Best Windows Automation Platforms


#1

I will be the brave windows user. I’m a 50/50 Mac/Windows person. At home I use the Mac and workflow, IFTTT and can’t wait for Siri Shortcuts. At work I’m a Office 365 admin so I’m big into Flow and PowerApps. I use it to automate everything. Look forward to hearing what everyone else uses.


#2

Thanks for joining! I have a Windows gaming machine, and a virtual Windows machine at work - and I would love to do more automation on them so want to hear what others are using too :smiley:


#3

I’ve seen Flow in a couple of the 365 emails that MS sends out but haven’t looked into it since the very first release over a year ago. At that time it was (understandably) focused just on Office products. Do you have any resources that provide a good overview or could you give us your top use cases?

Also haven’t heard about PowerApps so interested to hear where you’re using those!


#4

I would also be interested in this.


#5

I really haven’t spent any time with Flow or PowerApps, either. It would be interesting to read a couple of workflows where you’ve implemented these products.


#6

I’ve experimented with switching from Mac → Windows a few times this year to see how it is. While there are still a few 3rd-party apps that keep me tied to the Mac for now, it’s good to see how many viable alternatives there are to things I once thought were Mac-specific.

For general automation stuff, I will probably use AutoHotKey, as it seems flexible enough to replicate some of the Mac workflows I rely on. I’ve already made a tiny script that activates Win10’s Task View with my middle mouse button. I’ve always assigned Mission Control/Exposé to my middle mouse button and it’s just hardwired in my brain at this point :sweat_smile:

For Hazel-style folder-watching and file automation, it’s looking like DropIt will be what I start experimenting with.


#7

I started the Office 365 gig at the beginning of the year so before this, all my automation was with iOS and MacOS. So I had a bit of a challenge to get back into windows but also trust that what I was building would have the same visual look I love from apple but also work every time. So beyond just reading, I found some podcasts like Hyperfish podcast which was great to start with. Also, the flow blog (https://flow.microsoft.com/en-us/blog/) is an awesome resource. They post weekly flows to create. Also, the guided learning is great which you can find on the flow site.

Power Apps is a great resource to go along with Microsoft Flow in that you can build web and mobile apps that connect to SharePoint, CDS, etc. The same thing with Microsoft Flow there is a PowerApps blog and a guided learning to get started.

Hope this helps


#8

Thanks, I Remmah, I definitely miss Hazel and will check out DropIt.


#9

Didn’t realize Flow is included with most of the Office 365 subscriptions. I already have one of those so might as well be using it! A lot more connectors than when I looked at it a year ago, too. Thanks for the motivation! :+1:t3:


#10

What is Flow? Is it an Automator style app and isnit bundled with Windows 10 or just Office 365? I’m pretty sure my work just buys licenses ca subscribing but am interested in trying it out if possible.


#11

https://flow.microsoft.com/en-us/

It’s rather IFTTT like - you can hook up quite a few things compared to the last time I looked!


#12

Rosemary is correct its very similar to WorkFlow and IFTTT in that you create a ‘Flow’ putting together different services/connectors. The interface is really easy to use and understand. Plus microsoft is making regular updates to the service. Check out the flow blog and the guided learning to learn more.


#13

I’d be rather daring and say that Windows PowerShell migh be your best bet, but I’m also a huge Shell fan so the validity of my opinion might be null :man_shrugging:


#14

Just chiming in that our small/medium sized biz is on Office 365, so automation that works with that will be nice to see around here. Going to check out flow again. Looked at it when it launched, but sounds like it’s expanded.


#15

The biggest challenge I see when showing people flow or any automation is getting in a mindset where you can look at your current work and see if automating all or a portion will work. Our company is big into Lean so I try to compare it to making 2 second improvements in your day. Taking a 10 step process and creating automation that handles maybe steps 1 thru 7 thus freeing up your time to focus on other things.

Keep us up to date on your journey.


#16

For automating the administration side of Office 365, PowerShell is the way to go.


#17

You might want to check out Autohotkey. It has a pretty feature-rich scripting language that can do everything from simple text replacement, to window manipulation, to full GUI implementation. The scripting syntax is a bit interesting, but once you get past that it can be VERY powerful.

