Windows Task Automator Anyone?

I use my Windows machine for one thing and one thing only these days: snapping one photo from my digital camera every 4 minutes and uploading it to this site for use as the live header. Unfortunately it seems that Windows XP can’t even handle this simple function correctly for more than a day or so without crashing Canon’s DLL.

I tried contacting the author of the remote capture software I’m using and he has no idea what the problem is, so the only solution I’ve come up with so far is the most ghetto solution imaginable: Using AutoMate, I watch for a particular application crash in the Windows error log and then manually relaunch the application using a series of automated mouse movements and clicks. It’s pretty silly watching it in progress. It’s almost liked I’ve hired an intern to just sit there all day and night and manually recover from crashes.

The solution works fine. However, the AutoMate 15-day trial is over now and I’m faced with the prospect of paying the outrageous $600 fee for the software, or finding another solution. Since the work AutoMate is performing is essentially that of an intern — and since I don’t pay my interns — I’ve decided to fire AutoMate and look for a suitable replacement. Preferably some young up-and-comer whose head isn’t so big that they think they are worth $600.

Anybody have any recommendations? I don’t need 99% of the functions AutoMate offers. Just the ability to monitor the system’s event log and then perform a series of recorded mouse movements and clicks.

27 comments on “Windows Task Automator Anyone?”. Leave your own?
  1. andrew says:

    Perhaps your solution could lie in cygwin? I do several tasks using crontabs, which are executed by cron.exe and automated through cygrunsrv (cygwin’s service). You don’t even have to be logged in for cron.exe to be executed. Now, I’m not sure as to your specific needs (I’m mainly using it to execute curl commands) but perhaps there is a clever way of doing what you need by implementing something similar to this.

    I think also there are other applications for similar use – that may have more of a direct application interaction and user-friendly GUI (although I’ve never used them). A Google search reveals a few freeware utilities, but I’m not sure as to their usefulness.

  2. At a previous job we used AutoIT, which is freeware and I think quite capable of performing the task at hand. Granted, I used to hate the damn thing’s scripting language, especially for complicated nested stuff, but for simple things such as the one you describe it should be more than enough.

  3. If your camera has a driver for Linux or FreeBSD, I would recommend formatting the box to use one of those OSes. I have an old Linux box that I only use for capturing and uploading webcam images and it does it quite well. Free too.

  4. Brian says:

    I have a very easy solution that will work for you. AutoIt 3 is a language written on top of C++ and is now considered proper. You can do an amazing array of things in it, namely automatic GUIs without them even being visible (and im not talking about specifying visible mouse clicks, although you can do that!). You can also compile executables that will run on any windows machine as-is. Best of all its free. Well I think it would take me five minutes to write the code. Can you provide a sample of of your event log and also the canon softare (and version #) you are using. I have several CDs of their stuff.

  5. Aaron Boswell says:

    Do you have to use a PC? The Mac uses Image Capture and my testing has been good on the “take a picture every few seconds” thing.

  6. I think the solution lies in getting some newer image-capture s/w rather than coping with the buggy/crashing app you use now.

    A look around the ‘net should land you with tens, if not hundreds, of freeware image capture apps?

    Good luck.


  7. You can just use Window Script Host to send events to a running program. Google along the lines of AppActivate and SendKeys and you should find some good stuff.

  8. Mike D. says:

    Thanks for the quick answers everyone.

    andrew: Cygwin sounds good but probably isn’t “point and clicky” enough for my puny brain to handle.

    Amor and Brian: AutoIT sounds like exactly what I need… many thanks. I’ll give it a whirl today. Brian, thanks also for the offer to help out with the script. I’ll see if I can get it working first before bothering you.

    Eliot: Yeah, unfortunately the Canon remote capture drivers aren’t available for Linux.

    Aaron: Canon does have a remote capture app for Mac, but number one, I’d rather not have my G5 iMac always on, just for this task, and number two, the app just isn’t very good. Canon’s native remote capture apps (for Mac or PC) really kind of suck. They don’t even let you specify a perpetual capture state… you have to type in exactly how many photos you want it to take. There are also other deficiencies in Canon’s app which make it less ideal than the aftermarket app I’m using.

    Duncan: Yeah, ideally this app wouldn’t crash, but apparently I’m the only one who it’s happening to. It is actually a fairly robust piece of software and much better than Canon’s own software. Most people don’t use the app to capture for days/weeks/months at a time so perhaps I’m using it outside its recommended schedule. I believe all of the freeware apps you’re talking about are for capturing off webcams. This is not a webcam. It’s actually a high resolution digital camera (so I can get better quality images), and any app which would be able to help me would have to tie into Canon’s specific DLL. None of those freeware apps do, unfortunately.

  9. Hopefully AutoIT will work out for you, but in case it doesn’t, here’s some info on a UN*X util I found..

    capture (original site has more info). “A tool for remote capturing with Canon PowerShot cameras. It has been tested with Canon PowerShot A60, 70, and S400.”

  10. That original site for capture, btw, has some really cool-to-watch clips of his plants. I just watched the mrantha plant and was quite impressed with the quality.

  11. Fazal Majid says:

    If you are using a DSLR for this purpose, keep in mind its shutter is only rated for a finite number of actuations before failure, usually 30,000 for a non-pro camera like a Digital Rebel, and thus at one frame per 4 minutes, you will chew through your shutter in about 4 months.

  12. Mike D. says:

    Eliot: Cool! Looks like that guy wrote his own interface for Linux. Very nice.

