Terrible news from Sal Saghoian’s talk at #mt2016 - His position at Apple as Czar of User Scripting & Automation is terminated. This sucks.
I joined Apple in January of 1997, almost twenty years ago, because of my profound belief that “the power of the computer should reside in the hands of the one using it.” That credo remains my truth to this day. Recently, I was informed that my position as Product Manager of Automation Technologies was eliminated for business reasons. Consequently, I am no longer employed by Apple Inc.
The need for user automation is a constant. I’ve seen the benefits and power of individuals being able to automate critical and repetitive tasks. Solution apps are great, emojis are fun, but there’s nothing like really great automation tools.
This is very sad news. Saghoian was an unsung hero of the Mac community and by all accounts an inspiring and excellent guy. That Apple is making changes in the automation department is unsurprising, since AppleScript and Automator have long seemed like they were adrift. However, my impression is that if it weren’t for Saghoian things would be a lot worse. The question now is: what are Apple’s plans for automation? Is this another sign of Apple neglecting pros? At best, the company has lost a key advocate for users and link to the Mac community.
This is disappointing news. From the outside at least, it seems like Sal is the only thing keeping macOS automation moving at this point.
Does Apple care about giving users the ability to automate, simplify, and create their own solutions on Macs? Now I wonder and worry.
Sal has been so awesome for so long, and he deserves a giant round of applause.
And Apple deserves us asking “What the hell, dude?”
Whether Soghoian’s duties will be handed over to another team member is unknown, though the decision only serves to reinforce sentiment that automation technologies are no longer a priority at Apple.
Historically, when Apple devotes fewer resources to automation, users (especially professionals) suffer.
This sounds ominous. Just this week in my review of the new MacBook Pros, a huge part of my argument for why I feel so much more productive on a Mac than an iPad revolves around the automation [technologies] that Soghoian’s group developed. I have the impression that Soghoian was a bit of a rebel within Apple, fighting the good fight to keep advancing the Mac’s automation tools. If they had simply fired him, that’d be one thing, but the fact that they’ve eliminated his position is another. This is shitty news. I find this to be a profoundly worrisome turn of events for the future of the Mac.
Update (2016-11-17): This has been a depressing year for the Mac. The software quality continues to erode, the hardware has languished to the point where people wonder whether entire lines will be eliminated, newer apps are less capable than older ones, not to mention the state of the Mac App Store and sandboxing. I’m starting to expect things not to work. It seems worse than the 90s because today’s problems seem so unnecessary. The company is very profitable. The underlying technology is solid. There are smart people all through the ranks at Apple. The OS updates bring a steady stream of improvements. You would think that after years of iteration we’d be in a really good place now. Yet it feels like Apple is making one unforced error after another and has forgotten what it has in the Mac.
Apple can only begin phasing out the Mac if and when iOS expands to allow us to do everything we can do on the Mac. It’s the heaviness of the Mac that allows iOS to remain light.
Long term—say, ten years out—well, all good things must come to an end.
Since then, iOS has inched towards the Mac, but Apple seems to have decided that it doesn’t want the Mac to be heavy—it’s just ceding that territory. At least, that’s how I read what’s been happening. I suppose it’s possible that there is a lot of internal progress that we just don’t see. A totally new Mac Pro in the works? A new pro scripting system? I don’t think I would bet on either at this point. It’s true that we eventually got Swift and APFS. The difference is that both of those projects have direct benefits for iOS.
See also: Marco Scheurer, Hamish Sanderson, Peter Maurer, Dr. Drang, Ars Technica forums, Jim Dalrymple, AppleScript Users mailing list, Riccardo Mori, Peter Cohen, Husain Sumra, Nick Heer, Rene Ritchie, Ben Lovejoy, Shane Stanley, Todd Ditchendorf.
Sal has been a champion for power users and other professionals who use the Mac for years. AppleScript was one of the few reasons major publishing companies stayed on the Mac during its darker days.
But lately it’s hard not to see that Apple’s interest in automation technologies appears lukewarm. iOS has no systemwide automation features; apps like Workflow and enterprising users and developers have provided ways for users to connect apps together, but it seems like they succeed despite—not because of—Apple.
I can honestly say that Sal’s videos about automation are part of what made me the Mac-lover I am. His work made the Mac seem like a computer from the distant future.
From this year’s Mac announcements it looks like the Mac road map is going down a dead-end for me. […] 2016 has been a year of disappointment and acceptance.
Update (2016-11-18): Hamish Sanderson:
If all of you file Radar tickets asking for SwiftAutomation in 10.13, and then reblog and retweet and whatever the hell it is FBers do to all your Mac-using mates to file tickets too, that will provide Apple with the first real, quantifiable evidence they’ve seen in years that their tired, saggy old unprofitable Automation platform actually has a potentially vast new source of users just begging to be tapped, and at next-to-no cost to themselves too.
Way back when Steve Jobs returned to Apple and was axing technologies left and right, Cal Simone went to visit him and -- to hear Cal tell the story -- single handidly convinced Steve to retain AppleScript. I believe Cal’s pitch was mainly that the publishing industry was an established Mac customer enclave, large enough to matter, and that it was one industry that was utterly dependent on AppleScript.
Is there an analogous pitch today? What is it? Who can make it with the right tone of rationality, realism and business sense?
You may not directly use AppleScript, but many applications use AppleScript or AppleEvents in lots of little ways. iTunes, for example, lets you pause, play, go forward and backward a track, change playlists, add properties to songs, and a zillion other things. Those little iTunes controller apps that live in your menubar or dock? They use AppleScript to talk to iTunes. The ones that add lyrics to the currently playing song at the push of a button? Yup, AppleScript. Applications that grab the current page from your browser? AppleScript. The “contact us” button in an app that automatically creates an email in Mail with a subject and the To: address filled in? AppleScript. There’s probably something on your Mac that uses AppleScript or AppleEvents, even though you’re not aware of it.
My fear is that with Sal’s departure, Apple’s waning interest in scripting, and application interoperability in general, will be gone for good.
AppleScript has been brittle for years (with new versions of apps often losing features in that regard) and the various scripting bridges have always been largely undocumented, but they were what allowed a lot of people (including me) to have moderately decent automated workflows.
If that’s going away, then macOS will lose another distinguishing feature and I might as well go Linux all the way.
A 9to5Mac reader (who asked to remain anonymous) emailed Apple software exec Craig Federighi about the future of automation on the Mac. Federighi responded with a definitive reply that Apple “has every intent” to continue supporting automation on macOS.
9to5Mac has verified the message headers for their authenticity. This should allay the community concern in part that Sal Soghoian’s ousting is a sign of bad news for the automation features in macOS.
What Craig Federighi actually just said is that they couldn’t care less about the current stack, and are putting it right out to pasture.
Update (2016-11-21): Dr. Drang:
Most people, you might argue, can’t do what I do. They can’t sit down and write a script to automate a repetitive task, and Apple needs to appeal to the multitudes of them, not the few of me. I would reply first that scripting isn’t all that hard and can be done at many levels. I learn from people who are much more capable, and in turn, I hope that others learn from me. The internet has democratized scripting.
Update (2016-11-27): See also: Core Intuition.
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