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One of the things that I love about computers is that they can simplify the most tedious tasks. Many use PhotoShop actions to perform repeated tasks on images. Back in 1993, Apple introduced an automation technology – called AppleScript. AppleScripts have been made and used by many over the years, and yet to the majority of Mac users it remains a mystery. As part of the Tiger OS, the brand new Automator builds on AppleScript to make automating your Macintosh easier to use.
A couple of months ago, we looked at Apple’s new 64-bit operating system 10.4, which is also known as Tiger. Among the new features is the Dashboard, which is a collection of widgets or utility applications. Another feature, called Spotlight, enhances the Mac’s ability. Not only can it locate files, but it also can search within a file.
Regretfully, one of key features that I wasn’t able to cover in that article is that Apple has added Parental Controls. This is something you should consider if you have tender eyes in your household – that don’t need to stumble across the more unsavory information on the Internet.
This month we take a look the Automator application. Automator uses a very simple “drag and drop” process to connect different actions together. These connected actions make a “workflow” which can be used repeatedly – and can even create “plug-ins” that can be recalled from within your applications.
You start by finding the actions you need (many actions are included and many more are being created by users for you to download,) connect them together and “run” the script. The best part is that you don’t have to do any coding. So lets take a quick look at how it works…
Here’s a simple scenario. Lets say you have a folder of images that you want to organize by renaming them in order, or by adding the date to the name. This can be useful when backing up before making major changes – in case you want to go back.
We’ll begin by opening the Automator from the Applications folder. In the main window, you will see three panes. In the “Library” pane is a list of Applications that can be used as part of workflow. Select the “Finder” from the list. From the list of “Actions”, select “Get Specified Finder Items” and drag it into the right most pane. This action will allow you to choose files in the Finder. Clicking the “+” symbol will open a dialog box which you can use to select files. (Highlight a file and click “Open”. Shift-click to open multiple files.) Continue to build a list of files for your action. You can also click the triangle beside “Options” to select “Show Action When Run” and open a “file selection” dialog box. This will be useful if you want to choose the files when you run the finished “workflow”.
Next, we add a second action. In the “Search” field at the top of the Automator window, you can type a part of the name of the action your looking for. Typing, “name”, in the search field, will shorten the list of available actions. Drag the action called “Rename Finder Items” into the right pane to add this to your workflow. For your own protection, Apple alerts you that renaming files with Automator workflows cannot be undone. By the way, no warranty is included with this article, so be careful! Go ahead and click “Add” to add the action.
Each step is numbered in sequence. You should have two new steps added. In step 2, you the action where to put the files in “Copy Finder Items” – again with the option of opening a dialog. In step 3, you decide how you want the files renamed. I like to add the modified date to my files so I know when I last saved them. You may decide to name the files the same name and add a number to each in sequence.
The final step in creating the script is to click “Run”. Your script will run and perform the tasks you have assigned it. If you added the optional dialog boxes, they will open allowing you to make your selections as the script runs. When you are happy with your script you can save it as an Automator file or “Save as a Plug-in” to the Finder. If you choose the latter, then you can access the plug-in through the contextual menu in the Finder (Use “Control” and click the mouse or “Right-click” on the Desktop.) Plug-ins can be run without opening the Automator application.
You can find more about Tiger’s new features, such as Automator, Dashboard and Spotlight on Apple’s web site (http://www.apple.com/macosx/overview). On each page you’ll find more widgets and workflow plug-ins that you can download.

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On August 6, 2005
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