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Tell Us Your Mac Automation Stories

The news that Apple had laid off Sal Soghoian, who has been a fixture in the world of scripting and automation for decades, hit hard at MacTech Conference back in November. Although Sal hasn’t been making as many public appearances as he used to in the days of Macworld Expo, his indefatigable efforts to promote user automation inside and outside Apple have had wide-ranging impact. Sal worked tirelessly within Apple to encourage support for AppleScript and Automator (among much else), and to ensure that Apple apps provided the necessary scripting dictionaries and Automator actions. He was long a champion for the user, believing that users know best what they need to do and that automation technologies were essential for enabling users to create and streamline their own workflows.

What should we make of Sal leaving? Apple didn’t lay him off specifically, it instead eliminated the position of Product Manager of Automation Technologies. It’s my understanding that multiple groups within Apple wanted to hire Sal afterward, but Apple was under some sort of hiring freeze that prevented him from migrating within the company. So it doesn’t look as though Apple was trying to get rid of Sal personally, which is good. What’s less good is that it would appear that Apple doesn’t see the need for having a position that evangelizes user automation.

A 9to5Mac reader sent email to Craig Federighi, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Software Engineering, to ask that Apple not kill AppleScript and Automator, and was told “We have every intent to continue our support for the great automation technologies in macOS!”

Federighi’s response prompts the question of whether Apple’s future actions will bear out his statement. It may be overreaching to read too much into his precise words, but “intent” is an aim or a plan, not a guarantee. And “support” can mean “maintenance mode” rather than “advancing the state of the art.” Regardless, eliminating Sal’s position isn’t a step in the right direction. Sure, Apple could have plans to replace AppleScript and Automator with super secret magic unicorn technologies, but based purely on what the company has done and said, it’s hard to believe that.

It wasn’t always like this. The reason AppleScript survived the purge of products and technologies after Steve Jobs returned was that Jobs understood the importance of automation to key Apple markets, like publishing, finance, and TV and film, not to mention the enterprise and IT worlds. These industries live and die by custom workflows based on AppleScript and other automation technologies built deep into macOS.

Jobs personally approved the inclusion of Automator in OS X, and he enabled and supported adding AppleScript as a development language to Xcode. And it was because of his support that Apple’s automation team went on to develop AppleScript/Objective-C, script libraries, and JavaScript for Automation.

But the Apple of today is an entirely different company, focusing as it does on the iPhone and iOS. Even so, it’s obvious to anyone who uses iOS that there is still an important role for automation. I can tell Siri to “Change ‘Floating’ to 8 AM” to adjust the time of my wake-up alarm, but I have no way to automate the five taps necessary to play the audiobook we listen to every night in the Hoopla digital library app. Five wasted taps every night isn’t the end of the world, but if you can’t automate the little stuff, you certainly can’t automate the big stuff.

If Apple’s seeming indifference toward automation worries you because you rely on scripts, macros, workflows, and more to get your work done quickly, effectively, and accurately, here’s what I’d like you to do. Leave a comment on this article outlining how you depend on Mac automation tools in your job. If there are too many examples to fit in a single comment, just focus on those that are the most important to you. I’ll compile all the comments and publish them as a future article, and I’ll also send a copy to Craig Federighi and Apple CEO Tim Cook so they see concrete examples of why we need these automation technologies to continue to evolve.

To kick things off, here’s my most important bit of automation. When it comes time to publish a new or updated Take Control title, I start with three versions of the book: a PDF, an EPUB, and Mobipocket file. A copy of each must be stored in several locations on our internal file server and uploaded both to our Web server and to Amazon S3. Plus, the uploaded versions must be renamed precisely according to an algorithm that’s replicated on our server, so the site can update itself and serve the correct files based on the presence of properly named uploads in the right directories. When I used to do this by hand, it took 15–20 minutes, and I ran the risk of renaming a file incorrectly or uploading to the wrong directory. (And making a mistake meant that I had to spend even more time figuring out what I’d done wrong and fixing it.) Now that I have a series of Automator workflows performing these tasks for me, it takes me just seconds to initiate the uploads, and there are never any errors.

So that’s my automation story — tell us yours!

Check out the Take Control ebooks that expand on the topic in this article:

If you use copy and paste, you’re taking advantage of an important shortcut. But did you realize that the Mac offers dozens of shortcuts that make tedious tasks quick, accurate, and repeatable? Author Joe Kissell reveals OS X’s many shortcuts and examines the utilities that go further, offering concrete examples and long lists of possibilities.


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Comments about Tell Us Your Mac Automation Stories

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Wooster  2017-01-09 14:00
Automator is one of my favorite Utility Apps. It's just pure magic how I can get first and third party apps to collaborate to do just about anything. For instance, I can have the Finder duplicate/rename 300 screenshots, send them to Pixelmator to crop, and then Transmit to upload to my server. It's just a pain in the neck to do it by hand and honestly, it's nothing short of magical having all these apps work together to complete my task for me.
Tommy Weir  2017-01-09 14:05
I have a custom naming approach for all files on my system. And every year, they are sorted into relevant groups and archived off using the automator actions which the developers of DevonThink Office Pro provide.

It's a simple thing, a folder is monitored, files are imported and tagged. But the knowledge that the organisation is done and it's consistent year in and year out. I can't tell you what that means for my peace of mind in my business.

2. My son uses folder actions all the time, resizing images, converting and renaming them for different use cases, it's like his party trick for employers while he's studying in Boston College.

