February 5, 2019

IconIcon

uFocus the Focused Text Editor

Product Site: uFocus – Desairem
App Store Link: uFocus
Price: Free

uFocus WindowuFocus Window

uFocus is a distraction-free, Markdown based writing application that lets you create and manage plain text files.

We have a lot of these, why am I writing about uFocus?

uFocus brings a few extra things to the genre of Markdown based text editors.

Specialities

Modus MenuModus Menu

Sound: uFocus plays old style typewriter sounds when you hit the keys on your keyboard. It is an odd feature which helps me focus on the writing.

NoWayBack: If you find yourself editing and not writing, uFocus’s NoWayBack feature can make the process easier. You are not allowed to edit your content. Type. Editing is for later.

Library: You can add folders of text files to the uFocus Library. Lets you manage the files and have a whole slew of folders containing text files attached and available to the program.

Usual Slew of Features

uFocus is a competent Markdown based editor. Doesn’t support the esoteric features like tables and footnotes, but does support basic Markdown.

Typewriter Scrolling: uFocus supports typewriter scrolling saving you from looking at the bottom of the screen all the time.

uFocus Keyboard CommandsuFocus Keyboard Commands

Keyboard Commands: Keyboard command support in uFocus is inconsistent. Not all commands have a keyboard command assigned to them. The basic Markdown is supported but the program features are not. I want a keyboard command toggle for Typewriter Scrolling, Highlights and NoWayBack.

The other problem I have with the keyboard command implementation is the non-standard choices. Full Screen Mode is implemented through ⌃⇧F. That is not standard. The Apple standard implementation is ⌃⌘F. Moving lines up and down is also non-standard, ⌥⌘↑ and ⌥⌘↓ is usually ⌃⌘↑ and ⌃⌘↓.

Adopting non-standard keyboard commands leads to conflict with the users setup of Keyboard Maestro and Alfred macros. Requires the user to learn new habits for familiar commands and that is not ideal.

Fonts: uFocus lets you use your own fonts for the program and that is appreciated. Most of these distraction-free editors have barely concealed fascist tendencies which manifests in severe restrictions on user font choice. uFocus stays away from that morass and you can use whatever font you like.

uFocus Dark ModeuFocus Dark Mode

Themes: Only a light and dark theme without the users having the ability to modify and use their own themes. Pity. I like Solarized.

Suggested Improvements

  1. Standard keyboard commands.
  2. Autocompletion of lists.
  3. Auto-pairing of brackets and other Markdown syntax.
  4. Full support of an advanced Markdown variant like MultiMarkdown or CommonMark.

Conclusion

If you are looking for an immersive, capable Markdown editor, uFocus is not a bad choice. It has the added advantage of being free. If you use something else, it is a good idea to have uFocus in the mix of applications that you use. There are times when the typewriter sounds are exactly what you need to jumpstart the writing of the epic you are stuck on.

Recommended heartily.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie

macOS MarkDown text editor
January 7, 2019

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iA Writer Continues to Mature

Product: iA Writer
Price: $29.99

iA Writer got updated to 5.2.1.

It brings along a few significant updates.

New Font

iA Writer now has three font choices.

You can read about it at iA Writer has three custom made writing fonts that are available for download. I love the new Quattro. I am thankful to the folks at iA for making the fonts available at iaolo/iA-Fonts: Free variable writing fonts from iA. I am using them in Ulysses, BBEdit and Sublime Text 3. They are great on screen.

Integration with KaTeX

KaTeX – The fastest math typesetting library for the web is now integrated into iA Writer. If you are into mathematics, you are going to love this.

Microsoft Word Export

This version overhauls and makes comprehensive the docx export from iA Writer. For those of you who need this, this is a great addition to what is essentially the best Markdown based text editor on the macOS.

iCloud Improvements

iA Writer now supports Documents & Desktop in iCloud. If you are using iA Writer on iOS, this is a great addition and will make it possible to deal with all your Markdown based writing on iA Writer.

There are some other improvements. iA Writer is working hard to consolidate its position as the best Markdown based text editor on macOS. I work in it everyday and I love the program.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie

ia writer macOS ios markdown
January 4, 2019

Introduce Agenda to Your Note-taking

Agenda IconAgenda Icon

Product: Agenda - An elegant new take on Notes.
App Store: Agenda App Store Link
Price: Free with Premium Features for $24.99

What Do You Get When You Pay for Agenda?

