Scripting life

Both Brent Simmons and Michael Tsai have linked to these two provocatively titled posts by Graham Lee: “The death of scripting,” and “The paradox of scripting.” I think Lee’s pessimism is temporally misplaced—at least in the Apple world. While I’d never say that scripting Apple devices is in an ideal state, the situation certainly looks better than it did two or three years ago.

Remember those days? In 2012, Apple was paying so little attention to scripting that Gabe Weatherhead was predicting the death of all scripting on the Mac above the level of Automator, and he was only slightly more gloomy than many of us. The following year, Apple released the long-awaited revamped version of iWork with essentially no support for AppleScript and broke all kinds of workflows that its best users had been maintaining for years. Sandboxing threatened to kill off certain types of automation, which eventually lead to a retreat from the Mac App Store. And of course iOS was a closed box with only a few airholes, like x-callback-url and Pythonista, drilled into it.

I’m not given to a Panglossian world view, but we scripters and automators seem to have survived those dark days and have better tools now than ever before. Not only has AppleScript survived, it now has a companion language with a more conventional syntax. And although most of what I read about Swift has to do with app development, there’s a chance that it’ll become a useful scripting language, too. Apps like Keyboard Maestro and Hazel have continued to add features. Yes, sandboxing is still a problem, but most of us scripting types have stopped buying anything other than the simplest of utilities from the App Store.

Things are still more locked down on the iOS side, but we now have app extensions to ease some of the pain and Workflow for more complicated interapp trickery. And both Editorial and (especially) Drafts have stepped up their game when it comes to text-based automation.

Maybe things have gotten much worse on other platforms and that’s what inspired Lee’s complaints. I have to say, though, that this makes no sense to me:

[T]here’s never been a worse time for someone who doesn’t care about computers to use a computer to automate a task.

People who don’t care about computers (and that was italicized in the original) have never cared much about automating tasks, and I doubt they ever will. Those who do care will find a way.