What’s new with automation in Yosemite

Apple introduced a great variety of new automation features and updates in Yosemite. I've written up a quick summary below with links to more detailed information.

AppleScript

AppleScript users have been requesting a built-in progress indicator for years. In Yosemite, Apple delivers. New AppleScript properties allow script developers to show and control a traditional progress bar in applets. In Script Editor, progress is shown at the bottom of the main window. For the Scripts menu, an "Automation" menu appears to show progress.

CombinedProgressFrom left to right, how the new progress indicator displays in applets, in Script Editor and the Automation menu (run from the Scripts menu)

For more information, see this short video from the new features page at macosxautomation.com.

AppleScript users have been able to access the power of Objective-C since the introduction of AppleScriptObjC five years ago. Originally, script developers had to learn to use Xcode to take advantage of this feature. In Mavericks, AppleScriptObjC can be used directly within regular scripts, but only through the use of separate script library files saved in a special format.

In Yosemite, separate libraries are no longer needed: AppleScriptObjC can be used directly in any script. Shane Stanley has released an update to his book, Everyday AppleScriptObjC, which covers how this works. As usual, Shane's book contains a lot of powerful sample scripts with detailed explanations. In the introduction he writes, "…in Yosemite, AppleScriptObjC is available everywhere, all the time. Truly Everyday AppleScriptObjC…Welcome to the modern world of AppleScript."

For power users of AppleScript, streamlined AppleScriptObjC access is the most significant new feature. But Yosemite also brings some improvements to AppleScript handler parameters, do shell script, as well as bug fixes. See the full release notes for more information.

Automator

Otto is getting some love in Yosemite as well. Workflows can now be saved as Dictation Commands, a new feature in Yosemite which appears to be an improvement over Speakable Items. A post by Christopher Breen at MacWorld covers how to turn on Dictation Commands and then start a workflow with a spoken command. (Red Sweater developer Daniel Jalkut discovered that Dictation Commands can also launch scripts.)

Sal Soghoian has released a set of new Automator Actions for Keynote. These are not included with Yosemite, but are available as a free download. The set includes many cool actions here, including Present Slideshow with Narration and Add Charts with Numbers Table Data.

CombinedNewActions2Two of the new Keynote Actions available for download.

Automator in Yosemite has a new Run JavaScript action allowing Automator users to call custom code written in JavaScript for Automation (see below for more info). This new action works in the same way as the existing Run AppleScript action.

New scripting support in iWork applications

Pages, Numbers and Keynote now all provide scriptable access to placeholder text objects, including a tag property for specifying a custom script tag to make it easier to change objects via scripting. Pages has added the ability to assign a tag for placeholder text in the user interface with the "Script Tag" field shown below.

PagesScriptTag3
The new Script Tag field in Pages makes it possible to assign custom tags to placeholder text for easy access via script.

To demonstrate these enhancements and provide some cool mail-merge/database publishing capabilities, see the new Pages Data Merge application. A demo movie provides more information.

As an automation developer, I'm always looking for better scripting support in Apple's own applications. Even with all this news, I find the new Script Tag field in Pages one of the most encouraging automation improvements in Yosemite. It is great when Apple adds any new objects to a scripting dictionary, but to add a user interface element specifically for working with scripting automation is huge. Let's hope we see even more of this in the future.

I've examined the scripting dictionaries of all three iWork applications, and beyond placeholder text and cosmetic improvements I see one new feature: Numbers has scripting support for the new Transpose feature.

JavaScript for Automation

There is now a new choice in writing scripts: JavaScript for Automation (JXA). Every application which supports Apple Events can also be scripted via JXA, which works via the scripting bridge.

Past attempts by Apple and third-party developers to bring Apple event support to sophisticated scripting languages such as Ruby and Python have not seen widespread adoption. But JXA has two big advantages over previous efforts: 1) JavaScript itself is hugely popular, with a great number of users developing for web browsers and other purposes. 2) Apple has integrated support for JXA directly into Script Editor.

You can use Script Editor to view dictionaries detailing an application's commands and objects. Like AppleScript, JXA can access Objective-C and Cocoa frameworks. The latter feature has led to some excitement at the prospect of using JavaScript in Script Editor to develop native Mac OS X applications with rich interface elements. While the idea of avoiding Xcode to develop applications certainly has appeal, I'm interested to follow what kind of success JXA developers have with writing Mac OS X apps without Xcode.

