Welcome Otto!

Otto, the cute little robot, is the sign of great things in the new version of Mac OS X, Tiger. What’s so exciting? Automator: A new application from Apple designed to streamline automation on the Mac OS. What makes Automator a winner is the fine balance between making automation easy and making sure it’s still flexible enough.

In Automator you automate tasks by dragging pre-built actions from the actions list to form workflows. The iTunes-like three-column interface and tight Spotlight integration makes it a snap to find the action you’re looking for. Once you created a workflow you can either run it, save it as a plugin or as a standalone application. Of course, the main problem you will have is that the workflow you’re trying to create calls for an action that does not exist. For this, there are a couple of solutions, and that is where being an AppleScripter comes in handy.

To start, you can use the Run AppleScript action. This action takes the result of the previous action as input, runs a script that processes this input or does something else altogether, and then has a chance to return it’s own result to the following action. This feature of Automator can bridge some missing-actions gaps. Another aspect you scripters may want to become familiar with is creating your own actions. Using AppleScript Studio (or Xcode, to be more exact), and Interface Builder, you can quickly create your own actions, including interface and all. You may get a bit lost in the endless plist items required to make your action easier for the user to understand, but for your own use, and especially if you have a script already created, converting it into an Automator action is a 30-minutes-or-less deal.

Will Otto kill AppleScript? Quite the opposite. Now scripters have a new venue for distributing their scripts to clients and to the world. Until now, a script had to manage it’s own input-output, etc. With Automator, all this is facilitated for you. Also, once Automator is more widely used, (and it is going to be,) people will be able to understand the concept of a script better when your website says: “Download this cool Automator action that does this or that…”. My initial reaction is that Automator is a great opportunity for scripters also because it will bring the term ‘automation’ a little closer to the people, and make it a bit less intimidating an idea. So, if Otto isn’t yet your friend, make sure to introduce yourself.