My menubar apps – Part 1

The menubar in OSX is a wonderful place for unobtrusive apps that make computing both enjoyable and productive. Today I am going to run through some of the menubar apps that I currently have installed and running in hopes that you will discover new ways to increase your own productivity and possibly even enjoy using your Mac just a little bit more.

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Get the scoop on these great apps after the break.

Adium (free)

Adium is a free, open-source instant messaging client for OSX. OSX comes with a great IM client called iChat that works really well and includes great features like video chat. I don’t fault anyone who uses iChat because it really is a great application. So why do I use Adium instead? I’m glad you asked.

First of all, Adium is open-source which means that it has a lot of developers who are constantly finding ways to extend it and make it better. Adium allows me to use tons of different messaging systems including AIM, Yahoo Messenger, MSN Messenger, Jabber (which includes Google Talk), Bonjour, MySpace Chat, Facebook Chat, and still more. I don’t use all of those—seriously, who has that kind of time?!—but it’s definitely nice to know that I can use them if I ever want/need to. While iChat continues to get better and better there is just no way Apple can keep up the same pace of updates as a tremendously popular, open-source application like Adium.

Another reason I prefer Adium is customization. Adium provides me with almost limitless customization abilities of the overall skin, the icons used within the application (including the menubar icons), the sounds, etc. I’m not a huge modder by any means, but again it is nice to have the option if I ever want to make my Mac experience a little more personalized.

Adium has also had other great features for quite a while like auto-hiding, tabs, and more. Basically, I started using Adium and have had no reason to turn back. One of Adium’s biggest drawbacks is its lack of video chat capabilities. However, I generally use Skype for that anyway, and I can easily fire up iChat if needed.

Google Notifier (free)

I run most of my different email accounts through either Gmail or Google Apps. This gives me the luxuries of Google’s web interface, the additional features Google provides (like POP3, IMAP, plenty of storage, and forwarding options), the benefit of relying on Google’s servers for bandwidth and storage instead of my own, and all of Google’s other online applications like Google Calendar.

While I check most of my email accounts via POP3 (not IMAP) in Apple’s Mail.app, there is one account that I keep separate. For this account I use the Google Notifier menubar app to tell me when I get a new message and then I check the new message via Google web interface (specifically, I have a Fluid application setup just for this email account). One perk of the Notifier app is that I can click the icon in the menubar any time it says that I have a message and it will give me a short preview of the messages in my inbox. This lets me determine whether or not I need to fire up my Gmail app.

Shovebox ($24.95*)

Shovebox is an information organizer much like Yojimbo or Together except that it lives in the menubar instead of existing as a regular desktop application. This has some benefits like not taking up space in my dock, Exposé, or my CMD-Tab list of open apps (which I use constantly). This style of application also has some drawbacks, though. For example, Shovebox windows are not available by clicking a dock icon, Exposé shortcut, or CMD-Tab. Shovebox does takes up much less memory than either Yojimbo or Together and it is being actively developed right now so there is a great chance that it will quickly become a very useful and well-made information organization application.

But what does it do? I thought you might ask. Shovebox allows me to drag files, URLs, and other bits of information onto its menubar icon and it stores them for me. This is nice when I want to bookmark (or archive) a website that I know I want to read later. I can even choose to archive the page from FireFox and then read it offline (like on an airplane). I could also start keeping a file of receipts from all of my online purchases within Shovebox by printing the web receipt to PDF and then dragging each PDF file into Shovebox. I can also create text notes within Shovebox instead of having a screen full of Stickies or TextEdit files.

I have high hopes for the future of this app and its usefulness within my workflow… I just don’t think it is quite there yet.

* I am currently a beta tester for Shovebox and therefore have not purchased a license (yet). Shovebox does offer a fully-functional, free trial.

Anxiety (free)

I use a great app called Things for my task management (to do lists). One thing I love about Things is its ability to sync with iCal’s built-in “to do” system. Syncing with iCal’s system allows other apps access to one unified list of tasks. This is where Anxiety comes in.

Anxiety is a free app that displays iCal tasks in a beautiful list. I just click on the menubar icon and my list of “Today’s Tasks” appears on top of any other window I have open. Just click anywhere outside the window and it disappears. I can quickly add tasks to my lists from the Anxiety window, or choose to display tasks from any iCal calendar I choose. It is so very simple and so very useful.

Spanning Sync ($65*)

As stated above, I use Google Calendar to manage my calendars. While Google’s web interface is nice, I am kind of partial to iCal. I also prefer to have the ability to modify my calendar when not online—wouldn’t it be great it we could be online 24/7? Therefore I use a great app/service called Spanning Sync.

Spanning Sync installs as a preference pane (in my System Preferences) and allows me to login to one of my Google accounts. Once logged in I can pair up any Google Calendar with any calendar on my computer in iCal. Anytime I make a change one place, Spanning Sync makes sure it gets changed at the other place. Any calendars that my Google account has control over are available to sync in Spanning Sync.

While no syncing service is perfect 100% of the time, I have had very few problems with Spanning Sync over the past year. Plus, since it is a service instead of just an app, their team is constantly trying to make the service better with additional features and reliability. They also respond very quickly to Google’s ever-changing APIs.

* Spanning Sync is a service, not just an application. Users have the choice between paying a one-time fee of $65 for unlimited use or $25 for a one-year subscription (then $15 each year after the first).

To be continued…

I hope this was a good start to upping your productivity. Stay tuned in for part 2 where I will cover the rest of my menubar goodies.

Do you have any must-have menubar apps that you just couldn’t live without? If so, share them in the comments.