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 First Thoughts on OmniFocus 2

OmniFocus iconLast night I attended the OmniFocus Debut event in San Francisco, where the Omni Group offered the first public look at the next Mac version of OmniFocus, their powerful task management system that’s based on David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology for personal productivity.

Making it Easier

Omni Group CEO Ken Case kicked off the presentation by sharing the high-level goals for OmniFocus 2. One of the challenges with OmniFocus 1 is that while it’s a powerful application, there’s a steep learning curve that can make it difficult for new users to get up and running into a productive state. Easier ramp-up time was a concern, and as Case noted, with OmniFocus 2 you’ll no longer need a degree in OmniFocus to use OmniFocus.

This easier ramp-up is facilitated primarily by two visible changes which became obvious as product manager Liz Marley demonstrated the working version of OmniFocus 2. The first is a refreshed look to the application. It’s hard to specify exactly what’s changed, but instead of the dated look of OmniFocus 1, the new version appears cleaner and more in line with current UI practices. The second big change is quite tangible: the separate Projects and Contexts sidebars are gone, replaced by a consolidated sidebar that features collapseable panels. In these panels you’ll find access to Projects, Contexts, your Inbox, Flagged items, as well as a couple new views/features…

Back to the Mac: Forecast

OmniFocus’ Forecast view was introduced with their iPad application, offering an easy look at what tasks are coming in the next week. It quickly became many users’ favorite way of interacting with the program, providing a relevant view at pending work without having to create a custom perspective.

OmniFocus 2 introduces a Forecast view to the Mac version of the software. The basic look is similar to that of the iPad Forecast view, integrating both upcoming tasks and calendar entries into a view of “soon to come” items.

In a nice enhancement beyond what’s available on the iPad, OmniFocus 2 doesn’t restrict Forecast view to only the next week. You can pop open a calendar view of the upcoming month and select an arbitrary range of dates to be included. If you’d like your forecast to just include three days, you select those three days. Want a 2-week view? Sure. And, in a feature that David Sparks said made him pee a little with excitement, you can also select days vertically on the calendar, meaning that, for example, you can take a look at your next few Saturdays.

Back to the Mac: Reviews

The other area in which the iPad version offered a better experience than OmniFocus 1 for the Mac was the interface used for task reviews. Getting Things Done advocates a weekly review, but OmniFocus also allows users to specify a different review period on a per-project basis.

The pre-release version of the software we saw last night didn’t yet have a functional Reviews component, but we were shown mockups of what is hoped to ship when the software is available. The Review interface is very similar to that of the iPad, which should make it much easier for OmniFocus users to keep on top of this important part of the GTD system. From the stage, Merlin Mann noted that the GTD review is where one is held accountable, and the improved Review feature will make it easier to see when you’ve been a slacker (which, in a positive light, might incentivize you to get back on track).

My Take

OmniFocus 2 is about what I expected, and that’s a good thing. The new Forecast and Review views will be a nice enhancement to the Mac OmniFocus experience, and I’m looking forward to a fresher UI in the application. OmniFocus 2 will be a nice evolution of the product that should provide a more pleasant experience when working on tasks. A couple speakers yesterday reminded us that the goal of software like OmniFocus is not to become good at OmniFocus, but rather to become good at finishing tasks and projects.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say once I start using the product.

What’s Next

Ken Case noted that everyone has two big questions: when and how much?

When: OmniFocus will enter a private beta soon; allegedly those of us in attendance last night will be the first private beta testers so I’ll share what I can, when I can. They also have over 9,000 folks who have registered to be part of their beta testing, so there won’t be any lack of “real world” field testing. After a private beta, there will be a public beta (expected to last about a month) and then release.

How Much: OmniFocus 2 will be released in two versions. A Standard version will include all of the basic user features (projects, contexts, forecast, review, etc) and will be priced at $39.99. A Pro version will add the power user abilities to create custom perspectives (workflow views) as well as AppleScript support. The Pro version will be priced the same as the previous version of OmniFocus: $79.99.

Current registered users of OmniFocus will be eligible to upgrade at a 50% discount.

