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Issue 5.2



Issue: 5.2 (January/February 2007)
Author: Apple Computer, Inc.
Article Description: No description available.
Article Length (in bytes): 3,987
Starting Page Number: 8
Article Number: 5202
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Chances are you've heard of Apple's Automator, and you may have opened it and played around with the built-in workflows. However, few people are aware of the real capabilities of this powerful but easy-to-use utility.

The basic premise of Automator is that if you are doing something repetitive that takes forever, it's worth taking a little time to automate the process and then let your computer do the mundane part. Creating workflows in Automator is pretty easy, and involves creating your workflow graphically and then clicking the "Run" button. The workflow window is where the construction happens: possible actions are listed on the left-hand side and can be dragged to the workflow area on the right in the order you want them to be performed.

Most actions accept input and produce output; the information passed from action to action can be just about anything, including files, text, images, and so forth. When possible, Automator will automatically typecast the information to fit the input requested.

Specialized actions let you construct a dialog box, transfer data to your iPod, do Spotlight searches, start a Keynote presentation... the list goes on and on. But even with the hundreds of actions that come with Automator, you'll inevitably find something you can't do... and that's when the many Automator-related web sites come in, most notably Automator World (http://www.automatorworld.com/) and the Actions archive at MacScripter.net (http://www.automatoractions.com/). With these web sites at your disposal, chances are good that you'll find what you are looking for, unless you get sidetracked into some other cool project that pops into your head while browsing through what's available.

One of the more powerful actions available is the Run Script action, which allows you to compose and run an AppleScript. The action itself is a miniature version of the Script Editor, giving you the capability to check syntax and see the code color-coded appropriately.

When a workflow is run, each step is shown with status messages throughout. If an error occurs, Automator reports where the error took place and what type of problem occurred.

Workflows can be saved in Automator's own format, but can also be saved as a standalone application. If necessary, the workflow can even be saved as a Finder plug-in, a folder action, an iCal alarm, or a script menu item.

Programs can be designed to automatically register themselves with Automator, so the program's actions are available in Automator without any extra effort.

As with many of Apple's other utilities, Automator is a program that hides a tremendous amount of power beneath a simple interface. The mild learning curve involves learning what actions are available and where to find more; before long, anyone can start creating workflows to simplify -- or just spruce up -- their computing experience.

End of article.