Automator

One feature that's always intrigued me about OS X is how powerful yet fairly accessible of a scripting language AppleScript happens to be.  Despite its relative ease of use, I hardly ever found myself using AppleScript to get things done.  I never seemed to have enough time to sit down and become comfortable enough with the language, regardless of how much easier it would make my life. 

Tiger brings another tool to the table that can work either with or in lieu of AppleScript for those who aren't interested in learning the language, and that tool is called Automator.  One underlying theme of features like Automator and Dashboard in Tiger is to take functionality that was essentially present in Panther, and make it something that's accessible and actually used by the masses in Tiger.  With Dashboard, Apple has taken many of the features of Sherlock - a rarely used and rarely talked about tool in Panther, and re-packaged them in a much more user friendly environment that is Dashboard.  With Automator, Apple has taken many of the types of tasks that you can accomplish using AppleScript and made them infinitely more user friendly.

To the end user, Automator is basically a drag-'n-drop batch job generator that happens to be very flexible.  Automator allows you to create a workflow of actions, with each action performing specific tasks on its inputs and passing it along to the next action.  For example, one of the actions that ships with Tiger is an action to get all image URLs from a web page in Safari.  With all of the image URLs, you can then feed them into another action to download all of the images to a specific folder.  You can then feed all of those images that you've just downloaded into another action that scales all images to a certain size.  The workflow that I've just described can be even more complicated, taking the scaled images and doing pretty much whatever you'd like with them - you can even nest workflows inside of other workflows to achieve even more robust results.  What's most important about Automator is that all of this is done in an extremely simple and easy-to-use manner. 

You select the category of action from the left; the actions are grouped according to what applications with which they are associated. Then, you select what action you want to perform and drag it into the right pane to add it to your workflow.  The workflow is linear and doesn't branch, so anything at the top of the workflow feeds into anything below it.  Automator handles all error checking and will warn you if your workflow is going to do something destructive to files or if you are feeding the results of one action into another that isn't compatible (e.g. sending image files into an action that is expecting a URL to be inputted).  You can also search for the action that you're looking for using the search box at the top of the Automator window. However, keep in mind that the search box doesn't search descriptions of the actions, just their titles - so searching for "resize" won't bring up anything, but searching for "scale" will bring up the scale images action (somewhat silly considering how big of a deal searching is within Tiger). 

Once you've created a workflow, you can save it as a workflow to be opened with Automator or you can save it as a plug-in that can be executed without ever running the Automator application.  I would strongly caution you to test your workflows on sample data that you don't care about before actually using it on something important.  The reason behind this warning is that some of the built-in actions don't work exactly that the way you'd expect them to.  For example, I tried creating a workflow that would take a bunch of selected images, make copies of them, rename them and resize them - a similar set of tasks that I would do on a regular basis for any AnandTech article.  The images that I was using for this particular task were on the desktop and I decided to just copy the items to the desktop as well.  The Copy Finder Items action has an option to replace existing files, which I left unchecked, assuming that it meant that my original files would not be overwritten.  Apparently, my assumption was incorrect, as the action did overwrite my original files.  I figured something like this would happen, so I used a picture that I didn't care too much about, but it can be confusing - it was to me, at least.

The potential for Automator is tremendous. However, I found myself wanting many more actions than what is supplied with Tiger.  Although Apple has pretty good documentation on their developer site of how to create your own actions, doing so basically nullifies one of the major attractions to Automator, which is bringing this sort of automated functionality to the masses.  There are presently some Automator actions that are available for download from Apple's web site.  With further development and support from the community, Automator could very well become one of the most useful items in Tiger, but as it stands now, I'm not sure how much use the majority of users will get out of it. 

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  • msva124 - Sunday, May 01, 2005 - link

    >"Oh we have to support this obscure motherboard as well as this..

    Can you give an example?
    Reply
  • downtowncb - Sunday, May 01, 2005 - link

    I would say that Apple's software and hardware exist to further each other, not just the software selling the hardware.

    Apple creates hardware, and then develops software to run on it.

    Apple develops software, and then creates hardware to run it.

    Software is easier to write, less buggy, and faster if you know exactly which hardware it runs on. No "Oh we have to support this obscure motherboard as well as this...," etc. In that way, the software is #1 and the hardware is simply built to support it. You can sell computers without software, but Apple probably wouldn't survive if everyone had to install Linux on their machines themselves in order to do anything.

