Some Thoughts on OmniFocus 2

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Omni focusI bought OmniFocus 1 shortly after it was released in 2008. At the time, some of my work involved managing fairly complex software documentation projects, and it was very helpful in organizing tasks by several people. Since I no longer manage that type of project, I eventually stopped using OmniFocus.

But with the release of OmniFocus 2, I decided to download a demo of the new version and check it out, to see if it would help organize the work I do a bit better. I’m not a GTD fundamentalist, and my tasks are relatively simple. But I do like having a useful tool to organize what I have to do.

While I find the design of OmniFocus 2 attractive, it fails, for me, in many ways. Comparing my current library in OmniFocus 1 and OmniFocus 2, the latter takes up about twice the height and about 1/3 more width on my window. (In OmniFocus 2, I’ve set the window to display my entire current list of tasks, and the font size in both is about the same.) There is so much wasted space, that it’s off-putting. It’s hard to see what’s going on at a glance, because so much of the window is white. And, I can’t make the sidebar as narrow as its content – this seems to be a bug – and the buttons in the sidebar just seem like wasted space as well. Here are two screenshots, to scale. First, OmniFocus 2, then OmniFocus 1. They both contain the exact same information.

001.png

003.png

Note: I could have hidden the rightmost column in the first screenshot; that’s the equivalent of the Inspector in OmniFocus 1, which is a floating window. What’s more important here is the vertical space wasted by OmniFocus 2.

Several other things irk me. There are too many things that either don’t work as they should, or don’t work at all: there’s no indication of how many – if any – items are in the inbox; I can’t change any of the fonts, sizes or colors, with the exception of a very limited font size slider; the Mail service doesn’t work, and the Send to Inbox service isn’t reliable from anywhere else; you can’t drag items from the inbox to anywhere else; I could go on, but I’m only focusing on the main issues that affect the way I work. (I’ve never understood perspectives, or some of the other advanced features of the app…)

While I found that OmniFocus 1 had too many options, and was very hard to get a handle on, I find that the lack of options in OmniFocus 2 is limiting.

I’m surprised that after the amount of time it took to bring out a version 2, that it seems so unfinished. I’ve been seeing posts on the OmniFocus forums about hidden preferences (a very, very bad idea for users), about potential tweaks to the interface, and options that might be added in the future. It just seems surprising that after all the beta testing (which I was not a part of), and eight years, that OmniFocus 2 shipped as it did.

Perhaps I’m not the right person for OmniFocus; or it’s not the right app for me. I do want a good task manager; ideally, it will be a Mac app that can sync to an iOS app. I have no problem paying the price Omni asks (though I get upgrade pricing), but for what feels like a half-baked app, it’s simply not worth it.




11 replies
  1. Chucky says:

    Unlike you, I absolutely love and use OmniFocus 1. Like you, I’m not a GTD fundamentalist, but I find OF 1 to be flexible enough to handle my haphazard and idiosyncratic workflow with flying colors, and thus be of constant use for me.

    But I fully agree with you that OF 2 is a disaster. It just ignores folks me who want a minimal desktop real estate presence, and thus loses most of its utility for me. (I do some occasional organizing work in a more ‘full-screen’ workflow, but I generally only keep a very small window or two visible, and that kind of capability is essentially gone.)

    As to the source of all this, between the releases of OF 1 & 2, Ken Case issued his ‘bet the company on the iPad’ statement, and I think that affected design decisions for the Mac in a really negative way. FWIW, I feel similar disaffection with OmniOutliner 4, and have been sticking with the great OO3. It’s very sad to see Omni, my longtime favorite Mac developer shifting course in this immensely disappointing way.

    Reply
    • Kirk McElhearn says:

      When I outline – which I only generally do for long works, such as books an manuals – I use OmniOutliner. I saw absolutely no reason to upgrade to OO4, and I’m quite happy with OO3 (and I’ve been working with it recently, to organize a manual I’m writing).

      But you have a point: a lot of the design decisions on OF2 do seem iOS-influenced. However, all that white space… It just doesn’t make sense. You wouldn’t do that on iOS. I should not that I’ve never used the iOS versions of OmniFocus. I had been thinking of getting the iPhone version, but now I’m not sure. Do you use it with OF1? Are there any problems with the differences in interface?

      Reply
      • Chucky says:

        “I had been thinking of getting the iPhone version, but now I’m not sure. Do you use it with OF1? Are there any problems with the differences in interface?”

        I bought the iPhone version, but found that the way I used OF 1 was so radically different than what Omni had in mind, that the iPhone version didn’t really satisfy my needs, and I stopped using it. (The fact that I was able to use OF 1 for Mac so idiosyncratically is testament to how good the software that Omni used to develop really was.)

        I ended up writing a simple Applescript to scrape certain Perspectives and criteria into text files for mobile use.

        Reply
      • Chucky says:

        “When I outline – which I only generally do for long works, such as books an manuals – I use OmniOutliner. I saw absolutely no reason to upgrade to OO4, and I’m quite happy with OO3″

        It’s not just that OO4 isn’t better than OO3. Much like with OF, OO4 is a major regression from OO3.

        Reply
  2. Chucky says:

    “I’ve been seeing posts on the OmniFocus forums about hidden preferences (a very, very bad idea for users)”

    Here I emphatically part company with you. Hidden prefs, especially when published as Omni has always done in the past, are an excellent solution for giving power to power users without making pref dialog boxes a Byzantine nightmare for everyone else. There really is no better solution available.

    I love the hidden prefs that are published and available for software from Omni and Michael Tsai, as it makes the software immensely more useful for me. Hell, even OS X has had its share, (though Apple devalues them by not publishing them.) And back in the day, Eudora was a hidden pref paradise, which is part of why I loved it.

    Reply
    • Kirk McElhearn says:

      But they’re not published; at least they’re not mentioned in the OmniFocus manual. The only way you can find out about them is in the online help, or on the forums. I agree that what Michael Tsai has done is excellent; and I do like the way Omni uses URLs for them. But they’re still hidden, and only those who seek out answers will know that such options exist.

      I agree that too many preferences in dialogs can be confusing; but hiding them completely is not a good thing.

      Reply
      • technorav says:

        Agreed, if this stays a hidden preference forever. However, the sense that I got from the forum is that this alternative high-density view is an experiment that isn’t quite baked yet – they wanted feedback from those interested enough to be in the forums, but felt it was still incomplete enough that they didn’t want to expose it via the usual preferences.

        Reply
        • Kirk McElhearn says:

          From the forums, it looks as though they only decided to offer an alternate view because so many people were unhappy with the default view. They shipped the application with this view that wastes so much space, which is very surprising.

          Reply
  3. Chucky says:

    “But they’re not published; at least they’re not mentioned in the OmniFocus manual. The only way you can find out about them is in the online help”

    It’d certainly be nice if they were in the manual. But if not, at a minimum, there should be a clickable link in the manual to an online list of esoteric prefs. That’s all that is needed to let folks who look at the manual know of their existence. (I fully agree with you that not even including such a link in the manual is wrong.)

    “I agree that too many preferences in dialogs can be confusing; but hiding them completely is not a good thing.”

    Again, I emphatically disagree. If all the esoteric prefs for EagleFiler or OmniWeb were stuffed into the pref dialog, it would an unholy mess that everyone would hate. The choice is the real world is between making esoteric prefs hidden and documented, or just not having those prefs in the first place. There is no ‘third way’.

    Reply
    • Kirk McElhearn says:

      We agree. What I mean by hiding them completely is not having any mention in the manual. I’m 100% in favor of simpler preferences for apps.

      Reply

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