5 essential menu bar utilities for your Apple Mac for free

Add menu bar items to the Mac to add extra features

Photo of an Apple MacBook turned into a black and white sketch

There are many utilities that add extra features and functions to the Mac menu bar, but which should you choose? Here are five free menu-bar add-ons that provide useful extras for macOS.

The Mac already has several menu bar items, like the clock, Spotlight search, Wi-Fi and battery. Several more can be enabled in System Preferences, like Bluetooth, Time Machine, speaker, display and accessibility features.

Some of these menu bar items provide lots of useful information, like the Wi-Fi icon for example. Hold down Option/Alt and click it to see a lot of network details. At the other extreme, the clock does very little apart from show the time and date.

There are better alternatives to some of the built-in menu bar items and there are others that add features not available in macOS. Here are just a few examples found in the Mac App Store. To get them, just search for the name and then install them.

Reprova IO LED

Reprova IO LED menu bar add-on for Apple Mac

This adds four small items to the menu bar to show system activity. The first two items are disk and network activity and they light up in blue when the disk is accessed or the LAN or internet is being used.

The third item is DOWN and it shows the download speed. This is useful when you are streaming media over the internet or downloading software or updates. You can see how fast or slowly is it progressing. The fourth item is CPU activity and it shows the percentage CPU usage. You can tell when the processor is working extra hard or idling.

It is a simple app with no settings or other features – About and Quit are the only two menu items. It is useful though.

Better MenuBar

Better MenuBar menu bar utility for Apple Mac

This is a system monitoring and information utility for the Mac menu bar. Several items can be show in the menu bar and this is a great way to monitor the system. You can choose to show any or all of memory usage, CPU usage and battery usage bars.

To the right of the green battery bar is the percentage and the time remaining. The macOS battery indicator does not show time remaining, so this could be used to replace it.

The final item in the menu bar item is the network/internet upload and download speeds. You can see activity at a glance and see how fast the data is being transferred.

Clicking the menu bar item shows a panel containing a bit more information, like battery status and cycle count, Bluetooth devices and so on.

This small, lightweight system monitor for the menu bar is recommended.

Mini Calendar

The macOS clock in the menu bar is useful and it has an option to show the date. Mini Calendar goes one step further and it shows not only the date, but also a calendar when it is clicked. It can save you having to run the macOS Calendar app to check dates.

Mini Calendar menu bar add-on for the Apple Mac

This is so simple, but so useful. It does even more and there are many options in the app preferences. It can show the time in 12 or 24 hour clocks, seconds, date, and day of the week.

A Dock icon is optional and it shows the month and day. When clicked it shows a calendar like the menu bar item. There is also an option to show a desktop calendar. This is like a semi-transparent widget on the desktop and it can be made to always appear on top, so it is always visible.

You might want to replace the standard macOS time/date display with this more useful version.

Hidden Bar

Hidden Bar menu bar add-on for Apple Mac

Hidden Bar adds a separator to the menu bar. Everything to the right of the separator is always visible, but everything to the left, including the app’s own I icon, auto-hides. It is similar to the way the Dock can be set to automatically hide when not being used. Here it works with menu bar items.

It flips between < which is when items are hidden and > when items are visible. Click it to show or hide items.

A menu bar item can be moved from one position to another by holding down the Cmd key and then clicking and dragging it. Just drag the items to the left of the > to put them into the auto-hide area. When they are not being used, they are hidden and there are no distractions. Click the > and they and the items are accessible.

It is simple, but effective when there are a lot of menu bar items on a small screen, such as a MacBook. It is not needed on an iMac because the menu bar is very wide.

Shortcuts in Menu Bar Lite

Shortcuts in Menu Bar Lite menu bar add-on for Apple Mac

This menu bar add-on enables you to create a menu containing useful items. They are organised into sections – Websites, Folders and files, Applications and Quick notes. Only two items per section are allowed in this free Lite version, but you can remove this restriction for around the price of a coffee.

In the app preferences, you can enter URLs for the websites, select folders or files, and choose applications. Notes are created on the fly.

The Lite app is a bit limited, but you can see how useful this app could be with half a dozen items in each category. It provides fast and easy access to the things you need most, like websites, folders and apps. Click the menu bar icon, click the item you want and it’s there on the screen. It automatically opens Finder, Safari or app.

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