Agenda introduces an interesting variation on subscriptions.

Agenda has a free version. It is available to use for as long as you like. Agenda has two kinds of features: Basic features and Premium features. The basic features are available to everyone. If you pay the yearly subscription of $24.99, you are entitled to all the Premium features that are released during the year of your subscription. At the end of your subscription, you are given a choice. You can renew the subscription, which entitles you to all the new features to be released during the coming year. If you don’t renew, you get to keep all the features you had already paid for but you are not entitled to the new Premium features which are going to be released during the next year.

It is a unique model. My first reaction is that it is a fair model.

The usual subscription model makes your access to the use of the product contingent on whether you have an active subscription or not. Agenda doesn’t do that. If you paid a subscription for a year, you are entitled to use the product and all the features that were released during your subscription period for ever. You are not entitled to new features but you can continue to use the product.

The developer provides a detailed Roadmap to let you know what they are working on, and what you can expect from the developer during your subscription period. The developer provides a sense of what they are busy fixing. This transparency gives you a clear idea on what the developers are focusing on. This helps you make the decision to subscribe or not.

Using Agenda

PrettyPretty

It is pretty. That is the first thing you notice about Agenda.

Agenda is a different note-taking app. The difference is highlighted by the descriptor of Agenda from the developer:

Agenda is a date-focused note taking app for both planning and documenting your projects.

Most note-taking apps deal with notes. They are not date-focused or project focused. Agenda changes the paradigm. It lets you assign dates to your notes. Effectively, it provides a time-line for your note-taking as it relates to a project.

I have two kinds of notes.

  1. Notes which are project driven. It makes perfect sense to have those associated with a timeline and Agenda has the right answer for those notes. Seeing a progression of notes within a project based on a timeline gives me the ability to dig into the details and also lets me take a broader view of the project and its progression.
  2. Notes which are subject driven and not project driven. They are not helped by an association with a date component. Agenda does provide Projects (think folders) which do contain notes which do not have to be associated with a particular date or timeline.

Agenda tries to avoid being prescriptive. You can use Agenda any way you think fit and it is an interesting addition to the note-taking space.

Agenda does tags. Tags are useful for organizing and search. Bear is built around the concept of tags. Agenda is not. Agenda is built around the concept of Categories and Projects. Categories are broad, like work, home, macOS, and so on. Projects are components of Categories. Tags are not nested, they are discrete. You can tag your documents and set up smart searches which collect all the notes or notes in a particular project containing the specified tag. It is an integral component of the search function.

Are You Confused Yet?

Agenda is new. Nothing in the marketplace compares. Notes are usually stand alone documents. They might be associated with a topic or a project, but they have not been associated with a timeline or placed together in any convenient way before. This is new to the world software. Thus, confusing.

This is what the developers say about the product:

Agenda… is really in a category all its own, there to assist you in getting the most out of each and every project, no matter how big or small.

All your notes are part of a project. They can be linked to a timeline. They don’t have to be. Agenda gives you the ability to adopt a timeline for a note or not. So, for instance, if you are managing a project which lends itself to a timeline, you can associate its notes to calendar events and thus you have the ability to assign due dates and build your workflow around the milestones relevant to your project. Agenda is a great way of maintaining control over such a project.

On the other hand, you can be taking notes on something that is not linked to a calendar event at all. Collecting every little bit information you can get your hands on for a DIY project, like Build a Table. You can assign notes on this to a project, call it Build a Table. Tag it with a tag like #table. Add notes to the project as you deem fit. You have all of those notes in one place and they are easy to search using the tag, through the specific project, or through a saved search.

Agenda gives you the ability to manage your notes any way you think is beneficial to you or relevant to the project you are tackling. That flexibility is both a strength of the product and a weakness. The strength comes from the unique approach to generating a timeline of notes relevant to a project and the ability to record the progression of the project through date-centric events. The weakness is the plethora of choices that this provides for the user. You, the user, have to decide on how you want to best manage your notes. The learning curve is a function of the introduction of a new paradigm to the concept of note-taking. You have to grok the program to get the best use of it. Agenda provides a significant quantity of information to help you along the process of figuring out what the product can do.