3. I use a combination of Automator, Hazel and Keyboard Maestro together with some scripts I picked up online to keep my computer organised. These various tools move files around to their rightful folders, rename files to my standardised system, save email attachments and move them to the right folders, clear up strays that land here or there, archive off application installers and delete old files that are backed up and not in use for some time.
Chuck Shotton  2017-01-09 15:03
Well, in a nutshell, most of the Web industry on Mac OS in the early days of the Internet would not have existed if not for Sal's work with AppleScript, AppleEvents, scriptability/recordability of applications, AppleEvent Dictionaries, the Script Editor, and the concept of scripts as runnable applications. Every external extension created for MacHTTP or WebSTAR, Userland Frontier, and all of the other HTTP servers on the Mac depended exclusively on these technologies. It was how applications talked. It's still how they should talk, but Apple (NeXT) seems to have never embraced it as they should have. Even the newest incarnation of MacHTTP, MacHTTP-js, depends on a slew of AppleEvents to do its job. Let's hope this great legacy isn't lost just because it doesn't work on iOS...
Anthony Reimer  2017-01-09 15:39
I use AppleScript and Automator for automating actions in the Finder. Some common things I have created that I use at work:
• Clean the desktop of shared computers.
• Automate server connections.
• Take any downloaded dmgs and move them to an Installers folder automatically (using Folder Actions).
• A service that opens the current URL in a specific browser (e.g., if a page needs Flash, open it in Chrome).

I also use it as an integral tool to integrate with FileMaker Pro. (e.g., export text data from FileMaker to a file, have BBEdit clean it up, then upload that edited file to a web site using Fetch — AppleScript + FileMaker scripting can make this a single step for the user).

The Mac Admin community is all about automation for both the efficiency that comes from it and the consistency of result. While Python and shell scripting are core to that automation, I know I still put Automator and AppleScript to use on a regular basis.
Anonymous  An apple icon for a TidBITS Angel 2017-01-09 15:51
For 16 years now approximately 15 times a year I do financials based on a series of companies. The workflow I've created reduces 21 pages of reports to a readable 4 and about 90 minutes of my time to 20. That's roughly 16 * 15 * (90-20) = 16,800 minutes or 280 hours or 35 work days or 6 work weeks of my life. That's time with family, time doing other work things, time that I am not simply throwing down the hole of clicks and points. Thank you for HyperCard, AppleScript, Automator and anything else Apple can provide to give me more time!
Paul Ellis  2017-01-09 16:21
Which Mac automation stories?

Back in the day, when I regularly had tasks that merited automation, I used QuickKeys. Nowadays I use Hazel for the few regular automated file-handling tasks I have. I've found that on those comparatively rare occasions when I have a repetitive task that could do with automating, Automator invariably lets me down. It's quicker to complete the task manually rather than trying to bully Automator into action.

Here's an example: automating iTunes playback. I leave iTunes running when away from my house for an extended period, to stop the place appearing to be empty. A few years ago I spent a couple of hours figuring out how to use Calendar to automate playback, but then found the Calendar events I created didn't 'travel', but had to be created afresh every day. I can no longer be bothered with this palaver: I simply remote in with Teamviewer and manually toggle playback. Welcome to C21 Mac automation, conspicuously lacking in usability and utility.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2017-01-09 16:33
One of the hardest things with automation is picking the right tool. For what you describe, I'd use Keyboard Maestro, which can really easily play random music from iTunes at specific times.
Rob Wells  2017-01-09 17:31
I work at a small newspaper and we depend on AppleScript.

The most important is one AppleScript that creates working pages from a master InDesign file. It applies the right styles, sets the date of the edition on each page, sets the page numbers and saves a copy to disk with an appropriate, dated filename.

This was written almost 5 years ago and has prevented many mistakes, not least with incorrect dates going to print! Previously staff would duplicate an old page — risky for many reasons.

On the other end, we use AppleScript to reliably produce the PDF files for use by our printers, custom settings and all.

Other things we’ve done with AppleScript include scripting BBEdit to fix common mistakes in stories, retrieving and setting weather forecasts, TV listings, football fixtures & scores, creating the barcode (and checking it is correct — an occasionally major problem before).

Newer stuff is often in Python but with an AppleScript interface.

Code here:
Rob Wells  2017-01-09 17:21
Oh, and that's just AppleScript. There's all sorts of stuff we do with Hazel and Python scripts run as LaunchAgents (through Lingon).

Our newsroom is an all-Mac office and on occasion in the past a member of staff has suggested buying cheaper Windows machines. Alongside the longevity of Macs (most of ours are almost 10 years old), automation is always the big reason I give for why we would be worse off.

My understanding is that bigger newspapers have software written for them to handle this stuff, which we could never afford. Mac automation technologies have enabled us to do it ourselves in-house.
Mike Warren  2017-01-09 17:57
I'm so old I remember when the whole reason for having a computer was automation . I consider AppleScript a programming language. I've created programs for record keeping, budgeting, a foreign language dictionary, flash cards. I use AppleScript for a daily email message to my partner (it pulls info from flat-file databases,; assembles a message, sends it via, saves it as my Safari home page.) I have so many little scripts and Keyboard Maestro routines that I feel hopeless when I have to use someone else's Mac.
Daniel  2017-01-09 18:00
Keyboard Maestro, with an accompanying mix of Apple Script and shell scripts, is a wonderful glue for web applications with lacking APIs. After a recent migration between institutional repositories (for academic publishing) hundreds of full text files where missing because of a bug in the new systems import script. There were no APIs for uploading new files to existing records in the system, and some manual steps were required in the upload form, but the automation tools allowed me to reduce each process from maybe 30 error prone clicks in both of the applications and Finder to about three clicks per record. It saved me several hours of tedious work.
Daniel  2017-01-09 18:12
Another error in the same migration required me to verify the order of attached files in both of the systems, also for a few hundred items. By automation I could with a single keyboard shortcut navigate to the next item in a list of IDs, find the record in both of the systems, then open all attachments in order in new windows and tile them on the screen in two columns allowing me to see differences at a glance. If in order, a new click got me to the next item, else I could handle the error before moving on.
Thomas Tempelmann  2017-01-09 18:54
As a developer (for apps such as Find Any File, iClip and iBored), I recently have started using Automator and AppleScript to assist my customers when they have some technical troubles and are not too computer-savvy. I have scripts to collect files I need to look at, fetch system information, email them to me, or copy, move and delete files to fix some of their setups.

