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Automator for Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Working with Actions

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To do anything truly useful, you need to add actions to your workflow, and you need to configure those actions to do what you want. The techniques you learn in this chapter will apply to working with virtually any action within an Automator workflow.

By now you should be comfortable creating basic workflows and getting around the main portions of Automator's interface. There's still a lot more of Automator to learn, though. To do anything truly useful, you need to add actions to your workflow, and you need to configure those actions to do what you want. This chapter helps you get to this next level by showing you how to:

  • Find an action that's right for your workflow
  • Add actions to your workflow and understand warning messages that may be displayed
  • Configure an action's settings and options so the action will do what you want
  • Adjust your workflow by renaming, deleting, and disabling actions
  • Use action input and output values properly so that your actions work together when you run the workflow

The techniques you learn in this chapter will apply to working with virtually any action within an Automator workflow.

Locating Actions to Do What You Want

Automator comes with hundreds of actions, and that list grows every time you add new Automator-ready applications or third-party actions to your machine. With so many actions, locating the one to do what you want is no small feat. However, there are some practical ways to find them.

Picking the right action for a task

In Chapter 3, "Workflow Basics" (see "Planning a Workflow"), you learned that it's a good idea to think through the job of a workflow before creating it. Break it down into individual tasks, and then translate those tasks to actions.

But how do you pick the right action for a task? Think about the task. What does it do? For example, does it create a folder on the desktop? What is its result? The newly created folder? What application or process does it target? The Finder? Use the words from these questions and answers as keywords, and type them into Automator's search field to help find an appropriate action.

To locate an action by application name, action name, or keyword:

  1. In your workflow window, click Library in the left column of the Library list to display a list of all available actions (Figure 4.1).
    Figure 4.1

    Figure 4.1 Searching for calendar actions using a keyword.

  2. In the search field at the top of the Library list, type a search term, such as an application name, action name, or a keyword. For example, to find an action that creates a new calendar in iCal, you might enter iCal or calendar.

    Automator lists any actions that match the specified criteria (Figure 4.1).

  3. Scan through the list of found actions and look for one that does what you need. Then drag it into your workflow.

To locate all actions within a category:

  1. Ensure that Automator's Library list is arranged by category. If it's not, choose View > Arrange Actions by > Category (Figure 4.2).
    Figure 4.2

    Figure 4.2 Configuring Automator's Library list to arrange actions by category.

  2. Click the desired category name within the Library list.

    Automator displays the actions within that specific category (Figure 4.3).

    Figure 4.3

    Figure 4.3 Selecting a category of actions.

    Now you can scan through the list of actions within the category for the desired action or actions. When you find what you're looking for, drag it into your workflow.

To locate all actions for a given application:

  1. You may find it easier to locate actions by application rather than by category. To do this, first ensure that the Library list is arranged by application. If it's not, choose View > Arrange Actions by > Application (Figure 4.4).
    Figure 4.4

    Figure 4.4 Configuring Automator's Library list to arrange actions by application.

  2. Click the appropriate application name within the Library list to display the actions that pertain to that specific application (Figure 4.5). For example, to see all iCal-related actions, click iCal.
    Figure 4.5

    Figure 4.5 Selecting an application to display all actions for that application.

  3. Scan through the list of application actions for one that does what you need, and then insert it into your workflow.
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