By Jason Snell
February 29, 2020 9:07 AM PT
Command Performance: Services and Quick Actions
Apple’s making a lot of money from Services these days, but a different kind of Services has been a part of the Mac for a long time now. It’s a plug-in architecture that lets developers create bits of automation that can be applied in other apps. You can find them in the Services submenu of the application menu (the menu named for the app you’re currently using), and you might be surprised by how useful they can be.
You can assign keyboard shortcuts to Services via the Keyboard preference pane; just click the Shortcuts tab and click Services. You can also deactivate Services by unchecking them in this pane.
In macOS High Sierra Apple introduced the concept of the Quick Action, which is basically a fancy Services item. If you ask me, the best part about Services and Quick Actions is that you can create them yourself using Automator. And I do. A huge amount of the work I do every day is aided by Services and Quick Actions that I’ve built using Automator.
You can build Automator actions without knowing anything about AppleScript or other scripting languages. Launch the Automator app (installed on every Mac) and click through (or search) the different actions that are available and drag them into a sequence. It’s not easy to use, exactly, but with a little bit of effort you can create little workflows and then save them as Quick Actions. (You can manage Quick Actions, including turning them on and off, via the Extensions pane in System Preferences.)
Quick Actions (and Services) appear automatically in contextual menus. The Finder is much more useful to me now because of this feature—I’ve basically written new commands that I can execute via keyboard shortcut or contextual menu. If you’re reliant on drudgery like running a particular shell script via the Terminal, I highly recommend turning that script into a Quick Action.
Here’s how this works in my everyday life: I select a file, control-click on it, and choose an item from the Quick Actions or Services submenus. With a couple of clicks, an MP3 file on my hard drive is automatically uploaded to my podcast hosting server, and its URL copied to the clipboard. Another audio file is converted from an AAC file to a WAV for use in a podcast editing project. And an image destined for use in a Six Colors article is resized, saved as a JPEG, uploaded to the web server, and the appropriate HTML code to put that image in my article is copied to the clipboard.
I write about user automation a lot because I rely on it. A lot of it isn’t very clever—it’s just taking simple scripts or terminal commands and wrapping them in a simple Automator action. But as a Mac user, I’d much rather control-click on a file in the Finder and act on it than launch Terminal, type a command, drag a file in, and hit return. Because I’m a Mac user for a reason. (You can also launch Quick Actions from the Touch Bar, if you’ve got a modern MacBook Pro.)
And even if you never do any user automation, poke around in the Services submenu in whatever app you’re in. You’ll probably find some commands in there that you didn’t even know existed, and they might even be useful.