In Windows mostly, a lot (most?) applications have a "File" drop-down menu, with things like "Exit", "Import/export settings", "Preferences", ...

Is "File" a blindly accepted standard/default? Because for me "Exit", "Import/export settings", "Preferences", ... are not 'file-relevant'.

  • its application dependent and it varies. Microsoft tend to stick stuff wherever they make the least sense IMHO :(
    – colmcq
    Commented Oct 20, 2011 at 14:26

3 Answers 3


File is a standard default menu title. From Gnome's HIG:

The File menu contains commands that operate on the current document. It is the left-most item in the menubar because of its importance and frequency of use, and because it is a relevant menu in many applications. Historically, because most applications already had this menu, and because the distinction between closing documents and closing windows became blurred over time, the File menu has also become the standard location for Quit.

Thinking about it, Exit is operating on the current document, is it not? Preferences is usually in an "Options" menu, not File.

File is also one of Window's Standard Menu Bars and Apple's OS X provided menu items in their respective Human Interface Guidelines. That's in the guidelines of three of the largest Desktop interface producers. It is most certainly a standard, though as Apple's guidelines point out, applications that don't use files don't necessarily need to use a File menu and can rename it to be more appropriate:

In general, each command in the File menu applies to a single file (most commonly, a user-created document).

If your application is not document-based, you can rename the File menu to something more appropriate or eliminate it.

  • Note also that with Mac OS X Apple moved the various application-wide items (particularly Quit, but also About, Preferences, Hide) into a menu named after the application; the only not-quite-fitting item in a modern File menu is “Close Window”.
    – Kevin Reid
    Commented Oct 20, 2011 at 17:23
  • @KevinReid Apple has that advantage in a standard menu bar with the Application menu, but they still usually have File (but as you and Apple note only File related things should be there), but it remains the standard on Windows due to habit, even sometimes oddly. In MS Office 2007 the "main" menu is called the File menu, probably just because users expect the silly thing.
    – Zelda
    Commented Oct 20, 2011 at 20:08
  • @BenBrocka It's not "habit" - it's "consistency", or "backward-comaptibility". And putting stuff where users expect it is a fundamental tenet of good UI design.
    – gkrogers
    Commented May 3, 2012 at 2:20
  • Yes its "backward-compatibility": Apple did it in the orgininal Mac Operating system (1984) and its been replicated ever since: guidebookgallery.org/screenshots/macos11
    – PhillipW
    Commented Sep 15, 2012 at 10:09

Whether it was a good idea putting those things under File way-back-when doesn't really have much relevance today.

Most people on windows systems will look for them under file, so putting them somewhere other than where people have come to expect them to be is likely to hurt the usability of your application.

If there is an almost universally accepted standard, stick to it - unless you have a very good reason not to.

  • yea.. even MS broke with this convention is some of their "striped" applications and I can never find the equivalent menu any more. Definitely not a UX improvement. Commented Oct 20, 2011 at 14:22
  • 1
    No one who already uses a computer is going to say, "What the hell is that?" when they see a File menu. "File" may not necessarily be the best label, but people are accustomed to it. There is something to be said for using design elements that people are already familiar with.
    – user246
    Commented Oct 20, 2011 at 15:39

Is FILE a blindly accepted standard: Yes. UI experts have argued against it, but nobody's going to change something that's been in both Mac and Windows GUIs since, forever. The whole metaphor of a computer working with files and folders kind of requires a File menu.

Are the commands in the File menu about the File you are working on? Yes and no.

You are right that many commands that end up in a File menu don't seem to belong there, if the menu is referring to A File. -- EXIT the file, or the Application? -- PREFERENCES for the file, or the application?

Some of these make more sense if you think of it as the "Filing" menu, rather than a menu of commands about the "file" you are working on.

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