Actions: automate all kinds of repetitive tasks via drag and drop (without writing a line of code)

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Actions is a free automation app that can perform a wide range of time consuming tasks quickly and efficiently.

Examples of these are limited by your needs and your imagination: renaming files in batch, copying or moving files or folders, resizing and renaming images, backing up specific files or folders, etc. The range of options that Actions supports, I will say, is truly impressive.

This software, inspired by Automator on Mac, is not a macro-recording tool but a kind of graphical user interface where average users can drag and drop the individual steps to build a process that accomplishes a task, without having any knowledge of scripting languages or code.

These can then be saved and executed at any time and/or modified later on. It can also create shortcuts that can be launched from the desktop environment without having to open the application first, although these do require that the Actions application be present.
Actions is a multiplatform app and will run on both Windows or Mac.

Actions Screenshot 1

Actions list screenshotThis program’s name is very appropriate (Actions), because this software is built around the concept of taking a bunch of actions as building blocks and stringing them together to accomplish complex tasks. It is therefore only as good as the actions that it can support, so the question becomes: what kind of actions can it perform? The answer: an impressive array of actions that belong to five general categories: Email, Files and Folders, Images, Internet, Mouse and Keyboard, Text, and Other. In lieu of listing them, I’ve created the image to the right that lists all the possible actions that can be performed in the version I tested.

What can this program do for you? Most anything you can think of. Here are a few examples that are meant to illustrate the kind of thing that is possible:

  • Resizing images en-masse: say by asking the user to point to a folder, then prompting the user for a theme name, then resizing all of the images found inside as per a standard resolution and renaming them using the theme name given plus a numbered sequence appended to it.
  • Cropping images en-masse: similar to the example above, but instead of resizing say you want to crop a large list of images as per certain coordinates. Can be easily performed in Actions.
  • Renaming files as per certain rules: by asking the user to point to a folder, then renaming all of the files within it according to predefined rules. I actually built this one because I needed it and it works beautifully.
  • Opening a web page and downloading all images: while filtering out all non image URLs.
  • Etc. It’s really up to your imagination; these are just a few by way of illustration.

Here are more notes on this program:

  • Easy to learn: the learning curve is comparatively small. I was able to create fairly involved tasks just by playing around with the program, without reading any instructions or watching any videos. The program itself will instantly suggest remedies to broken workflows (although these are not always what you might want or intend).
  • Drag and drop: to add actions or to re-arrange them, etc. Very user friendly and goes a long way towards making this application accessible and easy to learn.
  • Executable files: can be easily created. These will launch and perform the task that you created right from the desktop. Unfortunately, you will still need the Actions application itself installed on your machine (it will not run independently). Note that these aren’t “real” executables but rather have the extension “.wexe”.
  • Can run command line executables: with parameters. This implies that given the right command line executable you can add any action to the program. For example, if you have an exec that can convert video files you can integrate video conversion into your Actions workflows.
  • Can send mouse clicks and keystrokes: if you need them (yes, if you must have the macro functionality and look and feel, you can).
  • Developers can author their own actions: in Java, if they so choose.

Wish list (or how this program can be even better)

  • More actions: specifically video conversion ones (hey this is a wish list after all), and an unrar option in addition to the currently available unzip. Note, however, that if you must have these now all your need to do is found a command line executable that can do it, as mentioned above.
  • Filling online forms: an action or actions designed to fill online forms and/or enter logins and passwords.
  • The ability to package your workflows into true executables: that can run independently of the Actions application, would be great.
  • The option to launch workflows from the context menu: say, via an “Actions” context menu entry that can house various workflows.

Freewaregenius 5-Star Pick

The verdict: Actions will invariably be compared to such automation apps as AutoHotkey and AutoIt, but, in my opinion, this is somewhat of an oranges and apples comparison. Actions’ emphasis on dragging and dropping makes it accessible off the bat to a much wider audience, and completely circumvents any need for scripting or coding. There’s no syntax to learn and no libraries or functions to deal with; the experience is closer to building a Lego than writing code, although you will need to figure out the logic and think like a programmer.

Note that Actions is also specifically pitched towards developers as presenting opportunities to expand the market for their software. For more on this go here.

I??ve been playing with this software for a couple of days and I just love it. The developers have done an astounding job making this software both powerful and accessible. They also provide resources on the Actions site for both laypersons and developers, including this video introduction and tutorial.

Version Tested: 1.0.0

Compatibility: Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7, Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard or later. Requires Java SE 6 or later.

Go to the program home page to download the latest version.