AppleScript The Definitive Guide
Posted: 28-Jan-2004

Mac Guild Grade

Publisher: O'Reilly

A+

Reviewer: Diane Love $39.95


AppleScript The Definitive Guide

By Matt Neuburg
1st Edition November 2003
0-596-00557-1
453 pages, $39.95 US

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 dictionary.com's word of the week on June the 9th, 2000, I naturally began to wonder whether he read dictionary.com 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
http://www.tidbits.com/matt/).

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.

Highlights
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.