Preferences

Agenda PreferencesAgenda Preferences

  • You get to choose whether you want to go all in on the concept of associating your notes to a timeline.
  • If you use Agenda on multiple devices, you can sync your data through iCloud and have your notes available on all your devices.
  • The interesting part of the preferences is that it includes a link to the community built around the product.

Community

Note-taking is a crowded marketplace. Agenda is built around a new paradigm of note-taking. It is differentiated from the norm in terms of the function of the product, the design of the product, and the pricing of the product. How do you get traction in the marketplace?

The solution that the developer has put together is a focus on the community around the product. They maintain a product forum which is build into both the preferences and the interface of the product. The forum provides the user with information and a place to ask questions, discuss workflows and get educated about the product. The added benefit of such a forum is that it increases user involvement with the product. Users have the ability to share with other users, learn from them, and effect the direction of the product’s evolution.

Of all the elements of the product mix, if the developer is able to build a vibrant community around the product, this will be the most important element underlying the success of the product.

I am excited by the effort and I commend the developers for thinking this through and giving users a forum to engage in discussions about the product and its use. This ensures that the users have skin in the game and increases their involvement in the product. Nice.

Improvements

Agenda has potential. Like every other software product, it needs some improvements, In no particular order, they are:

Performance: Projects which have a sizable number of notes, and for notes which are long, Agenda lags. Collapsing the notes makes it a little easier to deal with. It is a pain. If a project has a few too many notes, the program becomes slow. The lack of responsiveness makes the product feel unstable. You need to trust the program if you are going to trust it with your notes. Performance glitches destroys confidence. Agenda needs to be more responsive when burdened with a significant number of notes.

Sorting: Notes within a project should be sortable.

Tags: For tags to be meaningful the application has to support hierarchical tags. Or nested tags. As it is implemented now, the tags are just a placeholder for you to remember something or perform some rudimentary organization. Categories and Projects are nice but they restrict you to two levels of abstraction. Nested tags would make this an user selectable level of abstraction. Also nested tags would have to support saved searches for it to be useful.

Font Support: Please let me use my own fonts. Avenir is nice but I have fonts. Nice fonts. They are sitting here, waiting to be called on. Please let them be useful.

List Manipulation: Agenda has to do a better job of managing todo’s. I need to have a place where I can go to look at all my todo’s. If you are going to support todo’s, you have to provide an integration with Reminders.

Single Note Full Screen View: In full screen, I want the ability to concentrate on a single note. The stream of notes is fine in windowed mode, but a single note focus in full screen would improve the ability to write.

Easier Input: A quicker way of getting notes into Agenda would be welcome. A menu bar item or a global input box where I can type in the title of the note, where it belongs (category/project), the date element (if needed), the necessary tags, and the content of the note would make the process of getting notes into Agenda more efficient. At this stage, I need to switch to Agenda to make this possible. This can be simplified by a global inbox, with the metadata input and categorization to be left for later.

Recommendation

Agenda is available to download and use for free. There are no barriers to entry. Download it. Try it out, use it for a while and decide whether it fits your workflow.

There are a lot of things to like about Agenda. I like the innovations it brings to the genre. I like the focus on the community aspect of the application. I love how pretty it is.

Remember though that this is a program which requires a deep dive. If you use the program, you are going to go all-in on the program. Agenda is going to control all of your notes and you are going to be reliant on its proprietary database backend. Agenda has good export options (PDF file, Markdown file, rtf, rtfd, and Agenda files), but you need to be conscious that this is a movement away from the elegance of individual text files and it is a move into a proprietary database controlled by a small independent developer. The good news is that the developer seems to explicitly eschew any concept of a lock-in. There is no lock-in. The export options, and the payment system both steer you clear from any lock-in. The only remaining concern for me is performance. I am not sure that the program can ably support the sheer number of notes that I have. Personally I am going to monitor the progress of the program and not do a deep dive into it.

If you like the demo and are comfortable with the paradigm of notes allied to the calendar that it provides, this is a unique application in the macOS space and it is well worth exploring.

I recommend Agenda with some reservations about its performance issues.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie.

