Tiger Brings Scripting to the Common Man: Automator

by Derrick Story

In his WWDC keynote, Steve Jobs gave us a taste (not to mention two install discs) of good things to come via Tiger, the next generation of Mac OS X due for release in 2005. As a digital media guy, you'd think that I'd be writing this piece on Core Image or possibly the H.264 codec -- don't worry, I will. But not today.

The technology that will have even a bigger impact on my life is Automator, a scripting powerhouse with a beautiful GUI. To be honest, it's what I always wanted AppleScript to be, and mollifies my disappointment with AppleScript Studio. Automator gives me the ability to create workflows on the fly across applications and OS functions. It allows me to think about the task I want to complete and not how to write the script to do it.

I've used and praised AppleScript countless times over the years. Most of my QuickTime production is accomplished via AppleScript. But there are days when I'd like to adjust this or change that, and I end up doing it manually just because I don't want to fool around getting a script to work correctly. Next thing you know, I had lost the inspiration of what I was trying to do in the first place.

Now with Automator, if I think of a task I want to accomplish, chances are I can build the script (and save it for the future) within a matter of minutes. That's right minutes.

So even though the effects I bring to my pictures and movies with Core Image and Core Video will make my eyes dance with happiness, the fact that I can create those productions in less time (I'm thinking far less time) with Automator is the true digital media gift from Tiger.


2004-06-28 14:51:50
Happy days
At last, it's /bin/sh for the GUI generation! Whee! :)
2004-06-28 18:40:30
Please Comment on Apple's latest Ripoff

Automator aside, I would really like to hear what you, as the leader of a contest for small OS X developers, think of Apple's latest ripoff of a brilliant third-party app, this time Konfabulator/Dashboard.

Whether this idea has been around for a long time, as some people said of the app-switcher Apple cloned in Panther, is completely irrelevant IMHO.

It's such a disappointment, from the company that whines and crows and goes to court (the WIMP suit against Redmond comes to mind) when *their* legally indefensible, yet undeniable innovations are cloned. They unveiled this *at their developers' conference*.

How hard would it be just to say "Arlo Rose showed us the way"? I wouldn't dream of sinking my time into a cool new app for the platform, the way they treat the little guy.


2004-06-28 22:31:30
Please Comment on Apple's latest Ripoff
The "instant appear/instant vanish" feature is a substantive change. Konfabulator is NOT the same. There are similarities, sure, but the ease of access matters. To me, that alone adds a bunch to its usability.

I have tried Konfabulator a couple of times, and eventually got tired of the desktop clutter. This solves that problem.

Since you do bring up the Apple lawsuit, IIRC, Apple lost it. The courts were clear - you CANNOT copyright a look and feel. Well, now we get the benefits of that decision. Apple does NOT need Arlo's permission, or anyone else's, to do a lookalike.

As far as sinking your time into an app, well, that is a risk you take. If you have a great idea that is fairly easy to duplicate, then you have to expect people to do so as they see fit. This is as true on the Other Platform as on the Mac, and in a different way, in the open source world. Thus, you had best have numerous strings to your bow, and be prepared to be agile.


2004-06-29 07:49:53
RE: Konfabulator/Dashboard
Like many others, I was shocked during the keynote to see Steve moving widgets about on the big screen. I've been reading some of the commentary this morning, and yes, it feels similar to the discussion we all had around Watson and Sherlock.

But to tell you the truth, I haven't really digested the situation yet. And I need to. As the editor of Mac DevCenter who will later this week announce the next round of the Mac OS X Innovators Contest, I need to be able to layout the potential benefits and risks of developing for this platform.

I do know this, however. I feel strongly that we must continue to innovate. In the grander picture, moving this platform forward benefits the entire community. I feel badly for Arlo Rose because apparently he was not compensated by Apple for his innovations. And I'm going to learn more about this.

In the meantime, though, with both the upcoming Innovators Contest this week and Mac OS X Conference in the fall, I'm going to bring together as many independent developers as I can and keep moving toward a new era of innovation on this platform.

2004-06-29 08:34:03
Please Comment on Apple's latest Ripoff
In legal terms, I'm certain that Arlo Rose has zero recourse. Even if a corporation with $4 billion in the bank couldn't buy better access to justice in this country, the letter of the law doesn't favor his position.

That is not the point, in my opinion. A platform is only as healthy as the community that grows around it. Even if all you care about is the health of Apple Computer Corp. (not how I feel, mind you, my enthusiasm for the Mac notwithstanding), they are sending the wrong message with moves like this.

