Weather applications fill an interesting niche on any app platform. They function as informative eye candy on smartphone home screens, essential additions on desktop enhancement applications like Geek Tool and life savers for people who have pristine internet access but, evidently, no windows.
So when every second app let’s you use the real thunderstorm ravaging your petunias in your front yard to water your virtual farmville crops, what’s so good about a vanilla OSX menubar app like MenuWeather?
Only one way to find out.
Installation and Set Up
Once downloaded, getting MenuWeather running is a mere unzip and drag and drop (no disk images or .pkgs here). Seconds after launching the app, MenuWeather asked permission to use my location. Already, MenuWeather? I barely even know you.
Maybe this is the tin foil hat talking, but I’m always creeped out applications wanting to know my location, and while I usually end up obliging, I do so only if they have a damn good reason, or if I trust the application well enough.
I clicked “allow”, and based on either my IP address or the same WiFi triangulation process that lets GPS free iPads approximate a location (read: magic), MenuWeather figured out I was in Brisbane, Australia, telling me so with a simple growl notification.
I get the feeling there’s supposed to be more information in between those commas, but we’ll let that slide for now. For the most part, location detection has worked well, but MenuWeather should have been more intelligent with my data.
If it knows I live anywhere in Australia, it should know that we use Celsius, not Fahrenheit as it’s zealously formatted the temperature as. Thankfully, it’s nothing a quick visit to the application preferences can’t fix.
Your Weekly Forecast
By default, MenuWeather is content to sit in your menubar, brightening your line of monochrome icons with a yellow sun peaking from behind a cloud (if you’re lucky).
Clicking the icon produces a hefty listing of the weather for the next several days, sourced directly from weather.com.
It looks nice at first, although the redundancy of having both “current conditions” and the day underneath is annoying. What’s more unfortunate is that the entire five day forecast is a dead zone for your mouse. Rolling over it doesn’t highlight it. Clicking a day, or, more specifically the tiny little arrow in the corner of each day’s section, merely takes you to the Weather.com page where the data is sourced from. It’s unituitive.
I was also disappointed by the “More Weather” option. Every single list item is just a hyperlink to a Weather.com. Granted, it means I don’t have to manually put in my location on that site, but a weather app should exist entirely within itself.
I have the weather in my menu bar because I like it within reach. Opening a URL without warning disrupts my workflow, which, at worst, means I’ll get yanked out of my current space to whichever space I’ve put my browser in.
Preferences and Extendability
I’m a sucker for an array of options to change, and was thus initially disappointed at MenuWeather’s preferences dialogue. Check for updates and start at login? Fan-tastic. But MenuWeather is deceptively simple.
The icon and text can be swapped out just one or another. The font size and colour can be altered, if, say, you’re a fan of garish primary colours on your screen. I had a choice of 5 weather icons, but, predictably, I stayed with the default option.
MenuWeather also allows adding other locations. It works, but not as smoothly as it should. There’s no search suggestions, and no confirmation you’ve added the city correctly. It’s only when exiting the preferences dialogue that the application loads weather for location you added with crossed fingers.
I added “Sydney”, which worked, but MenuWeather also added Brazil to the location list without complaints – it just failed to load any data.
What’s even more disappointing is that you can’t add any other sources other than Weather.com. I didn’t get a chance to check out any local weather sources with public APIs, but I’d hope they’d be more accurate, or at least more immediate.
Being locked down to Weather.com also means that if I start using iOS weather apps, there’s going to be a disparity between my two sources, although, realistically, nothing too drastic.
I also noticed that often when I applied a setting (but especially when I added a location), MenuWeather temporarily freezes up for about 10 seconds. It could be my system (2GHZ Core 2 Duo with 2GB of RAM) but I doubt it.
MenuWeather is, for the most part, a well made and easy to use application – but it’s too simple to be necessary. The key question is what you need a weather app for. Do you just want a sun on your screen to match the one outside? Do you want knowing if you’ll need a raincoat to be a click away? If that’s the case, MenuWeather will be suitable for your needs, but then again, so will an OS X built-dashboard widget.
The central problem with MenuWeather is that it sits in between a minimalistic, single purpose app and a more powerful forecaster. One of the key things I notice about good Mac software is the “if you can’t do it right, don’t do it at all” attitude, and that’s something that’s missing from MenuWeather.
A menu bar app for OS X, displaying today's weather and an optional 7-day forecast in your menu bar. A great start, but it feels to sit somewhere between a single-purpose app, and something more advanced.7