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Sal Soghoian

Photo by Phuc Pham for Wired


Sal Soghoian’s Automation Legacy

Not many Apple employees openly rebuked Steve Jobs and had a job at the end of the day, and even fewer dared do that when Jobs was actively looking to cut projects, as was the case when he first returned to Apple. But that’s exactly what Sal Soghoian did when Jobs told a gathering of Apple employees that their products were no better than Microsoft’s. He told Jobs that no, he was wrong, Soghoian’s technology was better than anything Microsoft had.

For almost 20 years, Soghoian led automation at Apple, most notably by creating Automator, until his position was unceremoniously eliminated by Apple in late 2016 (see “Tell Us Your Mac Automation Stories,” 7 January 2017). Wired has now profiled Soghoian, sharing the above Jobs story, among others. The profile also discusses his legacy, including his indirect influence on developers Greg Pierce and Marco Arment. They created the x-callback-url standard that led to the Workflow app, which Apple purchased and has turned into iOS 12’s Siri Shortcuts feature (see“iOS 12 to Focus on Performance and Refinement,” 4 June 2018). Soghoian now develops automation technology for The Omni Group and organizes the CMD-D conference.

Despite the respect Jobs had for Soghoian, he regularly called him “Saul,” even when inviting him on stage at WWDC to introduce Automator. “He never quite got my name right,” Soghoian said.

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Comments About Sal Soghoian’s Automation Legacy

Notable Replies

  1. Regarding “Saul” vs. “Sal”: Jobs had idiosyncratic ways of pronouncing lots of things. His pronunciation of “Jaguar” and “automatic” come immediately to mind. :wink:

  2. “Ann was getting a little chummy. When people get too chummy with me, I like to call them by the wrong name to let them know I don’t really care.” - Ron Swanson, Parks and Recreation

  3. Wired’s article was a mess from title onwards: unfocused, uncritical, and confusing as hell. Makes it sound like Sal Soghoian invented Mac Automation (he didn’t; that was William Cook and Warren Harris), or single-handedly saved it following Jobs’ return (I’d love to hear what Cal Simone and the print industry thinks of that assessment!:joy:).

    And then it drifts onto the subject of iOS automation and the utter abomination that is x-callback-url (makes even SOAP look a good idea by comparison), no doubt in preparation for WWDC’s announcement of Siri Shortcuts (neé Workflow, reciprocating Automator), which I’m guessing will achieve about as much market penetration as its predecessors did: a niche of nerds and no further.

    As for Sal himself, a wonderful early evangelist for Mac Automation he may have been, but as its Product Manager for 20 years, his only legacy is finishing what idiot 90s Apple management started: running it into the ground. The man didn’t get sacked for no reason: he got sacked because repeatedly failed to deliver competent products that won new markets for his employer.

    Sal’s crowning failure was 2014’s JavaScript for Automation disaster. Apple handed Sal’s team an already massively popular language with MILLIONS of existing users to productize for them. JXA by rights should’ve been Apple’s killer response to Node.js: perfect timing AND two knockout USPs: ubiquitous desktop automation and complete Cocoa integration.

    Now Node.js is a phenomenal runaway success, with over 8 million users and 100% year-on-year growth.

    And Apple’s JavaScript for Automation? Sal sunk it without trace.

    Honestly, anyone who’d like to write a REAL article about Mac Automation (which it absolutely deserves), please start here:

    Dr Cook is an associate professor of Computer Science at University of Texas now, and I think Warren Harris works at Google. Talk to them if you can, about what motivated them to create it in the first place and lessons since learned.

    And then talk to the independent actors like me and Matt Neuburg, Cal (if you can find him), Mark Aldritt, and even Dave Winer (I know!), who’ve also worked this problem over the last three decades, to can fill in all the untold history that Sal never seems to mention.

    Even today, with Mac Automation all but dead at Apple and iOS Automation sadly failing to learn from lessons of the past, there is still incredible unrealized potential to empower end-users, hiding quietly beneath all that failure and dross. Perhaps if its tale were better told, it might just yet have its fighting chance to deliver on it all.

  4. Honestly, anyone who’d like to write a REAL article about Mac Automation (which it absolutely deserves), please start here:

    I’m glad the article included references to HyperCard; I miss it to this day. I’m probably one of the least technical people on this list, and even I could do some rather sophisticated scripting with it.


  5. I have been involved with print media longer than I care to admit I’m old, but I don’t recall hearing the names mentioned above before. My day jobs have been in strategy/ad sales/creative development, and I have always been dependent on production people. I did a quick search on Cal Simone, and IMHO, if he really is the person who managed to keep AppleScript alive for as it is claimed he did:

    “Way back when Steve Jobs returned to Apple and was axing technologies left and right, Cal Simone went to visit him and – to hear Cal tell the story – single handidly convinced Steve to retain AppleScript. I believe Cal’s pitch was mainly that the publishing industry was an established Mac customer enclave, large enough to matter, and that it was one industry that was utterly dependent on AppleScript.”

    Thought it is literally correct that Jobs was “axing technologies left and right” at the time, the big reasons were the whole Open Doc mess that was repeatedly delayed because it could never jell and nothing ever got out of development, alone with the clone disaster. It’s been proven that Jobs’ decision to kill everything related to Open Doc and clones was brilliant and correct, but I never heard anything about him wanting to kill AppleScript at this juncture.

    At this time, Adobe was not so secretly beginning to put the kabosh on everything Apple. They started releasing Windows versions of Photoshop about a year before Mac versions, and the cycles were spreading longer each year. Then they announced they would be releasing After Effects for Windows but never for Macs. Adobe said they would stop Mac development of Dreamweaver. Technically, at this time Apple still had a huge advantage in color, typography and vector image management, especially for print, and AppleScript was woven in to just about every print production workflow, so Adobe couldn’t ax everything Mac just yet. But the clock was running out, and killing AppleScript would have been another reason for Adobe to kill everything Mac, which I’m sure Jobs had this top of mind.

    Although I doubt Cal Simone was singlehandedly responsible for saving AppleScript from Jobspierre’s guillotine, his overall contribution to Mac OS is laudatory.


  6. Oh no, Siri shortcuts are going to be huge because the OS is going to be noticing what you do and offering up suggestions to automate it. The video on the developer site (and in the WWDC app) on Siri Shortcuts is pretty interesting (you can skip the code parts) and publicly available.

    Yeah, there’s going to be more automation actions in the first 3 months of iOS than in the previous 30 years of Macs.

  7. I agree 100%. Automation has been a HUGE competitive advantage for Alexa and Google Assistant, which have been wildly popular with consumer and business users. The ability to initiate actions without having to launch individual apps and for Siri to learn on its own, gives Apple a shot at a target they haven’t come near to hitting. And it’s also an incentive for developers to build more apps and people to download more of them.

    And don’t just think about Macs and iOS; I bet Shortcuts will help also sell HomePods and as yet to be born IOT devices, robo cars, etc.

  8. I agree iOS is the spot where most people will find it useful, but I for one find it indispensable on my Mac. My company, my teaching, my research all of my many roles and identities all are operated by a complex set of automation tools. To the point that my Mac is so deep in a combination of Automator workflows-Copied Applescripts-Hazel rules-Keyboard Maestro macros that it has become my chief fear if my Mac goes down.

    All my data is multiply backed up but beyond a clone restore how would I recreate all this.

    I agree Marilyn on Hypercard. For me in many ways the disappointment of the last few decades is the failure for authoring to progress, interactive multimedia abandoned to the web, scripting left to the geeks.

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