OmniPresence private testing

by Ken Case on March 14, 2013

When we decided to bring all our apps to iPad, we immediately started hearing from our customers that it wasn’t enough to just bring desktop-class productivity apps to the best mobile platform: all of the documents in those apps needed to be mobile as well, so you’d always have the latest copies of your documents available on all of your devices.

As I shared in my January blog post, we’ve been hard at work on this problem for quite a while now and our solution to this is called “OmniPresence”: your documents, synced everywhere you want them to be.

What is OmniPresence?

  • OmniPresence is a way to sync folders between your devices using a web server.
  • On Mac, a separate OmniPresence app churns away silently in the background, syncing any documents placed in its folders—without requiring any special support from other apps. On iOS, the sandboxing environment requires that each app add its own support for OmniPresence—so we’ll be providing free updates for all our apps (and publishing code so other developers can add support if they wish).
  • OmniPresence separates document syncing from any particular back end service provider. You can use it with your own compatible web server, or with the Omni Sync Server for documents created with your Omni apps.

Here is what OmniPresence looks like in action:


… and we’re finally at the point where it’s time to enlist your help in testing this code before we ship it!

The good news is that we’ve already heard from over a thousand of you who would be happy to help us test OmniPresence. The bad news is that we can’t open this up to all of you, because we have a very limited number of slots available for testing development versions of our iOS apps.

If you’re interested in helping us test OmniPresence, here are some questions we’ll need you to answer:

  1. Do you have a good strategy for backing up your documents in case something goes awry? You’re helping us test unreleased software, and one of the risks is that it might have bugs which delete or silently corrupt your data.
  2. Will you be able to use OmniPresence frequently over the next few weeks? If you don’t have time to help us this month, it would be better to give this slot to someone else.
  3. Are you willing to store your documents on the Omni Sync Server—or, alternatively, to patch, build, install, configure, and deploy your own copy of the Apache web server? We’ve submitted several updates to Apache which haven’t been integrated by their team yet, so if you’re uncomfortable storing data on our server you’ll need to set up your own server with those updates in place. (If you plan to use the Omni Sync Server, please tell us your account name so we can enable OmniPresence testing for it.)

And two bonus questions:

  1. Which of our apps do you use? We’re adding OmniPresence support to OmniGraffle, OmniOutliner, and OmniGraphSketcher, and an ideal tester would be someone who uses all three. (Note: OmniPresence provides no benefit to OmniFocus and OmniPlan, since they already have built-in support for syncing individual changes.)
  2. Are you a developer who is interested in adding OmniPresence support to your own app? We’re not quite ready to publish our source code yet, but we do plan to and it would be great to get feedback from other developers before we unleash this into the wild.

Please email your responses to omnipresence@omnigroup.com. We look forward to hearing from you!

Pre-flight: Omni’s Internal Testing

by Liz on March 7, 2013

Ever have a day where you feel like computers have turned against you? If they’re not spattering the screen with cryptic error dialogs, they’re refusing to Undo, replacing your hours of work with a A bomb icon, or just giving up and rebooting.

When I have a day like that, I feel productive. See, one of my jobs here is to test our software. Like a Test Pilot, I take things out for a flight to find out if they’re safe before the general public does. Of course, I’m steering apps, not planes. And if I crash one, it’s a lot less painful and doesn’t make the news headlines.

Sometimes testing looks a lot like anyone else using the application. I add actions to my OmniFocus database, compose a blog post in OmniOutliner, or rearrange my living room in OmniGraffle. But then something funny happens. Instead of underlining the one misspelled word in my blog post, it puts angry red squiggles under the word after it. “Hmm…why would that happen?” Hopefully I’ve saved a copy of my blog post, because now I’m more interested in solving this puzzle. I might add more misspelled words, or rearrange words, to look for a pattern. By the time I’ve tracked down the issue, the blog post is probably illegible.

Fortunately, I’ve got two different backup systems in place, so I can boldly mangle my blog post, delete valuable system files, or run that one version of an app that deleted all the files on my desktop. (Oops!)

Testing can also look a little ridiculous sometimes. Maybe the latest internal build of OmniGraffle works fine with the 7 pieces of furniture I’m rearranging in my living room. But what does it do with 7000 pieces of furniture? And what if each coffee table has a huge jpeg placed inside its texture? And what if the label on every couch is the word ‘couch’ written in 20 different languages? I don’t really expect a user to need OmniGraffle to handle this exact situation, but they’re probably going to try to do (or accidentally do) something similarly complex. What goes wrong first? Is it the mix of left-to-right and right-to-left text? Or the thousands of shapes? And how does it go wrong? It might bonk, display a polite alert, get horribly slow, corrupt your file, or crash. Maybe we can’t keep it from failing, but we might be able to replace that crash with a polite alert and hang onto the contents of your file.

You probably know software issues are called bugs. There’s some disagreement about why they’re called that, but I think we can all agree that, like cockroaches, fleas, and mosquitos, they are really unpleasant and should be removed from our homes.

When I find a bug, I add a new entry to our bug database. I’m pointing out a problem, maybe a mistake one of our engineers made. I try to be polite, so they don’t feel attacked. They keep in mind that we all want our software to have fewer bugs and finding the problems is my part of that goal. I give them as much information as I can, so that hopefully they can see the bug happen for themselves, figure out why, and fix it.

Software is immensely complex. While no software can be proven completely free of bugs1, if we can find and fix the most common and troublesome ones before you ever see them, it’s a good day.


1. If you’d like to know more about why software can’t be fully tested, Cem Kaner J.D., Ph.D. has covered this well in an article targeted at both testers and lawyers.

Video: OmniFocus 2 Debut

by Derek Reiff 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.

Enjoy!

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
License Key: [KEY HAS NOW EXPIRED]

(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.