A year with RoboTask

Since I get so much benefit out of Keyboard Maestro, last year I invested a huge amount in the Windows automation tool RoboTask. Using my knowledge of Keyboard Maestro as a benchmark, I set out to see what Windows tasks I could turn into macros. I’ve accomplished a lot, but it hasn’t been an easy journey, nor has it been cheap.

Automating Windows isn’t like trying to automate a Mac. The Mac has Keyboard Maestro, Alfred, Automator, and others. Windows doesn’t have that many software choices. However, I did find a tool called RoboTask, which certainly reminds me of Keyboard Maestro. It doesn’t compare to Keyboard Maestro in features, but it’s proven to be pretty useful and I’ve accomplished a lot with it.

The Pros:

To its credit, RoboTask is a pretty sophisticated app. It’s programmable like Keyboard Maestro with variables, loops, clipboard management, and dozens of other Windows functions.

For example:

  • You can arrange and resize windows
  • Copy/paste from the clipboard
  • Move and click the mouse
  • Read and write text files
  • Create Strings and List
  • Run macros based on a trigger
  • Send keys (type) to the active window
  • Schedule macros

Using those functions, I’ve done a lot of work with RoboTask. I have a lot of scripts for testing the mobile app. I get a lot work done with API testing. It’s a great tool for disk maintenance tasks and deleting out old files.

Some simple examples are:

  • I have simple macros to restart apps
  • I have scripts to make a Nuke build for our app
  • I have scripts for search/replace in .sql files
  • I delete multiple files and folders on a schedule, basically replacing CCleaner (Reports, old builds, .dmp files)
  • I use it to send API requests with random data
  • It’s been instrumental with mobile testing

Those last two have really been a time saver. RoboTask has the ability to send POST, PUT, GET requests to an API. We’re in the middle of API development, so this has been a huge help.

We use Swagger as well, but it’s massively convenient to POST my credentials and get the Bearer token on the clipboard. This can be used in other RoboTask requests and speeds up testing. It’s not a substitute for Postman, but there’s a lot you can do.

Another big testing job for RoboTask is testing our mobile app. I have an Android tablet connected to the laptop so the screen is replicated. I can click around using the mouse and keyboard which makes testing faster. That’s a good start.

Faster still is programming and repeating those clicks and keystrokes. It’s not the most dynamic testing, but getting RoboTask to click the same objects over and over is faster and less tedious than me doing it.

My approach is to make dozens of tiny modules with a single action. For example, wait 500ms, move to (500,500), click at (500,500), pause another 500ms. This would click the Add button on the mobile app. Chain these together and you get something pretty cool.

I can click through menus, fill in forms, and create user data far faster than typing by hand. It’s a bit brittle since it’s screen coordinates. But, when making macros in small chunks, I can click through multiple screens and repeat large actions.

I’ve found several bugs testing this way. There is no way I’m going to repeat something 200 times, but I can set RoboTask to do it.

It’s nothing like Katalon Studio for automation, but when you put things together the right way, you can get some deep dive testing. It can be brittle, but it can cycle through a macro hundreds of times to make sure the function really works.

Like Keyboard Maestro, I use RoboTask to perform system maintenance. Each week it executes scripts to clean up my machine.

  • Empty the Recycle Bin
  • Delete old screenshots from my SnagIt folder
  • Delete old Reports from Katalon
  • Clean out the Visual Studio build folders
  • Delete old backups

I was using CCleaner for those jobs, now I’m not.

While not as versatile as Keyboard Maestro, you can make random data using variables, lists, counters, and use standard code logic. I can make random serial numbers, user names, and SKUs.

The Cons:

Overall RoboTask is quite good and I’m mostly pleased with how it works. However, there are some bothersome drawbacks.

Price is the first hurdle and it’s a big one. It’s simply too damn expensive. RoboTask is over $200 for a commercial license compared to $40 for Keyboard Maestro. Considering the power to price of Keyboard Maestro, RoboTask is 4x overpriced. At $50 it would be great value.

Second, I find Keyboard Maestro easier to work with, but I’m certainly better with RoboTask than when I first started. It uses a similar “block” paradigm. You drop a module into a macro then configure the details.

Like Keyboard Maestro there is a specific way to reference variables and other elements, but RoboTask isn’t as good at letting you know you’ve done it wrong.

There is no “Try” action for a module either. The macro runs in its entirety, rather than trying a module to see if you have it right.

I also feel there is more and better documentation for Keyboard Maestro. The documentation isn’t bad, but there needs to be more examples.

The same goes for the user forums. Keyboard Maestro has a far more active user base. The user contributions are anemic compared to Keyboard Maestro. You’re almost guaranteed to find a Keyboard Maestro answer or example. The RoboTask forum doesn’t offer the same experience.

Using RoboTask can also be a bit tricky. You have to be in RoboTask to launch and RoboTask macro.

Unlike Keyboard Maestro, there is no launch menu (Alt/Ctrl-Space). Each macro has to be associated with a hotkey or an event trigger, like an app starting, rather than typing its name. This limits its usefulness in creating user data or kicking off a macro for the application you’re in.

  • Now the big question, is RoboTask worth renewing?

We’re at the end of the first year and it’s time to renew if I want another year of software updates. The renewal price is more than double Keyboard Maestro, at $90.

Is it worth the upgrade price? I haven’t decided, but I’m pretty sure it’s a “No.” What I use works well, but there are so many features I will never touch.

Registry, email, INI, Networks, Websockets, and Dial-up are things I will never touch. I doubt I will ever touch the XML, DB, or CSV functions either.

I’m very torn with paying $90 every year for “maintenance.” By comparison, Keyboard Maestro is $40 to buy with a new release every 2 years. Considering the work Keyboard Maestro does, it’s impossible to argue a $20 year cost of ownership. Not to mention the upgrade of Keyboard Maestro is a mere $18 for another 2 years of service.

If RoboTask was a 2 year maintenance cycle, that would be easier to accept. Even still, that’s overpriced. At this point, I think I will wait until next year. RoboTask is good, and I’ve gotten quite a bit out of it, but the maintenance price exceeds the purchase price of other app and that’s a little silly.

RoboTask is a quality app with a lot of features. The dev puts out frequent updates and does his best to answer forum questions. However, it’s not the same experience as Keyboard Maestro. It’s hard to accept that maintenance cost when the app doesn’t perform as well as something that costs a fraction of the price.

RoboTask

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
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