Help us make OmniFocus the best app it can be

by Liz on March 27, 2013

We test stuff internally. Eventually it’s released as a final product. But in between there, we do a thing that might be called a Beta or Private Test.

Why are we doing that? With the small group of people testing and developing it right now, we already have a large cache of bug fixes to work on. Outside feedback is crucial as well; we need feedback on the design now so we don’t spend a bunch of time polishing a potentially wrong design into perfection. That’s why we plan to start giving some folks access to OmniFocus 2 early.

Phase 1: Internal Test

For a few months now, we’ve been using OmniFocus ourselves. This has helped us shake out the most obvious and painful bugs. I hit several crashes (and wasn’t even able to report them fully, because our Crash Catcher wasn’t working properly either). I lost data a few times. And I had to flip back to OmniFocus 1 a few times when a feature was just completely missing. I know some of you wish you had access to OmniFocus 2 a month ago, but we don’t think it’s helpful to anyone if we ask you to put up with all of that. We got OmniFocus working well enough to show off at The Debut. Then we put in a lot more work to get it sturdy enough for some of you to start using it.

Phase 2: Private Test

There are now over 17,000 of you who have expressed interest in helping us test OmniFocus. And we love that you’re so eager to help us. But if we ask all 17,000 of you to take the app out for a spin all at once, we’ll suddenly have thousands of emails all reporting the same issue. So we’re going to do a phased roll-out. We’ll give access to a few (hundred) people at first. Once we’ve fixed the big issues they’ve found, and our Support Humans are caught up on emails, we’ll add some more folks to the testing team. This will help us get the feedback we need about the app while still providing the level of support we promise for our shipping applications. We want to know about crashes and other errors, of course. But we also hope you’ll tell us what’s confusing, annoying, or tedious – these emotions suggest that perhaps there’s a usability bug we can fix or a workflow we can simplify.

If you want to get in on the Private Test phase, make sure you sign up, and double-check for a confirmation email.

Phase 3: Public Test

When we’re close to shipping, we’ll fling wide the doors, and everyone can download OmniFocus 2 and take it for a spin. At that point, the functionality of the app will be all there, and we’ll be putting most of our energy into getting localizations and setting up the machinery for the formal release to both our store and the Mac App Store. However, this is also a last chance for you to let us know about any bugs that might really really need fixing before we ship.

How to help us test

So, once you get that exciting email saying “You can now download OmniFocus 2 test builds”, now what? Take a deep breath and think about whether this is really something you want to do right now. The builds will be generated and posted automatically, so you might run a particular build of OmniFocus before anyone at Omni does. There is a small but real chance that the build will destroy your OmniFocus data or worse. Make sure you’ve got backups of your computer data. And if you’ve got a really big assignment due on a Tuesday, maybe wait until Wednesday before taking a test build out for a spin. If all these warnings don’t scare you away, follow the instructions in the email to download and install the app.

We realize it’s probably futile to ask that you not talk about the app at all in this phase. So we will simply ask that if you do talk about or share screenshots of OmniFocus 2, please clearly indicate that this is not a final release. A great place to discuss the app is in the OmniFocus 2 Forum. (And please do NOT share the application itself.)

So you downloaded the app, and started using it, and something went horribly wrong. Now what? First check if this is on the “What’s NOT Ready” section of the Release Notes (available in the Help menu). For example, right now Review doesn’t look at all like the mock-up we showed at the Debut. Sending us an email telling us it’s unfinished won’t help, because we already know it’s a problem.

Otherwise, please tell us about it. You might be the first person to encounter it, or the first person to give us a critical clue we need to detect the root cause of the problem. Bugs are often best reported via email, because it is so frequently useful to include specific data about the issue. (We will still be answering the phones—during business hours—and twitter as well.)

If possible when reporting a bug please do the following:

  • If this is a new issue, please start a new email thread. Replying to an old email thread to tell us about a new bug can make it more difficult for our Support Humans to respond efficiently. (If you’re continuing a conversation about an ongoing issue, it’s fine to reply to the email conversation already in progress.)
  • Please mention what revision of the app you’re running. (Send Feedback will include this automatically in the subject line.)
  • Tell us the story–what were you doing right before this happened, did you recently upgrade your OS, does this only happen at the coffee shop?
  • Include a screenshot. A picture can be “worth a thousand words” even in a bug report.
  • If there are error messages, a console log will often provide more detailed errors than what pops up in the alert box.
  • If the app becomes unresponsive, including a sample can help us figure out what the app thinks it’s busy doing while it “beachballs” or “hangs”.

