Problems with Automator's 'Watch Me Do' feature

One of Automator's promising features is the "Watch me do" capability to record user actions and play them back. Unfortunately, while this is a good idea, the implementation is very poor and many times just does not work.

Written by Topher Kessler

One of Automator's promising features is the "Watch me do" capability to record user actions and play them back. Unfortunately, while this is a good idea, the implementation is very poor and many times just does not work.

Apple discussion user "bear789" writes:

"I can drag and drop, I just can't seem to make Automator do it. This is what i did, turned on Automator, pressed record (watch me do) part. then selected a file from an open folder and moved it to the desktop. stopped recording, (put the file back) then ran it. Automator moved the cursor to the file, selected it but did not pick it up when it moved the cursor over to the desktop."

For some reason, when you have Automator record some input, it will be off for some or all of the recorded input upon playback. It also may not support certain actions such as dragging a file around. This is just the nature of this feature, so the best advice I can give is to avoid using it as much as possible. Many times people will try using it for moving specific files around, or for closing certain windows, and while this can be done with the "Watch Me Do" feature, it can probably be more reliably implemented with system commands.

Automator supports terminal commands and the execution of AppleScripts, and while closing a window or moving an item may seem simpler with the mouse pointer, doing this with a command is probably the best method. There are a variety of approaches to do this, but generally AppleScript will be more reliable for moving and resizing windows and shell scripts will be better for relocating objects. The specifics will depend on exactly what you are trying to do, but here are some resources for using scripts to do what people may be trying to accomplish with "Watch me Do".

AppleScript resources


Rearranging windows:

Shell script commands: mv, cp, rm, mkdir, rmdir

For information on these shell commands, open the terminal and enter "man mv", for example, and you will get a manual page on the specific command. These ones are useful for moving files, removing files, copying, and making and removing directories. These can be implemented into Automator workflows with the "Run Shell Script" action, and while they will take some research for novice users, they are far more reliable than having a Watch me Do cursor flying all over the screen.

If you are having problems implementing a terminal script or AppleScript, post your problem over at the CNET Mac OS X forums and we will do our best to help you out.

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Topher has been an avid Mac user for the past 10-15 years, and has been a contributing author to MacFixIt for just over a year now. One of his diehard passions has been troubleshooting Mac problems and making the best use of Macs and Apple hardware both for family and friends, as well as in the workplace. He and the newly formed MacFixIt team are hoping to bring enhanced and more personable content to our readers, and keep the MacFixIt community going here at CNET. If you have questions or comments for Topher or the other MacFixIt editors, feel free to contact us at http://www.macfixit.com/contact

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