    IMHO, the hardware and software support each other.
    Reply
  • michael2k - Sunday, May 01, 2005 - link

    WaltC:
    "While being winners in terms of Apple's short-term survival as company, Jobs' strategies have also resulted in Apple's reduction to merely a negligible status today in terms of computer market share percentages world wide. Indeed, look how much of Apple's present profit and revenue derives from the iPod, for instance, which is not a computer of any type. "

    Um, you do know from 1985 until 1996 Steve Jobs had no presence at Apple? That he had his own companies, NeXT and Pixar to deal with? His strategies, if you want, were the following:

    Release a simple, affordable, powerful, computer in 1984: Original Mac, which became a strong model of the computing industry for the next 21 years.

    Release a powerful, modern, OS and computer in 1989: NeXTStep, which is now the foundation for Mac OS X and is now Tiger, and is AGAIN a strong model for the computer industry (Longhorn, Linux)

    Create the world's most popular mp3 player, the iPod, in 2001: It's a computer in every sense of the word, with a display, input, storage, and output functionality. It's 'revolutionary' status is because it was the first, smallest, fastest, highest capacity (all at once) device, though there were smaller, with smaller capacities, or larger, with larger capacities, and none with faster upload or UI in 2001.

    Again, as for why compare Longhorn to Tiger?

    Because everything Longhorn WANTS to do, Tiger does.
    Longhorn wants a DBFS, called WinFS, not due until next year. Tiger achieves 90% of that now, and by next year will be even better.
    Longhorn wants better search, to be achieved with WinFS, not due until next year, when Tiger has Spotlight now.
    Longhorn wants a 3d accelerated display layer, and is not due until next year. OS X has achieved that since 10.2 in 2002 (a small step with hardware accelerated compositing), now more fully implemented since 10.3 and 10.4 with 3d and 2d acceleration, and with even more to come by the time Tiger comes out.
    Longhorn wants a 'modern' UI, which is not due until next year, where OS X has had it since 2001, with each year bringing out more usability and functionality to the UI (Dock, transparency, animation, Expose, Dashboard, etc).
    Longhorn wants better security, again not due until next year, while OS X has it now, and since 2001
    Longhorn wants a shell and CLI, again next year, while OS X has had it since 2001

    You ask why we compare: I think it's stupid NOT to compare. Longhorn wants to be a 'next generation' OS, and it's prototype and model 'next generation' OS is available now, and has been for four years, in Mac OS X.

    We're not the only ones comparing. As I said before, Allchin of Microsoft has made direct comparisons, to Microsoft's detriment.
    Reply
  • WaltC - Sunday, May 01, 2005 - link

    #25 "But what you forget is that every Mac that sells takes away a sale of a copy of Windows from MS."

    Conversely, every Windows PC sold, along with SUN boxes and various Linux boxes of all types, etc., takes away a Mac sale from Apple...;) Heh...;) Sort of sobering to think about it like that, isn't it? Kind of clarifies Apple's <3% world-wide market share, doesn't it?

    #25 "Apple will sell more that a million more computers this year than they sold last year. That's over a million fewer copies of Windows sold. As well as less copies of windows software by MS and others. It also means more copies of MS Office for the Mac sold."

    Oddly enough, again, your vision is distinctly tunnel. I would hope it is not your contention that Apple alone of all the PC makers is growing...because by your reasoning every sale they make takes an equal bite out of the Apple, doesn't it?...;) Every sale they make is not an Apple sale, is it?

    #25 "It's just dumb talking about "balls". This is a business. Maybe you like to play chicken, but companies that like to stay in business don't."

    Heh...;) Tell that to AMD--or any number of successful companies today...;) In 1998 almost every "analyst" alive was writing off AMD and declaring that AMD was all but finished. Intel was considered an unbeatable juggernaut. The past six years at AMD have put the lie to that sentiment convincingly, I think...;)

    Launching the K7 at AMD took every bit as much balls as it did brains (after all, what good is a great idea if you lack the courage to follow it through?). AMD proved the prevailing wisdom that said Intel was unassailable dead wrong, and is living long and propsering as a result. Launching the K7 and following through with everything since that AMD has done took guts and confidence out of the yin-yang...;)

    So what's the only thing stopping Apple from actually competing directly with MS on the OS front? Why, it's nothing more than the firm belief that if it does it will fail. And there you have it completely...
    Reply
  • WaltC - Sunday, May 01, 2005 - link

    #22 "The fact, "Jack", is that this is marketing and Apple does make nice hardware and a great OS for some people. And I do agree with some of your salient points. But for a company that "is not a direct competitor to MS", some of you guys sure seem to worry a lot about them."