Video: OmniFocus 2 Debut

by Derek R. on February 7, 2013

The OmniFocus 2 Debut is now available to watch!

Many thanks to everyone who was able to show up on January 31st — we all enjoyed talking to you.

Don’t forget to sign up for the private test to participate in the OmniFocus 2 process. We won’t send a lot of mail, but we should have more information soon.


Debut of OmniFocus 2

by Ken Case on February 1, 2013

Update April 2, 2014: We just noticed that we failed to update the text in this blog entry back in September of last year, when we were forced to change our plans with regards to Mac App Store upgrades. See our followup blog post for more information. We regret the error and any confusion it has caused.

As I said in my blog post announcing OmniFocus 2, our goals for version 2 are to bring back to the Mac all of the design and innovation that went into our iPad edition of OmniFocus: dedicated Forecast and Review modes, clearer navigation, and a fresh look and feel. And from the reaction from people I talked to at last night’s debut, it sounds like we’ve done just that!

OmniFocus 2 main screenshot

As with the iPad app, all navigation is now done through a unified sidebar: there is a single sidebar that includes your Inbox, Projects, and Contexts, as well as your Forecast of upcoming scheduled work, a list of Flagged tasks, and list of projects that need Review. The main navigation headers stick to the top or bottom as you scroll, so they’re always visible and accessible with a single click no matter where you are in the list.

OmniFocus 2 Forecast screenshot

The new Forecast mode shows you a summary of your upcoming time-based commitments at a glance in the sidebar. You can leave the forecast collapsed to see the next several days (as in the screenshot), or expand the forecast to see an entire month in your sidebar. From the forecast, you can select any combination of days to see a detailed schedule that includes scheduled tasks from OmniFocus integrated with events from your calendar.

With version 1 of OmniFocus it was already easy to add new items into your system—using the built-in Quick Entry on Mac, or Siri on the iPhone and iPad, or by sending email to your Inbox. Perhaps a little too easy: after using OmniFocus for a few months, OmniFocus could easily become cluttered with cruft that seemed important at the time, but is no longer relevant to the work you need to get done today! This is the problem we aim to solve by bringing Review mode to OmniFocus 2 (which we originally pioneered in the iPad app). Review mode walks you through reviewing any projects which you haven’t reviewed recently, making it easy to update your projects to make sure they reflect your current priorities.

Now that information about OmniFocus 2 is public, we’re happy to answer any questions you might have about it! Some of the obvious questions are:

Will this require new versions of OmniFocus for iPad and iPhone?

No, we’re not updating OmniFocus for iPad or iPhone at this time: OmniFocus 2 for Mac is designed to sync with the current shipping versions.

How soon will OmniFocus 2 be shipping?

The simplest answer to that question is that I don’t really know! A more accurate answer is that the answer really depends on what feedback we receive from all of you. We use an iterative development process at Omni, so our next step is to ship a private test release so we can get feedback from customers on how well it’s working in practice. Based on that feedback, we’ll update our design and ship another private test release (and invite more people into the test pool), and the cycle begins again. How many times we repeat that cycle depends on how long it takes for us to feel like we’ve achieved our goals for the release.

Once we finish those rounds of private testing, we’ll post a wide-open public test release for anyone to download from our website, and finish up some of the other hard work of writing documentation, translating the app and documentation to other languages, and submitting the app to Apple for App Store review. Usually this final stage takes 4-6 weeks—at that time, it should be much easier to accurately project a ship date.

How much will OmniFocus 2 cost?

OmniFocus 1 has been very successful at its current price point of $79.99—and we think that’s been providing great value for its current target audience of professional customers. But with OmniFocus 2 being much more approachable, we think there’s also an opportunity to reach a wider audience who don’t need all of the Pro features from the current edition. So we’re going to offer two editions of OmniFocus 2:

The Standard edition of OmniFocus 2 will include all of the basic features which we’ve talked about above, and will cost $39.99.

The Pro edition of OmniFocus will offer the option of building custom workflows like OmniFocus 1 does today, with its support for Perspectives and AppleScript.

Will there be a discount for current owners of OmniFocus 1?