Looking through my old script file, I have ones in there to move windows between two monitors, resize windows, date and time format pickers, text conversions, open files and programs, set system volume, and even David’s “Thank You” and “You’re welcome” textexpander groups. Happy to share those here if there’s interest.


#18

I would suggest you definitely share those and even in their own thread - I’m sure a lot of people are looking for them and seeing examples always fires the imagination :smiley:


#19

OK. I’ll start a new thread here in the Windows area. If there’s a better place to put them, I can certainly move the thread.


#20

Similar to a few other people here, I use a combination of macOS/iOS for personal projects and Windows for work. I’m responsible at work for creating and managing things that automate small or large parts of our work. If anyone’s interested, here are a few things I would recommend:

  1. C#/.NET/Visual Studio: I began learning to code in C# about a year ago, previously only having worked with JavaScript and Python for the most part. Compared to those, C# felt like a more serious and complex language at the outset (I had two years of rudimentary Turbo C++ classes in high school and studied advertising at university). To my surprise, I found C# really straightforward. Even more, I fell in love with Visual Studio. It’s one helluva IDE, for its excellent code completion suggestions and gorgeous dark mode alone. Finally, .NET is chock full of stuff to save you from re-inventing the wheel. If I’m ever thinking about writing some complex blob of generic logic, I will do a few searches and usually find some .NET function to use (paraphrasing Steve Jobs, the line of code that never breaks is the line of code you never have to write). This doesn’t even get into NuGet packages, which can make building command line or GUI apps even easier and faster. To learn C#, I found these two videos (1, 2) extremely helpful. Beyond that, I just needed to get my hands dirty and do a few Google searches as time went along (suggested topics: LINQ, extension methods, casting, .NET Standard vs. .NET Core vs. .NET Framework, Regex.Replace, idiomatic C#). It may feel like a heavy hitter of a recommendation, but I rapidly used it over the last year to build a number of tools for myself and others. As an annecdote: I had never before created my own machine learning model. A few weeks ago, I decided to give it a shot. I saw Microsoft had just released the ML .NET framework. With about a half day’s work, I went from never having done this complex thing to having built a model that performed a multi-class categorization task with near perfect accuracy (six minutes of training on a data set of 7,000 elements; mind-blowing and unsettling in how good the results were). Before I end this lengthy bullet, one last tip: If you type in an unrecognized method name or such in Visual Studio, it will underline it in red similar to a misspelling in a word processor. Select the word and hit Ctrl + . to have it suggest “using” declarations or new classes that could be added in a keystroke.
  2. Search Everything: A free utility that literally searches everything on your system very, very quickly.
  3. Google Drive: Much more reliable syncing than OneDrive in my experience, with the added benefit of syncing your desktop if you choose to enable it (many of us use our desktop as a heap of files we need right now).
  4. Flow: As others have mentioned, it’s pretty good. Microsoft has added handy capabilities over time. I use it to send me notifications that meet complex criteria and automatically send emails for certain reports.
  5. Excel: I’m not talking macros, but rather the smorgasbord of interesting function combinations you can use to transform data. Check out Chandoo .org. One excellent thing Excel (and other apps) on Windows have that their macOS counterparts don’t are Alt-commands. Tap and release the Alt key and follow the chain of letters that appear hovering over the ribbon menu to do virtually anything. You’ll very quickly come to memorize a large number of these across Office apps to shave several seconds and clicks off many tasks.
  6. Google Apps Script: Not strictly limited to Windows, but goodness gracious can you work wonders with these. I’m working on fully automating several reports (or automating the most tedious, time-consuming parts of them) with them—converting everything from importing data to modifying it and email delivering it.
  7. Google Sheets: This deserves a special mention because Google has baked in a lot handy functions not found in Excel. For instance, QUERY and IMPORTXML. The best part is that it recalculates things any time a change is made to a sheet (say, by a Flow, Apps Script or Add-On), unlike Excel which needs to be fired up on someone’s computer.

I’ll add in more recommendations as they occur. I also look forward to seeing what you put on here!

Edit: + “vs. .NET Framework” re my edit below