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Fake: A Programmable Browser for OS X

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Does the Mac community need another Web browser? Probably not if we’re talking conventional browsers, as there’s a luxury of choices already available: Safari, Firefox, Chrome (s goog), Opera, and a gaggle of others.

However, former Apple (s aapl) Dashboard developer Todd Ditchendorf’s programmable browser Fake is something genuinely different, a sort of hybrid melding of Safari and Apple’s Automator scripting utility. Fake allows you to drag discrete browser Actions into a graphical Workflow that, once configured, can be saved and run to perform various online tasks automatically.

How it Works and Why It’s Useful

Fake is a useful timesaver, automating tedious tasks like filling out lengthy forms, capturing screenshots, and more. Developers especially can make great use of Fake by graphically configuring automated tests for their web apps.

Fake’s automation features are powered by OS X’s built-in scripting tool AppleScript, so you can incorporate web automation into many OS X scripting tasks.

Fake’s user interface is derivative of the Automator UI, with a side panel containing a library of configurable “actions” that can be employed as an easy alternative to writing AppleScript code from scratch. Tasks available include clicking checkboxes or links, filling out and submitting forms, navigating to URLs, opening and closing browser tabs, and so on.

Sample Workflow

Here’s a simple example of how Fake works. You probably wouldn’t find this particular workflow especially useful unless you’re obsessed with visiting the Apple Store’s iPad pages, but it gets the basic idea across.

You begin with a “Load URL” action, dragging it from the Action Library to the Workflow pane in the Fake UI.

Once your webpage or form appears, you can drag other actions into the workflow pane to navigate, set values and otherwise configure tasks that you point actions to, such as clicking on an element link:

Or clicking an html button:

When you’ve composed the full workflow sequence, click the Run button in the Workflow pane toolbar.

Which will run your automated workflow and take you where you want to go:

This is a simplified example for the sake of clarity. You can do so much more with Fake, but the best way to find out is to get in there and try for yourself. You might also want to check out this screencast at WebWorkerDaily for another example.

A Browser Apart

Fake’s browser component is based on the open source tech used in the OS X Site Specific Browser (SSB) app Fluid. In a nutshell, Fluid technology provides Fake with an array of powerful features that developers like to have in a browser, such as userscript and userstyle support. Fake also taps into Apple’s WebKit to provide element-level analysis of Web pages.

One other difference with Fake is that unlike mainstream Web browsers these days, it’s for-fee demoware, costing $29.95 for a license. However, if browsers are a tool of your livelihood, or you just have better things to do with your time than repeat mundane tasks on the web, Fake could pay for itself pretty quickly. Fake Version 1.4.2 requires Mac OS X 10.5 or later.

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