capsule review

Get Better Service(s)

Mac OS X’s services feature—which lets you use one application’s abilities from within another—has gotten a good deal of attention here at Macworld over the past couple weeks. Just last Wednesday, two different blog entries discussed ways to trim the Services submenu (in the Application menu) to make it more useable: Christopher Breen covered the older utility Service Manager and pointed to a manual solution on Mac OS X Hints for geeky types; Rob Griffiths opined on his beefs with Services in general and suggested the new utility Service Scrubber to help you manage your Services submenu. (Rob will be reviewing Service Scrubber for Mac Gems soon.)

Regular readers of my various Macworld writings know that I’m a big fan of Services. (I first wrote about the feature in the December 2003 issue of Macworld [“OS X’s Overlooked Shortcut”].) I agree with Rob that Apple needs to provide a way for the user to decide which services appear in the menu, and that the Services menu is so hidden that few users are even aware of its existence. But the functionality provided by services can be so useful that I still find myself using them many times each day.

(What Services do I use? My favorite Services plug-in is still WordService, which I covered back in August 2004; it provides 34 filters for cleaning up and converting selected text. I also frequently use AppendNote as an electronic notepad to store snippets of text I find online. And, of course, there’s also the myriad services provided by individual applications.)

Rob and Chris have provided suggestions for trimming the Services submenu to make it more manageable, but the bigger issue, in my opinion, is that services are buried in the Application menu—the menu-bar equivalent of being banished to Siberia. Sure, some users venture to that menu when they want to quit an application, or perhaps to access an app’s Preferences dialog, but few people touch the Application menu when actually doing work, which is when you would be most likely to need and use services.

To solve that problem, I turn to one of my must-have utilities for OS X, Nicholas Riley’s free ICeCoffEE 1.4.2 (   , May 2005 ). I originally recommended ICeCoffEE as a way to get the functionality of ICeTEe (an OS 9 system extension) in Mac OS X: With ICeCoffEE installed, Command-clicking on a URL in most OS X applications—in an e-mail message, a Read Me file, or even a dialog box—automatically opens that URL in your preferred Web browser. However, ICeCoffEE also has a couple features, enabled via its Preferences screen, that make it a great way to better appreciate services.

The first such feature is the ability to promote the Services submenu to full-menu status; with this option enabled, a Services menu is added just to the left of the Window menu in most OS X applications. No longer “out of sight, out of mind,” you’ll find yourself using services much more frequently. And if you use Service Scrubber to customize your Services menu, those customizations apply to ICeCoffEE’s menu-bar Services menu, as well.

ICeCoffEE places the Services menu in the menu bar

The second services-friendly feature of ICeCoffEE lets you stick the Services submenu in contextual menus. This is where you’d expect them to be in the first place, given that services are contextual —only those services applicable to the currently selected content are available; the rest are dimmed. (ICeCoffEE’s Services contextual menu does OS X one better: Services that aren’t applicable don’t even show up in the menu.) So whenever you want to use a service—for example, to apply a WordService formatting filter on a block of text—you just highlight the content, Control/right-click, and then choose the appropriate service.

ICeCoffEE has added a few other useful features since I wrote about it in 2003. Perhaps the most welcome is the ability to edit the contextual Services menu in Service Scrubber-like fashion. For example, I generally use only text-formatting and -conversion services via contextual menus, so I’ve edited the contextual Services menu to include mainly text-related services.

ICeCoffEE contextual menu editing
ICeCoffEE contextual menu

Recent versions of ICeCoffEE also work around a bug in OS X where you have to access the Services submenu before service keyboard shortcuts will work.

Because of differences in the way Mac OS X applications can be designed and coded, ICeCoffEE doesn’t work everywhere. For example, if an application doesn’t support services, menu-bar and contextual-menu Services menus obviously won’t work. And some applications prevent third-party utilities from adding menus to their menu bars; this is a limitation (deliberate or accidental) of those applications. But for all the applications that do work, ICeCoffEE puts services where you’re much more likely to see them, and thus brings them closer to your workflow.

[Note: ICeCoffEE is an Application Enhancer (APE) module. Some people believe that APE can make a system less stable. I’m not going to get into that debate here, but I can tell you that I personally have Application Enhancer installed on all of my Macs (mainly for ICeCoffEE and WindowShade X functionality) and have yet to experience a problem I can blame on Application Enhancer. Caveat Emptor.]

ICeCoffEE is compatible with Mac OS X 10.1 and later; however, there are different versions for each major release of Mac OS X, so be sure to download the correct version.

  
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