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Automator: Rise of the Machine

You’ll find Automator inside the Applications folder. Launch it, and a brushed metal-style window appears, divided into two halves. On the left is a library of "building block" actions arranged by application. If you click on the iCal icon for example, you’ll see the Automator actions available for that program. On the right side is the workflow document area in which these actions are arranged and configured. To create an Automator workflow, all you need to do is drag one of the actions from the library to the document area, configure it, and then repeat for any additional actions until the workflow is completed. You don’t need to know any scripting at all because each action has only a limited number of options, most of which are self-explanatory. To delete an action from a workflow, click on the small x symbol at the top right of the action.

Let’s create a workflow that scales images to a certain size by using Preview. Begin by clicking on the Preview icon on the left to see its actions. Double-click on the Scale Images action. A warning appears, asking if you want to add an action that duplicates the file first, so the original is left at its initial size. Okay this by clicking on the Add button.

Two actions will now be present in the workflow side of the window. The first is concerned with where the duplicate image file will be placed. Leave it at its default setting, and the image will be placed on the Desktop. Alternatively, have the duplicate put in the Pictures folder or anywhere else you want it. The second action is the actual resizing of the image. You have the option here of either scaling by a fixed percentage or resizing to a certain size in pixels. For now, choose the To Size option and enter a value of 320. Now save the document by choosing Save As... from the File menu (or Shift+Command+S), and in the resulting save sheet choose "application" from the File Format pull-down menu and give your application a suitable name (such as Resize to 320 pixels).

You’ve now created a simple drag-and-drop program that scales images up or down to a maximum height and width dimension of 320 pixels. Drag one or more graphics onto the icon of the application, and lo and behold, the resized copies of those images will magically appear on the desktop. This is ideal for shrinking digital camera images down to a more reasonable size to embed in e-mails or add to web pages. Automator really is this simple!

Figure 6

Figure 6 Automator uses building block actions to create and configure workflows; no programming knowledge required!

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