“ OS: Windows / A freeware Basic scripting language designed for automating the Windows GUI and general scripting. „
For those old enough to remember dinosaurs and Windows 3.x you may well recall a utility called "macro recorder". Basically what this allowed you to do was automate repeated tasks you did in Windows by "recording" them and then playing it back again. So if for instance you always went into a certain directory to delete a certain file or always opened 3 applications at once you recorded a macro to do this. For whatever reason this inbuilt utility disappeared from future versions of Windows and a raft of utilities took its place. Hopefully this review isn't too technical to start with but does get a bit "techie" later on. If nothing else hopefully it will show what it's possible to do with this utility.
Perhaps to explain why I stumbled back on the world of Windows macros a quick look at a task I ended up with may be helpful. I had a task to upgrade some settings on over a hundred NetGear Routers that control the internet connections for a number of people. Yes over a hundred. This was going to involve ringing 100 people, having to tell them how to log into the router, tell them the admin username and password (which I didn't want to do anyway) and then tell them to check a certain box in a couple of settings. Or I was going to have to remote control each of these individually and do it myself. Either way each one would have been a 5 or 10 minute job to complete. What each task had in common however was the same username and password and the same settings to tick. This is just an example - I am sure you can think of loads of things you do in Windows that is repeated constantly. Let me give you one more example which can be done in other ways but could be done with macros. You need to install some software on 1000 machines. The installation is pretty standard - you start the EXE file, you click next on Welcome, you accept the default install location and click Finish. Again this is the same procedure on each machine. Or you play a shoot them up game in which the location of the baddies doesn't change. You are fed up of having to doing the same things to complete level 1- more 5 steps forward, shoot someone, couple of steps to the right, shoot 3 times - just to get to level 2 where you want to be. Again it's a repetitive task that doesn't change. As a final technical solution example you're an network administrator and you have 50 PC's to add to a network - normally they come with just windows one them so you then need to configure the network settings, add specific software, connect and install software for certain printers etc. There are other ways of doing this also but again this can be automated using AutoIT.
Quite a few macro languages can be found on the Internet - what I was particularly after was one that could "compile" my macros when completed so I could distribute them. In other words even though I have the macro creation software installed on my computer I want to be able to create an EXE file to send out to other people so they only require that one file - not the whole package. And a major point is AutoIT is also free.
If you are not a programmer then I am not sure how easy you would find to use AutoIT. The basic usage should be OK however. The help file that comes with the utility gives four easy examples of using the language to automate some tasks. The first tutorial creates a box that flashes up to just say "Hello World". The second example opens Windows Notepad, types some text and then saves the file. This is done with 6 lines of easy to learn code. The third example shows you how to automate an installation of Winzip which is again pretty easy to follow. The fourth example of using expressions will probably start to confuse people with no programming experience.
To give a basic example of the "code" -
Send ("this is some text I am now typing in Notepad")
This would basically open notepad and type the text into it.
As well as being able to code a macro a tool called AU3RECORD.EXE is included. Basically when you launch this you click a button ("Click To Record") and then do any launching of applications, key strokes, mouse movements etc. that you want automating. When finished you just click the button again and this is converted into code itself. You can then run this macro or edit the code to tweak it. This is actually a useful way of learning the language.
Editing the language is done with an editor called "SciTe" which helps you with the syntax of commands.
Learning and getting help..
AutoIT comes with a large online help that includes a tutorial as mentioned previously and a full language reference. As well as this the web site has forums that have a well established community of people willing to help.
I have to say I am not a serious programmer but have dabbled with coding in the past. The language AutoIT uses is a bit like the computer language BASIC. You have everything you would expect such as variables, loop statements, conditional statements ( if, then, else etc.). It's important again to understand however you don't need in-depth programming knowledge to use AutoIT but it will certainly help you get more out of it.
AutoIT also has hundreds of built in functions to easily return information to you without having to have programming knowledge.
For instance you need to know how much disk space you have - DriveSpaceFree("C") - would return the amount of space available on disk drive C.
You need to play a tune - SoundPlay (c:\tune.mp3) - would play the file tune.mp3
As I said in the introduction one important point about AutoIT is that you can "compile" the macro you have created. This means you can run it and send it to other people who don't have the software installed. This is done simply be just choosing "compile" from within the editor.
AutoIT can be used for things as easy or complicated as you like. If you can do something in Windows manually however long it takes it can be automated. The application is said to support from Windows from 95 to Vista so I suspect it will also work fine on version 7.
It's an advantage and a disadvantage that behind the macros is a programming language. If you are used to programming you will certainly find it easier to understand and tweak than someone with no knowledge of the subject.
AutoIT doesn't replace things such as the inbuilt scripting in Windows but certainly compliments it.
I can't find any real disadvantages to AutoIT apart from its complexity but people will need that. One problem I have come across however is certain anti-virus packages picking up the compiled EXE files as viruses. This is because tools like AutoIT can be used to create malicious code just as they can do useful things.
The important thing to remember is as I said at the beginning of the review. If you can do something in Windows - type some text, move a mouse somewhere, you can automate it.