Review: AutoMate

AutoMate Professional 5.5
Network Automation
Los Angeles, California
(213) 738-1700

As you might guess from its name, AutoMate is a far-reaching automation utility for your computer. It runs in the background, monitoring for various triggers, and then carries out tasks that can consist of multiple steps in response. One thing that distinguishes AutoMate is the sheer number of triggers and actions that it supports. On the trigger side, you can launch a task on a schedule, when something happens with system performance, when a window opens or closes, when a service changes state, when a file is added or deleted, or when a user logs on - just to name a few possibilities. Tasks are even richer. Run applications, enter keystrokes, modify the registry, manipulate services and windows, zip and unzip files, send HTTP posts, deal with FTP servers, move the mouse, text to speech...the list has hundreds of choices, including full looping and conditional logic.

Despite its flexibility, AutoMate is easy to get started with. There's a wizard to help you build your tasks and assign them to triggers, and whenever possible the data entry interface is prepopulated for you. For example, if you're choosing a window title, it shows all the windows currently open on the system; to pick a program, you interact with a private version of the Start menu.

So why would a developer need this? I can think of two main areas where such a utility can come in handy. The first is in watching over things that you're too busy to keep an eye on. For example, if your network connectivity goes down, AutoMate can actually tell you that, through your speakers, and take corrective action. Or suppose you're running a continuous integration server. Rather than monitoring a Web page for results, how about having AutoMate keep an eye on it and pop up a message when things go sour?

The second place where developers can use this is to automate repetitive processes. Got a build process but no build automation tool? Use this general purpose tool instead. I could also see keystroke-triggered tasks as being useful in some test scenarios. And of course, you probably routinely start half a dozen applications every time you log on; why not let AutoMate start them for you? The main bar to automating this sort of thing for developers is usually lack of time; AutoMate makes the process simple enough that you might just find the time.

If you're interested in learning more, you can download a 15 day free trial from the company's Web site. You'll also find other resources there, including an active user community and quite a few example tasks to help fire your imagination.

About the Author

Mike Gunderloy has been developing software for a quarter-century now, and writing about it for nearly as long. He walked away from a .NET development career in 2006 and has been a happy Rails user ever since. Mike blogs at A Fresh Cup.

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