First look at OmniFocus

by Giles Turnbull

Ethan Schoonover’s video intro to OmniFocus is today’s hot geek screencast, and goes into a fair bit of detail about how the GTD-inspired app (still in Alpha) will work.

What’s immediately obvious (and not very surprising) is that OmniFocus looks like a hybrid of OmniOutliner and Kinkless GTD, and I write that knowing full well that Kinkless is a set of Applescripts that work alongside OmniOutliner Pro. It’s as if the one has been subsumed by the other, and the result (so far) looks smart and slick.

In the video, Ethan puts a lot of emphasis on the concept of “focus”, comparing the job of a task management application to the lens on his camera - it has to be transparent, and able to focus on the subject at hand.

GTD old-timers will appreciate some specifics: auto synching, nested projects and contexts, drag-and-drop everything, and the filter that lets you find specific subsets of tasks or contexts.

Of course, while Omni has been working on OmniFocus, there’s been a rash of GTD apps released, including the likes of Midnight Inbox, Actiontastic, and iGTD (those are just the ones I’ve tried, there are many more). Quite how OmniFocus compares with these better-established competitors is something we shall have to judge when it is released.

What’s your favorite way of getting things done, and why? If you’ve watched Ethan’s screencast, what’s your opinion of the young OmniFocus, and do you think you might buy it?


2007-05-01 08:32:23
To be broadly useful, these applications need to manage more than just snippets of text about tasks, contexts and projects. They need to manage--with low friction--a substantial amount of project and task metadata, including project and task notes, and links to multiple files, folders and URLs. None of the programs available so far has this just right. While OmniFocus appears to have a nice interface for managing project, task and context titles, it is not currently showing anything innovative for managing the substantial amounts of metadata that go along with those items. A strong integration with OmniOutliner might accomplish this, but work in that direction hasn't been shown.
2007-05-01 11:11:54

According to various posts at the OmniGroup forums, OmniFocus handles metadata quite well. You can attach notes, website links, and files to any action. (It works like OmniOutliner's notes feature.) Don't sell OmniFocus short before trying it!

2007-05-01 13:35:43
Yeah, I'd echo Trevor's comment. About three-quarters of the way through Ethan's video, you get a brief look at the OmniFocus Inspector, which displays controls for all kinds of metadata-related features.
2007-05-01 13:48:23
Based on the screen shots and video, OF supports attaching notes to tasks only, not projects. The "inline" notes under tasks appear to be similar to OO inline notes in that bullet or numbered lists aren't intrinsically supported and changing the font/style/color/highlighting is awkward. There's no evidence in OF yet of a separate note pane like OO (or note window) that would allow more visual space for notes. On the positive side, the handling of links in OO note areas is very nice and would be a big plus in a GTD application.

Other GTD apps like iGTD and Actiontastic also suffer from inadequate handling of ancillary project and task information. David Allen suggests that having 30 or more projects ongoing simultaneously should be expected, and in my experience, that's true. Managing thirty projects, each with their own list of next and future actions, requires some reasonably serious note-taking support at the project level (a level above individual tasks) to keep you oriented. To make GTD really sing, you need this "management" level integrated into the program. You work with this information and associated links during daily and weekly reviews, and generate tasks from it. Failure to support this seems to be a common lack in dedicated GTD software.

The best GTD implementations I've seen are in generic note-taking/database software such as Mori, which is what I use now. If you set Mori up correctly and add a few applescripts, it does everything OF has been shown to do and more, including project grouping, project-task interconversion, subprojects, user-defined metadata and tagging, and it handles sequential/linear projects reasonably well (which I admit is a slick concept in OF). Every item (project folder, task, etc.) in Mori has a note pane with RTFD capabilities, so you can easily keep notes at the project and task levels (and notes are enlargable to window height with one click). Mori's handling of links in notes is awkward compared to OF, which is the only major comparative drawback I've seen so far. However, OF is still alpha and I'm looking forward to additional development. A smooth (optional) connection of OF and OO, as I mentioned above, could go a long way toward satisfying my ancillary data management needs.

If you're interested in looking at Mori for comparison purposes, a description of the way I implemented GTD is at There is an alternative implementation using a plugin that has very nice repeating event support here:

2007-05-01 13:51:33
The link to my website above incorrectly picked up the trailing period. Just remove that or click:
2007-05-09 03:22:30
I watched the screencast of OF with great interest. It certainly looks like a contender for the best GTD app, but I have simply been blown away by iGTD. The rate of development/evolution has been staggering, almost too fast (if there is such a thing for a new app). The openness and transparency of the process has also been hugely interesting, responsive and informative - it is great to see user inspired suggestions being worked up and implemented in such a thoughtful and intelligent manner.

Whilst I look forward to playing with OF in due course, iGTD is here today and just works for OSX users!