Dissatisfaction with OmniFocus

There’s a really good review of OmniFocus by Matt Neuburg on Tidbits today. He has even included two screencasts to illustrate his points. He’s fairly critical of the user interface. His dissatisfaction completely mirrors my feelings.

I used OmniFocus when it was still a beta but gave up on it once I discovered Things from Cultured Code. The problem I had was it was so complicated. And the UI quirks really annoyed me – particularly the one where you try and change the size of a column and the whole window shrinks. No such problems with Things. It’s easy and intuitive to use and generally behaves as you would expect a Mac application to behave.

Matt Neuberg has one criticism that I disagree with. He doesn’t like the fact that you have to manually tick a project as complete once all the tasks within it are complete. Things also works this way. I like this because I don’t always list all the tasks within a project right at the start. Sometimes I just note down the first few and add more tasks as they become apparent. So occasionally I have a project that may look completed but it isn’t as I will be adding more tasks in the future. Any projects that should have been marked as completed but have been missed get picked up in my weekly review.


16 Responses to “Dissatisfaction with OmniFocus”

  1. Dennis Says:

    I liked Matt Neuburg’s review of OmniFocus too. He made several good points in the article. And I agree with him that OmniFocus is still one of the best, if the not the best, GTD app available on the Mac. However, his criticisms of the OmniFocus interface in the screencasts were a bit sensationalized, I think, and were in some cases unwarranted:

    1) “Flashy elements” – Maybe the “flashiness” is a bit too much, but I disagree that it’s obvious where to click without those ghosted icons. The column headers at the top are only visible with the view bar on, and I think most people keep it hidden. There may be room for improvement, but Neuburg’s suggestion to simply get rid of them isn’t any better.

    2) “Non-standard row menus” – I think Neuburg is just flat out wrong here. The behavior of the project and context menus is virtually identical to other standard text-completion combo boxes used in Mac OS X (e.g. see Safari’s address field or TextEdit’s auto-completion menu that pops open with the F5 or Esc key). Plus, they support SmartMatch, so they’re actually a significant improvement over the standard widgets.

    The issue with the Esc key is also overblown – you simply have to hit the Delete key to clear the field first (this has been acknowledged as a bug by Omni Group and is slated to be fixed in a future release).

    As for the calendar widget on the due date field, Omni claims it *is* the standard Cocoa widget! So I think Neuburg may be mistaken.

    3) “Sidebar vs. content area focus” – This is more of a Cocoa issue than an OmniFocus issue as Cocoa doesn’t provide a clear means to visually indicate whether the sidebar or content area has focus. Try it out in Mail or virtually any other Mac OS X app with a sidebar. They all behave this way.

    It is, perhaps, more noticeable in OmniFocus because of the app’s ability to collapse/expand all nodes in either view. So maybe this needs to be addressed somehow, but it’s hardly a problem limited only to OmniFocus.

    4) “Window resizing and column resizing” – I don’t much care for this behavior either, but Omni Group points out that the Finder does this in column view when resizing the right-most column, and that it is in fact a standard option in Mac OS X and that many apps simply avoid it by inserting an additional column to absorb the extra space. I don’t know how true this is, but I’d still prefer to have column resizing similar to Apple Mail. So I guess I agree with Neuburg on this point.

    5) “Fussiness about mouse click/selection location” – This is also maybe a valid point. OmniOutliner has worked the same way for years. It’s really a trade-off of features. On one hand, we’ve got a lot of things that need to be supported: select a single row, select multiple rows, move row to new location, collapse/expand row, and edit text within the row. On the other hand, you want to be able to edit your content as easily and quickly as possible.

    The one big concession OmniFocus (and OmniOutliner) makes is that the row goes into “edit mode” with a single click on the content text. This is great for quickly editing and using the keyboard to move the cursor between rows. Try it, it feels just like a real text editor or word processor editing free-format text, with the arrow keys, Delete key and Return key all working as expected to create new lines/rows and move the cursor about. It’s far quicker and easier than having to double-click each individual row to edit text like other apps require (e.g. Things).

    Of course, the trade-off is that by allowing a single click to edit the text, we lose almost the entire row as a target for performing all the other operations (selecting, moving, collapsing, and expanding). We’re left with just the space on the left end of the row (often called the row handle) to do everything else.

    So the behavior Matt Neuburg complains about is the result of a design decision to support faster content editing over larger selection targets. You could argue it was the wrong design decision, but personally, I do a lot more content editing than selecting of rows.

  2. Rachel Murphy Says:

    Hi Dennis. Thanks for your comments. It’s interesting to see that some of OmniFocus’s quirks aren’t exclusive to OmniFocus – something I hadn’t really appreciated. Despite this they are still irritations – particularly annoying when it’s an application that is meant to make your life easier!

    I found OmniFocus feedback and support to be excellent when I used the beta. I’m sure Omni will be working to iron out the kinks and that subsequent versions will be easier to use. I’m sticking with Things for now though. It’s not perfect but it mostly does what I want.

  3. Dennis Says:

    Yes, Things is quite nice, and it’s certainly getting a lot of attention in the Mac GTD blogosphere. I’ve been keeping a close eye on the recent betas and look forward to reviewing the final version as well. For now, however, I personally prefer OmniFocus. But we are truly fortunate to have so many good choices for GTD apps on the Mac.

    You know, one issue that troubles me with Things is how to do database-wide searches. I even gave it go again last night after reading your positive reviews, but found myself frustrated again when trying to locate items. It seems I can only search in one select area at a time. And when searching the Projects or Areas collection, it only searches on the names of projects or areas but not on any of the actions they contain.

