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AppleScript: The Definitive Guide: Scripting and Automating Your Mac [Paperback]

Matt Neuburg
2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

14 Jan 2006 Definitive Guide

Mac users everywhere--even those who know nothing about programming--are discovering the value of the latest version of AppleScript, Apple's vastly improved scripting language for Mac OS X Tiger. And with this new edition of the top-selling AppleScript: The Definitive Guide, anyone, regardless of your level of experience, can learn to use AppleScript to make your Mac time more efficient and more enjoyable by automating repetitive tasks, customizing applications, and even controlling complex workflows.

Fully revised and updated--and with more and better examples than ever--AppleScript: The Definitive Guide, 2nd Edition explores AppleScript 1.10 from the ground up. You will learn how AppleScript works and how to use it in a variety of contexts: in everyday scripts to process automation, in CGI scripts for developing applications in Cocoa, or in combination with other scripting languages like Perl and Ruby.

AppleScript has shipped with every Mac since System 7 in 1991, and its ease of use and English-friendly dialect are highly appealing to most Mac fans. Novices, developers, and everyone in between who wants to know how, where, and why to use AppleScript will find AppleScript: The Definitive Guide, 2nd Edition to be the most complete source on the subject available. It's as perfect for beginners who want to write their first script as it is for experienced users who need a definitive reference close at hand.

AppleScript: The Definitive Guide, 2nd Edition begins with a relevant and useful AppleScript overview and then gets quickly to the language itself; when you have a good handle on that, you get to see AppleScript in action, and learn how to put it into action for you. An entirely new chapter shows developers how to make your Mac applications scriptable, and how to give them that Mac OS X look and feel with AppleScript Studio. Thorough appendixes deliver additional tools and resources you won't find anywhere else. Reviewed and approved by Apple, this indispensable guide carries the ADC (Apple Developer Connection) logo.

Product details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: O'Reilly Media; 2 edition (14 Jan 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0596102119
  • ISBN-13: 978-0596102111
  • Product Dimensions: 23.3 x 17.9 x 2.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,106,365 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description

From the Publisher

Fully revised and updated--and with more and better examples than ever--this new edition of the top-selling AppleScript: The Definitive Guide shows anyone how to use AppleScript to make your Mac time more efficient and more enjoyable by automating repetitive tasks, customizing applications, and even controlling complex workflows. It's perfect for novices, developers, and everyone in between who wants to know how, where, and why to use AppleScript.

About the Author

Matt Neuburg has been programming computers since 1968. He majored in Greek at Swarthmore College, and received his PhD from Cornell University in 1981. Hopelessly hooked on computers since migrating to a Macintosh in 1990, he's written educational and utility freeware, and became an early regular contributor to the online journal TidBITS. In 1995, Matt became an editor for MacTech Magazine. He is also the author of "Frontier: The Definitive Guide" and "REALbasic: The Definitive Guide" for O'Reilly.

