OmniFocus v Things

OmniFocus IconI’ve recently felt that it was about time I got round to using some kind of computer-based task management system and, since I’ve found the To Do features in iCal and Apple Mail to be pretty useless, I began looking around for something more effective. I briefly used Remember the Milk, a web-based offering that makes a reasonable fist of the job (particularly given that it is a free service), but it wasn’t long before I felt that I needed something more powerful.

Having heard lots of good feedback about OmniFocus, particularly from David Sparks of the excellent Mac Power Users podcast, I thought I’d give it a go. After a couple of days playing with the trial version, and some time spent watching a couple of helpful screencasts, I was soon sold on this solution and I bought myself a licence.

Just a couple of days later I read a post on David Sparks’ blog that prompted me to check out a competitor to OmniFocus called Things. Things, it turns out, has a rather lovely user interface and it has to be said that it looks more elegant than OmniFocus. Being a sucker for things that look nice, I found myself feeling annoyed at myself for having so quickly committed myself to OmniFocus. More in hope than anticipation, I sent an email to the OmniGroup asking whether they would consider refunding my licence and explaining that I had only just stumbled upon Things. Rather surprisingly, given the fact that I mentioned how my head had been turned by the UI of Things, they agreed to do so and wished me luck in testing out the competitor. I immediately felt guilty for betraying the friendly OmniGroup people and wondered whether I had made the right decision.

Things IconBefore getting a response from the OmniGroup I had fired off an email to Cultured Code (the developers of Things), explaining how I’d recently bought a licence for OmniFocus and that I’d since discovered Things. I told them of my love-at-first-sight experience of Things and brazenly asked whether they would consider giving me a discount on the purchase price (remember that at this point I hadn’t had a response from the OmniGroup). I received a very friendly reply, stating that they would be very glad to have me as a Things user, thanking me for my ‘kind words’ about their UI and offering me a 20% off coupon.

I now found myself feeling indebted to both the OmniGroup and Cultured Code, since they had both been so very friendly and accommodating. However I decided that I really needed to carry out a more thorough exploration of Things before finally making up my mind about which of the two task managers would actually meet my needs best.

Deep down I knew that I shouldn’t be too swayed by a glamourous UI as there is so much more to an application than the way it looks, and so I started to put Things through its paces. Before too long a glaring flaw became apparent. Whilst OmniFocus allowed me to easily sync my tasks between multiple computers (vital for me as I work from my home office iMac as well as my work-based counterpart), Things didn’t offer any such option. I sent another email to Cultured Code enquiring about this. They promptly replied and told me that “doing over-the-air (Internet) syncing” is a top priority for future releases. They even teased me with the promise that they intended to do it better than in competitor apps. This, I concluded was all well and good, but since I needed a solution that worked for me today, rather than one that might work even better but that I couldn’t have until sometime in the future, I decided to settle on OmniFocus and I sent off yet another email.

This time the email was addressed to the OmniGroup, asking them whether they would consider having me back, even though I had considered cheating on them. They, of course, welcomed me back with open arms and I am now an avid and very satisfied user of OmniFocus. Yes, it still rankles a little that Things has a nicer UI and a more seductive application icon, but ultimately I know that I’ve made the right choice.

Aside from the syncing issue, I also found that the Things approach to organising tasks was less intuitive (at least for me) and didn’t seem to conform so well to the Getting Things Done method which both apps are intended to accommodate. The various views and ‘perspectives’ offered by OmniFocus just seem to suit my way of organising tasks much better. I guess I will keep one eye on Things, just to see how it evolves (both apps are still in their first major release stage) but for now I remain an enthusiastic user of OmniFocus and would recommend it highly to anyone who needs something beyond a basic task manager.

If you want to learn more about either of the apps then I recommend that you check out the free screencasts listed below. More than anything this whole experience has confirmed for me what a nice bunch of folks these small Mac developers are – both Cultured Code and the OmniGroup made me feel like they cared about me as a customer and that is an experience that is increasingly rare.

Learn more about OmniFocus & Things with these screencasts:

OmniFocus Basics screencast at ScreenCastsOnline
Advanced OmniFocus & iPhone Client screencast at ScreenCastsOnline
Things – Part 1 screencast at ScreenCastsOnline
Things screencast from Cultured Code

17 comments

  1. Omni Support Guy

    Jeremy, thanks so much for the kind words about OmniFocus and about us! We want to make it as easy as possible for folks to end up using a tool that works for them; if it turns out that a competitor’s app is a better fit, that’s why we have a 30-day, no-questions-asked refund policy for any purchase through our online store.

