Automator isn't AppleScript. Honestly... it isn't. They're totally separate things. No, there isn't even a little bit of a shared anything between the two. They're similar in concept, sure, but when you're using Automator, you're using Automator's infrastructure. When you're using AppleScript, you're using AppleScript's infrastructure.

What? No! Automator isn't intended to replace AppleScript! Who told you that?! Tiger's only just out and yet I've already had this exact conversation about Automator a dozen times or more. Every time it's like talking to a fussy five year old and having to convince them that nope, there aren't any Brussels sprouts in a hot dog. And nor did I sneak any in there while he wasn't looking.

It's an important point, but dangit, just try convincing somebody of that, too. Tiger ships with two wonderful technologies that can reduce nearly any procedure, process or function from an entire afternoon's worth of tedious steps to one or two mouse clicks. Automator is Tiger-only, and lets you assemble a linear process by dragging together a sequence of pre-fabricated actions. AppleScript is more like a conventional programming language, where you have to a lot of doing this. (Oh, sorry: at this point, I'm miming the act of typing in lots and lots of lines of code. Again, I've had this discussion so many times that I go by rote.)

The mistake lots of people make, however, is in thinking that Automator is some sort of visual front-end to AppleScript, or worse, that the arrival of fresh-faced new Automator through the front door means that reliable, familiar, and old AppleScript will be unceremoniously tossed out the back.

Here are some things you should definitely keep in mind:

1) Relying on Automator will cause your cursing skills to atrophy at a disturbing rate. There's a reason why Automator can't be called a programming language and it's this: it allows the user to create a functioning solution quickly, easily, and almost 100 per cent successfully. You can't say that about AppleScript. It's almost miraculous for its comprehensibility, true. When I teach introductory lessons on AppleScript, I muse aloud about what the proper code might be if I wanted to do something to every item in the Documents folder whose kind is "movie", astonishing one and all when I type that exact phrase into the Script Editor and out pops a list of all of the movies in Documents.

But as avid an AppleScripter as I am and no matter how many years I've been using it, I've never had so many Basil Fawlty-esque moments with any software on any computer as I have when writing AppleScript. ("Right! Now, I'm going to count to three, and if you don't populate this list item with the album names of every track in iTunes' currently-selected playlist, I'm going to give you a damned good thrashing!"). However...

2) Automator is as dumb as a box of hair; as sharp as a bowling ball. It's so dumb that it couldn't successfully pour water out of a boot, even if instructions were printed on the heel. Et cetera.

There are kinder ways for me to explain the difference between Automator's capabilities and AppleScript's. I like to say that AppleScript is intelligent, while Automator is merely obedient. In Automator, you create a workflow by dragging actions into a vertical stack, and that's a perfect metaphor: it can only handle processes that are strictly linear. Do this, then this, then this, and then, finally, this. Introduce the concept of "If this happens, do that; otherwise, you should do this other thing instead" and Automator meets you with a blank, uncomprehending stare.

Let's see. I've used two analogies so far, and I think I'll go ahead and try for the hat trick: AppleScript and Automator are like Batman and Robin. I mean, there's a reason why the Gotham City Police Department doesn't have a Robin-signal up on the roof. Robin's a good kid but when the Joker's stolen a copy of the top-secret security arrangements for the Prime Minister's visit to the city, you want the Big Guy.

And no wonder, because:
3) Automator is a resource that helps out users. AppleScript is a resource that helps out the OS in general.

Which isn't to say that users can't – or shouldn't – exploit AppleScript in their daily struggle to finish their work and get the hell out of their offices sometime before they need a shave and a shower. But Apple has continued to expand AppleScript's role in the OS. XCode (Apple's official Mac software-development environment) puts AppleScript on the exact same footing as C, Java, or any other "real" programming language; you can write whole, mature apps with it, include AppleScript in a larger group project, or even use it to write new actions to enhance and extend Automator.

It is a natural flaw of the Humans to want to have things both ways and there's no real need to choose between AppleScript and Automator. When I need to automate a simple process, I haul out Automator. When I want to do something more ambitious, I use Script Editor or XCode. I'm pleased that I went with Batman and Robin earlier, because now it gives me a chance to also make the point that the two work very well together: when I need to automate a process that requires Automator to stop and think a little, I use a built-in Automator action that activates a snippet of AppleScript.

The one thing about Automator that gets me a little worried is the fact that it's so simple. When I teach people about AppleScript, I have to start off with explanations about why it's so (please pardon a sugar-enriched but nonetheless sincere adjective) megahypersuperginchy. With Automator, I spend 30 seconds dragging Actions. Presto: a Workflow that automatically downloads the Astronomy Picture of the Day every morning and sets it as my Desktop picture.

Will users still appreciate how much AppleScript can do for them, or will scripting sink under the surface, becoming a feature that only Jedi-level Power Users ever touch?

You're all excited about Automator right now, and you oughtta be. But in all the excitement, we shouldn't be pushing AppleScript off to the side. The Mac OS wins my renewed respect with every new edition, and always for the same reason: the point of the update is to deliver more power to the user. Automator is a huge step. If one of its side effects is to drive AppleScript into partial obscurity, we're taking a big step forward and a half-step back.

Which admittedly is another consistent flaw of the Humans, but there's no reason why we shouldn't keep hoping to improve. MW