And just the other day I used AppleScript to verify a slow memory leak in one of my apps, which required 1000s of mouse moves. With AppleScript, it took me 15 minutes to write the code, then have it perform its task for about one hour to cause the issue that otherwise took users days or even weeks to run into. A few hours later, and I managed to identify and fix one of the most obscure bugs I had for a long time in my app.

Also, I'm happy to have spent the money on Script Debugger, which makes writing AppleScripts much less of a pain, indeed :)
gastropod  2017-01-09 19:43
Currently my main automation use is somewhat indirect. To tolerate at all, I've found Mail Tags and Mail Act-on to be indispensable. They do a lot of automating for me by greatly expanding the filter tests and actions available, and by allowing for single key actions such as moving selected messages to a folder without having to drag through the folder tree. Since I run a majordomo server and several mailing lists, intricate mail sorting is a lifesaver.

In the past, I used Quickkeys to remap the keyboard and add macros to music software such as Finale. Saved me hours a week and a lot of frustration.

I'm planning to dive into Keyboard Maestro soon, partly to improve the modern Finder window handling train wreck. which costs me at least an hour a week in getting windows back where they're supposed to be.
gastropod  2017-01-12 22:21
I entirely forgot the services I created with Automator a few years ago to do routine exif handling. Automator calls on exiftool to show all metadata in BBEdit, strip all metadata, strip all but a few exif/iptc fields, alter GPS data, etc. Not only do they save some effort when used, they save the time it takes to periodically check the exiftool docs, since it has so many options I can never remember them. It's also much easier than the command line to do things to an ad hoc file selection.
Naomi Pearce  2017-01-09 19:49
Early in the days of Automator, Sal made a comment, something about it changing the way applications work together where you don’t have to learn the application, just find the action for the feature you want it to do. I looked at him sideways and thought, “yeah, right, okay buddy.”

Some time later, I had worked on a proposal for several days (days because it involved a fair amount of PR-101 that had been requested), finished it, print-to-.pdf and sent it off. I followed up on it the next day and Andy Taylor of MacSpeech, Inc. said “well, yes, he’d received the Executive Summary and looked forward to the rest of it.” Wait, what?!

Print-to-.pdf was something one took for granted, particularly from Word, and I opened the document and sure enough, it had not printed the whole document to .pdf, just the first page. I could get it to print page 1, or print from page 2-on, but not the whole document. Minutes were ticking by, and panic ensued. I was screwed. Or was I?

I remembered what Sal had said about Automator and fired it up. I clicked on “workflow” to create a workflow. I used the search and found an action to combine PDF pages and dragged it over. Clearly, it needed to know what PDF pages to use to combine, so I found an action to Get Specified Finder Items and dragged it on top to make that happen first. Then I found an action to open the result up so I could see it (open finder items, I think it was called), and dragged that action below Combine PDF Pages. That’s all I could think of needing to do, so I dragged the page-1-only document and page-2-on document into the first action, and hit run.

No more than 15 minutes after I first thought “what?!”→ just like magic → problem solved.

And I never learned the applications, just found the actions for what I wanted to do. I’ll be darned. Wow! Only on a Mac.

Walt Jump  2017-01-09 20:21
I use Automator to routinely download specific files from government databases, rename them, and move them to specific folders for use by my FileMaker databases. This saves me at least 1-2 hours a day. I also use a program by someone who accesses the PTO databases and provides one file for data obtained from multiple databases by the use of Apple script and Automator.
Douglas Mobley  An apple icon for a TidBITS Supporter 2017-01-09 21:08
The museum where I volunteer has a project to digitize old newspapers to aid the searching of them. The workflow, in simplistic terms, consists of photographing each page, processing the pages through Photoshop, and finally OCRing the images into newspaper issues. I had been using Photoshop actions to automate one step of the process but I was able to improve my productivity (measured as pages per hour completed) by more than 50% in the last year, using AppleScript to automate the workflow. Creation of folders and renaming of files is handled by Applescript control of Finder, and the processing of the page images through Photoshop is handled with AppleScript. I have used Automator to record and then understand what system events to include in my Applescript.
The ability to adjust things in order for them to suit your needs is a first requirement for computers. That is why I liked Apple from the 1980s, and that is why I stopped using them 20 years later. I still have an iPad, but only two, maybe three apps are actually very useful. The rest is either buggy, full with ads or just plane useless. And the user cannot do a thing about it, unless you jailbreak the thing. No updates for individual apps either, so we are stuck with a buggy iOS emailer. I have never lost so many emails - many days of work. Never been so disappointed with Apple - a total waste of money and, especially, of my time.
Jeff Porten  An apple icon for a Friend of TidBITS 2017-01-09 21:23
I think I've been writing AppleScripts for as long as the language has existed, and I've done a great deal of professional consulting doing one-off AppleScripts for my clients. I'd be lost without it. Most common use cases:

1) an AppleScript that cleans up and organizes my Desktop icons according to a custom grid, grouping them by color tag.

2) a randomizer selection when I have a group of files to read or movies to watch, picks "some item in the current folder".

