Every time I right-click on something on my Mac, all sorts of weird options appear in the menu that I’ll never use. Is there a way to clean up these MacOS X context menus?
Apple has put a lot of attention into almost every corner of the MacOS X experience and with hundreds of releases there’s been plenty of time to fine tune the experience, get rid of dead wood, and turbocharge the aspects that people use a lot. Frankly, with the rise of AI, there’s also no reason that the operating system can’t modify itself based on what features you actually use so that over time it just gets leaner and more efficient.
Sadly, however, this hasn’t happened across every element of the Mac system and you’ve bumped into one of the corners that seems to be ignored more than anything else: The Context Menu. Along with Services, these are just forgotten – and mostly ignored – aspects of the system and rarely used by even those people who know they exist. Could they be cool and super useful? Yes, but… they’re not.
There are some basic steps you can take to clean up your context menus and services menu, but they accomplish much less than I’d like to see in my operating system. To start, realize that as you’d expect from its name, the Context Menu is different based on what you’re clicking. For example, right-click (or Control-click) on a folder icon in Finder and you’ll get something like this:
What the heck are all these choices? I don’t use Groups, I don’t use Tags and I don’t even know what a Folder Action is, let alone have the desire to set up an action for it! For comparison, highlight a word in Stickies and right-click to get an entirely different Context Menu:
Look up is darn useful, actually, but “Convert Text to Traditional Chinese” in the Services menu? Why? Why is that the default when there are thousands of possible languages I could speak?
In both cases, what limited control you have over menu items can be found in System Preferences… > Keyboard > Shortcuts. Choose Services from the options on the left and you’ll be able to see which of the many options are selected:
Notice that I have quite a few GraphicConverter options shown, including the “Open” you saw at the very bottom of the folder menu shown above. Click to uncheck it and it’ll never show up again!
Scroll down a bit in the main pane, however, because there really are a ton of options. Here are the most useless (in my experience):
If you do want to be able to convert text to Chinese, notice that it shows the keyboard shortcuts (and they’re pretty gnarly in this instance!). Overall, though, most all of these options are less than useful for the vast majority of users. So uncheck them all. Close System Preferences when you’re done and now your context menu has improved:
Well, not a huge amount of improvement, I admit. But it’s something.
In the big picture, it really is inexplicable why Apple hasn’t put some effort into making this more useful and helpful, but my guess is that it’s the tension between Steve Jobs insistence that the Mac would always have a one-button mouse (making the “right click” an inherently complicated gesture) and the desire by some of the UI team to improve these menus. But so it goes in Apple land…
Pro Tip: I’ve been writing about Mac and Apple gear since using one of the first Apple II systems. Please check out my extensive (like “free book here on the site” extensive) Mac help area for lots and lots of useful tutorials!