    Fazal: Yep, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if this caused my digital camera to eventually fail. Before, I was using a Sony DV Cam whose CCD was always turned on, so that seems like it would be even worse. The DV cam was in use for 6 months or so with no noticeable effects so hopefully this one can last awhile. It’s a Canon S30 (donated by Mike West actually… a reader of this site), so it if were to fail, I’d probably just replace it with another end-of-lifed Canon model. You’re right though… I don’t recommend putting an expensive camera to use as a 24/7 webcam.

  13. Jason says:

    I think the answer lies here.

    but that’s just me.

  14. Henrik Pejer says:

    I do not know any of the progs you use but I’ve seen a ‘power toy’ from Microsoft that might be what you are looking for.


    You should look for ‘Webcam Timershot’. The page says:

    “This PowerToy lets you take pictures at specified time intervals from a Webcam connected to your computer and save them to a location that you designate.”

    I haven´t used it but it could be interesting. If FTP is not available within the program, I think that if you add a FTP-site to the network places in windows that might solve that problem.

    Good luck!

  15. You could just reboot every day, whether you need to or not. I’m currently using this for a couple of kiosks, just in case some user breaks them somehow.

  16. T_renamer says:

    You should pay the interns. They might be more motivated if they made a buck or two.

    That said, an automator I’ve used for years is “Quickeys”. Works best on Mac OS 9 (because it’s completely integrated with the OS and all applications), but it’s acceptable on Windows. Also available for OS X.

    Your website is pretty nice. The comments preview is awesome. The comment numbering is also very cool – I assume you use the SIFR fonts for that.

    (Editor’s Note: Thanks, but nope… the comment numbering is just pure CSS.)

  17. Bradley says:

    If you’re running XP Professional (not sure about Home) and can access the system management console, go into the services panel and check out the properties of any service. You can set a specific action for a service if it fails, such as reloading it.

    Here’s a snapshot (Win2000, XP is similar). If my firewall crashes, it should restart itself. If it crashes three times, the system will reboot. Did Microsoft do something right here?

    So a solution would be to get your software to register itself as a service. I’m sure there is a program out there to help you with this, but not sure where to start. You would think that someone has written a freeware program to register a DLL as a service.

    Also, go to and look for a program called “Sustain”. The bad news: it’s command-line. The good news: it periodically checks to see if your program is running, and if not it launches it. Supposed to be somewhat configurable. Never used it, but it’s a shot.

    Look around, there has to be more software like this that I haven’t found, yet. Good luck!

  18. Adam M. says:

    I was going to recommend the same XP PowerToy as Henrik. In my experience the PowerToys, though unsupported and thoroughly disavowed by MS, are stable and useful for each of their specified tasks.

    Any luck with this problem so far?

  19. Adam M. says:

    After watching demos of Apple’s forthcoming Automator, I’ve been curious about this kind of utility for Windows. Your post got me Googling around, and I turned up xStarter.

    It’s not as elegant as Automator appears to be, but it looks like it would suit your needs. According to this screenshot, it can fire off a recorded action upon detection of a Windows system event (such as your application crash). At $39.50, it’s also much more reasonably priced than what you’ve been working with.

  20. onyx says:

    As another poster commented, you can use Windows Script Host. It will cost you nothing since it already comes with the OS, and a script can monitor the event logs for the Canon crash and then restart the application programatically. Just because it’s Windows doesn’t mean everything has to be done in the GUI.

  21. Thomas Ch. says:

    Dear Mike, high folks,

    i am a trainee in a it-company and i have problems with the remote capture task as well.

    I am Using an IXUS 430 and Canon´s Remote Capture Task.

    My Problem:

    I am using the intervall-function and the best resolution of pics.
    The Task hast to take a picture every minute an put it directly on the hard disk.
    I define the job and remote capture task returns me a value of about 5800 possible pics in this resolution…

    But after about 3200 pics the task dos not copy the pics to the specified just start to count the failures..

    I have tried to solve this problem in defining a task by a mouse recorder software, which ends the application each night and then opens it again.
    Simultainlessly i have written a small batch file including robocopy, which cuts all pics older then 24 hours out of the “capturing” folder…

    But this does not work.

    The only way to continue capturing is to unplugg the usb.cable of the camera out of the port at my pc…

    My OS is Windows 2000

    Perhaps you have an inspiration or an idea…

    Do not mind my bad english…i come from germany.. :-)

    sincerely Thomas

  22. Mike D. says:

    Thomas: I had the same problem with the unplugging of the USB cable being the only way to “reset” the capture software, but it mysteriously went away when I started using Automate to kill the Remote Capture task and then relaunch it. All is fine now, but yeah, the thing still requires a killing/relaunching every couple of days.

  23. Chris Heelas says:


    I’ve written / writing plugins for a Windows version of Apples automator. I’m having problems thinking of useful plugins to write for it though, any suggestions?

    What I’d really like is help writing plugins for it!

    Send me an email if you’re interested in a copy of it.

  24. Nnyan says:

    Getting in here a little late but I would recommend (AutoIT is also very nice) the following:

    If you want a totally free option use PsService ( and a windows cron, which there are many options out there a few are: (look for lite version)

    alternatively there are free macro makers:

  25. Brian says:

    On Windows I recommend VisualCron for stability and precision. It also has a fair price of $37.

  26. anonymous says:

    1. (Automise) (Not 2 b confused with Automize)
    2. (ScriptAhead)

  27. Hobbes says:

    Have you tried Action(s)? ( It’s pretty much like Automator and it’s free. I think it’s working on Mac and PC too.

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