3) any application missing a keystroke; i.e., I have dozens of one-line AppleScripts mapped to Quicksilver launch keys, so I can hit control-command-3 and label a Finder item yellow. (Then there's "comment and label yellow", which uses the yellow label to remind me that an item has a Finder comment.)
Rob Lewis  2017-01-09 23:16
I've used Macs since 1986, and our family has owned more than 15, along with assorted iPods and iPhones.

With Apple's recent neglect of the Mac lineup, AppleScript is pretty much my last remaining reason for staying loyal: if they take that away, there's little reason for me to stay on the reservation. And if my computer isn't a Mac, there's not much reason for my next phone to be an iPhone.

I have a fairly elaborate Home Automation system that is totally based on AppleScript and the XTension program. I love how it makes it easy to control and modify the behavior of the system. I've thought for years that an enhanced version of Automator could finally—finally!—make Home Automation accessible by mere mortals. In my opinion this is a gigantic missed opportunity for Apple.

I'm frankly very worried. There are so many signs that Apple has lost its soul chasing shiny iObjects.
Reply  2017-01-09 23:23
I have several Photos libraries on two different disks. I use an Automator app, with a bit of embedded AppleScript, to wrangle these libraries and let me select which one to open.

I use AppleScript to collect the data from my weather station and upload it to my web space. It's more reliable than the software that came with the station. I also use AppleScript to massage the weather data and import it to a Numbers spreadsheet.
I book several music venues in NYC. I book 100-200 acts per month. I rely heavily on automation, mostly with Keyboard Maestro, AppleScript, a bit of automator, TextExpander, and now also with Better Touch Tool to create app-specific touchbar buttons which trigger my applescripts. For those in doubt about the touchbar, I find it to be the best tool Apple has come out with in years. It's an amazing launcher for all my macros, and I have MANY. It's very powerful!

I have actions that add confirmed events to the calendar (BusyCal), send confirmation emails at specific dates/times (much of which is because of a powerful CLI utility called iCalBuddy), resize and reformat images automatically, update web calendars with band descriptions, pictures, links, etc...basically everything I do relies on Mac automation in one form or another. It literally turns hours of work into minutes and allows more music to happen in New York.

For me, automation is the best part of using a Mac!
Firitia  2017-01-10 01:21
Making netboot images requires automater (or system imaging utility which is just a shell around it). Over history the reability of it has been dubious. In 10.12.2 it is not working: the image source (sierra installer) cannot be found, even if you manually select it. In 10.12.1 it could be found, but the programm crashed anyway when trying to make the image. In 10.12.0 it was working. In 10.11.5 also. But it crashed in 10.11.4, 10.11.3, 10.11.2. Working in 10.11.1 and 10.11.0, but not 10.9.5, and so forth with the ups and downs into the times of the past. (Perhaps I mistake some version numbers, and with some versions it appeared to work on one but not on another computer, but the general idea remains.)
In addition to that, when you save a workflow for next time, that next time trying opening it either opens, or it does not at all, or it just crashes the program.
Jon Gotow  2017-01-10 00:37
Another developer chiming in here (I'm the author of Default Folder X, App Tamer, Jettison, HistoryHound, and a bunch of other stuff going back nearly 30 years). I use AppleScript in 3 primary ways:

1. For automating processes in my own business, including email parsing and message handling, and software development and testing.

2. For customer support, sending AppleScript applets to customers to help them fix problems or collect debugging information. Having someone run an AppleScript is far more reliable than trying to walk them through a set of steps.

3. Integrating my software with other developers' products. As an example, Default Folder X can detect when Path Finder, a popular Finder substitute, is running and ask it to perform various tasks instead of the Finder - which is exactly what Path Finder users want it to do. That wouldn't be possible (or would be much harder) without AppleScript.
DeeAnne Lau  2017-01-10 00:52
AppleScript is used in many of the programs that I use! I am really appalled. I use it to tailor my spam controller program, SpamSieve. I have a Repetitive Motion Injury plus a pinched nerve in my neck. Being able to use scripts to control the Finder or web actions have saved me from much pain. I use A Better Finder Rename applets and use Automator to make contextual services that can be triggered by keystrokes. I use Script Debugger, also, to help me understand the underlying aspects of scripts as I compile them and look for problems. I still rely on some of Dougs Applescripts for iTunes to do things in that (frustrating) program. I use Hazel to manage organization of my downloads and printer folders. I am retired, but I still use my Mac for financial management, communications, learning, and recreation. I rely a lot on AppleScript and Automator.
I use automator to do mass re-namings of files of photos I take for my son's football team.

I estimated once that using automator saves me about 45 minutes per week -- and reduces the error count to zero. Over 14 rounds of footy, that's nearly 11 hours of saved effort.

I know I could write a shell script to do the same thing, but Automator makes it easy for me to do (it's been over a decade since I last wrote a shell script!)
Felix Deimel  2017-01-10 04:21
I'm using parts of AppleScript to allow users of my professional remote management app, Royal TSX to automate keyboard input. This can range from having a password automatically entered to complex scripts that inject values from their associated connections or credentials.

The 10.12.2 update made this completely unreliable as uppercase characters or special characters appearing anywhere in the text can completely mess up the casing. Sometimes it's correct, but it's completely unpredictable and the frequency of errors is very high.

I've posted a radar and TSI about this but have yet to hear back from Apple. Here's a copy of the bug report:
One of my customers posted a +1 kind of radar for this here:
If anyone around here is affected by this as well I'd appreciate you "duplicating" my radar.

Coincidentally this bug started to appear just around the time Sal left. Make of that what you will...
Jean-Pierre SMITH  2017-01-10 06:03
I am not a coder. I know of the existence of Automator, Applescript, javascript, shell scripts and other bizarre animals but am not knowledgeable at writing them. But I find using them to be useful, fun and good for my marriage.

