Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Service Station brings control to Finder menus

Note: This story has not been updated since 2020.

Today I spent a few hours using Service Station, a new Mac utility by Peter Kamb. Not only is it great to see a brand-new Mac utility, but this one hits the sweet spot for me—it’s all about creating more useful contextual menus in the Finder.

To bring up a contextual menu in the Finder, you make a secondary click on a file—depending on your pointing device it might be a right-click, a click with the Control key pressed down, or a two-finger click on a trackpad. The Finder will present a bunch of standard options, and apps can add their own options. If you use Dropbox, for example, you may right-click on a file in your Dropbox folder and find a half-dozen Dropbox-related options in that menu.

Users can add items to the contextual menu, too. The Quick Actions feature, called Services before macOS Mojave, allows you to install plug-ins and even create your own workflows using Automator. Old-style Services show up in the Services submenu at the very bottom of the contextual menu; more modern Quick Actions show up both there and in the Quick Actions submenu, which is a little bit closer to the top.

I love the Finder’s contextual menu, because it lets me act on a file or files on my Mac immediately. Someone else might open an app, select a file, and issue a command—meanwhile, I right clicked-on that same file, chose an item from the contextual menu, and moved on with my life. I use those items to upload podcasts to a remote server, scale and optimize images for use on Six Colors and upload them to my server, re-encode audio files, sync up podcast audio, and more. Plus, you know, mundane things like AirDropping a single file from my Mac to my iPad or my wife’s MacBook Air.

This very image was uploaded to our server via this very script, using Service Station.

What Finder contextual menus aren’t, however, is flexible. Apps can shove items onto the main menu, and some do, but others don’t. User-created items are consigned to those submenus. There’s very little you can do as a user to customize that menu.

Or at least, there wasn’t before the arrival of Service Station, which lets you add apps and scripts to the top level of the Finder contextual menu. Any apps you want. Any scripts, too—shell scripts, AppleScript scripts, or Automator workflows.

Even better, Service Station lets you create rule sets that determine when those items appear in the menu. I’ve got some scripts that only work on MP3 files, for example, while others will work on audio files in a wide assortment of formats. Service Station lets you create a filter for files via a simple rules interface, and then add apps or scripts to be shown when those rules are passed.

Building a filter for specific audio files.

So if you want, for example, all image files to feature Photoshop and Preview at the top of the Finder contextual menu when you right-click on them, you can do that. Select the app, and the file will be opened in that app. (Yes, you can navigate to the Open With submenu to do this—but the entire point of Service Station is to float the items you want to see to the very top of that menu.)

It took me a little while to figure out how to adapt my homebrewed automations for use with Service Station. My complex Automator actions that had been saved as Services needed to be re-saved as standard Automator Workflows, but then worked unmodified. Because Automator is the only approved way to build a Quick Action, a bunch of mine were actually just AppleScripts or shell scripts wrapped in a single Automator “do script” block. I pulled that code back out of Automator, made a couple of small changes, saved it in Service Station’s scripts folder, and everything worked just fine.

Service Station is a very new app and it feels a little rough from time to time. There’s currently no documentation to speak of, though there’s a Read Me and a handful of sample scripts. It doesn’t yet work on files that aren’t on the current boot volume. The app is free from the Mac App Store and works with up to four filters and three menu items, but it’s a $15 in-app purchase if you want unlimited filters and items and if you want to run scripts.

All in all, Service Station is a promising new Mac utility. I’m looking forward to tracking its progress—and using it every day, too.

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