VisualCron is an automation, integration and task scheduling tool for Windows

Web macro automation tools

A web macro recorder is a tool for automating mouse clicks and keyboard input on a web page in order to mimic mouse clicks to execute something, download/upload files or to extract information (also known as web scraping).

Web scraping is closely related to web indexing, which indexes information on the web using a bot or web crawler and is a universal technique adopted by most search engines. In contrast, web scraping focuses more on the transformation of unstructured data on the web, typically in HTML format, into structured data that can be stored and analyzed in a central local database or spreadsheet. Web scraping is also related to web automation, which simulates human browsing using computer software. Use of web scraping includes online price comparison, contact data retrieval, weather data monitoring, website change detection, research, web mashup and web data integration.

While programming interfaces (API) are on everybody's lips, still systems are developed without the direct access support. This involves both legacy systems, web pages who were not intended to be accessed through a programming interface or limited development of a web site to offer this kind of support. The workaround is macro recorder automation tools which mimics the behavior you peform with your own browser.

Problems with existing / competing tools for web macro automation

  • Application may be limited to web macro automation and cannot perform other actions like processing any downloaded files, encrypting them or further process information.
  • They are based on internal outdated browsers like Internet Explorer which presents java script and other compatibility problems.
  • The actual playback of the recording is done in the foreground which requires that someone is logged on to the computer. The limitations of this are that A) you can not use the machine doing other stuff at the same time and B) that only one instance of web automation can be run at a time.
  • Security is not integrated properly which manifests through passwords shown in clear text.
  • They are not built for handling data and files dynamically. For example, static files for upload/download are selected instead of dynamic.
  • Multiple web instances are not supported which results in no interaction between two pages.
  • Handling pop-ups and new windows are not good.
  • No support for uploading or downloading files.
  • No proxy support.
  • No support for client certificates.
  • No incognito mode support.

VisualCron and web recorder automation implementation

  • VisualCron is a full automation suite which is able to pass data (Variables and files) two and from Various Tasks.
  • Web automation in VisualCron is based on the latest version of Chrome. It is fast, secure and compatible.
  • The playback of web recordings are done from a Windows service which requires zero interaction from a user – no one is required to be logged on. This means that multiple instances can be running at the same time and you can work on the computer at the same time without disturbing the background playback.
  • Passwords are stored in an encrypted format.
  • VisualCron uses file filters, Variables, stored Credentials to dynamically present values.
  • VisualCron can handle many web instances (tabs) at the same time and copy/paste data between them.
  • VisualCron supports uploading and downloading files – dynamically with Variables
  • VisualCron supports proxy and proxy change anytime during the automation which helps if you want to create unique web requests.
  • In VisualCron you can import Client certificates and they will be presented upon request.
  • In each tab you open in VisualCron you can choose to have Incognito mode.
  • You are able to Print and take a Screenshot (save to file).
  • VisualCron lets you set any User-Agent you like.
  • VisualCron lets you inject JS anywhere.
  • VisualCron lets you override browser referer.
  • VisualCron lets you set Accept-Language.
  • VisualCron lets you set GoogleId to support Google Speach and other APIs from Google.
  • VisualCron lets you control speed of playback.
  • VisualCron supports PPAPI plugins like Flash.
  • VisualCron works well with iFrame.

Screenshot of the web macro recorder window in VisualCron

What is web automation used for today

Common scenarios include extracting and downloading information. Also, web automation is commonly used web testing.

One real world example is how we use VisualCron ourselves for web automation. Every month a CSV statement which includes sales data are generated on their web site. They have no web service, or direct access to the files. Getting this file involves logging in, clicking around in the menu, selecting a date interval, clicking on a link and download a file. All this is done through our web recorder and once downloaded we parse this file and update our own database.

The future of web automation

Web automation is here to stay as many web developers cannot keep up with developing and maintening their programming interfaces – if any. It is important that to understand that web recording is just a part of the automation that can and maybe needs to be done. When selecting a system for recording web macros it is vital to see that it fits all your needs, is secure and is future proof

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