Contextual Menus: A Macintosh Tool (January 18, 2011)

Posted: January 18, 2011 by docbabad in Apple Mac Tips, Multiple Products, Software Reviews, Tips and Tricks
Tags: ,

By Harry {doc} Babad, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Contextual Menus — A Tool Macintosh users too often miss

Responsible Macintosh Safe, Secure and Polite Macin’ — Things You Should Know or Practice

Introduction

Several months ago I had the pleasure of making a presentation on contextual menus [CM] to the Mid-Columbia Macintosh user group here in the Tri-Cities Washington area. A contextual menu offers a range (often limited) set of choices that are available in the current state, or context, of the operating system or application. Because Apple blessed us with the one-button mouse, unlike our PC/Windows colleagues, we’re not as tuned to using the extra feature the Macintosh OS has made available for ‘right-clinkers.’

I, as I browse shareware offerings have found additional CM goodies easily accessible via my two-button Logitech scrolling mouse. All these and more are grist for what follows. Oh, don’t have a two-button mouse, Apple makes one or three, sort-of, try an option-click! See Note 1 for more specific details.

Note that in the graphic samples I have included, are only a samples, of two different selections from the same general environment (e.g., Finder Windows, MSW 2011 {this article} DEVONthink and a PDF of a Recipe.) So explore, you enjoy the new flexibility CM’s give you every day Macintosh work tasks.

CM Options — A Recipe PDF

MSW CM Image Optio


Contextual Menus Revealed

In some ways the Macintosh operating system reminds me of two medieval rabbis <scholars> discussing a line or paragraph of the Old Testament. Then and perhaps even now there were at least three alternatives for each ‘reading.’ And of course all of this invisible to the common rabbinical-Torah student.

Similarly, for the Macintosh there are at least 3 ways of working with files/folders/actions whether in the Finder or often (if supported) in other applications.

We all know and have gotten comfortable with a menu bar, tool bars in applications like the Finder and MSWord} and of course keyboard short cuts. There are also the added choice of using the Apple dock and when visible the open/active window sidebar. Huh, I always hide my sidebar in open finder windows, making them visible only if I have to do a sidebar-oriented task.

But there’s a faster more focused and faster way, in many cases, to deal with desired ‘short-cut’ actions while you work in a context specific way — Save time, spare your wrists and your mind from extra work — use contextual menus where they are available.

The tool you use on a 2-button mouse is a right hand click.) On Apple’s one-button mice, a bit more fuss, but still easy, an Option Key-Mouse Click. When this works, at the place where your mouse’s pointer is ‘hovering’, Shazam, a menu that focuses only the actions/options available to you magically appears.

That menu will change as the CONTEXT of what you are doing changes. It will focus ONLY on what you can-are allowed-to do from that point (location) in your work.

If you don’t yet use these tools, you will be surprised to know that contextual menus can provide unexpected useful features. For example, in Safari, a contextual menu can be used to easily view or print a web page or to view the source code (HTML code) of any web page. In addition, there are excellent free contextual menu plug-ins for Mac OS X 10.4 to OS X 10.6 that can be added to Mac OS X to let you easily view images, launch applications or organize files. I’ve share a few of my favorites later in  this article.

Like standard menus, contextual menus are sometimes hierarchically organized <think outline view>, allowing navigation through different levels of the menu structure. The implementations differ: Microsoft Word was one of the first applications to only show sub-entries of some menu entries after clicking an arrow icon on the context menu, otherwise executing an action associated with the parent entry. This makes it possible to quickly repeat an action with the same actions (parameters of the previous execution), and to better separate options from actions.

  • What are they and where are they hidden?
  • Apple’s OS X Contributions
  • Share/Free Ware CMs
  • My Favorite Access Tool – Fruit Menu

So, What Are CM’s?

In Mac OS X, when you hold the Ctrl key down and click an item (e.g., an icon or window), a pop-up menu appears. It is called a contextual menu because its contents depend on the item you click; the menu features a list of commands you can perform relative to, or within the context of, the item you click. For example, if you Ctrl-click a file icon, you can choose to open it, open Get Info or an Info window about it, give it a label, duplicate it, or make an alias of it. Other items will give you different menu options. Contextual menus appear with most items in the Finder, but won’t necessarily be available in other applications.

