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What Is Automator (and Can It Make Your Life Easier)
Pages: 1, 2, 3

Note that there isn't a single action to create a new mail message with a set of attachments all as one step. You actually have to open a message and pass the attachments to the message as separate actions. Here's how it all looks in Automator:

You can email a screenshot, but you'll have to fight the style guidelines to do it.
You can email a screenshot, but you'll have to fight the style guidelines to do it.



As you can see, you have to fight the style guidelines pretty hard to make something like this happen, but it's possible and wasn't too difficult to do in this case. You can get the workflow for emailing a screenshot here.

Looking Ahead

Streams of discussion all over the net seem to point to the same common complaint with Automator: there just aren't enough actions available to take care of routine business. While Automator comes packaged with almost 200 actions out of the box and you can find more out at Apple's Automator Actions site, you'll find that there's still room for plenty of work to be done. Lots of it. Apple could give Automator a tremendous boost if it provided an update with 500 or so additional actions for the core applications that come packaged with Tiger. For example, open up Automator's System library and take a look. On Tiger 10.4.2., there's a whopping seven actions. I'm sure we can all think of five or ten times that amount that would be handy to have available. The same goes for just about all of the other core applications, although some are outfitted better than others.

There's a lot things that Automator could do if only the actions were available to create useful workflows. As things stand right now, you'd have to be pretty darn crafty, and do some scripting and Cocoa voodoo to create all of the actions you'd need to truly automate most of your routine workflows. Unless you are a developer just looking to make the world a better place, you probably don't have the time to develop a series of custom Automator actions to accomplish workflows that you could continue doing manually.

But alas, Automator is still just a tyke and it's still got a lot of growing to do. By pinging the developers of our favorite apps whenever we need an action that would make our lives easier, we can do our part to see that cute little robot grow up. Apple has a designated line just for Automator feedback, which would be a good place to vent your frustrations when you find that Automator could use a little more Cupertino pizzazz. For that matter, any serious developer is likely to listen to you if you're a paying customer, or you'd otherwise be one if the right actions were available. In the end, it all goes back to the same old supply and demand relationships that work everywhere else in the world. For some interesting reading, check here to see the case Apple makes for developing Automator actions and here to read about Bare Bones' decision to be an early supporter of Automator.

If you need actions for open source software, web-related tasks, or you just want to jump in and immortalize yourself forever in Automator glory, you can develop and distribute your own actions. There are a slew of resources out there to get you up and running. Matt Neuberg's Write Your Own Automator Actions tutorial is a good starting point that'll set you up for moving on to Apple's definitive reference: the Automator Programming Guide.

Matthew Russell is a computer scientist from middle Tennessee; and serves Digital Reasoning Systems as the Director of Advanced Technology. Hacking and writing are two activities essential to his renaissance man regimen.


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