TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Mac OS X Services

Volume Number: 20 (2004)
Issue Number: 12
Column Tag: Programming

Mac OS X Services

Revisiting an Old Favorite

by Clint Bagwell

Remember the Services menu? It was one of the then-new features advertised with the coming of the first version of OS X. Three generations later Services are still a core component of the contemporary Mac OS and also one of its best kept-secrets. Developers and power users know about Services' system-wide, interactive functionality, but home users can also make the most of their many practical uses.

About Services

Services were one of the many NEXT innovations that were incorporated into the first version of OS X. Services can be found under any native OS X program's Application menu. The Services menu extends an application's functionality by providing some of its own capabilities to other programs. When an application signs up for Services, it takes advantage of another application's abilities as well. This feature is made possible by transferring data through a shared pasteboard (which exists independently of the normal Copy/Paste pasteboard). Apple includes some services as part of its operating system, and makes it easy for developers to use the technology in their own applications. When using more than one application, Services can improve workflow efficiency to save time.

Let's look at a practical example using just the Services that are already built in to OS X. You get a confirmation email from an order you placed online. With the email open in Mail, you select the confirmation number and choose Make New Sticky Note from the Service menu. Stickies automatically opens and creates a new note containing the confirmation number to view later. The email includes a number to track the package on a website, but leaves the URL incomplete so it is not an active link. No problem. You select "USPS.com" in the message and choose Open URL under the Services menu. Safari opens and is intelligent enough to locate http://www.usps.com/ for you. Daily tasks like these become less cumbersome with the Services menu's seamless integration of often used applications. Apple also includes many other helpful services that make use of the Finder, Mail, TextEdit, and Safari. The Grab application's Services are popular, as they provide an easy way to take screen shots from another application. Another Service that is often mentioned is Start Speaking Text. The simple command enables the power of OS X's speech center to aid in editing text. This tool is invaluable for catching mistakes that your eye may have missed. These are just a few of the helpful Services tied in to OS X's bundled applications.

Unfortunately, whenever I introduce someone to Services, they get really excited about it for five minutes and never use them again. Sound familiar? Let's face it, the Services menu has its pros and it definitely has its unfortunate cons. The biggest complaint I hear are that Services are not always available. It is up to the application developer to support it or not (Microsoft, I am looking in your direction...) To be fair, you may be surprised to hear that AppleWorks doesn't use them either. On top of this, many users get confused because you usually must have something selected in order for the Services to become active. The Services menu makes system-wide shortcuts available (Search With Google is Command+Shift+L), a plus in my book. On the other hand, Apple leaves it up to the developer to define the keyboard command, a definite problem. A user can easily wind up with two services trying to use the same shortcut. I will go over some ways to work around this issue later in the article.

Ready-Made Toolbox

We have looked at the services already included in OS X; a user can even further enhance productivity with add-ons. Devon Technology's "Service Pack" is my favorite set of downloadable 3rd party services. In WordService, Devon has created a variety of useful tools for manipulating, inserting, or analyzing text. Developers take note of items like Mac- to Windows-Encoding or Unix Line Endings. The average user may find that Initial Caps Of Sentences, Insert Long Date and Time or Statistics will add more power to the TextEdit program, and make him less dependent on Microsoft Word (http://www.devon- technologies.com/products/freeware/freeware.php).

If you routinely handle sensitive data, consider Security Service from Ambriel Software. The standard version adds the ability to encrypt or shred a file that is selected in the Finder. The pro version beefs up encryption options and enables others such as "Free Space Shredding" (http://ambrielsoftware.com/products/ security_services/).

If all of these tools aren't enough for you, push the Services menu over the top with the more than 120 that come with Text Wielder from Tinnef Software. In addition to text formatting tools similar to those of WordService, it includes research options such as Search Apple Help, Phone Number - Reverse Lookup at AnyWho.com, and package tracking from several providers. A word of advice: saturating the Services menu can drastically increase login times, as OS X searches for all that are available. Luckily, Text Wielder comes with the ability to activate or deactivate its abundance of menu options. Power users may take interest in the scalability of this program: Text Wielder gives them the ability to create additional Service menu items by harnessing the power of AppleScript and SFRL (Simple Find and Replace Language) (http://www.commongrnd.com/~blenkush/ textwielder.html).