On systems that support one-button mice, the original and mist recent Apple Mice, contextual menus are typically opened by pressing and holding the primary mouse button (most often on one the icons in the Dock on Mac OS X) or more usually by pressing a keyboard/mouse button combination (e.g. Ctrl-mouse click in Mac OS); see Note 1.

Usually the available choices are actions directly related to the selected object. Most often, these are more focused ways of achieving a usual menu bar action, but accessed faster and with less mousing around, clicking and scrolling. However, if short-cuts are assigned to selected menu based actions, the keyboard short cut is faster. But who want to cram hundreds of shortcuts into their memory.

Actually there was, years ago, a CM for collecting shortcuts. I seem to have discarded it along the way of moving through OS upgrades. Any who can find it, please provide feedback in our comments window.

Macintosh OS X CM Actions///Try them out – Try accessing the CM’s in the following environments and see both what you get and how the difference CM differ in their choices based on where you mouse is pointed.

FinderIcon View on the Desk Top 

  • Document –
  • Folder –
  • Folder Alias –
  • Document Alias –
  • Background –
  • Link –
  • Get Info (Spotlight Comments)
Other Finder Windows 

Sidebar – No action

Main Window Area –

– List View

– Icon View

– Column View

Peek-a-Boo, see what you get!

Application Documents 

Open Apple “TextEdit” File

Open PDF File (Acrobat)

– Text

– Image

Open PDF File (Apple’s Preview)

GraphicConverter – Only a few universal ‘moves’

Safari –

Firefo

Desktop Finder — Selected Folder

Desktop Finder Window-No Selection

CM of a Folder in a Finder Window

Other Share/Free Ware CMs I Find Useful

FruitMenu — My Favorite ‘super’ Haxie <Utility> FruitMenu is a haxie that gives you the ability to customize the Apple Menu and contextual menus. There’s more focused CM tools listed below.

Shareware and Freeware With Which I Work
A Better Finder Context Menu 

ClipToIconCM

ClipToWebCM

CopyPastePro Contextual Menu *

DEVONthink CM *

Doc Merge 2.4.1 *

FilePathCM 

MoveCM

PrintWindowCM *

Shortcuts 2.0.1

WordDumpCM

* Part of a parent application

These CMs and others can be found on the MacUpdate Site [http://www.macupdate.com/

Shareware Item Details:

  • A Better Finder Attributes 4., Context Menu — A Better Finder Attributes allows you to change file and photo dates and times, as well as other useful file attributes that the Finder won’t let you touch. Quickly change the following file attributes: modification date and time, creation date and time, batch adjust the Exchangeable Image File (EXIF) time & date that JPEG pictures were shot to compensate for time zones or incorrectly set camera clocks, set the file creation date to the time that a digital camera picture was taken, lock or unlock the file (prevents the name and the contents of the file to be modified, set the Mac OS 9-style creator & type codes, show or hide the file extension for particular files.
  • ClipToIconCM 1.0 — ClipToIconCM is a contextual menu plug-in which adds custom icons to files using pictures on the clipboard.Suppose you have a file with a generic icon and you want to add an icon that conveys more information on the file’s contents. You can add a custom icon to this file using ClipToIconCM by first putting an image file on the clipboard. For example, you could use your web browser to find a web page with the desired graphic and then use “Command-Control-Shift-4” to select a portion of the screen to “capture” to the clipboard.
  • ClipToWebCM 1.0.3 — ClipToWebCM is a service application and contextual menu plug-in which tries to open the currently selected text (or clipboard contents if there is no selection) as a URL in your default web browser. Of course this isn’t anything a copy and paste operation can’t achieve, but it’s quicker. It’s also more versatile than the “Open URL” contextual menu item since it doesn’t require a full URL. (Note: As of version 1.0.2 the selection can also be a Finder file or folder; the text will be the name of the object.)
  • FilePathCM 1.2 — FilePathCM is a contextual menu, menu bar item and service for copying the:POSIX path, URL encoded POSIX path, Server afp URL, Abbreviated (Tilde) POSIX path, POSIX path for Terminal, HFS path and more
  • MoveCM 1.2 — MoveCM is a menu bar application, service and contextual menu item for moving, copying, aliasing, hard linking and archiving (zip compressing) files and folders quickly into common folders. i.e. without the need to drag and drop them, use aliases, etc. It is a generalization of the Finder’s “Move to Trash” contextual menu item, you can apply it to any folder you like. Use the System Preference pane to specify destination folders. The menu bar application or contextual menu will then consist of menu items that correspond to these destinations. Control click on one or more files and/or folders in the Finder, select a destination from the menu, and the files and/or folders will be moved (copied, archived) to that destination. You have the option, specified in the preference pane, to have the destination folder opened for you after the operation completes. You also have the option of having the menu items in the contextual menu named after the destination folder, or by its pathname.
  • PrintWindow CM 4.1 — Print Window offers the ability to print a file listing directly from within the Mac OS X Finder. No more taking screenshots of windows or settling for text-only printouts of filenames only. Print Window provides the works: icons, file information, sorting and so much more!
  • ShortCuts CM 2.0.1 — Shortcuts is a Mac OS X application to assign hot keys to contextual menu items. Version 2.0 also allows you to display a menu with items added by CM plug-ins. Since Apple removed contextual menu plug-ins support for 64 bit applications in Mac OS 10.6, Shortcuts is currently the only known way to use contextual menu plug-ins in 64 bit applications.
  • WordDumpCM 1.0.9 — WordDump is an application, contextual menu and service for extracting all the words from documents. Supported document formats include Text, PDF, MS Word, HTML and RTF. The WordDump service, available from the Services menu, also counts the characters and words in files and text selection. These menu items are called “Count Characters” and “Count Words.” You may need to turn on the option to display the service menu items in the Services Preferences of System Preferences.

