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Apple Mac OS X tips and tweaks

Create services using Automator

Services on the Apple Mac are actions that you can perform on a selected object. For example, if you select a file in Finder then there's a service that enables you to create a new email with the file as an attachment, or select an image and there's a service that lets you set it as the desktop background. select some text on a web page in Safari and you can create a new Sticky Note with it. The services that are available depend on the item that is selected, such as text, a file, and so on. Go to an application's menu in the menu bar and you'll see an entry called Services. Select it and a list of services that are available is displayed. Sometimes you may see no entries because there aren't any services that apply, but sometimes there are lots to choose from and they can be very useful. In this automator article we'll see how to create your own services and add them to the Services menu.

Start Automator in the Applications folder and when you are prompted to select a template, choose Service. At the top of the workflow area you'll see two pop-up menus. The first enables you to set the type of object that the service is designed to work with. For example, you could choose Image Files to create a service that did something to images. For the service we are creating you should select Text. Setting the type of service like this enables OS X to show only those services that apply in any given situation. So if an image is selected in Finder you don't get text services cluttering up the menu and you only see image services. (This was a problem with previous versions of OS X, but it's now sorted in Snow Leopard.) The second pop-up menu enables you to choose the application the service is designed to work wth. You can target one application or you can make it available to all applications. In this tutorial we'll choose any application.

Automator serviceSelect the Text category in the library and drag New Text File to the workflow area. Make sure it's expanded by clicking the little triangle at the left of the action's title bar if necessary and then click Options. Tick the box that says Show this action when the workflow runs. Select File, Save and name it Save As Text File.

When you save a service in Automator it is automatically saved to your home/Library/Services folder and it is immediately available to use. To try it out, start Safari and go to any web page. Select some text on the page and then go to the Safari menu, choose Services and you'll see the service you just created. Choose Save As Text File and you'll be prompted for the filename and location to save it, then the text is saved to disk. It's handy if you use the web for research and need to save bits of text to be used later. You can even right click and choose Save As Text File because services are added to the right-click menu too.

As you can see, creating services in Automator is brilliantly simple and you have a whole library of actions to choose from. Save yourself time and effort by creating services that perform tedious or repetitive tasks.

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