How to master Mac OS X services

Save time and effort with Snow Leopard's revamped services

Mac OS X services

When it comes to Mac OS X, the Services menu is where tumbleweed gathers. Since the early days of the operating system, the Services menu has been avoided by the majority of Mac users.

This is largely because of what used to be found there: a bewildering, ever-growing mess of options, sub-menus and shortcuts.

But with Snow Leopard, it got a major revamp, making it contextual and configurable. This guide provides you with insight into how you can make the most of Mac OS X services, which should enable you to save time and effort in various scenarios.

To be fair to Apple, the Services menu was always a pretty good idea. It houses a bunch of small actions, primarily for manipulating selected text and documents. For example, there are services for searching for a word in Dictionary and creating a new email or note from a selection, and these commands can have userdefinable keyboard shortcuts to provide you with even faster access.

With Snow Leopard, however, the system finally became usable. As noted, two things now make the Services menu useful.

First, the menu is now context-sensitive, so it only displays relevant options. In (increasingly rare) applications that don't support services, you see no options. If you've selected some text, you'll see quite a few choices in apps that support services; select an item in Finder and you'll see different choices.

Pre-Snow Leopard, you had a sea of grey options punctuated by the odd black (and therefore selectable) one, and so clearly the revamp is welcome.

The other major plus in Snow Leopard is that services can now be disabled and have userdefined shortcuts easily applied. This happens via the Keyboard pane in System Preferences, and we briefly show how this works in the tutorial.

How to make good use of the Services menu

1. Using the menu

Step 1

The best way to find out about the Services menu is to use it. Open a website in Safari, select some text, and select Services from the Safari menu. You'll see options for what you can do.

Note: these might vary from Mac to Mac, depending on your installed apps.

2. Text-based services

Step 2

Assuming you haven't amended default services settings, select New Email With Selection. Mail will open with your text in a new message, without you involving the clipboard.

The New Note With Selection option works the same way, but creates a new note.

3. Services shortcuts

Step 3

In the previous step you might have noticed Make New Sticky Note has a keyboard shortcut: Shift+Command+Y.

Switch back to Safari. With your text still selected, press the keyboard shortcut. Stickies will open with a new note, containing the selected content.

4. Manage your services

Step 4

Launch System Preferences and select Keyboard. Click the Keyboard Shortcuts tab and select Services from the list of options in the left-hand pane.

In the scrolling pane to the right you'll now see all available services. Use checkboxes to turn services on and off.

5. Define a service shortcut

Step 5

Keyboard shortcuts are easy to define. Scroll down to Look Up in Dictionary. Doubleclick to the right, near the scroll bar, and hold Ctrl+Command+D.

Select a word in TextEdit and use your shortcut – you'll see a pop-up definition. (Some apps launch Dictionary; others don't.)

6. Import a screen grab

Step 6

The Services menu enables you to import a screenshot into Mac word processors such as Pages and TextEdit. Select Capture Selection from Screen and drag an outline.

The selection will be sent to your text editor. Other options can be selected in System Preferences.

7. Searching for content

Step 7

In the Searching section of the pane mentioned in Steps 4 and 5, ensure Search With Google and Spotlight are active. You can then use Shift+Command+l and Shift+Command+F to search for a selected term in Google (via Safari) or Spotlight, respectively.

8. Use the contextual menu

Step 8

Services should be available (when relevant) via the contextual menu (Ctrl- or rightclick to see it). If you don't see options, such as those mentioned in Steps 2 and 3, that's down to a Mac OS X bug.

Turn these services off and on again in System Preferences to fix it.

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