Automation in Windows free tools

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In this post:

You search for a solution for one operation, then explore different solutions for more general operations, then you start testing a lot of programmes that are more generalised, to come back to something that was on your computer all the time but you didn’t really understand what it did.

In this case, exploring different automation options I have finally come across discussions referencing PowerShell. This I’ve seen a few times and just thought it was a Command Prompt equivalent. Apparently not, IT administrators use it all the time. I also thought it was more for OS administration rather than having any real use with applications, but that is not the case. So I think I may need to delve into it a bit to see if it meets my needs.

First up, a Free personal use Task Scheduler type tool that looks quite impressive.

Automation Workshop

Automation Workshop is a free personal edition of  Windows Task Scheduler, but a bit more user friendly and lets you do emails too (which Task Scheduler doesn’t).

The video below shows how to install and how to run the demo files (I didn’t realise when I downloaded the programme about how to run the files , I found that bit useful (and obvious when you looked at it) I’d just dived into the files and was trying to understand them)).

The first test I want to do is to send a notification email to myself. This is a test exercise. Later, if I have Tasks, I can either notify that tasks are done or send an email with file location or some other action.

My initial Hotmail setup as default didn’t work, I suspect my SMTP settings, so I did it from my Gmail account. Success.  Quite a nice help file on configuring different popular email clients. Good help docs so far on this site, well done.

I found the SMTP settings for Hotmail account here.

 

I also came across a nice list of tutorials here (I will need to explore these). At the bottom of this page is a useful troubleshooting section. Further below that are some script examples that can be done with JScript, VBScript, PowerShell, Batch file. So that links this programme through to PowerShell and Batch files that I can struggle through as well.

So I could, on Login (Trigger) run a PowerShell or .Bat file to open up all the programmes I normally use. In these files I can tell them whether to run their windows Maximized, Minimized or normal ( The issue I was confronting in the previous post using the  START /MAX notepad.exe cmd  in command window (which you can use in a .BAT file)).

So this programme can link in with the scripting files to do some nicely scheduled activities.  This works fine for logon/logoff processes on a PC (as long as you activate the programme on Startup first) or even better for scheduled tasks on a VPS (Virtual Private Server) as its running all the time. The programme needs to be running for the Tasks to be activated by the scheduler.

So if I can get some good .BAT or PowerShell files running to do some interesting tasks, this can schedule their trigger times. So, like my Zapier weather app, this task can help deliver that automation. So that means I have to get my head around PowerShell now.

You can also run some of the tasks without a trigger, look at this tutorial Send email with jpg files attached. Its a manual task. Also, unlike Windows Task Scheduler there are ACTIONS within the programme itself, such as Copy or Move File so some of the Tasks can take place completely within the programme without any other programmes running.

I finally got the PowerShell script to open my blog website and login so added that to a task with out a trigger so I could run it anytime (I still love using the VoiceMacro to do this) but it was a good exercise to test the scripting link.

RoboTask Lite

RoboTask Lite is a free  tool similar to Automation Workshop above but doers not have email. It also looks like an older interface and has a “Dial Up” connection. It has quite a few tools but the Lite (free) version is definitely inferior to Automation Workshop . I investigated it and had a wee test on my tablet but its not for me.

Video demo of it below, but of the full “Trial” version that does have email.

Firefox logins and seeing passwords

A distraction along the way. On my search for automation I came across this article How to Enable Auto Login To Multiple Websites On Firefox which uses a Firefox Selenium plugin. A well written article with diagrams. I followed them to test and it was great.

On running the code I’d saved a 2nd time I noted it had one of my sites at the top of the page, It was easy to change the name of the site and test another site with the same code, it worked wonderfully. It was fast too. The interface on the download of the plugin was different to what was in the article but all worked fine. In the test it did open another instance of Firefox rather than creating a new tab in the existing active programme.

You can do a few different files of actions on different web pages , then combine them all together to run one after the other. You need the selenium programme running to activate the tasks as it does not compile to an executable (that I’ve seen so far).

The first article had a link to How to Check the Password Beneath Asterisks in Firefox and Chrome and I tested it, and it works so well. I must admit, I have a few websites I go to infrequently and cannot recollect what my password was for that site. So a good to know tip.

I’ve just looked up on the SeleniumHQ homepage and it seems to be an interesting tool, I’ll have to investigate further, possibly the Selenium WebDriver, possibly the Python version. Another time, but this may be another tool for automation, especially browser automation.

2 other Firefox plugins I’m now using

Page Memo by Wildsky.  This is a great PostIt note on web pages, acts as a reminder you need to do something or just a reference to something on the page.

You’ll see that ITEM 6 on the pop out- the last entry is Show All Notes. This is a table with URL  & Note. You can export this file and import it on another computer so that you can have the same notes on other PC’s.

I’ve only just installed it but I like it as the notes are specific to a web page. Unlike 5 Notes addin (see image 2 below left panel) which I find really good as a checklist and also a handy place to paste something quickly (without opening another app and moving out of the browser).

I’ve gone back to oogle Keep Notes but only really use it on my Mobile, I’ll have to use it more now I know it pops up in the sidebar.

