For many years now we've had an integrated crash reporting system. This has helped improve the stability of our applications immensely (often report now start out with “Wow, this is the first crash I've seen…”). But, it hasn't always been clear (especially in the alpha or beta timeframe) how well we were doing on overall stability. We could guess by counting the number of crash reports vs. an estimate of the number of active users, but that wasn't very convincing.
Near the beginning of June, I added some support to our software update and crash logging frameworks to keep track of things like:
- total times the application has been launched
- total number of crashes
- total amount of time the application has been running
(As always, our software update system reports its information without including any personal details, and can be disabled entirely if so desired.)
Using this, we can now chart the total number of hours OmniFocus has been running vs. the total number of crashes (reported or not!). As the pool of people testing OmniFocus goes up, or some testers go idle, or some user with large number of crashes isn't reporting them, we don't have to wonder as much how that affects our average crash rate.
After my latest crash fix, our rate has improved to about 8000 hours per crash. We aren't sure yet what constitutes a reasonable lower limit for hours/crash, but this does let us notice when a fix we've made actually is addressing the issue. We aren't yet tracking the number of hours that the application is active (an hour spent hidden counts the same as an hour spent in full use). Whether this matters, when averaged across a large number of users, is open to question.
Still, there are only 8760 hours in a year, so if we can get above that, we'll be feeling pretty good.
Last I heard, we've added 82% of the total mailing list subscribers to the OmniFocus Sneaky Peek List, so if you subscribed before June 6 you should have received an invitation by now. If you signed up more recently, hang in there—we promise we'll add you soon! We try and add a bunch more people each time we notice that the sobs and desk-poundings coming from the support room have quieted down a bit.
In the meantime our graphics guru has created a spiffy desktop design for OmniFocus, should you wish to bask more fully in All Things Omni (next up: Omni-branded blinking pens, novelty trucker hats, foundation garments, etc). Why, you can even put it on your iPhone, you wacky customizer you.
MEDICAL NOTE: people with extreme aversions to purple should avoid this graphic, along with Prince, “Grapelicious” tanning lotion, and dopey talking dinosaurs.
iPod-sized graphic (click to embiggen):
Grab the rest of the sizes here.
We wanted to give
ya'll y'all a peek at something we've been working on for a few weeks. It's a web interface for your OmniFocus data. It should work equally well in your desktop browser as it will on the iPhone.
We've also set up an iPhone-talk mailing list as a kind of fork from our ancient MacOSX-talk list.
Hey, what are you doing Thursday, June 21st? If you're in the area, you should come by the San Francisco Apple Store around 7 PM, because we're going to be showing off OmniFocus.
(“Showing off” = “fervently praying the app doesn't crash”, of course.)
Our pal Merlin Mann will be presenting, so even if the topic of personal productivity normally bores you to tears (gosh, I can't imagine why it would; now let us discuss the finer points of Moleskine notebooks for twelve straight hours) you should still show up, because Merlin is almost frighteningly entertaining. He's the kind of speaker where first you're laughing, then you're nodding, and before you know it you're chugging the funny-tasting Kool-Aid, you know?
He'll be talking about productivity tips in general and discussing how OmniFocus fits in his workflow, so it should be more fun and interesting than your basic software demo. You should definitely come by and say howdy.
Apple Store SF, June 21 7 PM
One Stockton Street
San Francisco, CA 94108
If you're on the other coast, never fear! We're tentatively planning a visit to New York in the next month or so.
Also: if you're planning to be at WWDC next week, and you'd be interested in an informal OmniFocus meet-up, let us know. Leave a comment or email us.
Just wanted to say thanks to everyone participating in the OmniFocus alpha. We're getting tons of good feedback. The graph below shows the number of items we have in our system, broken out by product. See the blue line? That's OmniFocus. Red line? OmniWeb. Green line? OmniPlan. Nothing else even makes it onto the chart right now. If it takes us a while to respond to you, now you know why.
Now that OmniFocus is sticking its toes out the door, this seems like a good time to remind everyone about best practices on reporting problems. Crash reports are especially important and should receive extra care.