It's conventional wisdom in open source (for example) that people write code (and innovate, and fix bugs, etc) for free, when there's a healthy meritocracy through which to garner the respect of your peers. Instead of cultivating a meritocracy, Apple is acting like a teacher stealing a student's ideas, and doing it at a conference that is supposed to attract, keep, and support more students.

As I said above, if I were a developer trying to decide whether to bring a cool new app to the platform, I would be worried that after years of work, Apple was going to cut me off at the knees.

All Apple has to do (I think) is bring Arlo Rose to WWDC, put him on stage with Steve Jobs, and say: "here's a small developer we think had a really good idea (or a really good implementation of an old idea, or whatever -- you can't deny Apple cloned his product). So we're copying him, and giving him a new G5." Done.

Now, if I'm a developer, I will burn the midnight oil coming up with something cool. See what I mean?

2004-06-29 09:57:32
Please Comment on Apple's latest Ripoff
Now, IANAL, but it seems to me that copyright law would say that if you state that you're using someone else's IP or ideas, you *owe* them compensation, and you owe them whatever compensation they deem fit. If you do not provide such compensation, then you cannot "use" their idea - i.e. unless they can reach an agreement with Arlo, they can never implement the idea themselves. So Steve Jobs' pat on the back at WWDC would likely not be the end of things. They'd then have to work out a formal contract, and if the contract fell through - well, no Dashboard.

That's a risk for a company, a big one for a company like Apple that wants to put innovative new features in its OS. It gives Arlo a big "bargaining chip" to work out a deal. So I don't think the situation is as simple as people would like to think it is.

And IMHO, true innovators don't build innovative products so that they can get a pat on the back by Steve Jobs and a new G5. They do it because they love doing it. The sad thing is, of course, that Arlo is now forced to re-think his strategy about doing what he loves (and getting paid for it) because now Apple's encroaching on his territory. But that's part of life. Apple and Microsoft may not like what Linux has done (mostly copying their interface ideas), but it's important that this kind of thing be allowed.

My guess is that Arlo will either make K better than Apple's version, port it to Windows/Linux, or maybe even go back to the drawing board and come up with some even cooler idea. I agree it would be nice if the world didn't do things this way, but in a world of contracts and lawyers and IP rights, I think we need to realize that things aren't always as simple as we'd like them to be. Apple has to look out for Apple's best interests first, and Arlo must do the same.

2004-07-01 13:23:13
Automator and Core Image
Automator is a killer app. Now anyone, including an assistant can create solid, automated workflows that used to cost huge amounts of coder time and money.

Let this sink in for a moment. You can now easily use a computer for what it has always been good at doing --automating repetitive tasks.

As a photographer (among other things), I take about 1,000 pictures at any particular event. In my setup, I have decided that I would shoot at ISO 100 for B&W, and ISO 200 for colour photographs. I also square all of my photographs, but depending on the camera I use, the squaring process is different (some cameras use the 3:2 aspect ratio of film, whereas some cameras use 4:3 of traditional computer monitors). AppleScript was always a pain, and shell scripts while very robust and faster than AS, were a bit cryptic.

I now have the power to do a Spotlight search to find all images on disk(s), rename them and sort them based on camera model and ISO (from the searched EXIF data), and with Core Image, I can perform my squaring operation, de-saturation, stroking, copying, scaling and archiving using Automator.... Then I'll call the Automator script via Applescript and attach it as a folder action.

Now we have "zero click" workflows. Brilliant!

Automator, Core Image, and all the rest are pointing to Apple's readiness to wedge themselves into the Workstation/Enterprise market. I briefly wrote about this in my journal here:

Apple's Tiger: Gunning for the Enterprise

2004-12-23 09:37:21
Please Comment on Apple's latest Ripoff

Now, IANAL, but it seems to me that copyright law would say that if you state that you're using someone else's IP or ideas, you *owe* them compensation, and you owe them whatever compensation they deem fit. If you do not provide such compensation, then you cannot "use" their idea

This is not true. You cannot copyright ideas. Copyright law only gives protection over the work, not the idea. That means Apple is free to copy Arlo's idea (if that is in fact what they did), but they cannot copy his work.

You may be confusing copyright law with patent law, which is a bit stronger than copyrights. Patents give protection over the method for implementing an idea, but they still cannot prevent someone from copying the idea itself.

For example, I might have an idea for a new type of flying car. I develop a method for powering that car, and I create a fancy new decal that I place on the side of the fuselage. Patents can prevent my method from being copied, and copyright can prevent my decal from being copied. But nothing can prevent someone from looking at my flying car and saying, "Hey, that's a neat idea. I'm going to develop my own method for powering a flying car, and I'm going to create my own decal to put on it." There's no law that says this person owes any compensation to the person who had the original idea of a flying car.