Tabliss by tabliss.io, A beautiful New Tab page with many customisable backgrounds and widgets that does not require any permissions.

This is a bit of frippery but I like it. It is pleasing to look at and conveys a bit of information in a new tab. I like the “Quote of the day”.

PowerShell- First attempt at using-  Logging into Browser

I was initially very excited about coming to terms with PowerShell but the first exercise I want to do, which is login to my blog website with Firefox, seems to be hard to do. I’ve been browsing on the interwongle for a couple of hours and they all show PoweShell with internet explorer and the same code comes up again and again. Fine, but I’m using Firefox.

I’ve found code to open a Firefox browser in PowerShell, but can’t find the steps for logging in. This is not rocket science but it seems the code for doing it is not that obvious.

I’ve found an article that does it in a pretty crude way here. I a using it to try and log into my WordPress site.

& “${env:ProgramFiles(x86)}\Mozilla Firefox\firefox.exe” “WORDPRESS WEBSITE YOU WANT TO LOG INTO “
Start-Sleep -Seconds 8
Write-Verbose -Message “page opened.”

$wshell = New-Object -ComObject wscript.shell;
# $xshell = New-Object -ComObject wscript.shell;

$wshell.SendKeys(“^l”)
Write-Verbose -Message “to address bar.”
$wshell.SendKeys(“{TAB}”)
Start-Sleep -Seconds 1
$wshell.SendKeys(“{TAB}”)
Start-Sleep -Seconds 1
Write-Verbose -Message “to user.”

$wshell.SendKeys{USERNAME PUT HERE NOT IN QUOTES}
Start-Sleep -Seconds 1
Write-Verbose -Message “user added.”

$wshell.SendKeys(“{TAB}”)
Start-Sleep -Seconds 1
$wshell.SendKeys(“{BS}”)   # PUT AS MANY  BACKSPACES IN,  JUST IN CASE THE PASSWORD IS ALREADY SET BY USERNAME
$wshell.SendKeys(“{BS}”)
$wshell.SendKeys(“{BS}”)

Start-Sleep -Seconds 1
$wshell.SendKeys{PASSWORD PUT IN HERE NOT IN QUOTES}
Start-Sleep -Seconds 1
$wshell.SendKeys(“{TAB}”)
Start-Sleep -Seconds 1
$wshell.SendKeys(“{ENTER}”)
Start-Sleep -Seconds 5

I thought this was a versatile tool, it seems its a MS tool that is focused on its own tools. . I was at this code for a while, still, I was at the Pulover/AHK code for a while too. At the end, my first successful code in PowerScript.

After playing around with Batchrun below I tried to write this is a .BAT file and ended up going back to PowerShell to get it running. I couldn’t get the Bat to do it after about an hour or 2 of research.

Batchrun

Batchrun eliminates the need for typing commands in by hand thanks to its more user-friendly approach. Install and launch the program, and you can quickly build a set of batch commands using the supplied drop-down menus and file selection boxes. Homepage here

Having started on DOS PC’s batch files are familiar to me, remembering the commands was a bit of a pain. This tool eliminates that by letting you choose commands from a pull down list and fill in the required boxes to tweak the settings. You can get the file to do lots of events all in one file. You can turn commands on/off to test only part of the file that you are creating (it just comments out that line in the actual file).

You need the actual programme open to run it as it saves the file to a 
The file saves as a .brs file and the code for the one above is:

Batchrun 3.0
C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\root\Office16\word.EXE

0

Normal
C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\root\Office16\excel.EXE

0

Normal

To convert this to a .bat file that can be run on cmd line you just need to re-edit it to:

cd C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\root\Office16\
start winword.EXE

start excel.EXE

exit

you can then click on the file with File Explorer and it’ll open a command prompt, execute the .bat file and exit, opening up word & Excel.  (Note, for the above .exe files they are in the same directory, if they are completely different programmes you’ll need to cd (change directory) to where the .exe files are).

The nice things with .bat files is that you can have quite a few actions in them and just use a HotKey to activate that file and all those actions are done.

The video below is in Italian , you can use subtitles and translate, or mute and watch the process:

End Comment

Automation Workshop is a pretty powerful tool. I am impressed with its versatility. I like the way it automates emails, so you know if things are happening. I will be installing this on my VPS so that it can run continuously then the scheduler can be more effective.

On my PC I’d set a daily email test to occur around 1pm and that works fine. I can now do a number of things,

  • Events on Logon- eg start programmes and get desktop environments working in a more bespoke manner than the “Startup” of windows.
  • Tasks that I run when I need them to run,
  • Do scheduled reminders, eg 5pm a pop-up reminder to tell me to go home (just set up, a great reminder).

PowerShell & Batch Files have me groaning again although once you’re familiar with the code its OK for simple stuff (for me).

The Firefox stuff has been helpful, especially the add-ons.

I’ve been using the Ctrl + Shift + V to paste in unformatted text, that is a really useful HotKey that I find quite productive.

The two tools I want to use more of are Voice Macro & Automation Workshop. The first one makes Automation Fun, the 2nd one is so versatile.

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