Roll Your Own: Customizing And Creating Services

So what makes up a Service menu item? Add-on Services like WordService are installed by dragging .service files to /Library/Services or ~/Library/Services, but Services that are part of another app are typically part of its information property list. It is the Info.plist file within the Package's Contents directory that declares how an application's services appear in the Services menu and what type of data it can handle. When you open this file in a text editor (reminder: always backup your application before editing) you will look for the property called NSServices, and with it the components that make up a Service menu item. Remember that pesky issue of two applications using the same keyboard shortcut? Take a look at the example below:

<key>NSKeyEquivalent</key>      
   <dict>                        
      <key>default</key>          
      <string>B</string>          
   </dict>

Changing the B between the string tags to another character will change that menu item's shortcut to whatever you choose. (Keep in mind that OS X will automatically add Command+Shift to your character in the menu).

For the coding-challenged, PearSSC from Pearworks will do all of this with a graphical interface. Drag the application to the PearSSC window and type a letter; not only is it easy, it's free (http://www.pearworks.com/pages/software.html ).

Ready to take Services to the Extreme?

If you like using the command line, you will love SilverService by Rob Hague. This application consists of a panel that holds a list of your own Shell commands (complete with title, input, and output). SilverService then lists your commands by title under its own Service menu (http://www.rho.org.uk/software/silverservice/).

Similarly, ACP Web Services harnesses the power of search queries for its convenient and customizable Service menu. This application is based on the premise that most search engines use a query string with the desired word or phrase tacked onto the end of it (example: http://www.google.com/search?q=apple). So when you select a word in TextEdit and activate one of the ACP Services, it pastes your selection onto the end of its string to form a complete URL. To customize, write your own query or simply copy it from a search made on your favorite website, and add it to the APC list (in the above example you would copy the URL minus the word apple). What's more, ACP Web Services includes a "grab bag" of pre-built services ranging from Traceroute to a variety of international language Google searches. The pro version also adds a full service manager and shortcut editor for the entire Services menu (http://rixstep.com/4/0/aws/).

Developer Note:

Why should developers pay attention to the Services menu? Consider this example: MarketCircle utilized Services to creatively boost functionality to DayLite, a popular CRM application for Mac OS X. It features the ability to send e-mails to customers natively from the application, while recording the text in its database. Users naturally requested the ability to record incoming emails into the database as well, to capture their customers' responses. Rather than turn DayLite into a full-fledged e-mail client, MarketCircle simply added Services that work cleanly with Mail and other Services-aware applications. The user selects text and chooses the appropriate Service to create a note, task, or appointment in DayLite. When asked about their use of Services, MarketCircle's president Alykhan Jetha had this to say: "We decided to use the Services menu because of the its power. We realized the value of the Services architecture during our NeXT days."

If you're a developer, it's in your best interest to take another look at Services. Offer interactivity with other applications to make your application more beneficial without creating an entire plug-in or rewriting your app altogether. Think of the Services Menu as a great location for us to access your program's capability system-wide without crowding our menubars with extra icons. And by the way, it's not just for Cocoa anymore!

For More Information on Developing Services:


Clint Bagwell is a freelance Macintosh Consultant and visual artist working in New York City. For more information go to http://appleconsulting.net/bagwell