    If I know my database contains some actions having to with MacBooks, for example, but I can’t remember what or where they are, how can I quickly find all references to the term “MacBook”? Do I really have to search each collection separately (Today, Next, Projects, Areas, etc.), retyping the term in the search field each time? I must be missing something.

  4. Rachel Murphy Says:

    No, you’re not really missing anything. Cultured Code have said they’re going to improve the search function. If I can’t find something I first do a search in “Next”. That will also search within projects and areas. If it’s not there I then look in “Scheduled” and then “Someday”. So you only have to search in up to 3 different spots – which is a pain – but I can live with that for now.

  5. Dennis Says:

    Hi Rachel, it’s me again. I tried your suggestion but it seems searching in “Next” and “Someday” only searches actions, not project titles. If I don’t remember if my keyword was an action name or a project name, is there an easier way to find it? Also, it seems I have to search “People” collections separately too.

    There are some things I really like about Things, almost enough to make me try switching from OmniFocus again (repeating/scheduling tasks is excellent). But the broken state of the search mechanism is simply a deal breaker for me. In my opinion, it’s far worse than all of the OmniFocus issues put together. But maybe it’s just me.

    And you know, there’s other stuff in the current Things beta that also bugs me: limitations with dragging from the sidebar, “undo/redo” seems a bit flakey, no styled text in notes, no way to view multiple notes at once, no way to attach notes to a project (only to actions), poor support for copying actions from one project to another or duplicating a project (like a template), no way to sort actions or projects other than manually, no support for multiple windows, and no support for sequential vs. parallel projects.

    Do these missing features bother you? Do you know if Cultured Code are going to address all of them before the final Things release?

    I don’t mean to rain on the parade here, and I understand that sometimes there are intangible things about certain apps that just click with people, things you can’t compare on a feature matrix. But I’m just trying to understand the appeal of Things in its current state. It has a lot of potential, but it’s still missing so much. Every time I give it ago, I end up frustrated and disappointed and realize I’ve been taking a lot of stuff for granted in OmniFocus.

  6. Rachel Murphy Says:

    Ah, I hadn’t noticed Things won’t search project titles.

    I agree with most of your criticisms but to be honest the only one that really bugs me is the inability to drag and drop. Cultured Code have said they’re working on that one. The main feature they’re dealing with at the moment is enabling syncing with iCal. I gather they’re fairly close to releasing an update.

    As far as notes in projects goes, it can be done – but not terribly usefully. If you click “Projects” and then double-click any of your project titles you can add a note. You can’t view the note, though, when the project is open with the tasks visible. I have submitted this as a bug.

    Things is due for final release in the Spring (so they’d better get a move on!) and I’m hoping all the bugs will be squashed by then.

  7. Dennis Says:

    If Cultured Code addresses all the issues, I may very well buy a Things license too, even though I already paid for an OmniFocus license (fortunately, with a nice discount). For now, I’m sticking with OmniFocus, but I like to keep open eyes and an open mind toward new and improved GTD apps. After all, playing with the apps is half the fun, right? 🙂

    I’m also curious to see how each app’s iPhone version comes out — access from my iPhone is pretty important to me.

    Thanks for the great articles, and I’ll be following your blog from your RSS feed. Cheers!

  8. Rachel Murphy Says:

    Dennis – you’ve really got me thinking about how we all want different things from GTD apps. I’ve just put up a new post about it.

  9. Brad Says:

    Do either of these apps offer web access to your task list? I know both have iPhone apps coming soon, but how about web access to an iDisk backup a la iBank?

  10. Rachel Murphy Says:

    @Brad: Things certainly doesn’t have web access at the moment and as far as I’m aware OmniFocus doesn’t either. It’s a bit of a pain really. Roll on the iPhone apps!

  11. andy Says:

    I just stumbled on this review today, as I am currently reviewing both Things and OmniFocus for my personal use. I agree that there are some quirks about OmniFocus that really draws me to using Things as an alternative, but what has finally made me commit to OmniFocus is the superior iPhone syncing. Things will sync with the iPhone companion software only when you’re on the same wireless network as the desktop with the full version of Things, while OmniFocus keeps your data in sync via any WebDAV server, be it MobileMe or your own provider.

  12. Rachel Murphy Says:

    @andy: I’m not fussed what method Things used to sync so long as it works!

  13. Lauren Says:

    There are some quirks to how OmniFocus works but as someone who wanted to go mobile with the GTD applications I think this is the best we are going to get. I am currently trying out Things for the iPhone but I think that I will get a better idea of it once I start using the computer-based application. I do have some issues with Things already though as it does not give me context based notification bubbles over the application which every other app seems to do (it could just be an issue with mine but this is kind of a deal breaker with me).

    In terms of that feeling of completeness though I think OmniFocus is beating Things on and off the iPhone. Its more expensive but they had a full release client prior to the ‘sneaky peek’ alpha, and their mobile app has a lot of features that the others just don’t include (like the option to sync to a WebDAV server).

    Pricing is an issue toot though and you have to be willing to shell out the money to OmniGroup’s software.

  14. Rachel Murphy Says:

    @Lauren: OmniFocus is certainly a more complete app than Things, even allowing for Things still being in beta. It is more feature packed but this also leads to increased complexity. For me the complexity overshadowed the benefits. And, like you say, pricing is an issue. $100 for the OmniFocus desktop and iPhone apps is an awful lot.

  15. DomPom Says:

    The ability to have nested sub folders/projects and wide search is what ultimately led me abandon Things for Omnifocus. But it is an “expensive” choice.
    Anybody moving to Things and re-selling his/her Omnifocus license at a discount? I am not sure how that would work, but why not, since these guys won’t refund.

  16. Rachel Murphy Says:

    @DomPom: Things has just had an update which has introduced global search. Still no nested folders though.

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