Hands On: Aeon Timeline 2.0.7 (OS X)

Powerful outliner and project planner for creatives

We might not want to believe this, but whether you have to wear smart clothes to work or slob out at your freelance desk in the den, we all do our jobs in remarkably similar ways. The office worker might be assigned impossible tasks, and the self-employed might have to find the impossible commission, but there's getting the task, and there is following it through to some point where you deliver it. Aeon Timeline 2.0.7 is a way to help everyone do exactly that.

It was actually recommended to us on Twitter by writers who use this with the Scrivener writing app, but it's built for people working in prose fiction, legal documents, research, or any kind of project management. That means there are elements in Aeon Timeline 2.0.7 that cross over into the worlds previously colonized by outliners, project management apps, and specialized word processors, from Ulysses to Final Draft.

That's both an advantage and a problem. It does mean that you are able to use Aeon pretty much regardless of what type of work you're on -- it will help you plan out complex tasks, and track your progress through them whatever they are -- but it is always going to be a separate app. If you do write in Scrivener or Ulysses, for instance, they have at least some tools for organizing your work. So you need to be convinced that this separate app is worth your effort and money.

Similarly, at the other end of the scale, if you're doing professional project management, then everyone you know is pressing you to switch to a PC and use Microsoft Project (they have a point. However, consider OmniPlan first).

So Aeon Timeline really has a niche between the built-in functions and the career-level dedicated apps, but it does a good job there. This is not going to be software that you pick up in two minutes, but it is also software that will very much reward effort you put into learning it.

We took it through its paces on a drama scriptwriting project, where we found it made us make the most of particular characters: we could see when we were overusing some, and underusing others. Plus, we could arrange scenes and move them around for maximum effect (speaking of maximum effect, there's an option to say how much tension there is in a scene. We ramped it up to 100 and never let go).

It's a good-looking app with a nicely minimalist design that helps, because your plans -- or Timelines as this software calls them -- are going to get complicated enough to look at. You create events that have entities in them -- places, for instance, or characters in a script -- and after a while you're going to have wall of scenes. Aeon lets you rearrange them just to get a clearer view visually, or to actually alter their order, their sequence.

That's smooth, and quite slick. We'd like to be able to dig in more to each Event and edit on the spot, though. With that tension meter, for instance, we kept expecting to be able to click on it and make a change there, instead of separately going off to edit the event.

That said, it's not exactly arduous adding or changing information,and Aeon is best when you are handling lots and lots of detail. We won't swap our project management to it from OmniPlan, but we'll be sticking with its drama script features over the Scene Navigator option in Final Draft.

Aeon Timeline 2.0.7 requires OS X 10.8 or Windows XP or later, and costs $50 from the official website.

Who is Aeon Timeline 2.0.7 for:
Tricky. Keep in mind that Aeon Timeline has its fans, and it has earned them. Still, you need to fit into the sweet spot of being unhappy with, for instance, the outliner in your word processor -- but not so into project management that you need a more powerful application.

Who is Aeon Timeline 2.0.7 not for:
You've got a To Do list, you've got a rough outline, and all you need now is the wind in your hair. If you're an explorer on the page instead of a planner, and you can afford to be, then this won't appeal to you.

-- William Gallagher (@WGallagher)

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