DEVONthink File Item CM  

DEVONthink CM of a Found ‘Search” Item

Final Thoughts

Contextual menus are a great way to do things faster and more efficiently on your Mac. They also give you some added functionality to programs, while just giving you easier access to frequently used commands in others. Overall, I find contextual menus to be quite useful and periodically check MacUpdate site for new ones. <Note: I’m much less enamored with the Apple related services menu which I’ve not yet mastered and which my favorite applications do not support – More about that in a future article.>  If you haven’t considered using them, try them out- you just may start asking yourself how you could have lived without them.

References and Notes

More About Contextual Menus,

The Apple Macintosh’s Keyboard Option Key – Wikipedia

Contextual Menus, Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Context_menu

Note 1.

On systems that support one-button mice, context menus are typically opened by pressing and holding the primary mouse button (this works on the icons in the Dock on Mac OS X) or by pressing a keyboard/mouse button combination (e.g. Ctrl-mouse click in Mac OS). A keyboard alternative for Mac OS is to enable Mouse keys in Universal Access. Then, depending on whether a laptop or compact or extended keyboard type is used, the shortcut is Function + Ctrl + 5 or Ctrl + 5 (numeric keypad) or Function + Ctrl + i (laptop). [Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contextual_menu]

AppendicesMore Than You Wanted To Know

For Lawyers and Philosopher Only! — A context menu (also called contextual, shortcut, and popup or pop-up menu) is a mouse-click activated menu in a graphical user interface (GUI) that appears when implemented by the user, It works by using a right mouse click or middle mouse click to operate.

The Gobblygook {double-speak c/o Wikipedia} Definition A context menu (also called contextual, shortcut, and popup or pop-up menu) is a “Mouse Activated pop-up menu in a graphical user interface (GUI) like the Macintosh OX that appears upon user interaction, such as a right mouse click or more rarely a middle click within a mouse operation. A context menu offers a specific limited set of choices that are available in the current state, or context, of the operating system or application. Usually the available choices are actions related to the selected object or “window.

More Complexities You May Not Need — A keyboard alternative for Mac OS is to enable Mouse keys in Universal Access. Then, depending on whether a laptop or compact or extended keyboard type is used, the shortcut is <Function + Ctrl + 5> or <Ctrl + 5 on a numeric keypad> or <Function + Ctrl + i on a laptop.>

Snow-Leopard CM Limits CM’s to 64 Bit Mode Only. — I don’t know what that statement means but all of my CM’s including ones dating back to 2007 seem to work just fine.

