Contextual Menus in OS X Yosemite - dummies

Contextual Menus in OS X Yosemite

By Bob LeVitus

Contextual menus (sometimes called shortcut menus) list commands that apply only to the item that is currently selected. Contextual menus might be available in windows, on icons, and in most places on the Desktop.

To see whether a contextual menu is available, either hold down the Control key and click — which you can call a Control-click to sound cool to your Mac friends — or, for those with two or more buttons on their mice, right-click.

Most Mac laptops (as well as the Magic Trackpad and the Magic Mouse) let you click the trackpad using two fingers to simulate a right-click or Control-click.

If this doesn’t work for you, launch System Preferences and click the Trackpad icon. Click the Point & Click tab and make sure that Click with Two Fingers is selected and also that the Secondary Click check box is enabled.

Another reason the contextual menu might not appear is that they are available only if any of their commands make sense for the item that you Control-click or right-click. That’s why people call ’em contextual! They’re specific to the current context, which is whatever is selected or Control-clicked.

The figure shows the contextual menu that appears when you Control-click (or right-click) a document icon on the left and the contextual menu for the Desktop on the right.


Contextual menus are also available in most applications. Open your favorite app and try Control-clicking to find out whether those menus are there. In most cases, using a contextual menu is a quick way to avoid going to the menu bar to choose a command. In some programs — such as iMovie, iTunes, and many more — contextual menus are the only way to access some commands.

To make the Finder-related contextual menus available to users who didn’t have the foresight to purchase this book, Apple added the Actions button to the toolbar. As a result, people who don’t know about Control-clicking or right-clicking (or have only one free hand) can access most contextual menu commands by clicking the Actions button and displaying its context-sensitive menu of shortcuts.

You, on the other hand, gentle reader, know how to get at these commands without having to run your mouse all the way up to the Action button in the toolbar, plus a handful of commands appear in the Control-click/right-click contextual menu that may not appear in the Actions button/menu.

Fortunately, Apple now includes a trackpad or a mouse that can discern between a left-click and a right-click with all its desktop computers (except the Mac mini, which doesn’t include a mouse, keyboard, or monitor).

If you have an older Mac with a single-button mouse, you may want to replace that mouse with one that offers you at least two buttons. With a multibutton mouse, you need only one hand to access these beautiful little contextual menus.

Get in the habit of Control-clicking (or right-clicking or two-finger clicking) items on your screen. Before you know it, using Contextual menus will become second nature to you.