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

Suitcase Fusion 7 18.2.4 - Font manageme...
Suitcase Fusion 7 is the creative professional's font manager. Every professional font manager should deliver the basics: spectacular previews, powerful search tools, and efficient font organization... Read more
SoftRAID 5.6.1 - High-quality RAID manag...
SoftRAID allows you to create and manage disk arrays to increase performance and reliability. SoftRAID allows the user to create and manage RAID 4 and 5 volumes, RAID 1+0, and RAID 1 (Mirror) and... Read more
BetterTouchTool 2.25 - Customize Multi-T...
BetterTouchTool adds many new, fully customizable gestures to the Magic Mouse, Multi-Touch MacBook trackpad, and Magic Trackpad. These gestures are customizable: Magic Mouse: Pinch in / out (zoom... Read more
Google Chrome 59.0.3071.115 - Modern and...
Google Chrome is a Web browser by Google, created to be a modern platform for Web pages and applications. It utilizes very fast loading of Web pages and has a V8 engine, which is a custom built... Read more
Google Chrome 59.0.3071.115 - Modern and...
Google Chrome is a Web browser by Google, created to be a modern platform for Web pages and applications. It utilizes very fast loading of Web pages and has a V8 engine, which is a custom built... Read more
SoftRAID 5.6.1 - High-quality RAID manag...
SoftRAID allows you to create and manage disk arrays to increase performance and reliability. SoftRAID allows the user to create and manage RAID 4 and 5 volumes, RAID 1+0, and RAID 1 (Mirror) and... Read more
Suitcase Fusion 7 18.2.4 - Font manageme...
Suitcase Fusion 7 is the creative professional's font manager. Every professional font manager should deliver the basics: spectacular previews, powerful search tools, and efficient font organization... Read more
BetterTouchTool 2.25 - Customize Multi-T...
BetterTouchTool adds many new, fully customizable gestures to the Magic Mouse, Multi-Touch MacBook trackpad, and Magic Trackpad. These gestures are customizable: Magic Mouse: Pinch in / out (zoom... Read more
WhiteCap 6.7.1 - Visual plug-in for iTun...
WhiteCap is a sleek and sophisticated music visualizer and screensaver that features futuristic, wireframe mesh visuals with dynamic backgrounds and colors. WhiteCap contains thousands of visual... Read more
DiskMaker X 6.0 rc5 - Make a bootable OS...
DiskMaker X (was Lion DiskMaker) helps you to build a bootable drive from the official OS X installer app (the one you download from the Mac App Store). It detects the OS X Install program with... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

This War of Mine gets a new ending and m...
This War of Mine just got a big new update, featuring free DLC that adds a new ending to the game, among other exciting changes. The update is celebrating the game's two-year release anniversary. Apart from the new ending, which will be quite... | Read more »
Summon eight new heroes in Fire Emblem H...
Nintendo keeps coming at us with Fire Emblem Heroes updates, and it doesn't look like that trend is stopping anytime soon. The folks behind the game have just announced the new War of the Clerics Voting Gauntlet, expected to start next Tuesday. [... | Read more »
The best deals on the App Store this wee...
iOS publishers are pulling out all the stops this week -- there's a huge number of seriously great games at discounted prices this week. Let's not waste any time and get right down to business. [Read more] | Read more »
The House of da Vinci (Games)
The House of da Vinci 1.0.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0.0 (iTunes) Description: Enter The House of Da Vinci, a new must-try 3D puzzle adventure game. Solve mechanical puzzles, discover hidden... | Read more »
Solve the disappearance of history’s gre...
Blue Brain Games invites you to indulge in an immersive hands-on 3D puzzle adventure in similar vein to The Room series, with its debut release The House of Da Vinci. Set during the historic period of the Italian Renaissance (when Leonardo himself... | Read more »
Age of Rivals (Games)
Age of Rivals 3.3 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $.99, Version: 3.3 (iTunes) Description: Deep civilization-building strategy in a fast-paced card game! | Read more »
Panthera Frontier (Games)
Panthera Frontier 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: | Read more »
Angry Birds Evolution beginner's gu...
Angry Birds changes things up a fair bit in its latest iteration, Angry Birds Evolution. The familiar sling-shot physics mechanics are still there, but the game now features team-based gameplay, RPG elements, and a new top-down view. With all of... | Read more »
Sega Forever is for the retro game fans
Sega is launching a new retro games service titled Sega Forever, in a move that's sure to delight games enthusiasts with a bit of nostalgia. Sega's releasing five classic games for free. The titles include Sonic the Hedgehog, Phantasy Star II,... | Read more »
The Little Acre (Games)
The Little Acre 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

