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Sunday, November 27, 2005

Mac OS X Services (the menu you never go to)

(Note: Numbers 1 through 3 require WordService -- read the article to understand)

There's a whole hidden side of text modification that is stashed away, yet right at your fingertips. If you go to the Application menu (if you're in Safari, click the menu 'Safari') -> Services, a whole list pops down. You've probably disregarded this in the past (if you've ever seen it) because most of the options are grayed out, or unclickable. All you need to do is highlight some text. Go back to the menu and there are so many to choose from! Here are my favorites:

1) Have you ever typed something and then realized you were in caps lock? You probably deleted it and typed it again all in lowercase. You could be more efficient. If you go to Services -> Convert -> Lowercase, it solves the problem without you having to type it all again! You could even do Convert -> Initial Caps of Sentences to have every letter lowercase except the first letter of the first word in a sentence. Nifty!

2) Are you space bar trigger happy? Ever typed more than 1 space in between words? Services -> Format -> Remove Multiple Spaces takes care of that.

3) This one's really helpful. Have you ever needed a long list to be alphabetized? Maybe not even just words, but how about lines of text? At Services -> Format -> Sort Lines Ascending, your entire selection becomes alphabetized. No shareware programs necessary!

4) Don't feel like reading this whole article, but you still want to get an idea of what it's about? Perfect! Select all of it and go to Services -> Summarize. Works well with reviews and book reports!

And this doesn't only work with Safari - it works with every application on your Mac! There are several you can download from the internet. They're called Services and you put them in your home folder -> Library -> Services, if they don't get installed there already.

What are some of your favorites?

digg story

20 Comments:

  • Nice!

    By Blogger Samuel "Artoo" Goodwin, at 11/27/2005 5:47 PM  

  • Just when I think I'm reaching the limit of OS X's productivity, I get surprised by something. Nice article.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11/27/2005 6:01 PM  

  • 1) Just to let you know, Macrumors has a thread for your page. Nice summary! :) link

    2) I don't have convert or format services. Should I? Were they pre-installed for you, or did you get them from somewhere? I don't see them, even when text is highlighted in a Cocoa app.

    By Anonymous Mohan, at 11/27/2005 8:21 PM  

  • See, the Services menu would be so useful if only:

    1) it were easily configurable. Mine is totally cluttered with Services I will never want to use.

    2) greyed out options *told you* what you need to do to ungrey them. They don't all take text input, and I want to know what they do take.

    By Blogger Stridey, at 11/27/2005 8:28 PM  

  • Try downloading WordService, the last download on the link provided.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11/27/2005 8:58 PM  

  • Yeah, WordService is what activates the "Convert" and "Format" services. CalcService is also nice, as it allows you to do some in-text field calculations. (Click the "from the internet" link near the bottom. It would have been nice to give Devon Technologies some props, though.)

    But I would like to point out some inaccuracies. Services aren't inherently text-dependent, but they are CONtext-dependent. That is, some of the services activate when you highlight text, but not all of them do. For example, I have an "Import Image" service (that may or may not be native to a clean Mac OS X install). Highlighting text, though, obviously does not and should not activate this service. (Inexplicably, though, highlighting an image file in the Finder does not activate this service either. Hm.)

    Also, services are not necessarily available to all Mac OS X applications. They are available to the vast majority of Mac OS X applications, including virtually all of Apple's applications. But you will probably encounter some apps which won't work with services -- these are usually Carbon applications that haven't been tooled to specifically use services. (Cocoa apps get services "for free".) If you have AppleWorks, that's one example, even though it is Mac OS X native.

    Also, services don't come only from dedicated service packages that you drop in ~/Library/Services/ . Applications often post services, so even though your Services folder is empty, your service menu might be chock full. Any applications located in /Applications/ or ~/Applications/ are able to post services.

    I know about services but rarely use them, mainly because I'm very used to just copying and pasting into the required text field, especially since Exposé makes it easy to find the window you want. (And, Spotlight and iSeek -- from Ambrosia Software -- are always just a keystroke away.)

    But I have to admit that the WordService and CalcService services provided by Devon Technologies are quite nice, when I remember about them.

