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Monday, August 6, 2007

Automating Mundane Chores in Tiger

One new feature in Tiger — Automator — has generated a lot of excitement. Automator can create applications with a compiled form of AppleScript. That might sound daunting, but Automator is actually easy to use. Heck, you might find it downright fun!

Building Automator applications

Automator applications are built by using a drag-and-drop approach. If you're familiar with how iMovie works, you'll feel right at home here. The tasks that you arrange in the Automator window run sequentially, just like the video clips that you drag into an iMovie window.

You can create a simple Automator application by following these steps:

1. Open the Finder menu.

2. Press Command+N to open a new Finder window.

3. Click the Applications folder in the Finder window sidebar (housed on the left side of the window).

4. Double-click the Automator icon.

The Automator window appears.

5. In the Library column, click the Tiger application that you want to be automated.

A list of actions appears that you can perform with that application.

6. Drag the desired action into the Workflow area (right side).

If the action that you selected can be modified with criteria, you can change the settings to your heart's content.

7. Click Run to test your script.

8. If the script runs properly, press Command+Shift+S to save your application.

Automator displays a Save As dialog box.

If the script doesn't work quite the way you intended, you can remove and rearrange actions to your heart's content. (To remove an action, click the X button in the upper-right corner of the action block.) You might also consider tweaking the action-specific settings or using the Ask When Run option to make sure that an action gets the right input.

9. Type a name for your new program.

10. Click File Format and then choose Application.

11. Click Save.

You can build an Automator application that uses values that you type (a software developer calls it your input) each time you run it. To set your application for manual input, select the Ask When Run check box. This allows your application to prompt you with a dialog box that requests the necessary values (such as an iTunes playlist or a specific folder on your hard drive).

Running applications at startup

If your Automator application should run every time you log in, follow these steps to set it up as a login item:

1. Open System Preferences.

2. Display the Accounts pane.

3. Click the Login Items button.

4. Click the plus button at the bottom of the list.

5. Navigate to the location of your new Automator application.

6. Click Add.

Now your Automator application is really automatic. Watch your significant other gape in amazement as your MacBook Pro begins to work without your touching the keyboard!

Many third-party applications run their own Automator actions after installation. Check the developer's Web site often to see whether additional Automator applications have been added that you can download.

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