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Customer Reviews

2.7 out of 5 stars
2.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Unfortunately, this title doesn't live up to the standards typical of O'Reilly publications. The actual information content is good: the author definitely knows his stuff. But being a technical wizard doesn't impart the ability to write well. And it shows.
It takes until chapter 5 before the actual basic syntax of the language is discussed, Chapters 1-4 are busy talking about how flexible AppleScript is (very); how to think when tackling a problem (pretty much the same way as with any other language, thanks); and presenting customised solutions to problems that the author has experienced but that everyone else will view as utterly irrelevent. In addition to this, the author has trouble keeping his eltitist ego under control, with examples of calling scripts from Ruby, Python, Perl and Objective-C: in each case, essentially nothing more than shelling out to 'osascript'. His deliberations on 'broken' parts of AppleScript are pompous, as is his comparison of just about every feature to another language in his repertoire at every opportunity. In this book on Apple's scripting language, he appears keen to remind us mere mortals how many 'real' languages he knows.
The treatment of the AppleScript language and its quirks is thorough despite these criticisms, although the examples given are far from clear and the topics lack structure.
In summary, there's information in this book that you'll have a hard time finding anywhere else, but you'll have to work to extract it and, if you're anything like me, won't enjoy the process.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
One thing is very clear: Matt Neuberg has really fathomed the depths of Apple's unique little scripting language in a more or less successful attempt to document all the quirks, gotchas and roadblocks that plague the average scripter. I would question how useful this would be for a beginner, but it is a superb reference, going into exhaustive detail on every level of the language and its use.
In fact, this book should have been called 'AppleScript Annoyances', because it really tackles the things which are likely to have you pulling your hair out, instead of pretending it is just going to be plain sailing.
The book opens with one of the most interesting chapters, showing the thought process that Matt goes through in writing a script to perform some tedious authoring task for the book itself (hooking up illustrations in framemaker). He goes out of his way to describe things that are skimmed over in most other books, without dumbing down: Just because AppleScript is a scripting language from Apple, doesn't mean that it is designed for idiots who can't work out how to use a two button mouse. Matt clearly has a healthy disrespect for the whole thing, which I find refreshing.
If you aren't put off by someone telling you how it really is (and it gets ugly sometimes: that chapter on scope... brrrr) then this book has all the answers. If you'd rather maintain the fantasy that everything in AppleScript makes perfect, intuitive sense, then this book will shake up your paradigms, but maybe make your life easier in the process.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Spaghetti 4 Mar 2006
By A Customer
Programmers refer to spaghetti code; this book is spaghetti writing.
It is practically useless for learning Applescript (even for a programmer like me) and the author wastes far too much time on pointless topics such as trying to impress the reader by showing why AppleScript is like LISP.
It’s the worst computer book I have ever read and I don’t recommend it as a first book on Applescript for anyone.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.6 out of 5 stars  38 reviews
205 of 209 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At last, the truth about AppleScript 11 Dec 2003
By David - Published on
Apple has long pushed AppleScript as an easy-to-learn, English-like way of automating repetitive tasks on a Mac. Alas, I and many, many others have discovered from painful experience that AppleScript is hugely difficult to approach -- its learning curve never seems to flatten out. Even after writing thousands of lines of code in several programs that (eventually) worked, I still feel I'm groping in the dark every time I try something new. I've read other books on AppleScript, looking for one that would open the magic door and reveal the simple, friendly AppleScript that's supposed to exist.
Matt Neuburg has given us the first AppleScript book that tells the deep truth: AppleScript is a quirky, inconsistent programming language that is not only hard to learn, but hard to learn for fundamental, structural reasons. Neuburg exposes the unavoidable difficulties that are built into AppleScript's design, and then shows us practical techniques for accomodating to them and using them.
Anyone who reads this book carefully will be able to apply AppleScript with greater understanding and less wasted time, and be able to use it with far less of the disappointment, frustration, and even rage felt by all too many people who collide unprepared with AppleScript's tricks and traps.
Since there's no "look inside the book" feature, let me summarize the main sections. Part I explores AppleScript in a system context: what it is meant to do; how it is used (with an intro to the Script Editor); and what its basic concepts are. (Contra another reviewer, this 90pp part contains nothing about history; it's all current and relevant stuff, needed later in the book.)
Central to Part I is Chapter 3, "The AppleScript Experience," which describes the actual process of building a program. This chapter so perfectly reflected the confusions, frustrations, and dead-ends that I've experienced with AppleScript that I was sold: this guy really understands the problems! He doesn't minimize them or blame them on me. Maybe he can show me ways to work around them, but whether he does or not, at least he'd validated them.
Part II, 200pp, is a detailed and insightful exposition of the AppleScript language. Early in this part is a discussion of "The 'English-Likeness' Monster," showing how the attempt to be friendly distorts the language and confuses users.
Then Neuburg examines every detail of AppleScript's syntax and semantics. He doesn't do this like a typical "tech writer," rephrasing the official documentation. He has taken the time to write code to test out every corner case and exception of the language, and he lays them all bare. He looks into AppleScript's baroque scoping rules and its inconsistent rules for implicit coercion of types.
All of Part II is meat and drink to a fan of programming languages, and I read it through like a good novel. More to the point, it's a deep and thorough job of documenting the actuality of AppleScript: what syntax works, what the tricks and traps are, and what to avoid.
Part III tries to extend the same thorough methods to the process of creating applications in AppleScript, beginning with application dictionaries. Here Neuburg, like every other AppleScript user, bangs hard into the basic structural flaw of AppleScript: that all the interesting semantics and no small part of the syntax are implemented in other applications, not in AppleScript. Everything you want to actually accomplish with AppleScript, you do by sending messages to other programs -- the Finder, TextEdit, BBEdit, Mail, and so forth. The only documentation you have is each app's dictionary, and it can never be adequate. Chapter 19, "Dictionaries," contains a long editorial on "Inadequacies of the Dictionary" that details all the reasons that an app's dictionary can never tell you enough to use the app. Some of the reasons are structural (there's just no way to express the needed information) and some are due to human failure (the people who write dictionaries do a clumsy, inconsistent, and sometimes erroneous job). Neuburg can't fix these issues, but he does his best to prepare you to work around them. Nevertheless, as he says in another context, "AppleScript programming is often indistinguishable from guessing."
