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A Single Windows AND Web Browser Automation Tool??!


Zero
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Hi folks,

 

When I began using Macro Express I was enormously impressed with it (and still am) in how easy and quick it is to create and organize Windows macros. It's a big time saver. One task I immediately tried automating after some successes with typical windows programs was trying to create macros to interact with a web browser. I had some success, but it wasn't very productive overall. I experienced a lot of problems (especially with reliably finding controls, setting/getting control text, and setting/getting control states). After looking through the forums, it's become apparent that this is a highly sought feature that a lot of people are having problems with.

 

Seeing that so many people are having issues in using Macro Express for this task, I began looking for other products that would do the job in an 'elegant' fashion. I did find a few, but they were too specific in function - they typically only automate a browser (ie. they don't automate typical windows applications) or are themselves an automated web browser (ie. they don't work with IE or FF by themselves and they don't automate windows tasks). All in all, the choice of products out there for macro'ing Windows as well as web browsers are pretty slim and those that can do both tasks are disappointing in other ways or are difficult to use.

 

I can certainly script or learn new languages, but one of the reasons I was attracted to Macro Express was for its ease of use through it's GUI, which is very nice and robust.

 

I guess the bottom line here is that I'm wondering if anyone has found any kind of reliable solution for interacting with web browsers and Windows???? From the forums it seems this isn't the case and that the question has been beaten to death, but I felt I needed to ask anyways.

 

Zero

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From the forums it seems this isn't the case and that the question has been beaten to death, but I felt I needed to ask anyways.

Good timing on your question/statements, Zero!

 

We are working on our Macro Express Extended Library. Currently we are on the Microsoft Excel portion of it. But I've been itching to get to the Internet Explorer DOM section and even have some functions sketched-out.

 

What I've been looking for is a way to do data mining. However, I've reports of others wanting to have more interaction with, and to automate IE. My question remains: "What exactly does it mean to automate IE"?.

 

What would you like to see Macro Express do with IE? Floyd and I are always open to suggestions for our new Macro Express Extended Library.

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In my case what I would expect in terms of IE automation would be a set of features as follows:

 

  • Accurately determine when a page has been completely loaded.
  • Reliably locate an HTML control on a page by specifying complete or partial information about the control (ie. the text it displays, the type of tag used).
  • Recording a Macro of user actions while they surf sites should:
    • automatically apply the first two features
    • include actions on the browser application in addition to actions on the web page being viewed

    [*]Once found, controls could later be referenced with handles similar as to how ME currently deals with Windows app. child controls.

    [*]Support integration with the Windows Clipboard that allows copy/paste of data from both the entire client area of the browser as well as with/from specific HTML controls.

    [*]Functions that allow the direct action of setting/getting the text or state of an HTML control.

    • with respect to this it may be worth allowing for special recognition of certain HTML presentation structures such as tables and lists; being able to say that you want the total number of rows/cols or what the string in row 1, col 2 of a table is would be nice. I think, however, this type of thing might fall beyond what most might consider within the scope of a macro app... dunno.
    • because handling data from webpages is going to typically be text manipulation, it would be good to have some more string-handling functionality in the variable management wizards (like finding where a string begins or ends or how many instances of it there are in a larger body of text).

    [*]A handy tool similar to the "Get Control" dialog that currently exists in ME. You would hover this over an HTML control like a text area or radio box to easily add it's "identity" to your Macro, using some or all of the details about it to help locate it on subsequent visits to the page. Not only would this be on enormous benefit in manipulating typical controls such as sliders, buttons, check-boxes, radio-buttons, etc. but it could also be used to ID Flash and Java applets as well as static page objects such as picture elements.

    [*]For IE7, tab location and management... of some kind. I haven't really thought about this too much but I think it would come in helpful. I suppose things like getting how many tabs are opened, what their titles are, and being able to switch between them would be desirable functions for an initial implementation.

    [*]Possibly a selection of functions that would allow easy access to user-customized browser settings (ie. history, favorites, default search engines and other options).

 

I would say that's the bulk of functionality that I'm looking for. Sounds like a butt-load of work to me :blink:

 

After trying about a dozen or so windows macro automation apps, there were really only two that had a decent feature set. ME stands out because of it's ease of use, versatility (support for but not-required scripting skills), small learning curve, and price - as you're no doubt aware other products are so grossly overpriced or limited in use it'd be a better option to write the software oneself.

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Very well thought out, Zero. Very well organized. Thanks a bunch for your input.

 

Probably sooner rather than later we will begin adding IE functions to the Macro Express Extended Library. We are currently tied up with the Excel portion, but when we do start on the IE side, more than likely it'll be with functions that return arrays of click-able links, table data, form data, and so forth. Then we will move up the ladder.

 

At the proper time, we'll post a topic asking for testers. And your input as a tester would certainly be welcome.

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