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Friday 7 August 2009

Many tasks, little time

The last WatchDirectory update introduced several features that help people who run a lot of WatchDirectory tasks. This post describes them in more detail and introduces a little undocumented feature.

Find Tasks

Version 4.5.9 has a new option to Find Tasks. Use the menu "View -> Find" or the keyboard shortcut CTRL+F to invoke it. Enter any search term and the WD Control Center will search all visible columns for the entered text. All tasks that have a matching text will be selected and optionally scrolled to top.

There is also an option to "Clear previous results". If you deselect it you can do multiple "finds" to select all the tasks you want.

When all desired tasks are selected you can Start them all at once by clicking the "Play" button. If one of the tasks selected is already running you will find the play-button is disabled (grayed). To enable the play-button you must either:

  • De-select the running tasks:
    Ctrl+Click the selected running task to de-select it
  • Force the Play-button to become active:
    Hold down CTRL and SHIFT while you click play. Only the not-running selected tasks will be started.

Group Tasks by Color

Also new: you can assign one of 6 colors to a task. Select one or more tasks and right-click them. Select the menu-option "Set Color" and assign a color to the selected task(s). After doing this for the first time, 2 things will happen:

  • A new column will show
    This column contains a colored "dot" for the tasks. Clicking the column header will sort all tasks by their assigned color.
  • A new color toolbar will show
    This toolbar allows you to quickly select all tasks having the same color. You can disable this new toolbar using the "View ->Toolbars" menu option.

So now you can, for example, assign "green" to all tasks related to "Incoming Customer Orders" and assign "red" to all tasks related to "Fulfilled Orders".

Click the red dot on the new toolbar to select all "Fulfilled Orders" tasks and start or stop them all at once.

Undocumented - named colors

Maybe "red" is not so obvious... You may be wondering, was it green or red I used for "Fulfilled Orders"?? When you hover your mouse over the colors toolbar, the Control Center will read the description to show from the Windows Registry. If not found there, it will use the default (non descriptive) text for this color to show.

If you want easier, intuitive descriptions for these colors, download this file: ColorDescriptions.txt. (you must right-click, "save as" this link, otherwise it may show as rubbish in your browser). Save it to your desktop and open it with notepad (or another plain-text editor). Inside the file you find several lines like:

"1"="Statusbar message for Red\\npopup for red"

(followed by "2"=, "3"=..."6"=, one for each color). Change the text anyway you like, but please make sure it keeps this same format (especially the "\\n" part is important). For example, change this line to

"1"="Select all Fulfilled Orders\\nFulfilled Orders"

The text before "\\n" is showed on the statusbar. The text after "\\n" is shown as a little yellow notification when you hover your mouse over this color.

After you made the desired changes to ColorDescriptions.txt, rename it to ColorDescriptions.reg (ignore warnings from Windows). Now double-click the ColorDescriptions.reg file to import these settings into the Windows Registry. When you restart the WatchDirectory Control Center, you will see your new descriptions.

Just a reminder

If you have bought a version 4.x license from us, you can upgrade this license free of charge. Just install the latest "evaluation version" on top of your current install so it will see your current settings, tasks and license info.

Download here or for the German lanuage version: here.

Saturday 1 August 2009

Q&A - Load Balancing Humans


One of our customers, USA Transcription Services, uses WatchDirectory to automatically send work from clients to transcriptionists. Clients upload work to a directory monitored by WatchDirectory and WatchDirectory sends it to the transcriptionist assigned to the client.

Normally each client has a dedicated transcriptionist, but some clients send a lot of work to transcribe - more work than one employee can handle in a reasonable time. What is needed is to assign 2 transcriptionists to such a client, making sure no work is duplicated (done by both).

Lori, my contact at USA Transcription Services, asked if I knew a way to solve this.

Solution Outline

Instead of sending work directly from the directory where clients upload work, we first need to distribute these files into separate directories, assigned to different transciptionists. These directories can then be monitored by another WatchDirectory task to send the work to the individual employees.

Solution 1 - Sort Files

Use the Sort Files plugin to distribute the detected files to employee folders. Create multiple "sort rules", making sure they are all "final" (so a file is only copied to one employee folder).

This solution depends on the names of the files uploaded by the customers. If you can be sure these names are quite random, you can base the sort rules on, for example, the first letter of the filename. The first sort-rule would use a mask like


so it copies all files with names starting with a, b, c, d, e, f, g and h (ignoring case), and the second rule would just use * as the mask - matching all files not handled by the first rule.

One problem: the masks as entered for sort-rule one will also match the file C:\Directory\ZZZZZZZZ.TXT because of the mask "*\d*".
So, in this case, it is better to enter the file masks as *directory\d* (or just *ory\d*).

Another problem, it can be quite hard to guarantee all files uploaded by clients have random names. Maybe better to use masks based on the second character of those names:


This post is not intended to go into the linguistic analysis of filenames but I think the letter 'E' is quite common as the second letter in English filenames

Solution 2 - A Batch File that distributes randomly

This is the solution Lori is using now. If you don't need rocket science precision (exactly half of the files go to directory-1, the other half goes to directory-2), this will work fine. Especially if you are dealing with a large number of files to distribute.
This solution uses the Run a Batch File task to start a script that uses the environment variable %RANDOM% to determine the target directory (and thus the employee that transcribes the file).
Here is the script:

SET TARGET1=C:\Uploads\Employee1
SET TARGET2=C:\Uploads\Employee2
rem get a random number (0 - ~32000)
rem and get the remainder of divide by 2, so we have a number 0 or 1 as the result
rem move the detected file to TARGET

If a client needs 3 employees, the script can be changed to (changes highlighted):

SET TARGET1=C:\Uploads\Employee1
SET TARGET2=C:\Uploads\Employee2
SET TARGET3=C:\Uploads\Employee3
rem get a random number (0 - ~32000)
rem and get the remainder of divide by 3, so we have a number 0, 1 or 2 as the result
rem move the detected file to TARGET

Solution 3 - No Randomness

Random can be a tricky concept... I will let Dilbert Explain. To guarantee an even distribution of files you need to count the files, please see this forum post.

PS: I found the Dilbert comic only on It must be somewhere on the official site as well, but I could not find it. If you have a link to the original pic on, please let me know.

August Special - Free Agenda At Once license

If you buy 2 or more WatchDirectory or WatchFTP licenses in August 2009, you can get a free license of this Great Organizer and ToDo-list program. A $40 gift from us to you!

If you are already a customer and buy one extra license (remember to contact us first for a 25% discount), this offer for a free Agenda At Once license is also valid.

Simply forward your order-confirmation email to, please allow a few days to process your request.

About Agenda At Once

Agenda At Once PIM for Windows combines the best aspects of other personal organizer applications. It's a complete PIM system, integrating to-do management, scheduling and planning, contact and note functions. In addition, it is easy to use and responsive, while being feature-packed but not power-hungry. With its optimally-designed interface, Agenda At Once will rapidly put you in charge of your - or your team's - personal information. You'll be saving time and accomplishing so much more that you'll be wondering how you ever managed without it.