Agenda macOS iOS note-taking
December 26, 2018

20182018

2018 in Review

Mojave got launched and my mid-2011 iMac found itself on the not-supported by Mojave list. Pity. It is a perfectly operational machine. I maxed out the memory a few years ago and installed a new SSD on it. I wrote about it, Juicing Up the iMac With an SSD - Bicycle For Your Mind. I got myself an early 2015 MacBook Air to be able to run the goodness of Mojave. I will write about that machine one of these days. On the iOS front, I got myself an iPhone XS Max. Upgrading from an iPhone 5s, this is a huge jump. I am getting used to the phone and doing a fair amount of writing on it. The huge, beautiful screen is a joy to work in. I am indulging in my old hobby of photography and the camera on the iPhone is a pleasure. I have an iPad2 and it does the things I want it to do: Provide a platform for me to write and play a few games. Obsolete, but effective for the tasks I expect of it. I have been intrigued by the new iPad releases but find it difficult to justify the expense.

On the software side, the following things happened:

  1. iA Writer 5 became the best Markdown based text editor. I wrote about it, iA Writer 5 Manages Files and Folders.
  2. Bear lost its way. Instead of steady improvements to the product they got busy with a web app and introduced stickers on iOS. Depressing. Indicators of stagnation included the lack of tables support and typewriter scrolling on the editor. A purported rewrite of the editor has been on the works for more than a year and I have given up hope. This is a subscription which is not going to renew.
  3. Ulysses kept up its hallowed tradition of responding to every feature request with the same canned response: “This is on our roadmap. We can’t promise a delivery date, but consider your vote counted.” Tables? Same response. Check lists? Same response. The product however is at a state where it is perfectly usable and different and superior to the competition in some interesting ways. Support for Markdown has improved, the user-selectable point for typewriter scrolling is unmatched and it is the best mix of features for an immersive writing environment. It is my main workhorse. It is an emotional decision and not a logical one as I write about in Moving Back to Ulysses - Bicycle For Your Mind.
  4. OmniOutliner became my list manager. I adopted the Essentials version as the main outlining product in my workflow. I wrote about it Outlining Essentials in OmniOutliner - Bicycle For Your Mind.
  5. Scrivener 3 got released this year. It has improved its support for MultiMarkdown and the output function. This is a great program to dive into for every writer. You are going to be using this for the rest of your life, if you remember that, the learning curve will be easier to navigate. The learning curve is steep. My advice to every new Scrivener user: Start using the program. Learn as you go along. This is not software you are going to pick up and learn all at once. The learning is going to be incremental. In the meantime, write.
  6. Mojave is an underwhelming release. Dark mode generated a lot of attention, and left me cold. I spend all my time in full screen mode in either Ulysses or iA Writer. There is nothing on the screen but my words and yes, a dark background. However, I don’t need a dark background in the Finder. The programs I care about have implemented dark mode on their own and it is not dependent on the system. What does a system wide dark mode do for me? There are some nice touches on the OS, but I would like the Finder to be improved. A rethink of that is needed. I find myself relying on fman to get my file management chores done and ignore the Finder. I think we have come up to point where a release needs to be focused on bug-fixes. iCloud is unreliable. The App Store is a mess. Add an iTunes card to the account. Check the amount available display in the front page of the App Store, it hasn’t changed. Go into your account. Check the amount available. It includes your new total. Why is it inconsistent? Why does it take so long to propagate? Apple Music continuously asks me to re-input my credentials. Little things which irritate the user throughout the day. Makes the act of using the computer painful. A release which takes these bugs and squashes them would be welcome.
  7. Agenda - An elegant new take on Notes won a 2018 Apple Design Award. Got some favorable press. I am trying it out and will write about it.
  8. Three products which have been integral to my workflow for the last few years are all doing well. They are Alfred, Keyboard Maestro, and Hazel. I rely on them. Thanks to the developers for improving my life.

I expressed anxiety about the state of Apple. That feeling does not improve with the assertion from Apple that the 2018 iPad Pro Meets or Exceeds Quality Standards even though it is bent. Really? The arrogance and the hubris is mind-blowing to me. This has been gnawing at me for a while, so let me vent for a while. This is the alleged quote from the email sent by Dan Riccio, Apple’s VP of hardware engineering:

Relative to the issue you referenced regarding the new iPad Pro, its unibody design meets or exceeds all of Apple’s high quality standards of design and precision manufacturing. We’ve carefully engineered it and every part of the manufacturing process is precisely measured and controlled. Our current specification for iPad Pro flatness is up to 400 microns which is even tighter than previous generations. This 400 micron variance is less than half a millimeter (or the width of fewer than four sheets of paper at most) and this level of flatness won’t change during normal use over the lifetime of the product. Note, these slight variations do not affect the function of the device in any way. Again, thanks for reaching out and I hope the above explanation addresses your concerns.