When I decided to also implement bootable clones for backup, I attached all clones to my wife's iMac and cloning is done from my MacBook Pro by authenticated traffic. This gives comfort and protection against ransomware affecting the MacBook Pro. I had disks mounted and making noise all day. My wife rightfully pointed to noise and energy bill: a perspective for divorce. But my MacBook Pro's clones are all sitting attached to the iMac, away from CCC and its easy to use automation tools. So I found on the internet "Mount" and "Eject" Applescripts, adapted them to my needs and, to trigger them, use a timer software (Task Till Dawn). Thus these drives are only mounted and doing noise one hour per day, around midnight. Marriage saved ! Thank you Applescript !
Andy Lietz  2017-01-10 08:07
We're a prepress and printing house and we use AppleScript all the time to automatically typeset and alter layouts in InDesign with data from Excel and FileMaker. AppleScript is the "glue" that binds it all together and one of the major reasons we're on the Mac. But as a programming language, AppleScript feels more and more old-fashioned now compared to, say, Python or Ruby.

I've met Sal at MacWorld and especially admire him for persuading Adobe to put good AppleScript support into InDesign. It's very sad to see him (and, it seems, Apple's support for automation) leave the company.
Bill Cheeseman  2017-01-10 08:26
I was a trial lawyer specializing in major environmental, financial and intellectual property litigation in a large law firm. I used AppleScript regularly to assemble relevant information from a variety of sources and organize it in complex, standardized spreadsheets for analysis, giving me a major advantage over my opponents.
Kimball Kramer  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2017-01-10 08:53
I am a keyboard person. I have over 200 services/workflows with keyboard shortcuts that open web sites, open applications, open documents that I use & reuse, open windows, an replace menubar clcks, and more. In a more limited way I also use both QuicKeys and iKey.
Charles Butcher  2017-01-10 09:26
For me, AppleScript as a way for non-programmers to tie applications together is probably the most important differentiator for MacOS. I've been loyal to Apple since my first Quadra 800, but if they abandon AppleScript I'll probably move to Windows or plain UNIX.

I run my freelance business on FileMaker Pro. AppleScript lets me create calendar events and to-dos straight from FileMaker, use BBEdit to clean up text from within another application, scan and OCR documents straight to DEVONthink, and a host of other small tasks that over the years must have saved me many hundreds of hours.

Sure, AppleScript can be a pain to write, and I've never got on with Automator. But the fact that so many apps support AppleScript, even if only in limited or idiosyncratic ways, is a real achievement. People say the Mac has been "dumbed down"; I've been OK with this so far, but losing AppleScript would be a big blow to professionals.
John Cooper  2017-01-10 09:47
I use Keyboard Maestro for window management, application launching, and text expansion, and A Better File Rename for mass renaming of files. I probably use automation a lot less than I could, but if Keyboard Maestro in particular were to go away (because the technology underlying in becomes unavailable), that might be the nail in the coffin for my use of the Mac, frankly.
Frank Remsen  2017-01-10 09:55
I have built a few amazing scripts to automate a lot of my InDesign work, which helps me separate my design files to PDF and then upload them via transmit to an FTP server. I have many more scripts that help me post content to my blog via Applescript automatically while I sleep. I have scripts that create tags for t-shirts I create and sell online. I have finder folder creators built from Applescript. Applescript is an indispensable technology and it needs to stay in the Mac OS. I have also created a petition to save Applescript at
I’ve been using AppleScript to automate all sort of things for a very long time.
I am in academia, so I’ve mostly developed scripts to automate or help with my teaching and with my record keeping.
Initially with Excel, I’ve created a script that would create an Excel spreadsheet formatted and with all the formulas to compute grades putting the precise dates I would teach excluding the holidays. And this would be created by me just copying the webpage where the roster of students for the course is.
Then, to take attendance I would use a script that would prompt me with the student name and I would just say “present” or “not here” to have the appropriate mark entered in the sheet (“P” or “A”). Macs had the ability to work with voice command I believe since v 7.5 (my earliest Mac OS version) via the SpeechRecognitionServer.
Same thing wold work for entering grades (my office mate decided on a Mac after witnessing me doing both the grades and attendance).
After that, I would create from each of my student a web page with his/hers record. I could have 1 or 1000 students and the pages would be created in a flash.
I would ftp ( using the Terminal app) to my site and name every file according to their location.
Then, to enter grades in the (brain dead) software the College uses to get student grade, AppleScript with Safari and Javascript and I automatically put grades attendance status and last class attended by having an AppleScript that reads the Excel or Number (the one I prefer) spreadsheet data.
At the college, at one point the Math Department was creating final exams for remedial level Math courses by getting questions from a 2000+ problems from a MS Word document.
This document was divided in various sections. These exams were made by randomly selecting one question from each section. It was a long and laborious process. I was asked to help and from then on we would get all (7 per semester) exams created in less than a minute. They would come already formatted ready for printing.
Using Smile, from Satimage ( an AppleScript based developer tool) I have created various QT movies that helped me with teaching, Pre-Calculus trigonometry, Calculus differentiation and integration, statistics distribution, etc.
I have created Mathematical libraries for all kinds of Mathematics operations, including Matrix algebra and Statistics Library to help me teach Statistics (much faster and easier to access than R or other scientific software).
Using AppleScript and a Mac Mini server Apple could easily disrupt the Education Market by simplifying everyone’s life. It would be cheaper and error free, very likely also more secure and private, without violating any law (FERPA). But hey, who wants to make a ton of money anyway?
I’ve created an (AppleScript) app that everyday puts the APOD ( as a background picture of my desktops (I’ve many).
I’ve created a script that would search and display the lyrics of the current iTunes song.
I use AppleScript to organize my folders, I use AppleScript to apply rules to my incoming Mail.
I use AppleScript to generate and save passwords.
I use AppleScript…
Yes, I would say that Mac automation is the single most important reason I use Macs (actually, now most of my extended family uses Mac because of me).
So, yes, Apple should support Mac Automation, because each automation user implies in many others that follows.
Steve Cunningham  2017-01-10 16:23
How did you manage to beat the 1000 character limit?
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2017-01-10 16:34
Good question! :-) The only way I know of to do it is to be a logged-in TidBITS member, at which point you get up to 5000 characters.
I am an avid home personal weather hobbyist. The weathercat Macintosh software I, and thousands of others, use has many Apple scripts built into it. Many of us write scripts to enhance automated transmission of weather data to 8 international weather gathering organizations, including the National weather service. Other Macintosh weather software also uses Apple scripts to enhance their products. Apple prides itself in being user customizable. Automator and scripts are the main reason this is possible.
Mark Bernstein  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2017-01-10 10:30
As a software designer, I rely every day on complex, scripted behaviors that coordinate multiple applications.
Removing Automation's manager is just another wrong step Apple is taking away from workplace computing and toward entertainment computing. What's with eliminating the software to enable an attached modem in sierra. Dailing the phone is the whole reason I got a Mac in the first place.
I use Automator, and especially folder actions, a lot. It enables me to add batch capabilities to Photos, and extend its usefulness now that it is surplanting Aperture.