To sum up: this book is a deep, thorough exploration of all the quirks, dusty corners, and skeleton-filled closets of AppleScript. Reading it will make you far better prepared to use AppleScript productively.
120 of 123 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It is the best of books, it is the worst of books. 4 Feb 2004
By D. Trevas - Published on
Sorry, Mr. Dickens, I just had to.
First, the bad parts. If you are a beginner to AppleScript (particularly if you've had little programming or scripting experience), DO NOT even think about looking at this book. It will be so confusing and discouraging, you'll leave angry. There are plenty of books that show you how to do simple things easily with AppleScript. They may be deluding you into thinking that it will be simple to use AppleScript for more complex tasks, but at least, you'll be getting hands-on learning in the meantime. No book can be truly suitable for beginners AND experts and I never believed that claim about this book. Sorry, beginners, this book is STRICTLY for intermediate to advanced users.
Having said that, I can begin to shower praise upon this masterpiece. As someone who has done some AppleScripting and have been through a lot of frustration doing anything beyond cookie-cutter work, Chapter 3 boosted my self-esteem about 10 notches! That chapter details Matt Neuberg's odyssey through the labyrinthine task of scripting FrameMaker. Been there, done that (in other apps)! So, I'm not such an idiot -- some of these object models aren't crystal clear.
I had always thought that AppleScript was the underrated, undersold and underused secret weapon that the Mac platform could wield over the competitors, especially the dreaded Windows! After using it and then having my suspicions confirmed by this book, I realize that despite all its power, AppleScript has failed in its mission of being the intuitively obvious, easy-to-use, simple, everyday, plain English, "scripting/programming-for-the-rest-of-us" tool it apparently was developed to be. The good news is that if you are the true target audience for this book, you will be able to help out ordinary Mac users for fun and profit.
I believe there is a definite line dividing the people who must have and will love this book from those who should avoid it like the plague (until they get some AS experience elsewhere). I hope this helps you decide.
42 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mac Guild Review 29 Jan 2004
By A Customer - Published on
AppleScript The Definitive Guide
What the Book is About
This book aims to provide a complete explanatory manual and reference to AppleScript, up to date with Mac OS X 10.3 (Panther).
Target Audience
The introduction states that the book assumes no prior knowledge of AppleScript or of any other programming language. While I agree that no knowledge of AppleScript is required, it's challenging to consider someone with no programming knowledge starting out with this book to use AppleScript as their first programming language. For experienced Applescript users, the book is likely to be an essential reference.
What NOT to Expect
Perhaps like many others who had not used AppleScript, I believed it was a simple, English-like language that was very easy to use. I jumped eagerly in at the first chapter, certain that I would soon be told go sit at my Mac and type my first 'Hello World' AppleScript into some application or other.
As I read and read chapter after chapter from the sofa, I realized it was not going to be quite so simple in either case.
AppleScript, according to the author, has come close to extinction in the past, but is now entering a 'golden age'; it is a technical innovation and a labor saving device for the ordinary Mac user, yet it's not true to say that it's an intuitive language needing no real explanation.
What to Expect
In reading this book, the author's (Matt Neuburg) expertise in AppleScript becomes immediately apparent. So too does his extremely erudite writing style. For example, when I got to the list of 'apothegms' and discovered that this synonym for 'saying' or 'maxim' was's word of the week on June the 9th, 2000, I naturally began to wonder whether he read every week for fun.
As it transpires, the author has degrees in ancient Greek and Classical Philology and had a career as an academic classicist before starting a new career in computing. He thinks computer languages are relatively easy. (See [...]
The trouble with AppleScript is that to use it you have to use it to script an application, each application has a different vocabulary stored in its dictionary, and dictionaries in general have no manuals of their own. If someone tried to write one book that said precisely how to script every application, it would need to contain a dictionary manual for each application, and would therefore be enormous.
While there are books about AppleScript for single applications, Matt Neuburg quite simply wants to get you to see AppleScript through his eyes and learn to use it as he does, finding out what you need to know as you go along.
Part 1 - AppleScript Overview starts by identifying when and why you would want to use AppleScript - for example whenever you get bored doing something very repetitive with your computer. Also discussed in this part of the book are the different environments for creating AppleScripts and some of the important concepts and principles.
The singular feature of this section is that it contains a complete worked example of how to create an AppleScript to do a repetitive document management task. The example uses Framemaker; this has the disadvantage that people who don't have Framemaker won't be able to try it out. The point is to illustrate that no prior knowledge of the Framemaker dictionary is required - you can figure it out for yourself if you know how to ask the application !
Part 2 - The AppleScript Language, is intended as both a reference and instruction. As the author says, 'the order of the exposition is pedagogical' - you are supposed to read the chapters in order. This section explains all the language features and illustrates pitfalls including those caused by forgetting AppleScript is not English.
Part 3 - AppleScript in Action, is where, as the author puts it, having learned to use the sword in Part 2, you now go out and do battle. It covers dictionaries, scripting additions, working with applications both scriptable and unscriptable, working with UNIX and finally writing your own applications. Again in this section problems are foreseen and solutions provided.
There are appendices on Apple's 'aeut' resource and general AppleScript resources such as websites.
The depth of the coverage is amazing and the approach of teaching you how to learn for yourself is refreshing.
If you are interested in linguistics as well as computer languages then this book is a delight. A language manual written by a linguist, it frequently compares and contrasts AppleScript to English and other computer languages.
Mac Guild Grade
A+ (Awesome)
Final Words
If you want to know everything there is to know about AppleScript, then this book is essential.
If on the other hand you are looking for a very practical tutorial or cookbook, be warned that after reading all of this book, I still have not typed any 'Hello World' AppleScript into AppleScript Studio. Maybe I just don't do enough boring, repetitive tasks with my Mac.
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely not for beginners 23 Sep 2004
By Michel - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I have some programming experience in RealBasic and 4D's scripting language and decided to dive head first into AppleScript. The editorial review on this book says: "The book assumes no prior knowledge or previous programming experience, but nevertheless seeks to offer a complete treatment of the language's capabilities." After I quit reading the book when I got to chapter 11, I can safely say that I absolutely disagree with that statement.