    General thinking there is that it’s better to treat the customer well just in case they change their mind later. Glad to hear that worked in this case. :-)

  2. Ken Case

    Omni Support Guy :
    General thinking there is that it’s better to treat the customer well just in case they change their mind later. Glad to hear that worked in this case.

    As Omni’s CEO, I feel compelled to state this even more generally: it’s our policy to treat people well. Full stop. Not “just in case they change their mind later,” but always (whether or not they’re our customer now or later), because that leads to the best outcome for all of us.

    (I’m glad to hear you’re enjoying OmniFocus!)

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  4. Ernie

    Just to clarify – are we talking about the same Omni that makes Omni Outliner? I was really blown away by that product and when I looked over their catalog I was blown away by all of that – and then by the company’s website as well. Their mission statement, their policies, the way they speak to the customer, I was scratching my head saying “Is this for real?” Much like Jeremy’s experience, I found myself – for the first time – wanting to tell a company just how much I liked their product. My partner and I did the same things as Jeremy; we checked every other product out, fired off numerous emails to Omni as well as their competitors (for outline programs) – got similar responses from all parties about things that were planned for future releases. There were things most everyone did well – but Omni was not only the cleanest and most user friendly – they were just downright friendly. It was one of the most comforting displays of a capitalistic corporation I’ve ever seen. I may be a little biased today though because I’ve spent all day trying to wrangle out of a Verizon contract. Not only is the language on their website abusive to the customer, almost everyone I came in contact with seemed robotically programmed to – as politely as possible – treat me as abusively as the website did. I realize that all of the carriers are exactly the same – that’s my point. When I have to go talk to most businesses I practically don armor to do so. Omni (if this is the same company) completely disarmed me.

    Don’t get me wrong – they could have smiled sweeter than sugar and I wouldn’t have bought it. Their program just did everything right, and I actually found that some of the things I was missing were in my own head – I was expecting one thing, and Omni gave me something dramatically simpler than I was expecting. I found that they had accomplished everything I wanted without complication – but it is so simple at times that it looks like – well, not much. But there’s an incredibly powerful outliner in there.

    It’s just that the process of getting there illuminated that something special is going on there. I even made my partner check to see whether this was some subsidiary of Apple’s, because Apple is usually the only company that bowls me over the way Omni did. Nope, they aren’t connected – Omni states on their website (iirc) something to the effect that they take their cue from Apple’s example. The similarities are intended, not coincidental – and I just couldn’t be happier with it.

    (I’m no shill for Omni, just a customer – I only became aware of this article when my partner – who also is a customer – passed it along because I was moaning loudly today about how I tried to save a few bucks by not getting an Iphone. I go out of my way to say good things about companies like this because, sadly, my economic life seems to be dominated by that other kind of company.)

    And -if this isn’t that same Omni, my apologies and please delete this quickly.

  5. Ernie

    Oh – one more thing – I didn’t know Omni had a new time management program, and I desperately need one of those as Ical isn’t doing it for me either. It’s just another calendar for me to write things into and never look at, and there are bizarre frustrating little quirks about how it syncs with other things… ultimately the reason I went with Omni’s outliner is because it was the one product that organized ME instead of the other way around. There were other products that did really nice things – but they were all less intuitive and put information in strange places – in other words I was going to have my information categorized and put aside in neat little places, so long as I could remember the mystical processes involved in getting them back. Omni takes the Iphone’s approach of bending towards me, rather than making me bend towards them. I look forward to checking out the new Focus.

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  7. Samuel

    Good choice. You’ll be waiting for OTA syncing from Things for a long time. They have been promising that for a good year now. I’d point you to all the negative threads on culturedcode’s own forums but they’ve scrubbed the old forums because of all the complaints on poor development cycles.

    I really wanted Things to get on their game, but they just kept disappointing again and again. I’ve still been following them since I moved back to Omnifocus 3 months ago, and it’s more of the same. No development. Just bug fixes.

    Go Omnifocus!

  8. rudyr

    I’m going through exactly the same dilemma now. As a long time user of OmniPlan and a fan of the Omni Group, I purchased OmniFocus. A week later ScreenCast Online covers Things and I’m thinking, “I like the simpler interface and the shorter learning curve,” so I purchased Things.

