One of the relatively hidden but often invaluable features of OS X is
its support for services, which is when one application can provide a
function or capability to another, and accept some input such as text,
files, or images, and perform a separate task with this data.
For instance, if you are in
and wish to send a selection of text to a friend in an e-mail, you can
click and drag to highlight it, and then use a service to create a new
e-mail that contains this text. Likewise, you can select text in Word,
Pages, TextEdit, or other applications and similarly generate an e-mail
message containing the text, using the same service. In this case, the
program offering the service is Mail.
The services in OS X are available primarily in the Services submenu
of the application menu (immediately to the right of the Apple menu),
but can also be accessed in the contextual menu of programs like the
Finder and Safari.
When you install an application in OS X, often services it can
provide to other applications are collected and made available in this
menu, so the options available on one computer may be different than
those on another computer. However, Apple does provide a collection of
services in OS X, some of which are enabled by default and others that
can be toggled, if desired, or even bound to custom hot keys for quick
|Services in OS X can be activated and
bound to custom hot keys in the Keyboard
Shortcuts section of the Keyboard system
To see what services your system has available, go to the Keyboard
system preferences and select the Services section from the Keyboard
Shortcuts tab. This will show you the various services available for
handling pictures, messages, selected text, files and folders, options
for searching, and more.
To add a service to the Services menu, simply check the box next to
it, or uncheck it to disable that service. By doing this, you can
customize which services are available to you, and keep the Services
menu clean and efficient. For example, if you are not an application
developer, then you might not need any of the Development services that
OS X provides, so disabling these might help.
In addition to accessing services through the Services submenu, you
can define custom hot keys for them, so frequently used ones can be
quickly accessed by a simple keystroke or two. Some of Apple’s built-in
services may already have hot keys assigned to them, but you can
reassign these, or add new ones to services that do not have a hot key.
Unfortunately, when adding hot keys sometimes it is easy to double up
on a previously used one, so one recommendation I have is to use the
Control, Option, and Command keys together for custom hot key
assignments. These modifier keys are rarely used together for built-in
commands, and are easy to all press at once, which makes them convenient
for a quick custom hot key (i.e., you will not have to remember whether
your hot key used Control-Option, or Option-Command, etc., though this
specification is certainly possible as well).
Select the “Service” option to
create a new service in Automator.
Finally, you can also create your own services. This is one of the
more exciting aspects of OS X, as you can tie together various features
of otherwise separate programs. You can create a service that only
applies to data and objects in one program, or one that applies more
globally to all programs.
The means for creating your own services in OS X is Apple’s Automator
program, where you can use a collection of predefined actions to
assemble a workflow for manipulating data in stereotyped manners. For
instance, you can create a service that batch-renames a number of
selected files, append a file to a Keynote presentation, or move all
selected items in the Finder to your Documents folder to help keep
To create a service, open Automator and create a new workflow, and
select “Service” (designated by the gear icon) as the type of workflow
to create. Then choose the type of input (text, rich text, files,
folders, or both files and folders, and so on) that the workflow will
handle, and optionally specify the application in which this workflow
will apply. For some inputs like text, you can further refine the type
of text such as phone numbers, URLs, or addresses, if desired.
When the inputs have been created, then you can assemble your
workflow from the various actions available, just as you would any other
Automator workflow. For advanced users, you can set up Applescript and
Shell scripts with the workflows, along with Automator variables to
highly customize the actions. Keep in mind that while Automator was
intended to be simple, sometimes routines may take a bit of thought,
trial and error, and research to get done.
With the workflow completed, save it with a descriptive name, and it
should now be available in the Services section of the Keyboard system
preferences, where you can enable or disable, or assign your own custom
hot key to it.