Acknowledgements: Unless otherwise noted I have provided the referenced source of the contents in these articles. I also found in my many notes I’ve stashed for future articles, that certain themes keep coming up, that parallel what I’ve read or practiced.  In many cases I have acknowledged as well as modified the original document(s) to personalize their content for our readers.

As needed the information provided was created, and as appropriate demonstrated on my iMac 2.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo with 2 GB installed 667 MHz DDR2 SDRAM running the latest Snow Leopard Mac OS X version with all current security updates installed.

Copyright Notice: Product and company names and logos in this review may be registered trademarks of their respective companies. Some of the articles listed in this column contain materials that are copyright protected – their use is both acknowledge and is limited to educationally related purposes, which this column provides.

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Comments
  1. Shane says:

    My favorite contextual menu tool, and probably the oldest one around (since OS 8.1 days) is Finderpop. It has continued to be developed and works great on every version of OS X.

    http://www.finderpop.com/

  2. mctavish says:

    I’m a switcher from Windows. One thing that I miss is the the drag and drop context menu with the options to copy, move, or create a shortcut to the file/folder that was clicked. To me it is a lot more convenient than using the keyboard with drag and drop. Do you know of any script/app that brings this functionality to Mac?

    Thanks.

    • harrybabad says:

      Contextual Menus: A Macintosh Tool Blog Question

      mctavish commented on Contextual Menus: A Macintosh Tool (January 18, 2011)

      I’m a switcher from Windows. One thing that I miss is the drag and drop context menu with To me it is a lot more convenient than using the keyboard with drag and drop. Do you know of any script/app that brings this functionality to Mac?

      Thanks.

      Dear Mctavish
      The Macintosh operating system, at least in OS X 10.4-10.6, I don’t use Lion, usually has two to three ways of doing most of what you need. These center on using (a) contextual menus, (b) keyboard shortcuts of actions; and/or (c) working directly from the Finder menu. I share some of these in response to your questions.

      Also when answering feedback or doing trouble calls for friends, I find it helpful to know which version of the OS you are using. As the OS X evolved, features were added or fine tuned, so there is not a 1:1 correspondence for a few shortcuts between OS X versions. I also suggest you check out

      Sorry for the delay but I was snowed with ‘professional’ work and needed to find time to research your request. Doc

      Specifically
      The Macintosh OS allows creation of an Alias, which I find the equivalent of the windows short cut action. It can be accessed by right clicking on a two button mouse or control clicking on a one button mouse; when you select a file or folder. You can access the Alias command using the Command –L

      I’m sure you already know that the command key on a Macintosh keyboard setup, is (almost) the equivalent to the control key combos in Windows. Often the key stroke is also identical since early-on Microsoft cribbed a bunch of Macintosh OS function, and apple lost the court challenge. Experiment! Command-Z undo’s most anything.

      The Options to Copy a file or a Folder – You can make a copy of a file using the finder contextual menu; move, it show up in the same folder that you’ve stored the file, but has the word copy added to it’s name. An option drag of a file will also make a duplicate.

      The finder CM also allows you when selecting a file or a folder, to compress it… into a Zip file.

      …or create a shortcut to the file/folder that was clicked {selected}.
      — There are file path applications (freeware and Shareware) posted on the MacUpdate site but I’ve not needed the direct functionality you seek, so haven’t explored the pathway tool. I usually deal with temporary access to a folder, as shortcut path, by using it’s alias on my desktop and I toss when I’m done with it.

      Be well – Thanks for reading out blog and let me know whether this helped out. The MacUpdate site has other CMs, some of which I find useful AND I trust both their product rating system and their alternative products lists.

      Harry

  3. […] Contextual Menus: A Macintosh Tool (January 18, 2011) Digerati .Jan 18, 2011 Contextual Menus A Tool Macintosh users too often miss. Responsible Macintosh Safe, Secure […]

  4. mctavish says:

    Harry,

    I am using Lion (10.7.2). The functionality in question is the same as that in Snow Leopard.

    I looked at MacUpdate, but I couldn’t find a utility that did what I was looking for.

    I have been aware of the built-in contextual menu options, but after reading your reply, I am looking at them in a different way and that does help me. So, thanks a lot.

    Cheers

    mctavish

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