    I now have two great programs where before my life was sticky notes and scraps of paper. I’m still undecided between these two great options and my rough take is that, while OmniFocus’ depth takes more time to learn, it has features others will definitely want. For me, the simplicity of the Things interface and approach has me leaning in it’s direction.

    To be fair to OmniFocus, the learning curve was longer because I hadn’t used this kind of App before and the approach took some getting used to. With Things, I could apply all I leaned in OmniFocus and was up and going much faster. Still, I like the cleaner presentation of Things and that’s where I’m leaning.

    If only I could use the same database for both tools.

  9. Laurent C.

    I’ve been a user and fan of OmniFocus since before version 1.0, and was intrigued also by the simplicity and niceness of Things UI, but I think the 2 programs don’t have the same goal. I mean, with Omnifocus you can manage huuuge lists of projects and organize them as you want. Things approach is nicer at first, but I can’t even imagine what the program would look like if I had to enter the same amount of projects I have in Omnifocus… It’d a real mess !

    On the other hand, what I miss in Omnifocus is Things’ way of organizing time with the Next, Scheduled and “Someday” buttons… I guess it would be doable with Omnifocus, but that’d need a lot of work to customize it to my needs.

    I guess you can’t have it all, but as with time, things tend to become more complex, I believe Things simplicity would be overwhelmed quite quickly with the quantity of information we get to manage in our daily lives…

    @rudyr : in those conditions, using the same database for both tools would make no sense…

  10. durbrow

    Thanks for reporting this. If you fell in love with Things you might do the same for The Hit List. Its UI, to my eye is even cleaner and allows better keyboard options and flexibility. Also, although it does not have an iPhone app apparently there are third party apps that will sync The Hit List (portion factory) with your iPhone. I’ll be interested to hear what you think.

  11. John Potter

    Hi Jeremy,
    How are you? Happy New Year and all the rest – now back to commenting:
    I was in exactly the same position with my own chaotic non-organisation. I am slowly learning to live with OmniFocus too. I’ve had it for a few months now. I find the sorting of the columns a bit clunky but it really wins on the syncing which ties in neatly with the iPhone which is incredibly useful – since I often remember stuff (or get given things to do!) when I am away from either laptop or dekstop(s).
    But it’s a struggle nonetheless.
    Will keep this under review – great blog, great post.
    See you,
    John

  12. Gary Y

    I tried Things, but it got overwhelming, and I felt like I was spending more time moving things into and out of “Today” than actually doing things.

    For a while I used Life Balance ( http://www.llamagraphics.com ) for its “auto-prioritizing” and “life balancing” features. Ultimately, its lack of a straightforward way to see upcoming due items led me to look again.

    I’m now sold on Omnifocus. One thing it has that Things doesn’t (to my recollection): a way to do reviews and mark things as having been reviewed. I think this can help you get a handle on an enormous amount of stuff, and by allowing you to set project review intervals, you can set some to, say, review monthly–so your weekly review isn’t necessarily too cumbersome.

    Syncing with iPod Touch was a bit tricky at first…had to restart my wireless router. But it seems OK now (just one day into it).

    Hope this helps!

  13. James

    Hello there,
    I’d like to give my opinion in both programs as I’ve been using them to organize job things from the one side and college courses from the other.
    At first, as most of the people I know using it, I fell in love with Things and I didn’t like Omnifocus. It had a better interface, menus, better coloring but that’s really only the surface. After a while as I typed everything I wanted, I couldn’t do anything more, and don’t get me wrong here: all I want to say is that Things after a while seemed like a really good notes application (kinda like a mix of built-in dashboard notes and ical).
    Omnifocus on the other hand was totally different. Not so good interface (still I believe that this is omnigroup should work on (It strongly remind me of boring windows applications -sorry about that) but deeply it was really what I was looking for. Everything was much easier: from sync as Jeremy said to file attachment even deleting something was easier (It took me half hour to understand how deleting worked on Things).
    I don’t want provoke any reaction towards Things I still think of it as a very nice app but I think that OmniFocus is a professional app that even though it takes a little longer to learn is much better at the moment.

    Just an idea though for developers: although very nice both apps I think it’d be better to introduce to the apps various ‘modes’. Like different when you want to make a job plan (I think both apps are leading there) different when you want to make a study plan (like assignment planner) etc.

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