The services menu in Mac OS X is probably overlooked by the vast majority of users, since it is tucked away under a context menu and rarely seen. As the saying goes, out of sight, out of mind.
But if you take the time to look at the services menu, accessible via a right-click or the menu bar the top of your screen, you might find a few options there that allow you to perform complex actions in a mere click.
What’s more, the services menu becomes all the more useful when you can add and remove your own. Let’s get started.
You’ve Intrigued Me! Show Me An Example
Let’s take the Google Chrome (or any) browser as an example. Click the name of the application in your menu bar at the top of the screen and you’ll see an option for Services. These options are contextual, which means that only relevant services will be displayed based on what you are doing.
As an example, you could select text in your browser, head to the services menu and find a whole bounty of options related to copying, sending and performing an action based on your text selection. Different actions reveal different options.
What Exactly Is The Services Menu?
Quite simply, the services menu gives you more options for the task you are currently doing by borrowing features from other apps. A lot of the time, the services menu will be empty because there will be no relevant features for what you are doing. But when you do certain things such as highlighting text, suddenly lots of features from other apps and programs appear. Just make sure the app is in focus, and that the app’s name appears next to the Apple logo at the top.
You can then choose one of the features, and use it, without having to leave the program you are currently using. Note however that the features offered in Services will vary depending on what you have installed on your Mac.
There are some services offered by OS X mainstays like Mail and iTunes, and other services are provided by third party apps you’ve installed (like Spotify or Evernote). You will also find that some programs and apps do not work with services, and therefore the menu will remain empty at all times.
So if we use highlighting text as an example, you could highlight someone’s name and then use the Services menu to call that person up on Skype, or send them a SMS. You could add the highlighted text to Evernote or highlight text and look for an artist, band, or song on Spotify. You can look up words you don’t know in the dictionary, or you can even encrypt or decrypt using PGP.
Services vs. Windows Explorer Right-Click
If you use both Windows and Mac, then look upon the services menu as the OS X equivalent of the Windows Explorer right-click menu. When you right-click on a file in Windows Explorer, you are given options about what you can do with that file. OS X is no different — right click a file and similar options will be provided under the services menu.
One area where the services menu is more flexible than Windows Explorer’s right-click, is in adding and removing these options. In Windows, you need to go into the Registry to remove right-click menu options, but with OS X Services, it’s a simple matter of checking and unchecking boxes from a list.
Adding & Removing Services
To control what is displayed in your services menu, head there and click Services Preferences or visit System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts > Services.
Anything already being used in services will be checked, and the ones not being used will be unchecked. So it is just a case of scrolling through the rather extensive list, and choosing which ones you want. If you make any kind of mess at any time, you can reset the whole thing back to the default settings by clicking the Restore Defaults button.
Services are categorized by context, such as Pictures, Internet, Files & Folders, and so on which makes it easy to find a particular service. You can also add a keyboard shortcut so you don’t always have to go through the menu to find what you want. A quick three-fingered waltz on the keyboard, and off you go.
Making Your Own Services With Automator
The existing list of services is quite extensive, but will never be complete. There is probably something you want to see in the list which is currently not there. If that’s the case, then you can make your own services, using Automator.
We’ve covered creating your own services menu options in the past, and even though that article is five years old and aimed at Snow Leopard users, the instructions for doing so on a modern Mac running OS X Yosemite are exactly the same. You should also check out our automation guide for the Mac, which provides a good grounding in Automator.
Finally I’d like to recommend the website MacOSXAutomation, which has Services options which you can download and install. It doesn’t get much easier than that.
Do you use the services context menu? What services have you added?