Hello, I’m a web craftsman with a passion for the modern web. I build web applications and play with social services and communities.

November 16, 2009 at 11:56 pm

AutomatorAutomator is one the most powerful tools in Apple’s Mac OS X but not many people have heard of it before. And many who know about Automator’s existence have never used it. So why is it? Probably because the use of the tool isn’t that obvious to casual Mac users. Automator – as the name suggests – automates repeating tasks coming up in daily usage of a computer.

So lets say you want to rename a lot of files after a certain pattern. Most people would probably just do that by hand and rename file by file until they are done. They would do that because they don’t know that there is an easier and faster way for that. And that way is called Automator. With Automator you can take a bunch of files and apply actions to them. One of those actions could be “Rename Finder Items”.

There are many of those actions in Automator. Each application in Mac OS X offers some of them. Quicktime is good with movies, so it gives you some actions about movies, Finder is good to deal with files, Mail can handle emails and so on. You get the idea. So you can take all those actions and combine them into a workflow by dragging them from the action view on the left hand side into the workflow on the right hand side.

Automator Screenshot

Automator Screenshot

So what can you do with that now? You could create an automated task that loads photos from a folder, resizes them to 640px in size and attaches them to a new email. Or you could select a bunch of text files, combine them into one and make a PDF from them. Or you could fetch an RSS feed from a website and open all the stories in the feed in new Safari tabs. Or, Or, Or… All just by drag and drop. Each Action has an outlet, which sends the result of the current action to the next action. Just about everything you can do with Mac OS X can be done by Automator too. So as soon as you feel the need to do certain things on your computer regularly you should set up an Automator workflow to do it for you.

A nice thing about Automator is that you can save workflows as proper Mac OS X Applications that can live in your dock and wait for files to be dragged onto them. Or you can attach your workflows to certain dates and times with iCal.

So if you have a Mac you should really have a look at Automator and play around with some actions and workflows to get an idea what the tool can do for you. It will come in handy one day when you have to do some batch tasks.

Oh, and another pretty neat thing about Automator is that it can execute shell scripts. So you can extend it’s functionality quite a lot and you can use it as some kind of Cronjob. There is much to explore, so go out there and give it a shot!