Dude, the product is bent. It is a tablet with a kink in the middle. It doesn’t sit flat on a table. It is the most expensive product in the category. 400 microns? The product is bent. It is bent within your acceptable parameters doesn’t fill anyone with a sense of joy and comfort. Fix it. If you find that the product doesn’t sit flat on a surface, you have a design flaw. It is a tablet. It is not meant to be a curved device. Who thought that this was acceptable? Who thought it was a good idea to talk about your quality standards when faced with bent iPads? You guys have lost your mind.

Can you imagine the reaction if Microsoft made the same claims about their Surface product? How much derision would that have elicited? You guys are special? If the new iPads meet your quality standards, you have a design flaw and you are in a bind. You can’t hide bad design behind quality standards. What you are effectively saying is “We are making high quality, badly designed products.”

This was the last big story of 2018. There are customers who are happy with the new iPad Pro line. There are some folks who are obviously not happy about bent iPads. I have no idea about the numbers. Apple is not saying. Strikes me as a story which we haven’t heard the last of. It also means that I am not rushing out to buy an iPad anytime soon.

News About Me

  1. I am going to write more in the coming year.
  2. I am working on improving the quality of my writing.
  3. I am going to finish my book on using macOS in 2019.

That was my take on the year 2018.

Hat tip to: Tomer Dahari for the picture Bokeh Photography Of Black Framed Eyeglasses

macosxguru at the gmail thingie

macOS iOS review
December 9, 2018

Outlining Essentials in OmniOutliner

IconIcon

Product: OmniOutliner
Price: $9.99 for Essential, $59.99 for Pro

What Does an Outliner Do?

An outliner helps you think. Anytime you find yourself making a list to help you think something through an outliner is what you are using. We can do this on paper, but it is a lot better on your computer. Digital outliners help you move things around and play with the structure of your thoughts better than pen and paper.

Whether you are making a simple list to plan your daughter’s birthday party, or making a list to outline the young adult novel that you are planning to write, or trying to get your thoughts together before your important meeting with the boss tomorrow morning, an outliner can help.

I find myself using an outliner whenever I start something which requires me to think. Yes, that is somewhat obsessive but it works for me. Every time I have something that I need to get my head around, an outliner is my go-to tool.

I have been using Curio and Opal for my outlining needs. Curio is something I wrote about here. It does a few different things and I get distracted with its many options. Opal is a simpler alternative with few options and is a traditional outliner with no bells and whistles. I love it.

The Outliner Category

The dominant player in this category is OmniOutliner. They are the prohibitive market leader with a legacy that extends to the Next platform. There are a lot of competitors in the marketplace, and none of them have made any substantial inroads into OmniOutliner’s market.

Opal is one of those competitors. It has a legacy all its own, being the spiritual descendant of Acta. Older readers might be familiar with the Desk Accessory version of Acta running on System 7.

Some of the newer competitors include Cloud Outliner Pro, OutlineEdit 2, Outlinely, or Neo. All of these products have tried to challenge the market dominance of OmniOutliner with limited success.

I settled on Opal some time ago. I like how fast and compact it is. I know the keyboard commands and I don’t have to think about using the software when I am in it. It is a learning curve accumulated over many years of use. Sheer inertia and comfort has made it difficult for me to consider a switch away from it.

Apple warned me that I was about to run an unsigned application when attempting to run Opal in Mojave. I am familiar with the developer and bypassed the Apple warnings and continue to run Opal. It works perfectly. But it is also showing its age. The full screen implementation is horrible. Not much thought has been expended in an effort to improve the experience of using the product. This realization is the rationale behind the search for something new. Which brings me to OmniOutliner.