Yes, on our online store we’ll be offering a 50% discount to current customers of OmniFocus 1, whether you originally bought directly from us or through the App Store. This means that current customers will be able to upgrade to the Standard edition of OmniFocus 2 for $19.99, or to the Pro edition for $39.99.

Mac App Store customers who have purchased both OmniFocus 1 and OmniFocus 2 from the Mac App Store will receive a free upgrade from Standard to Pro, making their upgrade price $39.99 (half the price of OmniFocus 1).

Will volume or educational discounts be available?

Yes, we will continue to offer volume discounts through our standard online store, and educational discounts through our Education Store.

What if I don’t own OmniFocus already? What should I buy today, and where should I buy it?

From now on, anyone who purchases OmniFocus 1 from our online store will receive a free upgrade to the Professional edition of OmniFocus 2 when it ships.

Anticipating OmniFocus 2

by Ken Case on January 11, 2013

If you’ve read my most recent blog post about Omni’s Plans for 2013, you already know that we’re just a few weeks away from the debut of OmniFocus 2 for Mac. I’m really looking forward to showing it to you all… but this post isn’t really about OmniFocus 2 itself, it’s about what to expect between now and when it ships.

The first thing I’d like to clarify is that we’re only talking about the Mac edition of OmniFocus! This release focuses on bringing back to the Mac all of the design and innovation that went into our iPad edition—and it will be fully compatible with the existing iPad and iPhone apps, so you’ll be able to sync with them without paying for upgrades to all three apps.

I also want to make sure everyone understands that the OmniFocus 2 debut on January 31st is not when OmniFocus 2 will be shipping! That’s just the first time the app will be shown in public. Following the debut, we’re planning a limited private test period (which you can sign up for), followed by a wide open public test—and then (finally!) when we’ve evaluated everyone’s testing feedback and think it’s ready, we’ll ship the app. If this sounds like it might take a while… yes, it probably will!

So, if you’re looking to purchase OmniFocus today, what should you do? Should you wait for OmniFocus 2?

Well, first of all, there’s no reason to wait on purchasing the iPad and iPhone apps—as I’ve noted above, they’re not the editions which are getting a major upgrade this year.

Update 9/26/2013: At the time of writing, we weren’t yet ready to move ahead with development of OmniFocus 2 for iPhone. That changed when iOS 7 was announced, so we took a three-month break from OmniFocus 2 for Mac. OmniFocus 2 for iPhone was released on September 17th, 2013.

But if you’re looking at purchasing the Mac app, it would be quite reasonable to wait until after the OmniFocus 2 debut so you know what’s coming before you make a decision. To make that wait easier for everyone, we’ve decided to post a temporary license key so you can all use the app between now and then without having to make a purchase:

License Owner: Waiting for OmniFocus 2

(Just copy and paste both the License Owner and License Key into the appropriate fields.)

I hope you’re all looking forward to OmniFocus 2 as much as I am! And that this temporary license key makes the wait a little easier.

Update: We had a great time showing what we’ve been working on in OmniFocus 2, you can find more details and watch a video of the OmniFocus 2 debut to learn more. Please note that the license above has now expired, but if you purchase OmniFocus 1, you’ll get a free upgrade—from the Omni Store—to the Professional edition of OmniFocus 2 when it ships.

Omni’s Plans for 2013

by Ken Case on December 21, 2012

In my last blog post, I reflected on all the things we accomplished in 2012 here at Omni—in particular, the completion of our huge “iPad or Bust!” initiative. But as Professor Hathaway said to Chris Knight, “That was yesterday. What have you done for me today?”

With “iPad or Bust!” out of the way, we’ve been able to move some of our projects off the back burner and here are some highlights of what’s coming: OmniFocus 2. OmniOutliner 4. Automatic document syncing. Sandboxing. Accessibility. Visio and Microsoft Project compatibility in our iPad apps. Upgrade pricing from Mac App Store apps.

Junction: Omni 13, OmniFocus 2, OmniOutliner 4

Let’s start with OmniFocus 2! For OmniFocus 2, we’re bringing back to the Mac all of the design and innovation that went into our iPad edition of OmniFocus: dedicated Forecast and Review modes, clearer navigation, and a fresh look and feel. I’m looking forward to sharing it with you! At 6pm on January 31, you’re invited to join Merlin Mann, David Sparks, and me for the first public debut of OmniFocus 2. This will be a free event, hosted at the Cartoon Art Museum (a short walk from Macworld/iWorld), and anyone who attends will get early access to the OmniFocus 2 private beta. Space is limited, so if you plan to attend please let us know.

