Automation in the age of Mac OS 8?

Back in the 90s I saw a live demo of a TV presenter (though it was at a live audience event) using a Macintosh to rename a set of files into numerical order.

After they’d renamed a few files the computer interrupted and offered to rename the remaining files with the desired ordering.

Does this ring a bell with anybody?

I’m aware of this sort of Assistance on Mac, but am looking for specifics. It wasn’t limited to renaming files, it could help you complete many repetitive tasks on the computer.

In Copland it was called Delegated Tasks, section 1-17 of this Apple PDF

In Mac OS 8 they called it Assistance Services, chapter 13 p212 of this book PDF

Any thoughts or flashbacks appreciated. Perhaps it was even a third-party app? I don’t mind! Let me know what you know.

I’ve used
A Better Finder Rename


to do things like that…

Sorry, some confusion, I’m not looking for modern software recommendations.

I’m looking for details of the historic software.

Let’s try to keep this on topic as best we can.

Looking up the PDFs that you link to, @gingerbeardman, sure sent me way down memory lane. In fact, I’ve saved them to my Mac to peruse them more deeply. Thanks for sharing!

(My very first Mac was an LC II with the 12" color screen, running System 7. To this day, there’s a huge soft spot in my heart for the restrained elegance and remarkable spatial efficiency of that OS’s UI style.)

I fondly remember the Apple Guide interactive help system, which IMHO remains unparalleled to this day, as it combined showing, and executing, each step of a workflow so that users could learn new techniques in a truly interactive and self-paced manner. The web-based online help systems in today’s operating systems don’t even come close to that experience.

As far as I can tell (and remember from back then), Assistance Services was the back-end of Apple Guide and similar OS features. That is, unlike Automator or AppleScript, they were not intended to be used by end-users. Instead, they provided an official API for third-party developers to integrate wizard-like assistance features for their products.

An article I found on the amazing Vintage Apple website confirms this. It’s titled “Mac OS 8 Assistants in System 7 Applications” and was published in the September 1996 issue of Apple’s own develop magazine on pages 72–81. (Note how the Related Reading box at the bottom of the article points to the “Mac OS 8 Revealed” book that you linked to yourself.)

Interestingly, companies like WalkMe have built products with a similar approach as Apple Guide, but for web applications, and not for native OSs.


Thanks for the links! You’re quite right on all of this.

Also in the related reading box, an article by Quinn “The Eskimo” who is still at Apple to this day.

Sadly that leaves me no closer to figuring out exactly what software I saw ask the user if they’d like their file renaming finished automatically by the computer.


At its simplest the app would watch and remember the last X number of interactions and look for repeating patterns.

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Matt, did you look at the Macintosh Garden site? I think they specialize in old software though I don’t think they have it all listed.


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Indeed I have, I am kind of clutching at straws, fumbling in the dark, with so little of use in my recollection.

Will bump this thread if/when I have new info, thanks all!

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Wow, Quinn “The Eskimo” is still at Apple? That’s remarkable. The first time I read his name was ages ago in the context of his and Peter N. Lewis’s work on InternetConfig. And yet more memories. :sunglasses:

BTW, here’s a great interview with him from an “somewhat” older issue of MacTech magazine:

Amusingly, that page even shows an ad from back then for ChronoSync 4.8. I’ve recently upgraded my copy of that software to 10.3.1. :open_mouth:

Yep, and still answering DTS questions. I remember Quinn coming to visit when we lived in Renton, WA and having to fax something to Apple for the job he was applying for. He’d just arrived and had to get the paper out of his backpack, which sort of exploded when he released the internal compression straps. Then we had to go find a Kinkos so he could fax the documentation.

That paper probably had his full name on it. :slight_smile:

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