Contextual menus in Mac OS X

Since Mac OS 8.0, the Mac OS has featured something seen in Windows since as long as I can remember. Contextual menus. These are menus that can be brought up virtually anywhere by clicking the right mouse button (on a PC), or by holding down the control key and clicking the mouse button.

Many programs implement this very well, Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Apple Mail being among those that do. The Finder also has this feature, which consists of commands such as "Eject" and "New Folder". The Mac OS 8-9 Finder has even more commands in its contextual menus. You can choose how to view a folder, where to arrange the icons, and more. Both operating systems can "show info", or "get info" an an icon if you control click on it, and both can also give you help if you need it, simply by control clicking and selecting "Help" from the menu that pops up. In Mac OS 9 you can actually change your desktop pattern by control-clicking on the desktop.

Most people have never even heard of these menus, and unless you have a two-button mouse (as opposed to the standard single-button mouse), you probably wouldn't figure it out otherwise.

Possibly my favourite use of the contextual menu comes in the dock (in Mac OS X 10.1) while iTunes is open. Control-click on the iTunes icon and you will get a menu that displays the currently playing song, as well as options to pause, go to the next song, go to the previous song, show iTunes in the Finder, or quit iTunes.

If you've never tried the contextual menu before, you can try it now. Point to a picture on the site, and Control-click. A menu should pop up, asking what you want to do with the picture. This is a quicker way to save a picture, as opposed to holding the mouse button down until the menu pops up (which is what you must do in Mac OS 7.6.1 and older).

If you are running OS X, point to an open app in the dock and Control-click. You will get a menu of open documents in that app and the option to quit the app. Drag a folder into the dock. Control click it, and you can browse the folder quickly and easily. Want to empty the trash? Control- clicking it will give you that option. Control clicking the "Finder" icon in the dock shows you a list of windows that the Finder has open.

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, contextual menus are very useful. If you haven't considered using them, try them out- you just may start asking yourself how you could have lived without them.