Control-key-free contextual menus

One of the most common criticisms of Apple’s computers—especially among more advanced users—is that after all these years, they still ship with a single-button mouse (or, in the case of laptops, a single button for the trackpad). It’s not that Mac OS X doesn’t provide support for ever-useful contextual menus (known to Windows users as “right-click” menus); in fact, if you connect a multi-button mouse to your Mac, you can “right-click” to your heart’s content. The bigger issue is that without an after-market rodent, the only way to access contextual menus on a Mac is by “Control-clicking”—holding down the Control key as you press your mouse’s lonely single button.

"So what?” you might say. Well I say (and I know a good number of people who agree with me) that such a procedure is a pain because it means that you need to use two hands to do what should take only one. This is especially the case on PowerBooks and iBooks, where you’re less likely to be using a third-party, multi-button input device.

Back in the days of Mac OS 8, there was a clever utility called Look Mom, No Hands that activated contextual menus when you held down the mouse/trackpad button; unfortunately, the utility never made the transition to OS X. The Firefox and OmniWeb browsers currently include similar functionality, but it’s limited to the browsers themselves.

Aiming to fill this nearly-four-year-old void, Old Jewel Software has recently released the $6.85 System Preferences pane One Finger Snap (   ; currently at version 1.1.1). Like the OS 8/9 utility mentioned above, One Finger Snap lets you access contextual menus by simply clicking the mouse or trackpad button and holding it down; how long you need to hold it can be set anywhere from half a second to 3 seconds. A nice touch is that One Finger Snap can provide feedback—in the form of a finger-snap sound, a screen flash, or both—to let you know when you’ve held the mouse button long enough; this is useful for situations where One Finger Snap doesn’t work—such as with incompatible applications—so you aren’t sitting there waiting long after the contextual menu should have appeared.

One Finger Snap preference pane” align=

One Finger Snap is also smart enough to understand the difference between holding and dragging—if you move the cursor while you have the button pressed, One Finger Snap will assume that you’re trying to drag content and will not activate the contextual menu.

Finally, you can deactivate One Finger Snap in specific applications if you discover that it’s incompatible with those apps. Unfortunately, the procedure for doing so requires typing a command in Terminal. The command is documented in the utility’s ReadMe file, but having to use Terminal for such a basic setting is a hassle; a better approach would be a dialog in which you could choose the appropriate app(s).

One Finger Snap is especially useful for PowerBook and iBook users, since they can’t replace their trackpad with a multi-button version, but it’s even helpful for those who’ve already purchased a two-button mouse for their Mac: By using One Finger Snap to access contextual menus, you free up your second mouse button for other things, such as activating Expose or Dashboard.

Side note: Savvy users will likely know that similar click-hold functionality can be found in Unsanity’s $10 FruitMenu (   ; July 2002 ) and Balance Software’s $25 Ittec (   ; February 2004 ). Unfortunately, FruitMenu’s click-hold feature works only in the Finder, and Ittec is not yet fully compatible with Tiger.

One Finger Snap is compatible with both Tiger and Panther

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