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  • The Leopard Report: Another Pitch for Intelligence

    May 11th, 2007

    You know, it’s a sure thing that today’s personal computers are supremely powerful contraptions, with capabilities and processing power that would have filled a large room not too many years ago. The Mac OS surely looks better, and it is now a proven, industrial-strength operating system.

    However, I wonder whether Apple is truly taking sufficient advantage of the seamless melding of a super computer and its Unix-based operating system. Sure, it can render special effects beautifully, and sales of new Macs are increasing at a pretty good clip.

    So what is my pitch for intelligence all about anyway?

    Well, consider all the manual labor you have to endure during the course of your daily sessions with your Mac. How many keystrokes and mouse clicks do you produce over that time? And how much of those activities would you conserve if the Mac OS were more capable of anticipating your needs.

    It’s not that Apple doesn’t provide tools with which to automate some of your work. AppleScript, for example, is a mainstay of sophisticated content creators who use it create convenient shortcuts for lots and lots of repetitive work. Only thing is that AppleScript isn’t all that easy to master, although you can do some basic stuff without studying an awful lot.

    There is also a feature in Tiger that doesn’t get much attention. It’s known as Automator, which is designed to simplify the process of constructing routines for a number of popular applications. That’s one way to use AppleScript without actually knowing anything about writing scripts.

    In both cases, third party software companies have been eager to join the party. Even Microsoft provides some AppleScript routines as part of its applications, and, for the time being at least, the next version of Office for the Mac will ditch Visual Basic in favor of AppleScript.

    However, such features are only apt to be used by a small number of Mac users. Most of you have probably never explored the possibilities of AppleScript or launched the Automator application even once, and I really don’t think you should have to.

    You see, Apple ought to build in an option for Mac OS X where you can just go about your work and let the state-of-the-art operating system, which runs on a supercomputer with “Intel Inside,” figure out where and when you’re engaging in too much make-work, and where your Mac can take over the chores for you.

    Indeed, I suppose you could call this a form of “Invisible AppleScript,” because you will never have to understand a lick of scripting, nor assemble a set of building blocks in Automator.

    Instead, Mac OS X will compile the scripts for you, based on the actions you take over the course of a day. Do you have a regular work routine, in which you visit a number of Web sites, access your email and then balance your checkbook in Quicken? Now imagine if all you had to do was type a single keyboard shortcut to activate these applications, with proper and clearly labeled pauses for you to engage in the appropriate activities before it went on to the next task.

    Sure, you can pretty much do all this now with a combination of AppleScript and a browser, such as OmniWeb, which incorporates a workspace feature that lets you open all your favorite online watering holes upon launching the application.

    And let’s not forget the venerable QuicKeys, which can also assist you in automating your repetitive tasks.

    But all that still requires a fair amount of work on your part to set things up. Wouldn’t it be great to let your Mac figure this out for you and then, after observing your actions, put up a message asking if you want to store your work routine? This is a feature that would allow Apple to set the piece anew in operating systems, and really bring the world of PCs into the 21st century.

    Now it may very well be that an automatic automation tool is already under construction by Apple, and that it might indeed be one of those “top secret” features that Apple is going to unleash upon an unsuspecting world when developers get a beta version of Leopard in June at the WWDC.

    Rest assured, I do not have any secret information about what’s going on behind closed doors at One Infinite Loop. But the idea surely makes a whole lot of sense, and I am quite certain that Apple can bring the appropriate level of pizzazz to such a fabulous feature.

    Now I can’t say the idea is entirely original. Years ago, there was, in fact, a Mac program that was designed to anticipate your actions. It didn’t go very far, however, and quickly disappeared. But that all happened during Apple’s dark days. Besides, today’s Macs are far more powerful, far more capable of showing an innovative level of fuzzy logic.

    What do you think?



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    10 Responses to “The Leopard Report: Another Pitch for Intelligence”

    1. bob b says:

      I am very suspicious about software that figures out what you want to do and then tries to do it for you. In fact, this is one of the things I hate most about MS Office. I have turned off every automated help feature I can.

    2. I am very suspicious about software that figures out what you want to do and then tries to do it for you. In fact, this is one of the things I hate most about MS Office. I have turned off every automated help feature I can.

      It is clear to me that if Apple offered such a feature, there would also be an option to turn it off.

      Peace,
      Gene

    3. My experience with computers, and other devices, that try to anticipate my needs is that they are usually wrong and at best there is a feature for turning them off. There is a reason that dwimmy is pejorative. It comes from those Do What I Mean systems that drove everyone nuts back in the 1970s.