I also use scripts to organize email.

But much of my automation is now done with IFTTT...I find it amazing (and so, so sad) that while that is growing Apple is apparently headed in the other direction. And it works particularly well with smart home stuff and Echo.
Sam Reichberg  2017-01-10 11:36
Sorry, but "hiring freeze" sounds like BS, coming from the most valuable company in the universe and affecting one of its most valuable members. It sounds more like the work of an efficiency expert accountant lurking in the background.
Axing automator does not seem just like an isolated incident. It probably reflects the strategic view that Apple computers (including smartphones and tablets) should serve a menu of isolated self-sufficient apps (except for Apple's own apps, of cour$e). Nothing can be further from truth. Switching among multiple apps does not just requires a bunch of extra clicks. Cumulatively it is debilitating and interferes with even the desire to use the appliances. The approach should be just the opposite: make multi-app automation easy and use will skyrocket.
Gavin Eadie  2017-01-10 12:25
Wow! A lot of responses, maybe mine's already in there but .. I use AppleScripts for various Finder conveniences.

One I rely on daily creates a alias, on the Desktop, to a new folder created in Dropbox every midnight. The folder is named for the date and each day I drop any new material I want to keep into that "today" folder. The script is kicked off by launchd at midnight (+1 minute) and every time I log in.

It's not a big deal but I suspect I wouldn't have the personal rigor to do this manually every day. Having set this up fourteen years ago (Dropbox added more recently), I rely on its convenience and the historical record it provides.
Aaron Priven  2017-01-10 13:30
Without automation, we couldn't do all kinds of the work we do at AC Transit creating bus stop signs and schedules.

Having said that, I would love to stop using Applescript and use either Adobe's Javascript implementation, where we're just scripting Adobe apps, or Apple's Javascript for Applications, where we're also scripting other apps. Applescript, the language (as opposed to AppleEvents and the other underlying technologies), is really hard to work with.
I used to use Applescript plus Extra Script to control the mouse by voice. I could single-, double-, and right-click without touching the mouse. Helpful when your arms ache!
Steve Cunningham  2017-01-10 16:25
I think it is a fool's errand to address any comments to current Apple Management. From their actions alone, Occam's Razor suggests that they are phasing out the Mac and OS X no matter what they say. The writing is on the wall. That being said, Applescript is one of the main reasons I own a Mac. I have written hundreds of scripts to make my life easier. Two I would pick to highlight are a Software Marketing and Tracking System and a Dead Man Monitoring System.

The Software Marketing and Tracking System uses Applescript, Filemaker, and Mail to automatically track software trials, purchases, channels of distribution, etc. Incoming emails are automatically processed to log purchases, issue serial numbers, create a customer database, and track trial installations. The whole system is driven by email arrivals and requires no manual intervention. This has saved man-years of manual effort.

The Dead Man Monitoring system is described in the next post
Steve Cunningham  2017-01-10 16:15
(Continued from previous post)

The Dead Man Monitoring system is for a paralyzed patient who cannot communicate. It guarantees that help will be summoned if someone doesn't enter the patient's room every two hours. Since I am the sole caregiver, if anything were to happen to me the patient would die of dehydration before anyone found her.

The system uses a motion sensitive camera to track entrances and exits from the patient's room. When detected, the camera places a message in a folder which triggers the Monitoring script to log it and reset the Dead Man Counter. The Monitoring Script also runs automatically every two hours and, if there has been no activity, initiates a series of alarms and notifications, first locally and then to a list of external responders. A schedule for which hours are monitored during the day can be set and changed as well as the list of responders. Everything is done with Applescript. The system runs on a UPS protected Mac Mini and uses Launch Agents to monitor itself for failures.
joecab  2017-01-10 22:05
The New York Times used to have this old, creaky Quark XPress plug-in to typeset their crossword grids from some company overseas that went out of business and left them high and dry. People at the NYT knew I was a Mac and puzzle guy so they consulted with me and I said I could come up with a replacement rather quickly using AppleScript. Now the scripts are used to typeset all their print puzzles, upload PDFs to FTP servers for proofreading, and export various electronic versions for online solving. I never could have done it without AppleScript (and the terrific Script Debugger) so, many thanks, Sal!
Colin Bay  2017-01-11 00:50
I have a mailing list digest I get nearly every day. When it comes in, I use an applescript (launched with a hotkey via Spark) to process the text to remove gremlins, replace annoying URLdefender URLs with real ones, serialize the file name, and save it in a consistent folder.

