Automator For Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard
Book Review

On January 24, 2008, in Book Review, by Bakari Chavanu

Automator For Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard
by Ben Waldie
Peachpit Press
www.peachpit.com
ISBN: 978-0-321-53935-9
US $29.999 CN $32.99 UK £21.99

I’ve written in the past two years at least three separate how-to articles (here here and here about Apple’s automation creation program, Automator. Since the program was introduced with Tiger, I’ve always looked for ways it can help me automate certain mundane tasks on my computer. Each morning, for example, I can come to my computer with five of my most frequented Web site feeds opened and ready for me to peruse. Thanks to an Automator workflow initiated by a daily iCal launch, I don’t have to individually pull up those same Web sites each day in order to view them. Automator and iCal do the work for me. I have about eight other workflows like this that I use on a consistent basis.

Though I wish I were a skilled programmer, I couldn’t create a bit of computer or software code to save my life. That’s why Automator is a perfect program for those of us who would like to script actions on our computer but don’t have the skills to do so. Automator is based on the type of select and drop features that you find in all of Apple’s programs. However, I would not go so far as to say that Automator is an intuitive program for basic computer users. While my wife can put together a family newsletter using one of the Apple’s Pages’s template, she would be at a loss using Automator.

But for intermediate and power users of the the OS X system, Automator is very accessible. And finally, there’s a introductory book about using the program that I’ve been wanting to see published for a while now. Not sure why it has taken Peachpit so long to publish a book about Automator, but it’s great that it has.

Automator For Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard is part of Peachpit’s Visual Quickstart Guide series. Books in this series provide you a nice straightforward introduction to software programs with plenty of examples, illustrations, tips, and recommendations for getting the most out of the programs that a book in the series covers. The author of this book, Ben Waldie, is president of Automated Workflows (www.automatedworkflows.com) which is one of four or five Automator sites that feature tutorials and sample workflows about Automator. He has “developed professional automated solutions for clients such as Adobe, Apple, CNN, and Microsoft.” He has authored numerous articles about Automator and AppleScripting and has been a frequent presenter at Macworld Conference and Expo and other events.

Automator For Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard covers all the basics plus a little more. If you have never cracked open Automator, it would probably be a good idea to simply follow one of my tutorials. Have no fear, testing out and playing around with the program will not break or crash your computer. You might discover just how useful Automator and other similar programs can be in saving your time and stress. I won’t say that every workflow you create won’t have a glitch here and there, but as you keep refining the workflow, you will over time get some things done faster at your computer.

With latest version of Automator in Leopard, Apple includes what it calls a starting points screen to help you get going. However, if you never worked in Automator, I really don’t see how the start up screen will help you. You first have to know what you want to do and what actions Automator can provide to help you do it. So it’s best to select custom workflow in the start up screen and poke around and see what Automator has to offer.

Waldie’s book is mostly a manual run down of the program. He breaks down each all the features and basic process for completing workflows. If you’re a beginner in this program, the book might very well be useful. If you’re an intermediate or advance user of Automator, I can’t see Waldie’s book being that useful to you. There are many articles and video tutorials on the Internet that will get you acquainted with Automator, so it’s a bit of stretch to say that this book is necessary to learn how to get up and running with Automator.

Fortunately, Waldie’s book covers the latest version of Automator, including how to use the much wanted Variable, Loop, Recording features. These features provide users more customization and greater control over workflows. He explains how to set up several workflows (including one that emails birthday birthday greetings, and another one that adds spotlight comments to photos) but sometimes it’s not clear why a user would go to the trouble to create a few of the workflows he illustrates in the book. I say this because many of the actions that come installed with Automator are features used in the iLife programs themselves. For example, it would be pointless to create a workflow that simply opens up an application. That can be done manually or when you log in to your computer. However, it might be useful to have an application workflow that opens up two or three applications at the same time when you know you’ll be using them together. You can also create another workflow that will close those same three applications at the same time. It sounds simple, but if you’re doing something like this a lot, it can be definite time saver.

Waldie includes a list great sources and examples about using Automator with AppleScript and UNIX Commands. Being able to tie together the more advance actions of AppleScript with Automator enables you to create even better workflows. A recent example of this is a AppleScript command and Automator workflow that puts your Mac to sleep by sending an email to it. You can find out to easily do this by visiting Murphymac.com.

Automating and scripting programs may not be everyone’s idea of having fun, but if you’re using a computer on a regular basis and you’re not finding ways to automate your tasks, then you’re probably frustrated that your computer has more control over your time than you do. Check out Automator and learn how it can save you some time.

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