      Having a car that assumes you are driving to the office on a weekday is a recipe for disaster when you are trying to drive to the store. I’d much rather have more transparency of operation, and more control. Navigation, now that I have perhaps a million files is tedious. This goes for the Finder and the open/save dialogs. Why isn’t there a history panel of files opened and saved? Why isn’t there a history panel for folders? Why aren’t there contextual favorites? Why are the Spotlight search results so clunky? It is extremely awkward to filter the typical massive results. Why is it so hard to attach a comment to a file? Shouldn’t that be part of the open/save dialog?

      I did an experiment. I set up a background task to accumulate my recently used items. I typically look at files in dozens of folders each day and hundreds of folders in a week. I browse hundreds of URLs a day. Existing tools don’t even give a glimpse into my computer life.

    4. My experience with computers, and other devices, that try to anticipate my needs is that they are usually wrong and at best there is a feature for turning them off. There is a reason that dwimmy is pejorative. It comes from those Do What I Mean systems that drove everyone nuts back in the 1970s.

      Having a car that assumes you are driving to the office on a weekday is a recipe for disaster when you are trying to drive to the store. I’d much rather have more transparency of operation, and more control. Navigation, now that I have perhaps a million files is tedious. This goes for the Finder and the open/save dialogs. Why isn’t there a history panel of files opened and saved? Why isn’t there a history panel for folders? Why aren’t there contextual favorites? Why are the Spotlight search results so clunky? It is extremely awkward to filter the typical massive results. Why is it so hard to attach a comment to a file? Shouldn’t that be part of the open/save dialog?

      I did an experiment. I set up a background task to accumulate my recently used items. I typically look at files in dozens of folders each day and hundreds of folders in a week. I browse hundreds of URLs a day. Existing tools don’t even give a glimpse into my computer life.

      Seth, you raise lots and lots of issues where the Mac OS can be smarter. For example, the Open/Save dialogs, where Default Folder X can handle recent stuff, but Apple hasn’t gotten around to it yet.

      Peace,
      Gene

    5. macsupremacist says:

      I agree with the first comment, I would hate software that tried to guess what I’m doing. Like when MS Word will change it’s formatting or word or whatever without my ok, I just find that irritating, one of the reasons why I don’t use it. Sure we use a lot of keystrokes now, but how many more would we use if we had to first UNDO what this guessing software did, and then REDO what we intended to do in the first place. My 2 cents.

    6. I agree with the first comment, I would hate software that tried to guess what I’m doing. Like when MS Word will change it’s formatting or word or whatever without my ok, I just find that irritating, one of the reasons why I don’t use it. Sure we use a lot of keystrokes now, but how many more would we use if we had to first UNDO what this guessing software did, and then REDO what we intended to do in the first place. My 2 cents.

      This automated “Watch Me” feature would be something you could either accept or reject or turn off. I realize that there are people who’d rather do it themselves.

      Peace,
      Gene

    7. Dana Sutton says:

      I very much agree with what bob b writes, using MS Office as an example (for inst., if you shift back and forth between English and some other language with MS spell check switched on, it’s obviously going to make you very unhappy). But I do remember the macro recorder that appeared in OS 6 or whatever it was that Gene mentions in passing and I suspect that if Apple were to bring that back it would be a lot handier and more intuitive for a lot of us than either Apple Script or Automator. And easier to use – the old macro recorder simply required a pull-down item from the menu bar.

    8. John Davis says:

      System 6 had a somewhat similar function. You could “record” your actions, rather like you can with script editor and make your own macros. Of course, System 6 didn’t do one tenth of what OSX does, but it was a useful function, simple to use and speeded up repetitive tasks enormously.

      Yours sincerely,

      John Davis

    9. System 6 had a somewhat similar function. You could “record” your actions, rather like you can with script editor and make your own macros. Of course, System 6 didn’t do one tenth of what OSX does, but it was a useful function, simple to use and speeded up repetitive tasks enormously.

      Yours sincerely,

      John Davis

      Macromaker was terribly buggy, alas. We used the QuicKeys “WatchMe” function instead in those days, but that required a little work too.

      Peace,
      Gene

    10. bud says:

      I think the problem is merely that automator and applescript are still too arcane, and stop short because not enough apps are written in Cocoa, allowing more functions to be automated. I can think of plenty of stuff that I COULD automate, it is just not that easy to do.

      The furthest I got, outside of some applescripting (and some Regex, perhaps even some Perl in BBEdit) was with QuickKeys, (back in the OS 9 days) that could in some instances, seem able to do the simple “Watch Me, and do this” aspect that Automator promises but doesn’t seem to deliver.

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