Next up: OmniOutliner 4! I know many of you have been waiting for this upgrade for a long time—I know I have been waiting for this for a long time! For those of you who might not know the history, OmniOutliner 3 shipped in January, 2005—one year before Macs transitioned to Intel processors. And OmniOutliner 3 certainly hasn’t sat still over the last eight years: we’ve ported to Intel processors and added support for Spotlight, dictionary lookups, LinkBack, Automator workflows, Quick Look, custom toolbars, Word 2008 export, Auto Save, and Versions. But other than a few tweaks to the inspectors and toolbars, its design has mostly stayed the same: it’s starting to feel a bit long in the tooth. So… it’s due.

What’s coming in OmniOutliner 4? We’ve completely rebuilt the outlining engine to support zooming text, showing and hiding columns, and we’ve improved link handling and attachments. We’ve designed a new style system which emphasizes named styles and simplifies the styles interface. And it’s built on a modern 64-bit architecture, with a fresh new look and feel. OmniOutliner 4 isn’t finished yet, but it’s getting close: it’s now at the point where I’m using it to edit all my outlines rather than OmniOutliner 3, so I anticipate we’ll be ready for public beta sometime in the first quarter.

Automatic document syncing is almost here! We call it “OmniPresence”: your documents, synced everywhere you want them to be.

We’ve designed OmniPresence around open web protocols, so you’re welcome to use our free Omni Sync Server or to host your own cloud server. We think that the option to host your own cloud is important—not just because of concerns with respect to privacy and security (though that’s key for many businesses), but because it means you can keep that cloud running as long as you want to keep using it. As we saw with MobileMe shutting down earlier this year, individual cloud services can easily disappear as business models change. Building a solution around open standards means that our customers have a choice of hosting providers rather than being tied to a single ephemeral cloud solution.

OmniPresence is not limited to syncing with a single cloud, either: you can choose which folders to sync with which clouds. This means that teams can set up separate folders in separate clouds, and you can access files from any of them on each of your devices.

Because it’s open and you can host your own cloud, OmniPresence is designed to sync any documents you want: it’s not limited to syncing documents created by our apps. In fact, on the desktop OmniPresence is completely independent of our other apps: if you wish, you can use it to sync TextEdit documents! (But when using OmniPresence with non-Omni apps, we’ll ask that you limit the amount of space you use on our Omni Sync Server since we can’t provide infinite storage to everyone for free. On your own cloud server, though, do whatever you want!)

On iOS, OmniPresence isn’t quite that independent: the sandboxing environment requires that each app embed the OmniPresence logic within its own codebase. We will be publishing our source code for free so other developers can add it to their apps.

OmniFocus 2, OmniOutliner 4, and OmniPresence. Three major upgrades, all coming your way in Q1, 2013.

But as I noted at the top, that’s not all! We’re also working on sandboxing to help keep your Mac safe; and accessibility (currently in private beta for OmniOutliner for iPad) to make our apps easier to use by those who are visually impaired. And we’ve been working on adding Visio and Microsoft Project compatibility to our iPad apps, so it will be easier than ever to go completely mobile with your work.

Finally, with OmniFocus 2 coming we’ve been thinking a lot about how to implement upgrade pricing from Mac App Store apps. As always, we plan to offer discounted upgrade pricing on our own online store, but unfortunately we don’t have the flexibility to offer selective discounts in the Mac App Store. We’ve decided to treat the Mac App Store the same way as we treat retail stores: it’s a great way to discover our software, and can give you confidence that it’s been vetted by a third party. And, just as you wouldn’t get a discount from a retail store if you purchase OmniGraffle 5 while owning OmniGraffle 4, you won’t get a discount if you purchase OmniFocus 2 from the Mac App Store. But we’re in the process of updating our store so that you’ll be able to register your Mac App Store apps to get a discounted upgrade price when you buy an update directly from us. Please see this blog post for more information on upgrade pricing for App Store apps.

OmniFocus 2. OmniOutliner 4. OmniPresence. Sandboxing. Accessibility. Visio and Microsoft Project compatibility in our iPad apps. Upgrade pricing from Mac App Store apps. I hope you’re looking forward to 2013 as much as we are! (And don’t forget to let us know if you’re planning to come to the OmniFocus 2 debut!)