Classic Mac Wares

MenuChoice 2.1

Dan Knight - 2000.11.17

I've been using MenuChoice for ages, probably going back to the System 7.1 era. It's one of those remarkable pieces of shareware that I've come to depend on - and it's so well written that, despite the fact that is hasn't been updated since April 18, 1994, it works flawlessly with Mac OS 9.0.4.

As the author notes, "It is a testimony to Apple's well-engineered OS that even application programs continue to run through many releases of the OS. The fact that MenuChoice - a system hack, not an application - remains a viable program after all this time must mean I did something right, too!" And after all these years, shareware fees are still trickling in.

What Is MenuChoice?

It's hard to imagine today, but until System 7 (May 1991), the Mac didn't have submenus. Under System 7, going to Control Panels under the Apple menu opened a submenu listing your Control Panels - just like today.

Several utilities came into being to add and extend that capability to other items in the Apple menu. MenuChoice, first released by Kerry Clendinning in 1992, was one of them, allowing up to four levels of folders. HAM, for Hierarchical Auto Menus, was another.

A neat trick savvy Mac users still employ is putting a folder or alias of a folder in the Apple Menu and using that to select items. MenuChoice did a couple things to make that even easier.

First, MenuChoice lists Desktop as the first item in the Apple menu. Select Desktop, mouse to the right, and all the drives, folders, files, and aliases on your desktop appear. Choose a drive or folder, mouse right, and that item's contents appear. You can go four levels beyond the Apple menu - and there's a trick for going further.

Second, MenuChoice tracks the last 20 items you accessed through the Apple menu, storing them under the Recent item, which appears right beneath Desktop on the Apple menu. If you regularly launch the same program this way, as I do with TextSoap, you'll consistently find it under Recent and not have to hunt through folders to locate it.

Best of all, if you're going more than four levels deep, it's a two step process. Go as far as possible using the Desktop entry in the Apple Menu and open that folder. Then close the folder, select Recent, and that folder will be the first item listed. Now you can go four more levels - and repeat this trick if necessary.

Why Use MenuChoice?

Apple incorporated hierarchical menus with System 7.5 in 1995, killing off the commercial alternatives to MenuChoice (they actually bought HAM so they could incorporate it in the OS). From then until now, Apple Menu Options tracks recent items under three headings in the Apple Menu: Recent Applications, Recent Folders, and Recent Servers.

Apple Menu Options has three advantages over MenuChoice: it doesn't track recent Control Panels, you can tell it how many recent items to track in each category, and if you set that to zero, the category isn't listed.

MenuChoice has several advantages over Apple Menu Options.

  1. The Desktop entry at the top of the Apple menu.
  2. The Recent entry right below the Desktop listing; Apple Menu Options lists recent items much further down, near the bottom of the Apple menu.
  3. Everything accessed recently via the Apple menu is listed; Apple Menu Options doesn't track recent folders or Control Panels.
  4. Recent items are listed with the most recently accessed item first, not alphabetically (which Apple Menu Options does).

With MenuChoice, you can choose to have folders listed first, last, or in alphabetical order under the Desktop heading, a very nice touch.

MenuChoice is nearly perfect - the fact that I'm still using it over five years after the last revision is evidence of it. The only improvements I can imagine for this fine piece of shareware would be the option to set the number of recent items tracked and the ability to turn off tracking of recent Control Panels, since they are already in a submenu. (If any programmer out there is interested in buying the source code for MenuChoice and updating it, I can put you in touch with the author.)

MenuChoice lets me work more efficiently, which should be the goal of all software. As shareware, you can download it and try it for free. In fact, it can even be used in conjunction with Apple Menu Options, so you can compare the two head-to-head and then decide which (if either) to disable.

The author of MenuChoice, Kerry Clendinning, now works for a dot-com doing database work, mostly with Unix. "The only programming I do with the Macintosh these days is a homebrew system used to automate the lights, stereo system, and a web cam in my home."

On top of that, it turns out Kerry is a longtime fan of Low End Mac, which has helped keep the old Macs alive. LEM


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