I found most of the examples to be very confusing and the numerous references to explain certain exceptions and reasons in later chapters to be very frustrating. Perhaps the nature of AppleScript is just confusing so I do not want to fault the author. If you are looking to learn AppleScript as a total beginner, like me, this is not the book for you.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A useful resource, but not always the easiest teaching tool 7 Jun 2004
By Brian Friedrich - Published on
In writing this book, the author expressed a desire to create a "complete explanatory manual" for beginners and veterans alike. He clearly appreciates the immense power of the language, while also obviously enjoying AppleScript's challenges and quirks. The book is billed as requiring no prior AppleScript or programming experience, but having some of each is a definite asset; there are many occasions where some knowledge of programming concepts or other languages appears to be assumed.
The structure of the book is somewhat confusing. It starts off well with some practical examples, but then moves into very complex terrain, having the potential to quickly leave the AppleScript newbie behind. Throughout the book, Neuburg discusses many of the quirks and nuances of dealing with AppleScript. It could be argued that he deals with too many of these quirks, which gives the book a somewhat choppy feel at times. The value, however, is that this treatment does lend a sense of reassurance - when you're banging your head against the keyboard because a script doesn't work as expected, it's good to know that the language is not without unique "personality" and that you're not alone. This may not always help you get your script running any faster, but what a sense of camaraderie!
Far and away the best feature of the book is the third chapter, where the author walks through the "AppleScript Experience." In this chapter, the reader is led through the step-by-step process of how the author develops a real script to take care of an otherwise long and tedious repetitive task - exactly the sort of thing that AppleScript is designed for. Neuburg explains the thought process of building the script, and provides each iteration of code along the way, warts and all, until all of the kinks are worked out. This was both educational and entertaining, and we could easily put ourselves into the same place, having been there before. It should be noted that the thought process of creating a script is really one of the most challenging, and poorly explained, aspects of coding in general. If you're new to programming, you likely expect that learning the technical syntax and structure is the hard part, but in reality that's easy in comparison to wrapping your head around what to do with this technical knowledge. Neuburg's tour of his headspace during the scripting process is invaluable and you'll gain some worthwhile vicarious experience in Chapter 3.
Bottom line: it's a great book if you can follow it, and a hard read if it loses you. It makes for an excellent reference source, and is certainly a comprehensive look at the language, covering all of the significant aspects of coding with AppleScript. We would expect veterans to find this book to be a well written in-depth discussion, while most beginners (to programming) would likely be more than a bit intimidated. It is perhaps most ideally suited to programmers of other languages that are new to AppleScript, but can rely on their background knowledge and interest to relate to the finer points presented.
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