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First Look: OmniFocus project management

updated 06:35 am EST, Tue November 20, 2007

OmniFocus First Look

Veteran Mac developers The Omni Group have been producing OS X software since its inception, initially creating OmniWeb and porting Bungie's Oni to the platform. Having since blossomed from its humble beginnings by introducing many different applications for home and business, The Omni Group has unveiled its latest product, OmniFocus - an application designed to help personal and small business users stay on top of their tasks and duties. By using a trim application window and Apple app integration, OmniFocus hopes to offer an easy-to-use, albeit powerful, experience.

OmniFocus consists of one window with multiple view modes, allowing users to examine their tasks by plan or by context. The planning view organizes all tasks that are associated with a given project, whereas the context view mode will organize tasks by category. For example, if a user was to start a home business, he would have to create a plan that would encompass getting all the correct paper work, registering the business, finding a locale for the business - these things are all tasks of a different sort but are united under the common goal of starting a business. A user might require business software in this case, and they might be interested in seeing Leopard at their local computer store, so any "Software" related headings can be grouped and the user will know that he has to do multiple things while they are at the store.

OmniFocus' main window

OmniFocus' Context view

Projects can be organized in parallel or in series, the former allowing for multiple simultaneous tasks, the latter requiring events to be completed in order. This enables users to create task lists that cater to the project in question: watching a movie with a friend requires that a date be set in advance, then that the movie be rented; while a list of items for a party do not require a set order of purchase. Tasks can be flagged and annotated, which helps with keeping track of priority or specifics that are pertinent to the situation. If a user realizes a basic task is not so basic after all, OmniFocus has several ways to create a project from the task, and then further define the project with additional tasks.

Parallel project

Sequential project

Annotated tasks

OmniFocus has a few different tools that allow users to quickly find and change information, such as an info panel, a "Clean Up" button, and a few different search and filter methods. Along the top button bar are most of the controls for the application. The search dialogue is self explanatory, and the view button summons several filter lists that show information based on the criteria selected. The project inspector gives users more control over projects and tasks by supplying controls for the project, actions, repetition, relevant dates, and context options.

Project Inspector (click to see open)

The application features a number of different perks as well. iCal and Mail functionality have been woven into OmniFocus' code, allowing users to sync their calendars and automatically manage To-Dos, and Spotlight integration provides an OS-level search function for easy location of tasks and projects. The Omni Group uses a feature called SmartMatch to quickly provide access to a preset, but editable, list of contexts, allowing users to quickly find or add a context item just by typing a few letters of the category. A user might have a category called "Software I need to buy" and could search for it by typing "sof ne bu", and OmniFocus is intelligent enough to see that they are the beginnings of separate words, and will suggest the appropriate context. Tasks can also be added while working in another application, allowing users to call up an overlay window to quickly jot down their idea before they lose track of what they are doing or of the idea.

As a pre-release software title, OmniFocus does have a few bugs, and a comically incomplete manual, which the developer acknowledges and says will be complete by the time the app ships. OmniFocus has a release date or January 8th, 2008, and The Omni Group is offering special pre-order pricing of $40, with the application selling for $80 thereafter.

by MacNN Staff





  1. Gamoe

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Nice, but overpriced?

    Does anyone else think that Omni's software is nice, but grossly overpriced? $80 for a specialized list/misc. database app? I think FileMaker's new Bento ($50) would be a much better deal...

  1. jeph4e

    Joined: Dec 1969



    Not small biz but rather life management :)

    And no, it is really not overpriced at all. There is an amazing level of thought that went into it. Worth every penny. Bought one for the whole family...

    If you know what GTD means than this is something that will help you as the place to put everything down.

  1. jdoc

    Joined: Dec 1969



    I've seen a bunch of these GTD apps, but how useful are they really for every day life? I'm partner in a medium sized medical practice, and of course my wife handles plenty of stuff at home, but it seems like it would take more time and effort to organize/input things on a computer than to just write it down or create stickies (eg a grocery list, etc). Any thoughts?

  1. jeph4e

    Joined: Dec 1969



    If you're an organized person than time management is built into you. If you don't have a problem than it will do little for you.

    I, however, have a problem. I'm very hard to focus and scattered - as I am writing this and not working. I have an addiction to distraction so I've been on the Franklin Covey binders and PlanPlus all my professional life. I fall off the wagon quite a bit on these as they never have well thought out in a digital sense.

    The Covey binders are the best analog solution (monthly or daily planning pages) but I am in front of the MPG 80% of the time I am awake.

    OmniFocus really is like all their apps in that it is very well thought out (i.e. my razr vs. iphone)

  1. ennerseed

    Joined: Dec 1969


    OmniFocus is Great

    I have been using it to to track my to keep track of my Flash bugs and new ideas, not to mention client prospects and personal things I need to do. It has been working out great! It actually is extremely easy to organize. Also, and most importantly from my experience, entry can be made from anywhere with a control option space key command, making entry a non issue. Then the entry goes into an inbox or to a specific project when entering. In my opinion, it really is worth a try by anyone. And more than likely useful by everyone. They have a demo video online, at least check the video out.

  1. ClevelandAdv

    Joined: Dec 1969


    omni apps pricing.

    I purchased the Omni pro apps package a few years ago. I find all of their apps to be well thought out, and worth every penny.

  1. Guest

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Correction & GTD

    For those not familiar with the GTD (Getting Things Done, or methodology and if you are interested, OmniFocus is not just a task manager (like the app on Palm products or like a traditional list where you take your to-dos, prioritize them, and start with the top priority. OmniFocus is built around putting the GTD methodology into practice.

    The key takeawaw and the correction is the concept of contexts. A context is a place where you can get certain types of work done. Thus, I have an errands/out context where I place my tasks that have to be done when I am out and about. I have a Mac context where I do work on my Mac. Omnifocus has a Mac:Online context, where you organize tasks that are done when connected to the internet. This is helpful because I can only do tasks that fit in the context I am in. So before I go on an errand I review my errands/out context to see what I might be able to accomplish.

    So, "software" as in the article is probably not a good context. Rather, you would make a task like "examine Leopard home business software at the Apple Store" and put it in the errands/out context. You would also assign the task to the project of starting a business, as mentioned in the article.

    As to pricing, I have used Ghost Action (a GTD app) which I bought and OmniFocus is much more robust in features though it is alpha (but not crashing all the time either).

  1. slider

    Joined: Dec 1969



    If you believe that Omni Group's Apps are too expensive, then it's most likely that you'd find little use for them. If however your time is taxed day to day, the tools that Omni offers are not over priced. Omni's software apps, much like Apple's, don't get in your way and work the way you'd expect them to. I've been waiting for OmniFocus since I first read about it and have started using the betas. I already automatically enter everything into the program as a central "to do" task manager, which allows me to then organize and then complete tasks in an efficient manner. Jotting notes down on a yellow pad or sticky tend to get misplaced and forgotten about or lead to multiple entries of the same task.

  1. macnixer

    Joined: Dec 1969


    $80 is too high

    for a software that just helps you keep track of things. Have a look at SchoolHouse ( It does your tracking and school project management. Its free. This software needs a few tweaks to make it a pro soft not a school work tracker. I am sure the indy developer could make some good money doing so.

  1. michaelmazzen

    Joined: Dec 1969



    It's not overpriced - but you whiners should check iGTD - it's a free and very powerful, stable tool...

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