ASM 2.1, by Frank Vercruesse
Posted: 24-Mar-2005

4 1/2 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Frank Vercruesse Type: SHAREWARE

Reviewer: Bill Catambay Class: PRODUCTIVITY
     
$15   Download

Overview
ASM stands for Applicatoin Switcher Menu. For those familiar with Mac OS 9, the application menu in the top right always showed the running application, and the pulldown menu allowed you to switch to another running application. Under OS X, you can use Cmd-Tab to switch applications, but this method is not quite as intuitive as using a menu. ASM brings back the application menu to Mac OS X, and more. It's highly customizable and offers some nice extra features, such as Classic Window Mode (orders all windows of an application to front when it becomes active) or Single Application Mode (automatically hides applications other than the front-most one).

Requirements
Any Mac running OS X 10.2 or higher.

Price
Single user license is $15, and family license (good for entire household) for $25. Licenses can be purchased from
Kagi.

Installation
Installation is a snap. Just
download the program from the ASM website. The disk image (.dmg) file opens up, and you then run the ASM installer. ASM installs as an additional Preference in your System Preferences. ASM is shareware, so you can try the software out, and if you like it, you pay the registration fee.

In Use
Getting started in ASM is pretty easy. Open the ASM system preference, and you have a number of options to select from. The options are groups in three categories: Menu Bar Options, Menu Settins, and Special Features.


ASM Preferences - Menu Bar Options


Under Menu Bar Options, you can specify whether to turn on or off the ASM menu, as well as choosing options for what should show up in the menu bar (the application icon and/or the application name). You can also toggle the menubar separator, a bar that sits in the menubar to the left of the ASM menu. The Single/Double Click menu specifies whether it takes a single or double click on the separator to toggles between displaying the application name in the menu versus just the icon. You can also specify whether to make the menu width fixed or calculated based upon the length of the title of the active application (aka, real-time). Lastly, you can specify menu alignment and menu item order (icon/title versus title/icon).


ASM Preferences - Menu Settings

Under Menu Settings, you can alter the appearance of the menu itself, as well as showing special menu items, such as Show & Hide Items and a System Preferences submenu. You can show the application icon and name, just the name, or just the icon. You can also dim icons of hidden applications as well as having the menu sorted by application name (default sort is the order in which the applications were opened). You can also change the icon size using the slider to the right, although I found that going from the small setting to the next hash mark was a dramatic size increase (would be nicer if the size increases were more subtle).


ASM Preferences - Special Features

The last set of options includes some special features which are "beyond the box" for what ASM is designed to do. You can toggle Single Application Mode, Classic Window Mode, and Dock Hiding. Single Application mode means that all applications are hidden except for the application in the foreground. Classic Window Mode refers to the OS 9 behavior where all the windows of an application come to the foreground when the application is in the foreground. That is not the behavior in OS X; hence, you can have a Finder window in front, with a Photoshop window behind it, and then all the rest of your Finder windows behind that. With Classic Window Mode on, you click on a Finder window, and all your Finder windows come to the foreground. This feature by itself sells this product! I am far more productive in Classic Window Mode. There's also an option to use the Shift key to suppress these special features, so in those rare cases that you wanted to use the OS X behavior, you could just hold down the Shift key.

I still use Classic applications, so one of my goals was to have the Application menu look consistent regardless of whether a classic application or an OS X application was in the foreground. To accomplish this, I specified the following settings:

  • Turned on checkbox to show ASM in menu bar
  • Choose "Application Icon" for menu icon
  • Choose "Application Name" for menu title
  • Show separator is on
  • Choose "Application Icon and Name" for appearance
  • Select the smallest size for icon size
  • Include Show and Hide Items


These settings give me nearly an identical Application menu regardless of whether a classic application or OS X application is active. To further enhance my environment, I also chose the following options:

  • Classic Window Mode is ON (with Shift key used as suppression key)
  • Include Preferences submenu


Example of ASM menu in use

The user interface for the ASM preferences was relatively simple, and the reliability of the applicatoin menu as well as the special features options was very good. Things worked exactly as I expected them to. The two things I liked most about the software are the features for the application menu itself as well as the Classic Window Mode. There are times when using Cmd-Tab to switch applications is useful, but for the most part, reaching for my Application menu is so much more intuitive, as the menu is always visually there, so I never have to think about what key to press. Having the "Hide" and "Show" options back in the menu are wonderful, and having the Preferences submenu is a bonus.

Just as useful, if not moreso, is the Classic Window mode. More times than not I want to get to another window in the active application, but with Mac OS X, those other windows are often hidden by windows belonging to another application. It's like going to put on your other sock, and all of a sudden you have someone else's foot in your hand. It's not intuitive, and most of the time it's obtrusive. The problems only gets worse as the number of applications and windows increases. I often have several windows open in Photoshop, as well as several Finder windows open, and a number of other applications as well (each with their own set of windows). Trying to navigate through these countless windows is can be a real headache. ASM's Classic Window Mode alleviates this problem, allowing me to click in any Photoshop window (or choosing Photoshop from the application menu), and all my Photoshop windows are back to the foreground (none hidden and possibly forgotten behind some other window). Granted, there are very rare instances where I'd like to have a window from another application second in line because I may want to reference it while I do something in the current window. This is easily handled by holding down the Shift key as I click on the windows.

ASM's shareware fee is slightly higher than you might expect for a shareware tool that supports such a limited number of features. Some might expect $5 to $10 as the fee, but ASM goes for $15. My guess is that more people would be willing to pay a lower fee. On the other hand, the few features that ASM does provide are continuous. In other words, rather than being a tool that you may pick up from time to time, the application menu is always there, and the Classic Window mode is always on, making your Mac's environment more productive all the time. In that light, the shareware fee is well worth it.

Summary

ASM, Application Switcher Menu, is a welcome return of the Application menu to Mac OS X. It is fully customizable by way of a System Preferences panel, easy to use, and stable in operation. You can make the menu icons large to match OS X's Cmd-Tab, or you can keep them small to make it consistent with the application menu present when you are in Classic mode. It includes additional features, such as Classic Window Mode. Classic Window Mode is perhaps my favorite feature in that whenever you bring an application to the foreground, all of its associated windows come to the foreground with it. No more hunting and digging for hidden or lost windows. Some Mac users may see the $15 shareware fee as a bit high for a tool that provides one basic feature. The way I see it, ASM provides features that I need and use all the time, features that increase my productivity, making it well worth the shareware fee.

Pros

  • Customizable application menu
  • Classic Window Mode
  • Enhances productivity
  • Provides consistency between Mac OS X and Classic mode


Cons

  • Shareware fee may seem high to some
  • Icon size slider should provide more subtle size differences


Overall Rating

4 1/2 out of 5 Mice