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

SyncTwoFolders 2.3.1 - Syncs two user-sp...
SyncTwoFolders simply synchronizes two folders. It supports synchronization across mounted network drives and it is a possibility to run a simulation showing in a log what will be done. Please visit... Read more
Backblaze 6.1.0.330 - Online backup serv...
Backblaze is an online backup service designed from the ground-up for the Mac. With unlimited storage available for $5 per month, as well as a free 15-day trial, peace of mind is within reach with... Read more
ffWorks 1.2.2 - Convert multimedia files...
ffWorks, focused on simplicity, brings a fresh approach to the use of FFmpeg, allowing you to create ultra-high-quality movies without the need to write a single line of code on the command-line.... Read more
Slack 3.4.0 - Collaborative communicatio...
Slack is a collaborative communication app that simplifies real-time messaging, archiving, and search for modern working teams. Version 3.4.0: Bug Fixes: Launch (and Hide) on Login now works better... Read more
calibre 3.41.1 - Complete e-book library...
Calibre is a complete e-book library manager. Organize your collection, convert your books to multiple formats, and sync with all of your devices. Let Calibre be your multi-tasking digital librarian... Read more
calibre 3.41.2 - Complete e-book library...
Calibre is a complete e-book library manager. Organize your collection, convert your books to multiple formats, and sync with all of your devices. Let Calibre be your multi-tasking digital librarian... Read more
Bartender 3.0.64 - Organize your menu-ba...
Bartender lets you organize your menu-bar apps by hiding them, rearranging them, or moving them to Bartender's Bar. You can display the full menu bar, set options to have menu-bar items show in the... Read more
Amazon Chime 4.20.6617 - Communications...
Amazon Chime is a communications service that transforms online meetings with a secure, easy-to-use application that you can trust. Amazon Chime works seamlessly across your devices so that you can... Read more
Persecond 1.4.3 - Timelapse video made e...
Persecond is the easy, fun way to create a beautiful timelapse video. Import an image sequence from any camera, trim the length of your video, adjust the speed and playback direction, and you’re done... Read more
OmniPlan 3.12.1 -
With OmniPlan, you can create logical, manageable project plans with Gantt charts, schedules, summaries, milestones, and critical paths. Break down the tasks needed to make your project a success,... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Mobile games you probably haven't p...
The App Store is bursting at the seams with all kinds of apps and games of varying quality, but one of the most consistent issues with it is discoverability. Despite having what seems like unlimited money and a full App Store editorial team, Apple... | Read more »
AFK Arena guide - Tips and tricks for be...
AFK Arena may be a less intense form of a gacha game, but that doesn’t mean it’s totally straightforward. As with other games in this genre, there’s a bevy of systems, modes, currencies, etc. that you’ll want to be familiar with as soon as you... | Read more »
Spellsword Cards: Demontide guide - Tips...
Spellsword Cards: Demontide is a wonderful little single-player card game, but it can also be quite unforgiving. Parts of it definitely look and feel like Hearthstone, but you can’t just play this game like its your favorite collectible card game (... | Read more »
The best driving games on iOS
With the recent release of Rush Rally 3, it's easy to be excited about mobile driving games. Figuring out what games in this genre are worth picking up, on the other hand, is a whole other story. [Read more] | Read more »
Construction Simulator returns to Europe...
German publisher astragon Entertainment and developer weltenbauer. SE have just released the third installment of Construction Simulator. Unlike Construction Simulator 2, which was set in the U.S., Construction Simulator 3 returns to its roots in... | Read more »
The best superhero game on mobile
I don't know if you know this, but superheroes are Kind of A Big Deal. Every other week it feels like a new Marvel movie is coming out and the hype train for each release is undeniable. Just look at how the upcoming Avengers: Endgame broke sales... | Read more »
Globesweeper puts a 3D spin on the class...
Long before Minecraft came along to take the crown of 'most played' game, there was another goliath PC game with 'Mine' in its title which held that distinction - Minesweeper. Those with long memories of dial-up broadband and insanely heavy cathode... | Read more »