- Please report every single crash you hit, even if you don't know how to reproduce it yet. Include any details of what you were doing leading up to the crash. We can then correlate reports from different users to narrow down the cause, even if no one person can reliably reproduce the problem.
- If you are comfortable doing so, include your document as a starting point (for OmniFocus, this is in ~/Library/Application Support/OmniFocus). If you have qualms about sending your data, skipping this is OK. Another option is to export your file to a backup and then trim down that copy to include only the portions necessary to reproduce the problem.
- List the exact steps to reproduce the problem, starting from the file you included or from an empty document. It is hard to be too specific: for example, you might be tempted to say “I deleted the second task of the project 'Foo'”, but this doesn't make it clear whether you used the delete key, a main menu item, a context menu, invoked an AppleScript, or picked up the task and dragged it to the trash. In some cases, the distinction matters. When in doubt, describe the physical actions you used (“press key X”, “clicked button Y”).
- If the proper behavior isn't obvious (“don't crash”), tell us what you expected to happen. Maybe you have a perspective on a design question we haven't considered or that we should reconsider.
With crash reports in particular, it is important to include reproducible steps. Sometimes this isn't possible, and that's fine—please report the crash anyway with whatever details you have. With a large enough pool of people, someone will be able to figure out how to reproduce it.
Crash reports are CC'd directly to the entire OmniFocus engineering team. If you include reproducible steps, we'll typically stop whatever else we're working to fix it immediately.
Ethan Schoonover has relaunched his Kinkless website, and has posted a second screencast about OmniFocus:
OmniGroup has let Schrödinger's cat out of the bag and put doubts to rest as to whether it exists or not… it definitely exists. With the beta rolling out slowly but surely, I thought it was a good time to release another video showing you some other neat stuff you can do with OmniFocus.
Click below to watch a ten minute video that talks a bit about sub-projects, nesting sequential sub-projects inside parallel parent projects and even briefly demo's how to change styles.
If you're enjoying Ethan's screencasts, be sure to drop him a comment on his site and let him know! (I know that people here at Omni have been learning new things from watching them. Thanks again, Ethan!)
For those who are wondering whether or not they've already been sent an invitation and it's just slow in arriving: the first batch of 100 invitations went out about eleven hours ago, which means that anyone who confirmed their subscription to the OmniFocus beta mailing list before 2am (Pacific) on October 31 should have received it by now. 100 down, 4,100 to go. Or, um, that's what it was eleven hours ago—it appears we now have 4,874 subscribers, so make that 4,774 to go. Or, uh, 4,893? Or…
Hmm, maybe we'd better send out another batch soon. (Another 100 will bring us up to anyone who confirmed their subscription before 3pm on November 1. Whew, it's nice to be able to report something about this mailing list that doesn't change every five seconds.)
Boy, I can't tell you how much I've been looking forward to writing a blog post that mentions OmniFocus but doesn't include yet another wishy-washy (and ultimately inaccurate) guess at a beta timeframe.
Folks, we are unleashing OmniFocus into the wild TODAY, starting with a subset of the OmniFocus mailing list. We aren't seeding the whole list yet because among other things we want to make sure our password system doesn't explode, sending database shrapnel all over our office, but if you're on the list you'll eventually receive an email from us with the information you need to access the beta.
Heads up for those of you who signed up early, since we're starting with the first subscribers. Check your email for a love note from Omni! For everyone else, over the next several days we'll be expanding the sneaky peek pool, so hang in there—we'll be in touch very soon.
If you haven't signed up on the list, now is the time to do so! The time for doing so is now! We're heading into Pre-Release Madness, and we want to take you with us.
Hey, does anyone smell that? It's . . . why, I think it's the smell of vaporware, floating away in the breeze.
Our good friend Ethan Schoonover—the mastermind behind Kinkless GTD—has not only been helping Omni for the last several months with our ongoing OmniFocus development efforts, he's also created a very, very nice OmniFocus overview video for us to share. If Ethan glowed in the dark and also had a giant pair of leathery wings, there's a chance he could be even cooler than he already is, but I'm saying it would be a stretch.
