Despite the hype for the feature as Apple prepared to release Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger, automation software, Automator, seems slow to ignite most Mac user's fires, according to a recent Macworld Online reader poll.

Apple describes Automator as: "Your personal automation assistant".

The software offers a host of pre-defined Actions which can be collected together in order to accomplish repetitive tasks when using applications which support the feature.

According to Apple the software: "Happily performs repetitive tasks for you, so you don't turn into a mindless drone".

I, Robot

We asked Macworld Online readers how much use they made of the feature. A total of 1,165 Macworld Online readers voted in the poll.

An astonishing 92 per cent of voters don't use Automator - just 92 readers (8 per cent) called it: "A godsend, helping me automate mundane tasks".

With the largest segment of 549 voters (47 per cent) describing Automator as, "a feature I may use in the future", the remaining non-users broke down as follows:

Too technical for me: 130 voters, 11 per cent;
Too basic for me: 68 voters, 6 per cent;
Not yet upgraded to Tiger: 175 voters, 15 per cent;
Not interested: 151 voters, 13 per cent.

Many users have "tinkered" with the software, but many have not yet found a useful way to apply it.

Others describe the feature as "languishing unused".

Stupid, stupid robot

Some have problems making it all just work.

"I tried to use it a few times, but it seems very slow and some scripts, which work fine when started within Automator don't work when I save them as applications or plug-ins, which is quite frustrating," a reader revealed.

"I had three or four things I was keen to get Automator to do for me," another explained, "So imagine my abject disappointment when I installed Mac OS X 10.4 and tried putting those workflows together," they said.

Frustrated by the software's inability to perform these actions (which the reader neglected to describe), they added: "I'm absolutely sure Automator will improve over time, I just wish Apple could have shipped a version that did what I wanted straight from the get go".

Automatic for the people

It's not all bad news for Apple's Automator development team.

Some readers discussed how they had used the software.

One told Macworld: "I support several family member's Macs using Apple Remote Desktop. When they have photographs as the desktop picture, screen updates are very slow. I've used Automator to create two applications: one to set the desktop to a neutral background, the other to set it back to the picture of their choice".

Many users have built Actions dedicated to the batch renaming of image files.

"I tried to write a script that would copy photos from my iPhoto library, scale them down, convert to JPEG if needed and transfer them to my Palm," one user wrote.

"The development process swung wildly between ultra-slick and too clunky, it resulted in a completely incomprehensible error message, which I suppose meant 'I don't do TIFF', and won't transfer to the Palm," they explained, adding, "but you know, other than that it was OK."

Saying that they do find Automator "quite useful", another reader explained: "I have created a Rename plug-in for Finder that works well for sequential file-renaming. It does rename the Desktop, but I just have to rename it again. This is very useful when working with multiple images."

This reader has also built a number of additional Automator Actions, including: 'Set as Desktop', 'Send to Bluetooth Device' and 'Set Spotlight Comments'. "The last one is very useful when using Spotlight to find similar files with assigned keywords," they said.

Apple's undiscovered gem

Professional users are more likely to turn to Apple's powerful AppleScript software in order to develop and deploy complex workflows.

One such user admitted to having used it "a few times" to explore it, but added, "I still prefer to open up Script Editor and make my own custom AppleScripts ".

Despite the conflicting success stories and frustrations, the existence of 1,165 votes hints at the interest with which the Mac community regard the feature.

"Automator is a little gem of an application, but I don't think the full extent of how useful it is will emerge for a while yet," one reader observed.