    By Anonymous Simone Manganelli, at 11/27/2005 9:12 PM  

  • So for us curious Windows users... (namely me), what does it look like if you "Summarize" this article, for example?

    By Blogger Matt, at 11/28/2005 3:29 AM  

  • Example summary below, you can vary the length between 1 and 100%.

    If you go to the Application menu (if you're in Safari, click the menu 'Safari') -> Services, a whole list pops down. You've probably disregarded this in the past (if you've ever seen it) because most of the options are grayed out, or unclickable.

    ...You probably deleted it and typed it again all in lowercase.... If you go to Services -> Convert -> Lowercase, it solves the problem without you having to type it all again! You could even do Convert -> Initial Caps of Sentences to have every letter lowercase except the first letter of the first word in a sentence.

    ...They're called Services and you put them in your home folder -> Library -> Services, if they don't get installed there already.

    By Anonymous Wes, at 11/28/2005 3:39 AM  

  • Thanks Wes, that looks pretty cool. I usually outline large things before I write them, so it seems very interesting that something like this exists.

    By Blogger Matt, at 11/28/2005 3:46 AM  

  • Very cool, thanks for the tip! Found you via digg...

    By Anonymous drew, at 11/28/2005 6:54 AM  

  • Since I don't have a Mac, can't really test the services out...but I'm really interested in knowing more about the "Summarize" feature :-)

    By Blogger Calvin, at 11/28/2005 7:24 AM  

  • Talk about serendipity. I had just installed HotService yesterday in my library>inputmanagers folder. Then I said to myself. What good is this? all it did was place the services menu in the menu bar just after "window".
    "I was blind but now I see" when this digg showed up today. Who would have thunk. Just select something and you can "ungrey" all of the services. Woot, woot!

    I always wondered why they were always greyed out. Now I see!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11/28/2005 10:07 AM  

  • I never realised that the services menu could be so useful!

    Thanks!

    By Blogger Suds, at 11/28/2005 12:24 PM  

  • This feature came from NeXT and has worked in the same manner for 15 years. (!) One of my biggest frustrations with OSX is that the most powerful implementation of this feature was removed following OSX server; specifically the ability of Terminal to host services.

    Basically the selection would be piped to the standard input of a command or chain of commands whose standard output would replace the selection when the service was invoked. Terminal provided a UI for the scripting and glue for the service implementation. It was simple and with the power of all the unix utilities you could create services to do just about anything. I don't know why this feature was removed, it was super powerful and useful.

    As to the 'magic' of when services are enabled, the application is constantly advertising what pasteboard data types it is willing to export and import for the current selection. When there's a match between data types exported/imported and what a service is capable of importing/providing, the matching services are enabled. The most common case is simple text replacement, but any data types are potentially supported if the application and services can deal with them.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11/28/2005 12:38 PM  

  • I've found two apps that really make working with Services much easier. The first is Service Manager from Blacktree (the same company that makes Quicksilver). Service Manager lets you enable and disable services from most applications, making the Services menu smaller and easier to use.

    The second is HotService (about halfway down the page). It adds the Services menu to your main Menu Bar in all Services-aware apps, so you don't have to drill down through the regular menu to use Services. Very handy.

    By Anonymous feaverish, at 11/28/2005 1:38 PM  

  • There is a summarizer library if you want to play more, called the Open Text Summarizer library.

    Perl also has a Summarizer module (presumably python and ruby do too).

    By Anonymous Nathan, at 11/29/2005 2:43 AM  

  • Web-Devs out there: Install UnicodeChecker and you will be able to convert Unicode-Charsets to HTML-entities with a single click.

    For more than a year, it saved me a lot of headaches! It's worth looking at.

    By Blogger eMeidi, at 12/02/2005 9:19 AM  

  • Best service from me is the translation service [paid for :( ]
    highlight text in any activated program [e.g. safari etc not FF :(]and choose which ever language you want to convert it too nice.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12/02/2005 10:59 AM  

  • Works for me in Safari, but none of the services are active in Microsoft Word. Do I need to download something?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12/02/2005 12:37 PM  

  • The best is textedit ->new window containing selection. I gave it a shortcut and its great when you need to clip a bit of text and save it for later.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12/02/2005 4:40 PM  

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