US Environment Protection Agency Simplifies Automated Software Installations.

By Guy Tanzer

Environment Protection AgencyMy name is Guy Tanzer, and I live in the Raleigh area in North Carolina, USA. Nearby is the Research Triangle Park, with the highest concentration of IT people and jobs in the eastern United States. I’ve been working with computers since 1977 and been in the business since 1984.

In early 1997, I started a job as a computer-support contractor to the United States Environmental Protection Agency in the RTP. One of the first tasks our team tackled after my hiring was migrating our lab of 350 users to Windows 95. To speed the process, my managers wanted to automate all the application software installs down to “one-touch” processes, which we could pick off a menu. The other team members got Lotus 1-2-3, Freelance, Word Perfect, etc., and Netscape 3.01 Gold was handed to me.

Now, Lotus and Word Perfect products came with documentation on how to write scripts to do automated installs. With Netscape, all we got was the .EXE file, with no docs on how to automate the install. A search of Netscape’s website turned nothing up. A call to them revealed that they did indeed have a solution, and we could buy it for only US$10,000…..

Well, that went a mite over the contracting company’s budget for solving this problem, if you get my drift. I needed a product of some sort that could wait for a window to open and be able to click on buttons, fill in fields, and so forth – just as if a “ghost in the machine” were watching and running the process for me.

I searched high and low for several weeks and tried perhaps eight different products, with poor results, before by chance I found and tried Marcus Tettmar’s MACRO SCHEDULER, which had only just been released. It did the job, and fit the bill, as elegantly and reliably as any product I’d ever used on a computer. Since we were one of his very first customers, Mr. Tettmar generously let the EPA lab use it on all their machines for the cost of a single license – only US$40 at the time. In return, I pushed the envelope on Macro Scheduler and kept in touch with Mr. Tettmar, giving him tips and ideas.

I used Macro Scheduler for at least a dozen more software installs, combining it with DOS batch files and compiled Quick BASIC programs to give it an incredible degree of flexibility. (I’ve since left behind Quick BASIC – it doesn’t handle advanced file handling systems – but Liberty BASIC is very similar to QB and another very worthy software investment. I find Visual BASIC to be clumsy and poorly designed for the types of scripts and programs I write in comparison to Macro Scheduler and Liberty BASIC.)

ANY software install or process which doesn’t give you “hooks” into the process, or a way to script an automatic run, can be attacked and solved with Macro Scheduler – quickly and easily. As I said, it’s “the ghost in the machine” in a positive way. It can watch for a window to open, and react to it – filling in fields, clicking buttons, whatever is needed. All the commands are simple, self-evident and in English, without the clumsy VBA scripting commands like:

GoAroundYourAssToGetToYourElbowJustToPushADamnButton<br>("Cincinatti",13,X,,"The Larch",,,,-.2E33,,42)

The one real problem I ever ran into was very specialized, yet Mr. Tettmar addressed it quickly and reliably. The problem was with Microsoft (surprise!) Powerpoint Viewer installation. Usually one keeps track of progress in a procedure by keeping track of the title bar in each open window; most software installs have unique title bars for each window as it opens. With the Powerpoint Viewer install, three or four consecutive windows had the same title bar and Microsoft, of course, offered no way to automate the install themselves. I asked Mr. Tettmar if there was a way to check to see what text appeared INSIDE a window, since each step in the Powerpoint Viewer install had unique text inside the uniformly-titled windows. Within a week, he came up with the FindWindowWithText command which worked perfectly in every application I used it on – Word Viewer, Excel Viewer, and I don’t even remember what else.

The benefits of all of this? I saved a fortune for the EPA and my contracting company. I saved boatloads of time working with a simple scripting language that is actually written in something extremely close to English, doesn’t have complex syntactical demands, and works like a charm. Mr. Tettmar has stayed with the product for nine years now; he isn’t a fly-by-night operator. He’s a good man, friendly, willing to help with obscure issues and find fixes for them. We’ve been email friends as long as I’ve been his customer. If I ever make it to “that side of the pond”, I’m buying the fish, chips and brew.
Thanks Guy. I’ll hold you to that offer!

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