Orbis (Formerly MenuWeather): Tom's Mac Software Pick

Check Your Local Weather With Just a Glance at Your Mac’s Menu Bar

Orbis (Formerly MenuWeather)
Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

Orbis (formerly MenuWeather) from Evan Coleman is a menu bar-based weather app that displays current weather conditions and temperature directly in the menu bar. But that’s only the beginning. Orbis offers a great deal of weather data that's easily accessible from both the menu bar and via special keyboard shortcuts.

Pro

  • Can use location services to automatically determine your location.
  • Supports monitoring multiple locations.
  • Monitors weather alerts.
  • Displays radar maps.
  • 5-day and 15-day forecasts.
  • Uses notifications to show temperature updates or weather alerts.

Con

  • Some preference settings not correctly saved.
  • Some areas may not have local reporting stations.
  • The shortest time between weather updates is 30 minutes.

Orbis packs a weather station into your Mac’s menu bar. With just a glance, you can see the current temperature as well as the general weather conditions (rain, sunny, cloudy, snow, or windy). That might be enough if you're just looking for a quick update before deciding what to wear when you go out, but Orbis does a good deal more.

Under that simple menu bar app is an app designed to give you weather information directly from CustomWeather, a well-regarded weather syndication service that provides weather data to many of the major corporations around the world.

Using a weather syndication service as the source of weather data can have a significant upside.

First, Orbis can rely on the source to be both accurate and deterministic. If you've ever used a weather feed that scraped data from a weather site, such as Weather.com or AccuWeather.com, then you know that whenever the source website's design changes, the weather app fails, until the developer has time to update it.

Using a source that provides a guaranteed data format eliminates this problem.

On the down side, you may find that CustomWeather doesn't have access to as many weather recording stations as the big guys. If you live in a metropolitan or suburban setting, this likely won't be an issue, but for those of us living in a more rural environment, the weather station feeding the Orbis app may be several miles away, perhaps in a different microclimate than the one we reside in.

Using Orbis

Orbis is available directly from the Mac App Store, so installation is automatic. If you should need to manually start the app, you'll find it in the usual location, in your /Applications folder.

The first time you launch Orbis, the app's preferences will be displayed, allowing you to configure various settings, including your location. By default, Orbis attempts to use Apple’s location services to figure out where your Mac is located. In my case, I have location services turned off; this led to Orbis becoming upset with me, and wanting me to turn the service on.

We live in a rural location and the location services simply don't work here. There are no public Wi-Fi networks to serve as a means to find the location, and the public IP issued to us by our ISP doesn't correspond to any location nearby, rendering the location services pretty useless.

Luckily, Orbis doesn't require using the automatic location service; you can manually add your location using the preferences. Unfortunately, I ran into a slight problem, where Orbis insisted on using the automatic location-based service. I had to tell Orbis not to use the location service (by removing a checkmark), and then had to quit the app and restart it to get the location I added manually to work.

Once the location problem was solved, Orbis worked fine; my local temperature and weather conditions pop up in the menu bar, just as expected.

Beyond the Menu Bar

Besides the quick view of the temperature and weather conditions, Orbis also offers a number of other weather services.

Selecting the Orbis menu item will display additional details about current weather conditions, including wind speed and direction, humidity, dew point, pressure, visibility, and UV index, as well as the time the information was last updated.

In addition to the extended weather details, Orbis also displays a 5-day forecast, including the same expanded details.

If you're monitoring the weather for multiple locations, the current weather conditions for the additional locations are displayed, although not the forecasts. If you need the forecast for your additional locations, they're available with a few more clicks.

Additional Features

Orbis offers a number of additional weather features, including a 15-day forecast for all locations you're monitoring, radar maps, moon phases, and weather alerts. That's a lot of information to cram into a menu bar, so Orbis takes a different tack and displays the additional information in dedicated windows. To gain access to the additional weather data, click in the Orbis menu bar item, and then click on the cloud icon in the drop-down menu. A submenu will let you open each of the windows containing the additional information.

Orbis Wrap-up

Orbis works well as a menu bar weather app. It provides a quick reference for temperature and current weather conditions. It also quickly provides a 5-day forecast, and with a bit of additional clicking, a 15-day forecast for all of the locations you're monitoring.

The radar map is a bit basic, offering three predefined zoom levels (local, regional, national), and no pause, future, or past replay of the radar loop. Although the radar details aren't the best I've seen, they're adequate for quickly seeing what's heading your way. You can always jump to your favorite weather site to discover more information; after all, Orbis is a menu bar app and not a full-fledged weather station.

In the end I found Orbis worked well, although it has a few problems that need to be fixed. These include the aforementioned problem with the auto location feature, and a tendency for the preferences you set, most notably how often you wish to have the app update the weather information, to not be retained the next time you launch the app.

If you find the few bugs tolerable, then Orbis makes a very nice weather app for the Mac’s menu bar. If the developer fixes the few bugs, then Orbis can be a great menu bar app.

Orbis is $1.99, and is available from the Mac App Store.

See other software choices from Tom's Mac Software Picks.

Published: 11/21/2015