The video is about 26 minutes long (25 MB), and does a great job of covering a bunch of the features and functionality in OmniFocus. Click to behold Ethan's work:
One small note: although Ethan uses the term “enter key” on multiple occasions in the video, it's the return key that he's referring to. I myself use a PC keyboard so I didn't even notice the discrepancy, but I suspect a few of you might be a little more vigilant.
We want to extend a huge thank you to Ethan for taking the time to put this together, and we hope you enjoy getting a closer look at OmniFocus!
Currently our biggest engineering priority with OmniFocus is working on forward compatibility—developing a file format that will work with future versions of OmniFocus. We want to have this in place before a beta, so nobody's information gets hosed in the process of updating to a new release. The plan is to have this finalized and an early beta (likely feature incomplete) available in the next couple of weeks.
The last time I posted about OmniFocus, I mentioned we were thinking about potential early betas and the like—ways to share what we've built so far, without hosing your data or giving you a terrible first impression of our newest app.
Some of us feel pretty strongly that it's time for you to have more information about OmniFocus, so you have a clearer picture of its features. We want you to be able to make informed decisions about whether OmniFocus has some of the capabilities you're looking for, because none of us want you to wait in limbo for our software when another solution may potentially fit your needs right now.
There are other productivity systems out there, and while I would surely lose my Marketing Weasel badge if I encouraged you to evaluate them, I definitely don't want you to avoid doing so out of inaccurate expectations about OmniFocus—expectations we may have unwittingly helped create by talking openly about OmniFocus's development process over these last months.
Today's blog post is meant to show you what OmniFocus looks like and tell you in general terms how it works. We are really hoping to have a beta (possibly a non-feature-complete version) available soon, but until then, here is a screenshot for your viewing pleasure:
(Click for embiggened, annotated version)
Before I say ANYTHING ELSE, I have to explain that this is a work in progress, and what you see is not necessarily going to be in the final product. Omni's engineers, who are known for their perfectionist attention to UI, are absolutely horrified that this is being shown to the public, I can only imagine that it's similar to how I would feel if a bunch of people suddenly dropped by my house without warning. I'd be running around fluttering my hands and making panicked apologies for all the dog hair, and the clutter, and the—what is that, a banana peel? Oh my god—so let me re-emphasize a very important caveat on their behalf: this is a work in progress.
Some things that will change:
• You'll be able to add columns to the outline for due and start dates
• More styles will be added, to indicate things like completed/on-hold projects
• The Under Construction style bars at the top will be a preference, but included in the default view. (Just kidding.)
Now for the functionality! OmniFocus's main features include:
• Quick entry panel, accessible via keyboard shortcut from any application
• Import for kGTD documents
• Focus feature for opening a specific folder or project in its own window
• Project or context work views, both with extensive filtering and sorting options
• iCal synchronization (enabling you to get to Palm and other devices)
• Printing support that will include printing to index cards
• Project outlines include hierarchical tasks and task groups
• Pop-up calendars for assigning start, due and completion dates
• Project and task filtering by project state, dates, next actions, available actions and more
• Rich text support for project and task notes
• Ability to attach files to any task or project
That's not a comprehensive list, but it covers the big stuff.
We should also tell you a few things we aren't doing in this 1.0 release:
• Automatic synchronization between computers
• Complex (non-sequential) dependencies
• Web interface
• Integration with OmniPlan (part of our long-term road map includes integration with OmniPlan, we just want to get the basics right first)
I know this post doesn't answer the important question of how you'll feel while using OmniFocus—will it integrate with your workflow? will it stay out of your way until you need it, then provide you with the right features in an intuitive way? (we hope so)—but hopefully this information is useful for you. Although posting an early screenshot isn't an ideal way to communicate a product's scope, it seemed important to share what we could at this point.
As for the question of beta timing, basically we are trying to come to some decisions internally about how much beta-ness we can expect you to put up with. There's still a lot of work to be done before OmniFocus is feature-complete, unfortunately, and limited resources to do it. Once again, I encourage you to sign up for the beta mailing list, so you hear from us as soon as we have news.
We're all truly grateful for the feedback and encouragement from everyone who has been following our work on OmniFocus. Thank you so much for your interest, and your patience.