It was a simple desire: display the name of the currently playing song within the Mac OS X Menu bar. Not in a menu item, something that requires a click, but right there, in plain sight, impervious to changes in Spaces. It took some searching, but I found one, and several other interesting iTunes helpers along the way.
The first app I found, on a suggestion, was Synergy from Wincent Software. (v.3.5a6) Wincent Colaiuta has written a very handy app that puts iTunes controls in the Menu bar, but you'll actually have to click on the Menu bar item to force a popup window that displays the name of the song.
A nice feature of Synergy is the "floater." This is a small semi-transparent window that shows information about a song (and album art) when it starts to play. A preference allows one to set the duration of the floater, so I set it to forever. So far so good, but the floater window doesn't survive a shift to a new Leopard Space. If there was a way to put the text of the song directly in the Menu bar, I couldn't find it.
Synergy is priced at 5 euros.
The next app I tried, after doing a Google search, was You Software's You Control: Tunes. (v1.7.2) This app is free but requires a registration to obtain a free license -- likely just to track users.
This app is very similar to Synergy. Clicking in the Menu bar item area brings up a user-definable popup menu with a ton of information about not just the current track but recent tracks, playlists, and even the song rating -- which can be set from within the menu. Album art is also available.
Sideways Scrolling Distracted Me
What's different here is that You Control: Tunes has a user definable "ticker" in the Menu Bar which can be set to stay forever. It also shows a floater window, in this case, called an Overlay which is highly customizable. When a new song starts, the Overlay comes up and the ticker starts to scroll. I was delighted to see that the Overlay survives a change in Leopard Spaces.
You Control: Tunes Preferences
Now I felt I was getting somewhere, but what I really wanted was a static display of the track name in the Menu bar without an Overlay/Floater at all. It annoyed me to have moving text, Times Square style, in the Menu bar. So I kept looking.
Finally, I stumbled on Playwatch from Aquarius Software. (v.1.21).
What I liked about this app was its simplicity and focus. It also places a resizable text section on the Menu bar, but the text scrolls upwards at a user definable rate to show the track name and artist -- and other items if desired, without moving for as long as it's there. I found that a lot less distracting. The text has a fading, colored background that can be set to look like twilight.
Playwatch, Section of My Own Menu bar
I have Playwatch set for a minimum configuration without controls in the Menu bar. But if so configured, one can add those, just like the other apps mentioned, and the corresponding popup can also contain the album art.
Playwatch Screen Shot, Full Options in Popup
Playwatch requires Leopard and is priced at $8.99.
In the past, using Tiger, I had plenty of problems with misbehaved apps in the Menu bar. It seems that, in Leopard, Apple cleaned up the APIs and Menu bar rules so that apps can come and go in the Menu bar in a well-behaved fashion without cosmetic issues. That's the case for all three of these apps. They launched quickly, put iTunes control buttons in the Menu bar (if desired), behaved nicely and left no irregularities when quit.
All three of these apps are very well done and have a ton of options that I didn't even begin to discuss. However, if your goal is simple, like mine was, Playwatch seems to arrive at the goal of displaying the iTunes song name in the Menu bar as simply and unobtrusively as possible.
There are many more iTunes control apps out there. I ran across one called SizzlingKeys from Yellow Mug Software. It looks very cool and powerful, but because it seems more focused on iTunes control than Menu bar display, so I didn't pursue it.
If you're using an app that puts the iTunes song name in the Menu bar, in plain sight, unobtrusively, let me know.