13-inch 1.8GHz/256GB MacBook Air on sale for...
B&H Photo has the updated 2017 13″ 1.8GHz/256GB MacBook Air (MQD42LL/A) in stock and on sale for $1129 including free shipping plus NY & NJ tax only. Their price is $70 off MSRP. Read more
27-inch 3.4GHz iMac on sale for $1699, save $...
B&H Photo has the new 2017 27″ 3.4GHz iMac (MNE92LL/A) in stock and on sale for $1699 including free shipping plus NY & NJ sales tax only. Their price is $100 off MSRP. Read more
21-inch 2.3GHz iMac on sale for $1049, save $...
B&H Photo has the new 2017 21″ 2.3GHz iMac (MMQA2LL/A) in stock and on sale for $1049 including free shipping plus NY & NJ tax only. Their price is $50 off MSRP. Read more
ABBYY TextGrabber 6 for iOS Implements Instan...
ABBYY has announced the release of TextGrabber 6.0.0, an important feature update to the company’s productivity app developed for iOS and Android devices. TextGrabber 6.0 now offers Real-Time... Read more
vPhone, First Smartphone That Can’t Be Lost,...
Austin, Texas based Hypori has introduced the vPhone, a virtual smartphone that affords every business user the benefits of separate work and personal phones, conveniently delivered on a single... Read more
Save this weekend with 2016 refurbished MacBo...
Apple has dropped prices on Certified Refurbished 2016 15″ and 13″ MacBook Pros by as much as $590 off original MSRP. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each model, and shipping is free: -... Read more
New 27-inch 3.4GHz iMac on sale for $1699, sa...
MacMall has the new 2017 27″ 3.4GHz iMac (MNE92LL/A) in stock and on sale for $1699 including free shipping. Their price is $100 off MSRP. Read more
Clearance 2016 MacBook Pros available for up...
B&H Photo has clearance 2016 13″ and 15″ MacBook Pros in stock today and on sale for up to $400 off original MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY & NJ sales tax only: - 15″ 2.7GHz... Read more
Apple Ranks 9th In comScore Top 50 U.S. Digit...
comScore, Inc. has released its monthly ranking of U.S. online activity at the top digital media properties for May 2017 based on data from comScore Media Metrix Multi-Platform. * Entity has... Read more
10.5-inch iPad Pros available for up to $20 o...
B&H Photo has the new 2017 10.5″ iPad Pros available for up to $20 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY & NJ sales tax only: - 64GB iPad Pro WiFi: $649 - 256GB iPad Pro WiFi: $749 - 512GB... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* News Product Marketing Mgr., Publish...
…organizational consensus on strategy and vision for publisher tools, authoring, and Apple News Format.Carries this strategy and vision across the organization to Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions - Apple,...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
Security Data Analyst - *Apple* Information...
…data sources need to be collected to allow Information Security to better protect Apple employees and customers from a wide range of threats.Act as the subject matter Read more
Lead *Apple* Solutions Consultant - Apple I...
…integrity, and trust.Success Metrics/Key Performance Indicators:Quantitative* Year over Year growth in Apple Product and Beyond the Box sales in the assigned Point of Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant till v%u00E5r...
…ethics, integrity, and trust.Success Metrics/Key Performance Indicators:QuantitativeYear over Year growth in Apple Product and Beyond the Box sales in the assigned Point Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.