The stellar open-world skiing game, Gran...
Grand Mountain Adventure, a finalist at the Big Indie Awards 2018, has finally raced its way onto Android. The hugely impressive open-world skiing title hails from Swedish developer Toppluva, a studio made up of 3 snowboarding brothers. New... | Read more »
Onmyoji is celebrating its anniversary w...
NetEase has a deep well to dip into when it comes to sourcing new content for Onmyoji. The game is set during Japan’s Heian period, when elaborate folk tales of spirits – or shikigami – were fire-side favourites. In the world of Onmyoji, though,... | Read more »
The Elder Scrolls: Blades guide - How to...
Were you disappointed by The Elder Scrolls: Blades? You're not alone. It's a bad game that gives off one of the worst first impressions I've ever seen. [Read more] | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Flash Sale: 13″ 2.3GHz Quad-Core MacBook Pros...
Amazon has new 2018 13″ Space Gray 2.3GHz Quad-Core Touch Bar MacBook Pros on sale today for $400-$500 off MSRP, with prices starting at $1399. Shipping is free. These are the same MacBook Pros sold... Read more
Sale! 12″ 1.2GHz Space Gray MacBook for $999...
Amazon has the 12″ 1.2GHz Space Gray Retina MacBook on sale today for $300 off Apple’s MSRP, only $999. Shipping is free: – 12″ 1.2GHz Space Gray MacBook (8GB RAM/256GB SSD): $999.99 $300 off MSRP... Read more
Lowest price on the web: Insta360 Nano Spheri...
Abt Electronics has the popular Insta360 Nano Spherical Video Camera For Apple iPhones, in Champagne, on sale for only $39.99 shipped. That’s a 50% savings over its regular price of $79.99. Read more
Sprint offers 18 month Apple iPhone Xr leases...
Sprint has the new Apple 64GB iPhone Xr available for $15 per month for 18 months for new lines of service. That’s about 50% off the typical monthly rate for this phone. The fine print: “$15/mo.... Read more
These 2018 MacBook Pros at Apple, Certified R...
In the market for a 2018 15″ or 13″ MacBook Pro and looking for the lowest prices you can find? Apple’s refurbished prices are the lowest available for each model from any reseller. An standard Apple... Read more
Save $50-$74 on a new Mac mini today at Abt E...
Abt Electronics has the new 2018 4-Core and 6-Core Mac minis on sale for $50-$74 off Apple’s MSRP, with prices starting at $749. Shipping is free: – 3.6GHz Quad-Core mini: $749 $50 off MSRP – 3.0GHz... Read more
Deal Alert! Amazon is selling the 13″ 2.3GHz/...
Amazon has the 13″ 2.3GHz/256GB Dual-Core non-Touch Bar Space Gray MacBook Pro on sale for $500 off Apple’s MSRP today, only $999. Their price is the cheapest available for this model from any Apple... Read more
Amazon and Walmart have 9.7″ iPads on sale fo...
Amazon is offering new 9.7″ iPads with Apple Pencil Support for $50-$75 off MSRP today, with prices starting at only $249. These are the same iPads found in Apple’s retail and online stores: – 9.7″... Read more
Apple has refurbished quad-core and 6-core 20...
Apple has restocked Certified Refurbished 2018 Mac minis on their online store for $120-$170 off the cost of new models. Each mini comes with a new outer case plus a standard Apple one-year warranty... Read more
Key Features To Expect From Forthcoming Relea...
NEWS: 04.17.19- Details regarding a handful of key features from the forthcoming release of iOS 13, the next major version of the world’s most advanced mobile operating system designed in California... Read more

Jobs Board

Sr. Manager or Manager - *Apple* Team - SHI...
…opportunity available in the Hardware & Advanced Solutions Department as the Manager of the Apple Team The Manager must be familiar with all aspects of Apple Read more
Hair Stylist - *Apple* Blossom Mall - JCPen...
Hair Stylist - Apple Blossom Mall Location:Winchester, VA, United States- Apple Blossom Mall 1850 Apple Blossom Dr Job ID:1065040Salon Professionals Job Read more
*Apple* Solutions Architect - AECOM (United...
…DC, Washington, DC **Job Summary** AECOM has an immediate opportunity for an Apple Architect to support a government agency's capabilities in Washington, DC (Union Read more
Best Buy *Apple* Computing Master - Best Bu...
**687489BR** **Job Title:** Best Buy Apple Computing Master **Job Category:** Sales **Location Number:** 000501-Kennesaw-Store **Job Description:** **What does a Read more
*Apple* Mobile Master - Best Buy (United Sta...
**687736BR** **Job Title:** Apple Mobile Master **Job Category:** Store Associates **Location Number:** 001499-SW Tulsa-Store **Job Description:** **What does a Best Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.