The Services menu is perhaps the most
overlooked built-in in all of Mac OS X, despite being a powerful part
of the alpha geek's workflow. Services
are snippets of functionality exported from Mac OS X
itself and the apps you have in your Applications folder.
Think of services as context menu items (such as those you find after
a &command;- or right-click) that draw
in external functionality and bring them to bear on what
you're currently working with. Select the text of a
reminder emailed by a friend into a sticky
(Mail→Services→Make New Sticky Note) on your
Desktop without having to launch Stickies
(Applications/Stickies), copy, and paste.
Highlight a technical term in any document and Google for it
(TextEdit→Services→Search With Google). Select a
file anywhere in the Finder and send it via email
Perhaps the Services menu would be more widely used if it were indeed
made available by &command;- or
right-click context menu.
It behooves you to give Services a whirl, working it into your daily
workflow. Even if you just end up using the odd service here or
there, you'll find it grows on you in no time flat.
The default set of
services in Mac OS X, shown in , includes folders for Finder (with Open,
Reveal, and Show Info), the Grab screenshot app (with Screen,
Selection, and Timed Selection), Mail (with Send Selection and Send
To), Make New Sticky Note, Open URL (previously called Net
Services), Script Editor, Search With Google, Send File To
Bluetooth Device..., Speech (Start Speaking Text and Stop Speaking),
Summarize, and TextEdit (New Window Containing Selection and Open
Figure 1. Panther's default Services menu
These services are built into the system. Any additional services
that might show up were either installed by other programs
automatically or manually by you; additional services should all be
located in /Library/Services or
~/Library/Services, your own personal library of
services in your home directory. Anytime you wish to install more
services, you'll put them in one of these two
folders, depending on whether you want to make them available to all
users on your machine or keep them to yourself.
One of the reasons most folks don't bother using the
Services menu—assuming they even know of its existence—is
that they find its inconsistency rather confounding. Not all services
are available at all times, in all applications, and under all
circumstances. If you navigate to your Services menu right now in the
Finder without anything selected, several of the submenus (such as
Grab's submenu, for instance) will remain entirely
grayed out and unavailable to you. Many of the services that are
available for use function properly only with something selected.
For example, if I choose
Finder→Services→Speech→Start Speaking Text
from the Finder without selecting anything first, rather than prompt
me for a file or summarily ignoring me, my computer says
"C. K. Sample's
Desktop." Likewise, choosing
Finder→Services→Mail→Send Selection from
the Finder without selecting anything causes Mail to attempt to send
the entire Desktop folder attached to an email message. However, if
you first select a file that you do want to send to someone and then
Selection, Mail starts a new message with that file attached.
It's all a matter of context; if you can get used to
that—and it's well worth getting used
to—then services make a whole lot of sense.
Although the Grab
submenu is nonfunctional in the Finder (and Grab itself is not the
best screenshot composer out there, since it produces PDFs of
full-screen shots and the Grab menu is always visible), Grab can be
useful from within iChat. Navigating to
iChat→Services→Grab→Screen in mid
conversation automatically launches Grab, takes a screenshot, and
places that screenshot in your foremost iChat window, ready to send.
This is much quicker than launching my screen-capture program of
the screenshot, and then locating the file and dragging it into the
iChat window. This service can prove invaluable by quickly and
visually instructing long-distance friends and family. Telling Dad
that he can find Disk Utility in the Utilities folder in the
Application folder inside his hard drive is one thing. Sending him a
quick series of screenshots in iChat, showing him where exactly that
is and how to get there, is entirely another.
Some of the most powerful services,
both built-ins and third-party, are text-based services. For example,
say you are busy typing up a report for your boss. He calls you up
and says that he's having an impromptu meeting in 15
minutes with his superiors and he wants to present a three-minute
overview of the 10-page report you are in the process of writing.
Rather than scramble to pull together a legible series of note cards
that he can refer to in his meeting, you lean on the handy Summarize
If you are working in Word (at least in Word X),
you'll notice that Summarize, along with the rest of
the Services menu, is not available to you. You'll
need to get your text over to a services-enabled text editor. Select
all your text (Edit→Select All or
&command;-A) and copy it
(Edit→Copy or &command;-C).
Launch TextEdit and paste in (Edit→Paste or
&command;-V) the text from your Word
In TextEdit, select
all the text (Edit→Select All or
&command;-A) and then choose
TextEdit→Services→Summarize. Up comes the Summary
service with a shortened form; the quality varies greatly, depending
on the type, length, and variability of the writing. shows a summarized version of the opening
paragraphs of Jane Austen's
Figure 2. Summary service, mulling over Jane Austen's Emma
You can specify the service to summarize sentences or paragraphs,
sliding your way between shorter and longer versions. To open a new
TextEdit document that contains the summarized version for
fine-tuning, select SummaryService→Services→
TextEdit→New Window Containing Selection. If your
Mac's algorithms put together a summary good enough
for the purpose at hand, or if your boss called in the request from
out of town, you can simply mail it to him right in his meeting by
You can also use this service from within Safari to post a summary of
a long article online.
