Tech Friday: The Forgotten Art of Scripting

Well, maybe it hasn’t been been forgotten by everybody, but it has been a long time since I looked at scripting, which might be considered another name for “accessible programming for casual users”.

In the beginning was the shell script.. any of several flavors of command line languages that manipulated UNIX operating system shells. These included component programs with funny names like AWK, and SED that allowed the manipulation of data and (especially) text files. And they all still work and and are used. I’m personally fond of grep, which is a sort of search engine on steroids available on any UNIX variant (like the Mac OS X)

Then there was the DOS batch file, which appeared in the earliest versions of DOS and has been carried up through all versions of Windows with the availability of the Windows Scripting Host. It has now has morphed into the PowerShell… but you can still write and execute a simple batch file if you want. Great stuff for network administrators.

Then there is JavaScript, which has nothing to do with Java, used for calculations and manipulations of web pages. I wrote my TimeCard web page program in JavaScript; and it works, and it it is fast, but working with the language was kind of a mess.

Why bother?

The later versions of the Tandberg Codian Multipoint Control Unit (MCU) for videoconferencing includes an XML-RPC interface to allow programmers to interact with the box without going through the provided web interface. The latter, by the way, is actually quite good. Our idea is to figure out the basic sub-set of functionality that we usually use 90% of the time, and build a custom interface for that 90%.

XML-RPC is, (it appears) to be a languishing standard for having one machine issue calls to another machine, and allow the second machine to execute commands. The reason I call this “apparently languishing” is that Google searches for XML-RPC turn up documents mostly from the early part of the decade. Also, there are few good tutorials on how to get things to work… right now I’m winging it using an (excellent) free client for the Mac which sends XML-RPC commands to the target box from a Mac workstation. Still, XML-RPC is what our box expects to receive…and for the moment at least, that’s what it will get. Once we’ve figured out what to send…we’ll figure out how to send it, ultimately using any scripting language that will work, but starting with AppleScript, which is native to OS X and which comes with an editor and dictionary built in.

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