I could do this by hand in a couple of minutes, but would I every single day? Nope. I love Applescript.
Nicholas Orr  2017-01-11 04:22
I use AppleScript and Automator to package up an app I sell, which itself includes UI automation via AppleScript. All of the copying of files and putting things in the right places couldn't work without all the long history of automation amongst multiple apps as well as the OS.
Jim Neumann  2017-01-11 08:36
I have Applescripted professionally for 15+ years. From simple tasks, to chaining scripts together in workflows to run entire departments, it has proven its worth again and again.
Our apps, DEVONthink Pro (Office) and DEVONagent Pro also have a robust Applescript dictionary that allows our clients to extend and enhance their own experience. We are BIG fans of automation at DEVONtechnologies!
Greg C  2017-01-11 09:42
I have done a ton of automated stuff over the years. My favourite, but not that impressive, was converting 1400+ files from Excel into an online web help. Half a day of scripting and about an hour of runtime and the whole thing was finished.

That's kind of the point. If you can't automate tasks, then it ceases to be a computer. I have no great love of Applescript, but I do think Apple Events was a truly great innovation.

My hope is that Swift will provide a way to work directly with Apple Events, without resorting to horrid workarounds. The sooner the better.
Nick Morris  2017-01-11 10:42
This would be a great loss.

Although I am not a huge fan of AppleScript (I find the syntax annoying and at times impenetrable - I also don't like the lack of good debugging tools) I have nonetheless used it, and Automator, for years for a wide range of tasks.

At present, I use a combination of AppleScript and Automator to blog from my Mac and to produce eBooks. I have scripts and folder actions that:

• Post Evernote notes to my Wordpress blog (yes, I could use, but they have been somewhat unreliable of late) - this requires some PHP in the AppleScript
• Pass Evernote notes to Scrivner for eBook production
• Pass images from an Evernote note back to Evernote as individual notes for posting to Instagram
• Resize images for blog posts
• Resize images for posting to Twitter

One of the most fun scripts I had (and I found this on the Internet and adapted) automated Keynote to send out a tweet when a slide was shown. The tweet contained the text in the speaker notes for the slide. This script caused a lot of confusion as the audience couldn't work out how I was presenting and tweeting at the same time!
Rob Lewis  2017-01-11 12:42
I don't think Apple management is considering the "Reverse Halo Effect" that Brent Simmons wrote about:

The idea is that with Apple discontinuing or failing to update so many products (like Airport Wi-Fi routers and external displays), a lot of people who once automatically bought Apple's solutions because they could be depended upon to "just work" are forced to look elsewhere. And if you're looking at other monitors, why not other computers? Why not other phones? The walls around Apple's painstakingly constructed (and very profitable) garden are crumbling, and it won't end well. The likely demise of AppleScript and Automator are, well, another break in the wall.
Carlos  2017-01-11 13:57
I've saved hundreds of hours every year by using AppleScript every day via apps that rely on it of Keyboard Mastro, Automator, Hazel and Default Folder X.
I'm a photographer and one of my favorite workflows that I have created involves launching an application, called PostHaste, every time I insert a SD with fresh new photos, in my mac, this creates automatically a folder on the server that is renamed with the contents of the clipboard, previously copied from the latest event in my calendar. After this, a new Finder window is prompted to the foreground revealing the newly created folder, next to it Image Capturehas been launched allowing me to drag and drop the new photos into the new folder window. My photos then are automatically renamed by Hazel.
Patricia Pfitsch  2017-01-11 16:17
My husband and I run a small transcription business. Our clients are production companies who send us raw film footage they’ve taken for documentaries. We create a written transcript of the film by transcribing what they hear and see—then we we send the transcript to the client. Our clients are usually under a tight deadline so it’s crucial that we can create the transcript fast—often we need to transcribe hours of film and get the transcripts to the client within a twelve-hour period. That kind of speed depends on using AppleScript to create shortcuts for names and other words and phrases that are repeated continually in the dialogue. (You’d be amazed at how many times people say ‘you know’ in conversation.) We also use AppleScript to start and stop the film while we’re transcribing. AppleScript is the key to our success and without it we’d be out of business!
Brian Christmas  2017-01-12 04:46
I have a 9 years in-the-making vary large App called Mail Manager that takes all incoming artwork, for any art work App, and prints a sheet to monitor factory progress, and 2 barcodes and 2 plain text fields to each image, then prints each piece of artwork at 100% accuracy. It also triple saves (for redundancy purposes), each file before and after printing. These images are used to make metal or plastic printing dies, including the Seal of the President of the United States.

All running on a top-of-the-line iMac, and Xcode ASObjC.
Emmanuel Levy  2017-01-12 05:10
We at have developed a Web Server environment where XML + Applescript somehow are used instead of the widely used mySQL + PHP. Main advantage is, XML is both the database language and the web page language. Thanks to that environment, we are able to develop enhancements and new features way faster and more freely than if we used the usual mySQL - PHP framework.
A specific — yet, very simple — cgi sends the http requests to our AppleScript hub (Smile), which in turn sends the hard stuff to some osax (mainly, XMLLib.osax). A herd of Smile apps handle up to 100 requests a second (approximate — I did not measure recently).
Our DIY web site system works wonderfully for 50,000+ sites maintained by 100,000+ admins.
William Adams  2017-01-12 10:14
I have written scripts which Olav Martin Kvern declared to be impossible. These scripts have enabled me to do creative and production work at a speed which makes it possible for my company to win bids and remain profitable. If the Mac OS doesn't have Applescript, then we will be forced to use instead other tools which have the level of control needed to afford the sort of automation which we need to be competitive.
Rob Lewis  2017-01-12 11:39
When the very popular contact manager Now Contact was discontinued some years ago, I was able to create an AppleScript to export its contact files to Apple's Address Book (now called Contacts). It is a commercial product that does a much better job than any other solution, and I still get requests for it.