If you are still using Internet Explorer, it's time
to switch. IE does not, and probably will never, support services.
Technologies is a purveyor of some rather nice third-party text
enables any plain text-capable Cocoa application to open Microsoft
Word documents; it makes use of the Unix command-line utility
provides 34 functions to convert, format, or speak selected text;
insert data; show statistics on your selection; and more.
calculates the result of a selected formula and either appends the
result to the formula or replaces the formula with the result.
text in any document, web page, or
email message and type
&command;-Shift-L (or select
Services→Search With Google from the current
application's menu) to search Google for it.
Nisus Software offers a free Nisus Thesaurus (http://www.nisus.com/Thesaurus), complete
with its own Services menu for us writers looking for that
(right) (correct) precise wording.
And if you happen across an unfamiliar Klingon word on your favorite
Trekkie (or Trekker) newsgroup, use the MacSword Lookup service, which
comes free with MacSword (http://www.macsword.com), to search for all
appearances of that word in the Klingon Language Version of
the World English Bible. There's
something for everyone in the Services menu, I tell you!
To start a new
message with the selected text inserted or file or folder attached,
highlight any text, file, or folder and select
Services→Mail→Send Selection To from your current
services-aware app. To compose mail to a specific person, highlight
an email address (assuming it's not already
hyperlinked to a mailto:, in which just clicking
it will work) and select Services→Mail→Send To.
Wondering just what mischief you can get up to with your
Bluetooth-enabled PowerBook and
cellphone or PDA? Send a copy of a public domain book from
Gutenberg (http://www.gutenberg.net) over for e-book
reading in the palm of your hand on the morning bus or train. Simply
select the file on the Desktop, select
Finder→Services→Send File To Bluetooth Device...
(or &command;-Shift-B), and Bluetooth
it on over .
Technologies' BlueService (http://www.devon-technologies.com/freeware.php)
provides a select-and-send service for any plain or rich text from
any Cocoa app (and certain Carbon apps that support the Services
menu). All you need on the other end is a Bluetooth-capable device
that supports OBEX Object Push or OBEX File Transfer,
which your cellphone, PDA, and Mac/PC are bound to support. This is
incredibly useful for sending short messages to yourself or nearby
friends, MapQuest driving directions to your PDA, party details to a
friend's phone, a shopping list to your
spouse's handheld, and so forth. If you were feeling
adventurous, you could script appointment reminders, breaking news,
and other alerts to flow from your Mac to any mobile device currently
in Bluetooth range, creating a broadcast network of information for
your own personal area.
Just such a thing has been done, albeit for Linux, by a clever hacker
named Collin Mulliner (http://www.mulliner.org/bluetooth). His
Bluetooth Joke of the Day sends the joke
of the day to nearby devices,
FileSystemMapping provides command-line access to Bluetooth devices
as if they were local filesystems, and
btChat is a
Rendezvous-like chat app that uses Bluetooth.
Other Third-Party Services
services and those advertised by third-party apps abound, as you can
see in my tricked-out Services menu in .
Figure 3. A Services menu with all the trimmings
I'm a bit of a services junkie, I have to admit.
Here are a few more I've accreted and found useful
along the way.
personal database program and other similar programs, such as
use the Services menu to allow swift import of selected data into
If you want to grab a copy of a web page or entire web site for
a Grab URL
Search your mail archive in or selected text via the
You'll find it in the Zoe/Extra
folder; just drag it to your personal or systemwide
If you are a programmer, you'll enjoy the
convenience of the Script Editor (http://www.apple.com/applescript/scripteditor/11.html),
PerlPad (http://perl-pad.sourceforge.net), and
services. ShellService adds an Execute Text command that treats any
highlighted text as fodder for the command line .
An Office Proviso
At the time of this writing, services don't work
with Microsoft products, notably Office X, which greatly limits the
applicability of this remarkable functionality at the office.
However, according to word on the street, the next major release of
Microsoft Office for OS X (Office 2004) will at least partially
support the Services menu. For many users, this little bit of
compatibility will serve as the missing link in making the Services
menu an indispensable part of their daily workflow.
Office aside, the moment you start using Mac OS X's
services—particularly if you assign keyboard shortcuts to the services you use
consistently—you'll wonder how you ever got
along without them.
—C. K. Sample III