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Five Automator Services Tips in Five Days: Preview Selected URL

If you're a user of Mac OS X Mail, then you may know that you can use Quick Look to preview image attachments in a message.  To do so, just select an image attachment in a message and press the spacebar, press Command+Y, or click Quick Look at the top of the message.  For today's Automator Service workflow tip, we'll take this concept a bit further, by creating a way for you to quickly preview URLs in Mail messages, TextEdit documents, and more, without the need to open Safari.

PLEASE NOTE: Services are a new feature of Automator in Snow Leopard.  If you're using an older version of Mac OS X, you can still try to follow along.  However, you'll need to save your workflow as an application or plugin, rather than as a Service.

To build the workflow:

1. Download and install the free third-party Website Popup Automator action from
2. Launch Automator.
3. Choose Service from the template selection panel and click Choose.
4. At the top of the workflow, configure the Service to receive selected URLs in any application.   Leave the Replaces selected text checkbox deselected.

5. From the Internet category in the action library, locate the Website Popup action, and drag it to the workflow.  You can adjust the action's settings, if you'd like. Or, you can choose to use its default settings. 

6. Choose File > Save to display Automator's Save panel.
7. Name the Service Preview Selected URL, and click Save.

To test the workflow:

1. Locate an active URL in a Mail message.
2. While pressing the Control key, click on the URL to display the contextual menu.
3. From the bottom of the contextual menu, choose Preview Selected URL.

The workflow should run, and a preview of the URL should be loaded and displayed in a floating window.

If you encounter any problems, you can download today's completed workflow here.  Just download it, decompress it, and copy it into the ~/Library/Services folder within your home folder.  If a Services folder doesn't exist in your ~/Library folder, go ahead and create it.

Don't forget to check back each day this week for a new Service workflow tip.  For more on Automator, check out my book  Automator for Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Visual QuickStart Guide, as well as my video podcast series Mac Automation Made Simple.