As you can tell by now, I have been using outliners for a while. I have definite preferences when it comes to this category of software and it includes a few things and excludes a few things. In no particular order, this is what I need:

  1. The ability to move easily between levels in the outline.
  2. The ability to move items around easily.
  3. The ability to focus on a particular item and have it front and center in focus.
  4. The ability to use my own font.
  5. Themes would be nice, but they are not essential.
  6. Intensive keyboard command support. I don’t want to use the mouse or the trackpad. I want all of the functions to be implemented through keyboard commands and I want those to be intuitive or customizable.
  7. Good export options. I would ideally like Markdown support, but am willing to settle for plain text file export. OPML export is a requirement.

In no particular order, this is what I do not need:

  1. Columns. I want an outliner. I am not looking for a database program.
  2. Columns and the ability to perform calculations. I want an outliner. I am not looking for a spreadsheet program.
  3. I don’t want a sync service built in. iCloud support is welcome but I am not interested in a proprietary sync service hosted by the developer of an outlining program.

The Pro and The Essential

OmniOutliner is now available in two versions: An Essentials ($9.99) and a Pro ($59.99) version. The Essentials version contains the following features:

  1. Document Syncing with OmniPresence — document sync for Mac and all of Omni’s apps on iOS - The Omni Group.
  2. Themes.
  3. Keyword filters.
  4. Inline notes.
  5. Text zooming.
  6. Distraction free and Typewriter mode.

In addition to these features, the Pro version includes:

  1. Custom templates and themes.
  2. Custom styles.
  3. Batch find.
  4. Password encrypted documents.
  5. Columns.
  6. Smart column types.
  7. Row numbering.
  8. Column visibility.
  9. Audio recording.
  10. Rich text.
  11. Saved Filters.
  12. Display notes in panes.
  13. Text folding.
  14. Regular expression search.
  15. Row (Reference) linking.
  16. AppleScript support.
  17. Customizable keyboard shortcut sets.
  18. OPML links.
  19. RTFD, and Excel export.

As you can tell, it is a pretty long list of differences. The key question for the user is, “What do you want from an outliner?”

For me, I want an outliner which helps me think. That means, I am not interested in a steep learning curve. I am not interested in feature bloat. I want the process of using an outlining application to be sensible and organic. I don’t want to think about anything but my content. That means, I am not interested in columns. I am not interested in password protecting my content. I definitely don’t want audio recording. I speak with an accent and computers (and some humans) have little idea of what I am saying.

The Professional version has some features which are interesting to me. The ability to use custom templates and themes and custom styles is interesting. Regular expression search is a nice feature. AppleScript support makes the geek in me jump with joy. Customizable keyboard shortcut sets is a great addition.

The price difference is considerable. $59.99 is significantly different from $9.99. I went with the Essentials version. My reasoning was simple: there are features I will miss in the Essentials version but it didn’t justify the price difference to me. I also know that I have a friend who has the Professional version and I can ask him for customized templates and themes if I wanted them. The rest of the features I could do without.

I am going to review the OmniOutliner Essentials product in the rest of the article.

Working in OmniOutliner Essential

This is a mature product with years of development behind it. They have the basics nailed. They define the category on the macOS space. The product is designed for ease of use and productivity and it fulfills that promise.

What are the elements of an outliner?

  1. Rows
  2. Rows contained within rows.
  3. Rows which are at the same level as some other rows.  

Opal HierarchyOpal Hierarchy

Opal manages to conceptualize this as sisters, daughters and aunts. OmniOutliner conceptualizes this visually:

OmniOutliner HierarchyOmniOutliner Hierarchy

  1. Add Rows. These are rows at the same level as the row preceding it.
  2. Add Inside: These are rows contained within the row preceding it.
  3. Add Outside: These are rows which are at the same level as the containing row.

Both systems work. I am just used to Opal and learning how OmniOutliner works. This makes intuitive sense to me, and I am sure that I am going to get used to the metaphor or lack of it.

One thing which took me a while to figure out was that you could write what amounts to paragraphs within a row, by pressing ⌥↩. For instance, I am writing this review in OmniOutliner and it is working out fine.

This reviewThis review

OmniOutliner deals in rich text. So you have the ability to format the text of your document. Bold, Italic, Strikethrough, and Underline are the options available to you. The templates which ship with the Essentials package have embedded styles in them. The Pro version has the ability to modify and create templates and their styles.

OmniOutliner provides you the option of adding notes to an item. You can add notes by clicking on the note icon on the left of the item.

