The downside of using a fixed menu, is that if i have an application running on another monitor, i have to go all the way to the main screen, which is sometimes extremely intuitive. sure, you can configure which monitor will be the main one, but that’s not really a solution to that (as far as i know).

  2. @Dario, I’m not sure about that, but I believe that reserving some shortcuts to the file manager in Windows systems is likely to be a higher level OS-design choice, and not directly related to the behaviour of the menus. What do you think?

    Good point about dual monitors, though: I wouldn’t have considered that issue if you hadn’t exposed it.

    @Giax, one of the next posts in this series will be about Fitts’s law and how to hack it 😀

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