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Introduction

Introduction

Welcome to the first Automator book in the history of the Bible series. Currently, as I sit here and write this introduction, there isn't another book out on the market that covers both Automator and AppleScript for the Snow Leopard (Mac OS X 10.6) release of Apple's vaunted operating system.

One of the things that makes writing a book on automation so interesting is the time of its release. Currently, we're deep in the doldrums of what some historians and economists call the worst recession in living memory. Every night on the news, the headlines are all about housing and mortgage crises, mass layoffs, soaring federal deficits, car manufacturers in Chapter 11, and all kinds of other bad news.

It's easy to fall into despair. Millions of us are becoming entrepreneurs, small business owners, and freelancers. Most of them didn't have much of a choice — one day folks are gainfully employed, and suddenly there's a layoff. Established small businesses are also taking their lumps, having to find any way they can to compete. If they can find any way to cut corners, become more efficient, last a little bit longer, do more with less, and all those other clichés, then that's a good thing.

All of that was on my mind when I wrote this book. Yes, it's certainly important to get your hands dirty when it comes to topics like Automator and AppleScript, but all the how-to in the world is worthless without the why-to and should-you that provides the context.

It's never been easier to leverage the power of automation to solve all kinds of problems. The world isn't going to slow down any time soon; tomorrow you'll have more data to sift through then you did yesterday; in the next year of your life, you'll deal with more information than your ancestors did in their whole lives. In many ways, those who are able to cut through all the dross and get to the good stuff, the important stuff, will be those who get ahead.

Who the Book Is For

If you're drowning in boring, manual, repetitive, error-prone tasks, then this book is for you. This covers a whole bunch of territory, but it's easy to imagine you out there, cracking this book open:

  • You're the freelance photographer, having to perform many discreet operations (crop, resize, color synch) on thousands of images every week.

  • You're the newly hired, entry-level designer or illustrator at a big advertising agency who needs a way to stay ahead of the thousands of stock photographs you have access to for upcoming projects.

  • You're the freelance programmer, having to convert data from one format to another, over and over again.

  • You're the system administrator who needs to set up network-based processes such as mounting remote drives and transferring files to them at certain times.

  • You're the time-starved event planner who needs a better way to send out e-mails with attachments.

  • You're the small business owner who needs a way to manage all the emails, RSS feeds, and other bits of data that constantly flow in your direction.

Regardless of who you really are, it's likely that you find most aspects of your job boring and unfulfilling. It's no fun just sitting at your desk and mashing buttons in an unending cycle of boredom. That kind of environment breeds mistakes, frustration, and a certain dislike for the person who gave you the unhappy task to begin with.

This book, then, is about transforming your relationship with drudgery. It's about giving you some knowledge and some tools, followed by some practical exercises. The rest is up to you, but even if you only do a few things described in this Bible, automation will change the way you work and live.

How? Well, think about the next big task that awaits you. Instead of spending three or four days (or "just" hours) plowing through piles of undifferentiated photos, data files, or what have you, what if you could spend an hour creating an automated solution, followed by a five-minute run of that script or workflow?

Think about it. Even if your first run only does half of what you need to be done and you have to do the rest by hand, you're still way ahead of the game. Consider now what you could do with all the time you've freed up (not just now, but every time you have to perform this task)? Instead of being a drone, you could turn your attention to tasks that actually require intelligence, intuition, and judgment — all those things that humans are so good at.

How the Book Is Organized

This book is organized into four main parts.

In Part I, you'll find chapters that start you off right by letting you know in detail exactly what automation is, as well as what automation options are available with Snow Leopard. I'll walk you through the basics of Automator before I plunge into some more advanced topics. You'll learn how to create workflows, combine actions, and save your work.

Part II picks up with the basics of AppleScript. This Part has a few more chapters than Part I in order to give you more opportunity to learn about objects, dictionaries, variables, expressions, conditionals, loops, and subroutines. Also included are discussions of applets, droplets, handling user inputs, folder actions, AppleScript Studio, and of course, working directly with the AppleScript Editor.

Part III contains five chapters, each of which contains ten automation projects. All of the projects involve some work with Automator, and in many cases, those examples are padded with advanced discussions: how to do the same workflow in AppleScript, for example, or how to add more userfriendly enhancements to make the workflow more general.

The Appendixes contain Automator and AppleScript resources (so you can continue your learning), an AppleScript command reference, and a list of standard Automator actions in Snow Leopard.

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