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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Shortcuts makes my Mac user automations portable

Shortcuts mac sync

This week I’m traveling for Thanksgiving, and I’m using this MacBook Pro review unit before I have to send it back to Apple1.

One of the things I had forgotten in the years where I largely traveled only with an iPad is the frustration of having my home Mac and travel Mac out of sync. These days, it’s less of an issue thanks to syncing services—for instance, all my podcast templates are in Dropbox, and all my BBEdit preferences are in iCloud.

But as I’ve written about here repeatedly, I also rely on a bunch of Automator workflows, saved as Services, to get work done. And those don’t sync, so every time I opened my MacBook Air or this MacBook Pro, I’d find myself running into some Service or other that I didn’t have access to. I could do the work manually, or see if I had archived a copy on a cloud service, or if I was really desperate I could dig into my Time Machine backups on my server at home and see if I could pull the files out.

But on this trip, I realized that there’s another solution. I recently built a bunch of cross-platform shortcuts and a new Shortcuts version of an old AppleScript tool of mine. And Shortcuts syncs its automations via iCloud, automatically.

So when I went to look for my classic Template Gun applet on this Mac and discovered that I never copied it over, I didn’t despair. Instead, I clicked on the Shortcuts menu bar item—and there it was. Since Template Gun uses source files that I store in Dropbox, those files were also already on this Mac. It worked like a charm.

Similarly, I wanted to select some text in Safari and use it to write a post on Six Colors—and when I selected the text and control-clicked to bring up the Service I built to do just that… there it was!2

Yes, Apple could have added iCloud syncing for things like Services years ago, but with the future of Mac automation up in the air for so many years, it wasn’t a priority. Now thanks to Shortcuts, my Mac (and iOS) automations travel with me. It’s just another reason to keep working on getting all my Automator workflows converted to Shortcuts format.

  1. Repeat to myself: I will not buy one, I will not buy one, I will not buy one… 
  2. Unfortunately, it relied on a third-party app I didn’t have installed, so I had to download and install that, at which point it worked. 

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