    So the fact that it is "marketing" is supposed to make up for the fact that Apple likes to fantasize that it's "ahead" by comparing its shipping OSes with MS's future, unreleased, unfinished, non-shipping OSes? That's bizarre, since Longhorn isn't close to shipping, let alone close to being finished, and so what's there to compare? Seems like shadow boxing to me, but, well, that's just Apple for you.

    Yes, I worry--but probably not for the reasons you suspect. I worry that Apple seems congenitally unable to understand that *most people* see right through this kind of delusional "marketing" and get turned off to Apple in the process. But they don't call Jobs the King of the RDF for nothing, do they?...;) I suppose that if the RDF was ever dismantled and discarded in favor of something real that Apple's market share just might rise precipitously. I worry that Apple itself doesn't appear to understand this to any degree whatever.

    I mean--Jobs has known for decades that unlike Apple, MS is not a hardware company. Yet he seems constantly confused about precisely *who* his actual competitors really are (he also occasionally seems to see clearly enough to spot Dell and other companies)--and the result is that mostly under Jobs tutelage in the last decade Apple itself has survived at the expense of approximately 80% of the market share in the worldwide consumer computer markets that it held in 1995 and earlier (down from 10% to about 2%.)

    While being winners in terms of Apple's short-term survival as company, Jobs' strategies have also resulted in Apple's reduction to merely a negligible status today in terms of computer market share percentages world wide. Indeed, look how much of Apple's present profit and revenue derives from the iPod, for instance, which is not a computer of any type. Subtract Apple's iPod revenue and profit from Apple's bottom line and you'll see the true picture of Apple as a computer company today. Seems to me there's plenty to "worry" about in that sense. But, then, the RDF has never afflicted me so I guess I "think different" in that sense...;)



    Reply
  • WaltC - Sunday, May 01, 2005 - link

    #23 "Uh... I should point out that the Apple Mac OS X pages don't have a single reference to Longhorn anywhere, AFAIK."

    As well they shouldn't...;) You tell me, then--why are so many others comparing a shipping OS from Apple with an unfinished, unreleased, non-shipping OS from MS? Sure beats me...;)
    Reply
  • chennhui - Sunday, May 01, 2005 - link

    #20 michael2k, It is true that gaming is not all, but a important part of computer experience. If you don't game, a P3 or G4 will probably does a good job overall.

    Most applications available for Mac is available for PC. In fact, I feel MS Office is faster in PC compared to Mac (thank to Bill). So obvious Mac or PC is just a matter a taste (and may be you game or not).
    Reply
  • Jbog - Sunday, May 01, 2005 - link

    To say every Mac and OS X sale takes away Windows sales, is like saying the number of illegal mp3 download equals to the lost revenue for record companies. One should consider the possibility that some buyers are not even interested in buying Windows machines and vice versa.

    The Slashdot article thread was amusing. The legal dispute between Apple and TigerDirect reminds me of the time when Spike Lee sued Spike Channel. He argued that people would think of him when they see Spike Channel. I think they eventually settled out of court.
    Reply
  • mircea - Sunday, May 01, 2005 - link

    #25 said:
    "But what you forget is that every Mac that sells takes away a sale of a copy of Windows from MS. Apple will sell more that a million more computers this year than they sold last year. That's over a million fewer copies of Windows sold."

    I think your judgement is a little off. Every Mac sold will mean a x86 based PC not sold. And on all these PC's it might be that if they were sold it would have been equiped with a Linux OS or something proprietary just as well as an Windows OS.

    If there is to talk about comparison then it would be about how Apple, a hardware company is able to create an OS that can compete on functionality with a company that works almost exclusively with software. So if something is unjust on this comparison is that Microsoft is unable to stand out head and shoulders above a company that solds primarly hardware.

    P.S. I never owned or currently own a Mac. Only used it at school on a music score editing software (Finale 2005) that I own on PC as well.
    Reply
  • msva124 - Sunday, May 01, 2005 - link

    >But what you forget is that every Mac that sells takes away a sale of a copy of Windows from MS.

    Perhaps there are dual users who purchase macs in addition to, rather than in place of, their windows computers.
    Reply

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