Technical Tip: SolidWorks Menu Bar

This blog post is the second in a series of technical tips about the SolidWorks User Interface. Call the series "Everything you wanted to know about —–, but were afraid to ask". The first few posts will be about the various types of toolbars available in the system. This post is about the SolidWorks Menu Bar.

The Menu Bar

The menu bar is the top-most portion of the SolidWorks application window (first introduced with SolidWorks 2008). The menu bar replaces the traditional Microsoft windows banner shown on most applications. Feedback from most users is that they want to maximize the amount of space for their model, so making use of this space makes sense instead of it being wasted on only the document name and windows controls. This practice is also starting to become fairly common with other applications like Microsoft Office 2007 and Apple iTunes also taking this approach. The image below shows what the Menu Bar looks like:


There are multiple areas within the Menu Bar as follows:

Logo/Menu Area: By default, the traditional Microsoft menus are hidden from view. In our research with customers through visits and focus groups, we found that most users only want to use the menus for uncommonly used functions. They prefer to access commonly used functions through other approaches such as toolbar buttons and shortcut keys. For these users, the menus don't always need to be present and more room can be made available on the menu bar for toolbar buttons. To access the menus, you can simply move your mouse over the logo and the menus fly out to the right. If your mouse moves over the menus, they stay up so you can select a menu item. If you exit the logo area from the bottom, the menus will disappear (so you can more easily access the rest of the menu bar if you didn't intend to use the menus). If you click on the logo area instead of just hovering over it, the menus will fly out and "stick" out until you either choose a menu item or click elsewhere to dismiss the menus. Below is an image of the Menu Bar with the menu "flown out":


Of course, not all users like the menus to be hidden all the time or do not like the flyout behavior, so you can make the menus permanently visible by selecting the push pin at the right end of the menus. Below is an image of the Menu Bar with the menus pinned.


Note that the flyout behavior of the menus has been improved in SolidWorks 2009 SP04. If you like the idea of the flyout menus, but they would fly back in unexpectedly when you were using them, you may want to give the unpinned behavior another try. Specifically, improvements were made so the menus do not fly back in as often when your mouse moves from the logo area to the menu area or when your mouse rides along the top of the menu (when the SolidWorks application is maximized).

Standard Microsoft keyboard navigation of the menus still works with these SolidWorks menus, regardless of whether or not they are pinned. When you hit the Alt key to navigate, the menus will first flyout if they are not pinned, and you can navigate further from there using the underlined letters or arrow keys. Some users leave their menus unpinned and then use the Alt key as a hot key just to get the menus to fly out and then use mouse navigation from there (it saves a little mouse movement/dance over to the logo and then to the menus). Note that SolidWorks respects the Microsoft setting under Display Properties, Appearance, Effects to hide/show the underlines on the menus.

Toolbar Area: There is a section on the menu bar where toolbar buttons can be added and by default, this area replaces the "Standard" toolbar from SolidWorks 2007 and previous versions. Buttons are added/removed from here in the same manner as any regular toobar; simply drag and drop from the Tools, Customize, Commands dialog. Note that the icons in this area are always 16×16 pixels and purposely do not change with the "Large icons" setting used for other toolbars.

Document Name: The currently active SolidWorks document name is shown in the blank space in the middle of the menu bar.

Search Box: The SolidWorks Search box is used for searching for SolidWorks models and other documents.

Help Button: The icon portion of the button brings up the main SolidWorks Help. The flyout arrow gives access to all of the menu items on the regular SolidWorks Help menu.

Window Control Buttons: The standard windows functions of Minimize/Maximize/Restore/Close are present on the right of the menu bar.

If users see anything I have missed about the Menu Bar in this blog post, please comment and I will try to update the blog.

The next few topics in the series about toolbars will be:

  • The CommandManager
  • The Heads-Up View Toolbar
  • Toolbar Flyouts
  • The Shortcut Bar ('S' key)
  • Context Toolbars


Jim Wilkinson

Jim Wilkinson

Jim Wilkinson

Jim is Vice President, User Experience Architecture at Dassault Systemès SolidWorks Corporation