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Bartender alternatives: their ownership and permissions

As us Bartender users are getting spooked by the surprise transfer from the original author to a new owner, I’ve compiled a table of the alternative options.

Or skip ahead if you’d like quick recommendations, ways to keep icons accessible without apps, information on alternate Bartender versions, or an explanation on why so many apps need Screen Recording permissions.

Permissions requested
Development activity level
Extra-bar support
Menu styling
Hotkey support
Applause, a US company that buys out indie apps
  • Accessibility
  • Screen recording
There are clues that company is focused on low-continual-development buyouts
    Free, donations accepted
    • Accessibility
    • Screen recording

    (but planned)
    • Always-hidden plus toggle-hidden areas:
    Free base version, $10 paid version
    • Accessibility
    • Screen recording
    Haven’t found version history, but developer seems active

    (paid version)
    • Paid version required to run on startup
    Free base version, $2.99/year (or $3.99 lifetime) premium version
    HyperartFlow, a Chinese company
    • Accessibility
    • Screen recording
    Actively developed
    • Very featureful, but also feels unorthodox interface-wise
    Inactive, last commit 2+ years ago
    • Always-hidden plus toggle-hidden areas.
    Ningbo Shangguan Technology Co., a Chinese company
    • Accessibility
    • Screen recording
    • User library read/write
    Actively developed
    • Nice looking “extra-bar” functionality:
    Inactive, last commit almost 2 years ago
    • Supports 2 sets of icons, one that opens more icons when you click to the left of its icon, and another for option-clicking.
    folivara.AI, a German company by Mac community fave Andreas Hegenberg
    • Accessibility
    • Screen recording (depending on features used)
    Actively developed

    (but planned)

    (but could probably make trigger style things happen depending on your goals)
    • BTT isn’t specifically designed for these purposes, but the developer is working on ways to have Bartender style results run from BetterTouchTool triggers.
    • System Events
    • Bluetooth (for unrelated feature)
    Actively developed
    • OnlySwitch isn’t primarily designed for this, it just has it as a side-feature.
    Free, with donation in-app purchases, a Chinese company, I think
    Inactive, last update almost 2 years ago

    (in a sense)

    (but planned)
    • Including this purely because it addresses a kind of “extra-bar” need for users like me that mainly need menu bar items onscreen that are normally hidden by the notch.

    For quick recommendations: which part of Bartender do you need to replace?

    • Anti-clutter: some Bartender users have enough room for their icons and just want to clean up the clutter of their menu bar. All but one of the alternatives on this page help with that, and I think Ice is the best of the bunch right now.
    • Extra-bar: if you’re on smaller screens, especially MacBooks with the Notch, Bartender was useful for being able to access the icons that were normally inaccessible. There’s less of a clear winner here, but either iBar or Barbee have extra-bar functionality, and BetterTouchTool is getting some basic functionality if you don’t mind needing to learn how it works. You may also want to read the next section for a couple of tricks to help keep your icons accessible.

    Extra-bar users: do you even need Bartender-style apps?

    For those like me who primarily use Bartender as a way to access more icons on small screens, there are a couple of tricks that can eliminate/reduce the need for it:

    Packing in more icons by taking out padding

    Apple’s been spacing the menu bar items apart (some rumors suggest in preparation for a touch-based OS), but you can customize that spacing.

    For me, setting both the padding and spacing to 8 got me pretty close to not needing a Bartender style app, while still leaving acceptably-large click-targets. Even with my crippling app addiction, my previously-Bartendered icons take up surprisingly little space compared to normal macOS settings:

    I think this is how Bartender’s “Menu bar item spacing” feature works behind-the-scenes. For those who prefer a GUI, apps like Barbee below offer similar functionality.

    Prioritizing icons by re-arranging

    This is old news to many, but when I first started using Macs, I didn’t realize that you could re-arrange menu bar items by holding down the Command key while dragging them with the mouse. I use this to prioritize my most important icons to the right so that they remain visible even when on smaller screens.

    Alternate Bartender versions

    From what I can tell, the most recently signed-by-the-original developer version is 5.0.49. Users of SetApp (as of June 9th) are still on 5.0.48, but SetApp has said they will continue pushing updates after approving them.

    As of June 9th, version 5.0.49 is still accessible from the official Bartender site. If that link displays oddly in your browser, do a Save Link As to get it as a downloaded version rather than displaying in browser.

    You can verify it’s integrity by ensuring shasum -a 256 'Bartender 5.dmg' returns 0ce40bb5d6f0605c91ae2dc605d8cb7c534823ae5024cbc042ef417b8013071d

    Depending on your level of concern about the change in ownership, 5.0.49 may not actually be that helpful though: it seems like the ownership transfer occurred well before this.

    If your main concern is about the Amplitude product analytics, the new owners have said that Test Build 5.0.53 removes that.

    Why so many apps need Screen Recording permissions

    Most of these apps (Bartender included) need Screen Recording permissions. That’s because they’re grabbing images of the not-currently-displayed menu bar items, either for re-display elsewhere (like on an extra menu bar) or for triggering actions based on when the menu bar icon’s graphic changes.

    Because of that, permission requests aren’t inherently suspicious, but do increase your “attack surface area” risks if an app is compromised or sold to a less scrupulous developer.

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