AppleScript users have had access to this feature for years, but other than the good work by Doug Adams at Doug's AppleScripts for Itunes, I have yet to see many AppleScript users adding interfaces this way. Instead, Automated Workflows and other developers have used AppleScriptObjC in Xcode to develop full-featured applications, perhaps in part due to the availability of Shane Stanley's excellent book on the subject, AppleScript Objective C Explored. I would advise JXA users wanting to develop apps to read this book. It has an excellent summary of the most important Xcode features, and much of the information about when classes (coming via the scripting bridge) need to be coerced is applicable to JXA as well.

Resources for learning more about JXA include a new video from Sal, Apple's release notes, and the JavaScript for Automation presentation at WWDC 2014.

Extensions in Yosemite

Automation in the AppleScript world has often been about scripting multiple applications to interact with each other. For years I've been using AppleScript to build scripts which grab data from apps like Word, Excel or FileMaker, generate sophisticated charts and other graphics in Illustrator, use InDesign to combine it all together in a sophisticated page layout, create PDFs and then distribute the final product via e-mail, FTP or other means. AppleScript can make this into a one step-process.

The ability of Mac applications to interact with each other faced some new challenges with recent OS X sandboxing restrictions. In Yosemite, we are seeing a new effort by Apple to standardize how applications can interact: Extensions. Alex Guyot with MacStories has an excellent article covering Extensions in Yosemite. (He also discusses JXA.)

Currently, Extensions allow for some UI-centered interactivity between applications. Automation developers may find immediate use for FinderSync Extensions and possibly other types of Extensions. Will Extensions in the future allow new ways to automate complex workflows? I hope so, but much remains to be seen about how developers will employ Extensions, and if Apple will open up the technology to scripting.

The future of automation

With so many improvements I've only see one errant assumption made by a few people: With JXA, Apple is finally replacing AppleScript, some say. Wrong.

There are many reasons why AppleScript will continue in the future, but a single point is enough to make it clear. Note all of the improvements to AppleScript in Yosemite described above. Why bother if AppleScript was being replaced? Case closed.

Perhaps the more interesting thing to watch is whether JXA will see widespread adoption. I can see many users developing solutions with JXA in Script Editor. And a few going on to develop full-fledged applications in Xcode. But AppleScript developers have many great tools for development that go beyond using a basic editor while avoiding the challenges of Xcode: Late Night Software's Script Debugger, Satimage's Smile, and ASObjC Explorer are all useful development environments with different features. I'm interested to see what third-party editing and development tools will emerge for JXA, but often a strong user base must emerge first.

Regardless, with new features available in Yosemite, the future of Mac OS X automation is strong, and AppleScript will remain a big part of that.

-Ray Robertson
ray@automatedworkflows.com

Stepping in…

Apple has made a great decision in hiring Ben Waldie.

As another consultant in the automation world, I've long admired Ben’s work at Automated Workflows. He is far more than just an expert developer. He has been a great advocate for AppleScript, Automator, and other Mac-based automation technologies. Through presentations, articles, books and app store products, Ben has shown what great things can be done with Mac automation.

I also happen to know that Ben and his wife Jen are just really nice people. I’m sure great things await the Waldie family in California. In accepting the new job, I know Ben had concerns about making sure his clients and products would continue to be supported.

That's where I step in. My main goal is to provide the same great custom-developed solutions and prompt service to existing clients. I also look forward to continuing to maintain and enhance the company's excellent products, as well as taking a larger role in serving as an advocate for automation technologies.

Filling Ben’s shoes would be a difficult task for anybody. Fortunately, we share the same commitment to quality service and much of the same technical expertise. I've been working with AppleScript and other Mac automation technologies for over twenty years, and have also worked with other languages and applications. I’ve even done some iOS programming, creating an early iPad app which was recognized as New & Noteworthy by Apple.

If any tasks are outside my area of expertise, I have a network of skilled developers and consultants. A long-time associate is Shane Stanley, who many recognize as an expert in this field. Shane wrote the book on AppleScript Objective-C programming, and more recently has branched into Objective-C development with his own application, ASObjC Explorer.