Read more about OmniFocus 2 on the Omni Group’s blog.

Interesting Links Roundup: November 9th

As I wander the web I find interesting things. I share:

What have you seen lately that’s interesting?

Learning About WordPress Core Contribution

At the WordCamp Portland developer day:

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Interesting Links Roundup: August 11th

As I wander the web I find interesting things. I share:

What have you seen lately that’s interesting?

Please STFU With Your WordPress Update Whining

WordPress logoWith today’s release of WordPress 3.4, bloggers and other content creators are going to have several great new features to make life better. Like any WordPress update, this release will also kick off another round of activity that I’ve affectionately nicknamed “People bitching about updating WordPress.”

Let me hop onto a soapbox for a moment and ask those folks to, as they say, simmer down now. Updating WordPress shouldn’t be a hassle. If WordPress updates routinely cause you grief, then odds are that in the past you have made some poor choices. Thankfully, said grief can be relieved.

It’s Two Clicks

The software update process couldn’t be easier. Upon logging into the WordPress Dashboard, administrative users are presented with a banner that announces the update and contains a link to the update screen. From the update screen, there’s a big “Update Now” button that will download and install the new version of WordPress.

While it’s possible that something can break during an upgrade, it’s not that common and usually only occurs if you’re running some obscure or abandoned plugins. That said, it’s always a good practice to make a backup before updating.

If your web host has permissions or other things configured in a screwy way such that you can’t update WordPress easily, you need to find a better web host. Here’s who I like.

Self-Responsibility for Plugins & Themes

If you’re managing your own site and have installed various custom plugins and/or themes, you also need to manage those. That means that you should keep them up to date, and use plugins and themes that come from responsible sources that will support their products in an ongoing fashion. For example, premium theme provider StudioPress is ready to go with all of their themes, including the one I’m running here on this site. If you find that a plugin or theme has been abandoned, I can assure you that there’s an alternative with a developer who is focusing on keeping things current. I’ll even help you find one. Really. Just leave a comment.

If You Don’t Want to Manage, Don’t Manage

If you really don’t want to manage your WordPress install, there are a few options by which you can leave the gruntwork to someone else.

  • You can do quite a bit with a WordPress.com blog. Managed by Automattic, WordPress.com is automatically updated to the latest version of WordPress and includes features that self-hosting bloggers need to manage via plugins.
  • Managed WordPress hosting providers such as WP Engine take care of most of the system administration work. They invest in back end infrastructure and systems such that their users have significantly less blog management decisions and tasks than in a shared or VPS hosting environment.
  • There are a lot of WordPress developers and consultants that would love your business. One option is to hire someone (often this is a monthly retainer) to take care of maintenance tasks like WordPress updates, routine backup, or plugin management.

I’ll step down off my soapbox now… I have a few blogs to update so that I can take advantage of new features, remain secure, and continue to publish my writing and photography to the world. WordPress used to be a bit difficult for a novice to update, but it really isn’t anymore… if updates are painful, that’s a red flag for something being wrong.

Three Little Words that Trigger Disappointment

Piled TechThree little words tell me so much about someone’s attitude about their software values.

The conversation usally happens after I mention an app or web service provider. Perhaps I mention how much I like Instacast. Or maybe I show how I love the Instapaper iPad app. Possibly I’m blabbing about how SmugMug is a great way to show off and sell photos.

And then it happens. The first words out of their mouth. Or maybe not the first words, but it’s usually not far behind.

Is it free?

I sigh. Sometimes audibly, sometimes internally. I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed that we’ve reached a situation where free has become the standard by which comparisons are made. Software is hard. Applications and web services represent the results of dozens, hundreds, or thousands of hours of work. And the response when I suggest a great $2 application often begins with “is it free?” This response comes from someone usually carrying a $200 smartphone for which they’re paying $40-100 each month.

The software or services in my examples will help you keep up with news and entertainment, improve your reading experience, or allow you to archive and present your creative works in a beautiful way. And you sit and hem and haw about whether or not it’s worth the price of a coffee.

The Oatmeal said it well.