Using Mac OS X Application Services
April 21, 2005 9:35 PM   Subscribe

How do Application Services work in Mac OS X? Where are they installed/configured/uninstalled, and why are all of them disabled in my menus?

If you pull down an application's menu (the same place where you'd get About Application and Preferences), there's a Services submenu with about a dozen or so items in it. Right now, absolutely none of the menu options or sub-options are enabled. Even if I select a block of text in Firefox, the options dealing with Selection aren't enabled. Even the ones that I think should be enabled, like Speech and Grab, don't let me pick anything within them.

I have a rudimentary understanding of what these are. I would assume, for example, it's a quick way to do common tasks. For instance, if I wanted to get a screen shot of Firefox right now, I'd go to the Services menu and do Grab > Window. But, Window is disabled, as are all the other things under Grab. Why? How do I enable these?

Also, there are things in this menu that I'll never, ever use.... like View in JavaBrowser, or HexEditor > Open File. Assuming I can actually get some of these to work at all, I'd like to clean up this menu and remove the cruft. How do I do this?
posted by odinsdream to Computers & Internet (10 answers total)
I think most of those things are disabled in Firefox because it isn't using the standard "Cocoa" programming that lets the system know about text selections and the like. But someone more savvy about the underpinings of OS X will have a better explanation of that.

I do know that services that a particular application can "accept" are activated and added to that menu when you put an application in the standard Applications folder.

You might be interested in Service Manager to clean out things you don't need, assuming you don't want to just trash the applications that added them.
posted by bcwinters at 9:51 PM on April 21, 2005

bcwinters, thank you! Services overcrowding has been bugging me too. Never could find a way to clear out enough of that cruft to see what's actually useful.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 10:46 PM on April 21, 2005

As bcwinters said, services only work with apps written in Cocoa. So create a Stickie works in Safari, but not in Firefox. A pain in the butt.

There is something else that goes on, though, as my service menu also blocks out when it should be active, like in the Finder. I have not been able to identify the problem.

Devon Technologies has a set of free services that I've found useful, including ones to convert Word text to RTF etc.
posted by OmieWise at 5:29 AM on April 22, 2005

Yeah, Services is Yet Another Wasted Technology from Apple (actually, NeXT). IMHO, it never caught on because its behavior (from knowing when something actually gets installed there to being available when you actually want to use it) is completely unintuitive.

It's kind of a shame, because from a developer's standpoint, it's totally easy to implement Services if you use Cocoa. I wrote one of the first ones for OSX (FindIt, which searched Google for selected text, well before Safari was even out) in a couple hours. If you've ever used Web Services, it's kind of like that, but for desktop apps. I can't, though, even remember the last time I've used any service.

My advice- don't even bother. You'll just drive yourself mad.
posted by mkultra at 6:43 AM on April 22, 2005

FWIW, there are a few services I find very useful in specific circumstances.

1. I've got a unicode conversion app (Unicode Checker) that can convert characters into numeric HTML entities, which comes in handy when editing wikipedia articles containing Japanese. (I'm using Safari, so this works.)

2. I don't even know where it came from, but I've got a "format" service menu that's handy for cleaning up quoted e-mail and the like.

3. I've got a "calcservice" service that lets me type an equation, select it, and have it append or replace with the solution.

I agree that Services probably fly under the radar for most people, and that Apple kind of screwed the pooch by making their availability so spotty, but they're a real time-saver when they work.
posted by adamrice at 7:18 AM on April 22, 2005

Services have also been available to Carbon apps since 10.2 or 10.3. They don't work in Firefox because the Mac version is awful.

To use the Grab service, place the cursor where you want to paste the grabbed image (in an email or a textedit document or wherever), and then select it. If you just want to take a screenshot without pasting it, you need to use the main Grab application.
posted by cillit bang at 7:40 AM on April 22, 2005

The services aren't all bad. I use the Spell Checking service all the time. You can have it check your spelling as you type in any text box. It's very handy.
posted by chunking express at 7:44 AM on April 22, 2005

Thanks for the explanations and links everyone!
posted by odinsdream at 9:06 AM on April 22, 2005

Services are very useful for text-mooshing, also. There are services that can encode and decode selected text with PGP, for instance. There are services that will convert selected Markdown or Textile text into HTML and vice verse.

Such things, though, are better handled through a Quicksilver-style interface, rather than by clogging up menu. Although the menu does have the benefit of being more discoverable.
posted by yesno at 9:20 PM on April 23, 2005

If you just want to take a screenshot without pasting it, you need to use the main Grab application.

I've never understood quite why this should be, since 'grab screen' is advertised in the Services menu - but you're right, it's never not greyed out.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:11 AM on April 24, 2005

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