NotesNotes

You can also get to create/edit notes with the keyboard command ⌘’. Notes are a good way of giving yourself some direction when you are in the middle of creating an outline.

Moving items around is another feature which is important to the creator of outlines. OmniOutliner does a great job of giving you keyboard commands to manipulate the hierarchy of the outline rows.

MoveMove

One of the things I love about OmniOutliner is the ease with which you can move items around the outline both in terms of their order and their position in the hierarchy. There are keyboard commands available for this and it works like a charm. Like I said, this is well-designed software.

Preferences in OmniOutliner Essential

OmniOutliner Essentials implements an optimized set of preferences for the program.

General

General PaneGeneral Pane

You get to specify what you want when you start a new document. You can bring up the Resource Browser and choose a template from it, or you can assign a default template to every document you open.

Full Screen ModeFull Screen Mode

You also get to specify how you want the full screen mode to work. You have the ability to turn off toolbars and have complete focus on your content. Not having the chrome around your document makes the process of writing and thinking easier. I like full screen mode when I am writing. Typewriter mode enabled with the full screen is a great way to concentrate on my outline and it is the mode I am often in when working in OmniOutliner.

Keyboard

Keyboard PaneKeyboard Pane

In the Keyboard pane of the preferences, you get to specify the behavior of the Return (↩) key. I want it to create a new empty row at the same level as the previous row. I can then decide to move it right, left, or not at all, depending on the structure I am working in.

You also have the option of ⌥↩, to insert a line break and continue writing in the next line. Or, ⌃↩ to split the current row at the insertion point. These easy keyboard commands make it easy to keep writing in the outline without moving to the mouse and searching for the right command in the menus. I am fond of this design.

The other feature which I have discovered that I use a lot is the Escape (⎋) key. It is a toggle to begin or end text editing. So, when you are done with editing an item in your outline, you can press the Escape key, and move on to manipulating the position of the item in the outline. Press Escape again, and you are in edit mode again. I find this useful to work in items which have a lot of text in them.

Text

Text PaneText Pane

The Text preference pane lets you specify features of the export of your OmniOutliner documents as text files. I would have liked the availability of a Markdown output, instead of a text output. However you can specify the nature of bullets that you want the text document to contain. I make sure that I Expand All the contents of my outline and then export the contents to text without any bullets for the outline when I am wanting to work on it as a Markdown file.

To keep the editing to a minimum, I write Markdown in OmniOutliner. I use the Markdown syntax for Headings and other elements of the document like, bold, italic and the like. The links are formatted with Markdown syntax and everything is ready to be used in my Markdown editor with the least amount of friction. I keep the rich text formatting to a minimum. Not because it is not nice, but it is not something which I get excited by. Your mileage may vary.

What Do I Use OmniOutliner For?

I use OmniOutliner for all my lists. Todo lists, shopping lists, books to read lists, movies to watch lists, and thinking-through-things lists.

Some of these lists are not going to be shared with any other program and can reside safely in OmniOutliner for ever. There are documents where the outline is the starting point of my work and it is going to end up in Ulysses. Those are the documents where the export function comes up a little short.

ShoppingShopping

I have the same OmniOutliner Essentials package on my iOS devices. That means some of my lists are mobile. The shopping list to my local grocery store is useful. I make the list keeping in mind the layout of the store and I can just pick up things, tick them off my list and move on to the next item. Makes shopping easy and efficient. I love this versatility of OmniOutliner. Start a book in it? Yes. Shop with it? Yes.

Suggested Improvements in OmniOutliner Essential

I would like a Markdown export mode. I like the text export but would prefer a proper Markdown export. I am trying out different ways of getting my text out of OmniOutliner:

  1. Export as a text file and clean it up in my text editor (Sublime Text 3).
  2. Export as OPML file and convert it to Markdown with Marked 2. Then clean it up in the text editor.

Both of those work but it is more work than I like to do. There is a fair amount of clean up involved and I am not excited by that. A Markdown export option would be a definite improvement.

Recommendation

OmniOutliner lives up to its reputation as the best outliner on the macOS. If you think in lists and like living in them, this is software which is easy to fall in love with. Depending on your needs, you can choose the Essentials package or the Pro package. I am happy with the Essentials package and can recommend it without any reservation.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie

outlines macOS iOS