And when I switched from my previous note manager to Evernote, I wrote an AppleScript that transferred my old notes, nicely categorized.

I've used AppleScript with OmniGraffle to print custom serialized and bar-coded labels, and with Excel to calculate and print specialized scales for liquid measurement.
Mark Leslie  2017-01-12 11:51
I work for a global sports apparel brand, and we could not match the speed of the marketplace without Applescript and MacOS automation technologies.

Many years ago when we first implemented large automated workflows, we absorbed two successive years of +20% increases in product SKUs without the need to scale up existing production art team staffing. Not only that, but the very significant decreases in user errors (typos, component placement, file naming) reduced previously typical rework while freeing proofing efforts to be more focused on essential product details.

In all aspects of our business - product creation, preparation of manufacturing visual spec documents, color management, merchandising materials / catalogs, product photography - Applescript and deep cross application connections drive our capabilities. Data from corporate data stores are piped to drive workflows and assign metadata attributes to assets. We use hot folders on servers to drive MacOS purpose built “appliances” running as asset creation engines. Assets created in this way are then transferred to other servers for delivery to another art team.

With everything we have in place, and all the successes we have achieved, we still regularly discover new opportunities for automation. I can’t foresee any end to how we can harness the deep reach and power of Applescript, Apple Events, and scriptable applications.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2017-01-12 12:04
Just ran across this great automation hack, where Khoi Vinh gets his Google Home device to play Spotify music on his Mac mini home-theater system.
Laine  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2017-01-12 12:07
I got tired of notifications of software agreements when mounting disk images, so I wrote a script to remove them.
Chip Patterson  2017-01-12 12:24
We use AppleScript in our business every day. We have several scripts to make daily tasks more efficient, and this has led to 25% of our company using MacBooks instead of Dells. I have to say that if support for AppleScript were to become weak, we might well lose the fight to increase Mac use in our business. It's crucial to the ease-of-use and utility arguments.
Ray Robertson  2017-01-12 13:54
Thanks for doing this, Adam. Please give us at least another week to finish responding.

I'm slammed with AppleScript development work at the moment. I've only begun the process of alerting some clients, and will post my own thoughts once they've had a chance to contribute (a couple have already).
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2017-01-12 14:24
No problem — keep the stories coming!
Jim Royal  2017-01-12 19:54
I've used AppleScript for a large number of diverse tasks:

- Automating Photoshop and QuickTime Player to generate color lookup tables for video clips.

- Migrating web-based documentation by post-processing auto-generated HTML in BBEdit.

- Syntax check on PHP files.

- Renumbering iTunes tracks.

- Inserting generated HTML from Safari into BBEdit.

- Downloading real-time weather for flight simulator from NOAA server.

And there are probably others I've forgotten. Applescript is indispensable.
Simon Bowler  2017-01-12 23:07
I used AppleScript to automate a range of tasks associated with a Medical Practice using Filemaker. AppleScript is almost unique in the way variables and data from a number of programs / sources can be parsed and inserted into for example Filemaker
Carlos  2017-01-12 23:35
My most used Automation function is text-to-audio. Just about all applications work with this via "Services". I use this because I have a hard time reading because of my dyslexia. Having the computer read me the text while I follow along helps out SO MUCH! It's also so easy to setup that I've created multiple text-to-audio versions of different accents because WHY NOT! A thick Russian accent can be quite funny and make the reading better than it was originally!

- Example of the text-to-audio Russian accent: . Also about other stuff I do with Automator.

- Automator workflow to create text-to-audio:

- The Services option by right-clicking on highlighted text:
David Ohman  2017-01-14 11:12
I introduced AppleScript into our production workflows in the early 2000's. Currently there are few, if any, pieces of our content that are not created, processed, or touched in some way without the automation we've developed with AppleScript. Next time you read a comic from Andrews McMeel Syndication (formerly Universal Press Syndicate/UniversalUclick) or United Features Syndicate it is there in part because of AppleScript.
David Ohman

Vice President of Digital Product Development Andrews McMeel Universal
RJay Hansen  2017-01-14 12:08
I manage a design/prepress department for a direct mail/printshop/web design company. Soon after I started I began seeing opportunities to improve the department's efficiency by writing AppleScripts to automate many tasks that are done repeatedly in the department. From simple scripts to automatically create job folder structures (use many times a day by every department member) to more complex ones that automate processes and interactions with Excel, Acrobat and InDesign. I've even written a basic imposition program for InDesign with AppleScript. These scripts save untold man-hours over the course of a year. It will be a sad day if this ability is ever removed from MacOS.
Joern Dyck  2017-01-14 16:43
I once had the task to open and save 5.000 videos on a remote Xserve. Because back then, QuickTime files would only play in a browser after the file was loaded completely. (Today everybody expects that the video starts to play after the first few Bytes have been loaded.) Apple provided a way to prepare old videos for this: just open the file and save it again with the QuickTime Player, unaltered.

But nobody can manually open 5.000 files in the QuickTime Player and save them again.

With AppleScript, you just iterate through all files in the folder, open them one by one with QuickTime Player and save them again. It's a few lines of code, and the poor Xserve would be busy for some nights. (Because AppleScript is happy to work at night).

I have solved many problems like this with AppleScript. Rarely gets AppleScript the credit that it deserves.
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