As a trainer, I organized and co-taught AppleScript Pro Sessions, a five-day in-depth training event. I've led seminars for Adobe and Apple, including a very successful European tour focused on automating InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator with AppleScript. I enjoy teaching and sharing videos with helpful tips and techniques.

Like Ben, I've been able to create some very sophisticated custom solutions for a wide range of purposes, helping individuals, small businesses, and Fortune 500 companies. I look forward to continuing this role through Automated Workflows. I've told students and clients that automation is often only limited by the imagination. I have years of experience in coming up with creative solutions to some difficult workflows.

Contact me today about saving time and money through automation, and let’s get to work!

-Ray Robertson
ray@automatedworkflows.com

 

 

Adobe Illustrator Automator Actions Released in the Mac App Store

ai_pack_icon110x110I'm pleased to announce that my AI Automator Action Pack, which includes 20 actions for interacting with Adobe Illustrator in Mac OS X, has been released in the Mac App Store. It can be found here.

Information about my other Automator action packs can be found here.

-Ben

Adobe Photoshop Automator Actions Released in the Mac App Store

PSDPack_110x110I'm pleased to announce that my PS Automator Action Pack, which includes 35 actions for interacting with Adobe Photoshop in Mac OS X, has been released in the Mac App Store. It can be found here.

Information about my other Automator action packs can be found here.

-Ben

Macworld Article > 5 Automator workflows everyone should have

automator-icon_580-100036496-largeI meet a lot of people with Automator anxiety: they think using OS X’s built-in workflow-maker is a lot more complex than it really is. The truth is that Automator workflows are (a) pretty simple to assemble and (b) great for simple but repetitive tasks that you do all the time anyway.

To show you what I mean here are five workflows that I think pretty much every Mac user should have. They do things we all need to do: Wrap text in quotation marks, for example, or count the number of words in a selection of text. There might be other ways of doing the same things, but Automator is built into your Mac and you can implement them yourself for free in a couple of minutes.

[Read more on Macworld.com...]

TUAW Post > Triggering AppleScripts from Calendar Alerts in Mountain Lion

calendar_scriptAppleScript's are great tools for increasing your daily productivity. They're even better when they can be set to run unattended, at night, on weekends, or during downtime.  In Lion, iCal included a handy option for attaching a script to a calendar event.  Just create an event, add a Run Script alarm, point it to the desired script and you're good to go.  Things changed in Mountain Lion, though.  Presumably for security reasons, the Run Script alarm option was removed from the Calendar app.  Despite its removal, however, there are still some ways you can trigger scripts from Calendar events.

[Read more on TUAW...]

TUAW Post > More Tips for Troubleshooting Automator Workflows

troubleshoot_automatorIn my last post, I shared some useful tips for troubleshooting Automator workflow problems. I didn't cover everything, though. There are lots of other ways you can troubleshoot your workflow. Here are some more tips to help.

[Read more on TUAW...]

TUAW Post > Tips for Troubleshooting Automator Workflows

troubleshoot_automatorAutomator's great for streamlining time consuming and repetitive tasks on your Mac. It's easy. Just launch it, find a few actions, and string them together to form a workflow. Then, run your workflow anytime you want to perform that series of tasks again.

What happens if your workflow doesn't run as you expect, though? Finding and solving problems in Automator is often easier said than done. Suddenly, the simple tool that's supposed to make your life easier has become a real pain in the neck. This week's post covers some things you can do to troubleshoot a finicky Automator workflow, track down the problem, and hopefully solve it, so you can get back to work.

[Read more on TUAW...]

TUAW Post > Where Automator Actions and Workflows Live

Automator's great for streamlining some of the repetitive things you do each day on your Mac. With Automator, you can create your own custom plugins for the Services menu, Folder Action workflows that run when files are placed into a folder, add-ons for the print window's PDF menu, and more. In most cases, when you save a workflow, Automator puts it where it needs to go automatically. But, where do your workflows actually live? If you want to remove or edit one, you'll need to know. In this post, we'll take a look at the various places workflows are found on your Mac.

[Read more on TUAW...]

FileMaker Pro Automator Actions Released in the Mac App Store

I'm pleased to announce that my FMP Automator Action Pack, which includes 18 actions for interacting with FileMaker Pro in OS X Lion and Mountain Lion, has been released in the Mac App Store. It can be found here.

Information about my other Lion and Mountain Lion action packs can be found here.

-Ben