Headlines, Opinion


Automator 2.0 Review

You Know I Watch You

You know QuicKeys? It records every one of your mouse-and-type actions with the pedantic Ă©lan of a 38 year-old Star Trek fan. Watch Me Do brings this functionality to Automator. Simply hit the record button on the toolbar, and mouse away. Once you hit stop, you will have recorded a sequence that fits perfectly into your workflow.

Or maybe not. WMD (boy, is that ever an unfortunate abbreviation) is a bit limited and flaky. In my testing, it works for one or two simple maneuvers, but trying to do complex macros is not its strong suit. For example, it may work fine flipping a few window settings in an application, but you wouldn’t want to use it to record a tricky web form entry.

Watch Me Do

Watch Me Do records every breath you take, every move you make, so if you have a predilection for Reynolds Wrap headgear, be warned.

It Can Core a Apple

Variables is easily the most important new feature of Automator, rendering moot a host of specialty storage actions. Unlike some sexy but useless features (like, say, 3D docks), variables are homely yet powerful (like, uh, Bill Gates?).

One of the most common things users want to do in a workflow is create a new folder, and do something with it, like move it, rename it, navigate into it, etc.

Out of the box, this was impossible in Automator 1.0, because actions had no way to reference things created within a workflow. A number of storage-and-retrieval actions were created to do this, but they were limited. Well now Automator has variables built in, ha-ha-ha, going way beyond simple storage-retrieval. There are gobs of variables, that do things such as pull specific folder contents, date/time, system information and other metadata. It’ll be fun watching how users leverage them.

Variables at work. In this useless example, I am creating a new folder and then storing its path in a storage variable. I then get the path from the variable and give the folder a red label. Notice that the last two actions aren’t connected to the first two.

To Sum Up…

All in all, Automator 2 delivers on its promises, but there are a few minor glitches. Vertically resizing an action window screws up the mouse tracking, and occasionally an action window will resize incorrectly, clipping off at the right-side of the window. Also, when the toolbar is set to small icons, the record/stop/run buttons are poorly rendered—a suprising lapse in Apple’s usually high standards for fit-and-finish.

Performance wise, Automator 2 is much more responsive than 1.0, exhibiting a fair bit of that nebulous “teh snappy” the kids rave about. Adding and reordering actions has always been a problem, especially when lots of them pile up, but so far it has kept up.

Automator includes a whole bunch of new actions, including ones for handling RSS feeds, the clipboard (copy/paste finally!), and updates to most of the existing ones. 3rd party actions haven’t been thoroughly tested yet, but so far I haven’t encountered any issues.

So that wraps up our Automator 2 review. For more in-depth information I recommend heading over to Automator.us, which has sample workflows and tutorials (don’t miss the video demos featuring a creepy synthetic British narrator). We’ll of course have new information and hints & tips as users start flexing Automator 2, so watch this site.

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  1. Hello and thanks for having this site.

    Can you use old actions from Automator 1 to work on Automator 2? I tried Ben Long’s action pack but it did not seem to work. I have asked him on his site (completedigitalphotography.com) but get no answer.

    I assume this is NOT backwards compatible but can a person fix that? I desperately need to get automator to do some very simple things in PS CS 3. Any suggestions?

    Comment by Shawn — December 20, 2007 @ 8:11 pm

  2. Did you have a look at the folder actions, i get some strange results when i create a workflow and then save as a folder plugin

    Comment by jeremy — June 24, 2008 @ 10:20 pm

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