in Mac apps, organization, review

Year of the Killer Task Management App: Wrap Up

Back in January, I predicted that 2008 will prove to be the year of the killer task management application for the Mac. Right now, there are dozens of ‘To Do’ list programs for the Mac…and OS X Leopard’s Mail and iCal now include basic ‘To Do’ list management. So what’s so special about this year?

It’s all about GTD. The recent release of OmniFocus and the buzz surrounding the pre-release version of Things mark the evolution of some serious competition — and serious refinement — in the field of Mac-based task managers that use ideas and concepts inspired by David Allen’s popular ‘Getting Things Done‘ workflow.

I just completed a series of in-depth reviews of some of the most popular and promising of this breed of Mac ‘To Do’ managers, and it may be no surprise to you that OmniFocus and Things look set to lead the pack.

To get the most out of the View from the Dock reviews, I recommend you start by taking a look at the first post in this series, in which I set out the criteria I would use to evaluate these applications. I originally intended to review five apps, but I ultimately only reviewed four: iGTD, OmniFocus, Midnight Inbox, and Things. I did not review CoalMarch Park (even though I said I would back in Jan.), because it appears that it’s no longer offered. But that’s Ok: I think these four apps are the main contenders in this contest. Which one is the best? Read on.

The Contenders

The four applications below are listed in order of how closely they follow the Getting Things Done process (Inbox is the most ‘GTD-like,’ Things is the least). In my opinion, this ranking also stacks the applications in order of ease of use and learning curve (harder to easier) and by degree of flexibility (from most rigid to most freeform workflow). Note that I’m only presenting a quick snapshot of each app here — be sure to read the full reviews (linked below) for detailed descriptions, opinions, screenshots, etc.

So here’s the countdown:

4. Midnight Beep’s Midnight Inbox | Developer’s site | full review

Summary:

Midnight Inbox is the only app of this group that reaches out and grabs data on your Mac. It also stands out as the app that most closely follows the GTD workflow. The user interface of Inbox is just beautiful, but the learning curve is a bit steep.

If you are well-versed in the GTD process and like the idea of an app that clearly walks you through a step-by-step task management process, give it a try. Version 2.0 of Inbox is now in the works.

Pro:

beautiful to look at; nice design; novel auto-collecting of data; system-wide quick entry

Con:

complicated; a little buggy; data entry options are limited and unconventional; workflow can feel restrictive; iTunes metaphor is a little weird

3. bartek:bargiel’s iGTD | Developer’s site | full review

Summary:

iGTD is powerful, full-featured, and free. This program follows the concepts and ideas of GTD quite closely — second only to Midnight Inbox. It’s been around longer than most of the others, so the feature-set is quite mature.

Since the program is well-designed, ties in nicely with other apps (in particular, QuickSilver) and is free, it will likely continue to have a strong following. If you’re one of those power users who like lots of options and choices, you may love this. Others may find the user interface a bit cluttered and overwhelming. One thing you will like: many users note that the developer is very responsive and the app is frequently updated. Version 2.0 (an Alpha release) of iGTD is now available for preview.

Pro:

free; great Mac OS and third-party application integration; nice design; chock full of features; system-wide quick entry

Con:

complicated; some may find the array of options and choices daunting; some terminology is confusing and hard to differentiate (especially if you aren’t very familiar with GTD)

2. OmniGroup’s OmniFocus | Developer’s site | full review

Summary:

OmniFocus is a powerful task management application with advanced sorting and viewing options that exceed what you’ll find in the others. It is obvious from the start that some serious brain power went into designing this software. You may be overwhelmed by the sheer variety of ways you can organize your data, but many users really like it. Perhaps more than the others, this app maintains a relatively uncluttered feel even if you’re managing tons of tasks.

The user interface is genius: it’s clean and sleek — but there is a lot under the hood here once you get comfortable with the workflow. I’ve found OmniGroup customer support to be top-notch: quick, responsive, and helpful.

Pro:

novel ‘perspectives’ feature is a handy way to ‘memorize’ favorite views; very well-thought out design; may have the best ‘scalability’ of the bunch; easy to zoom in to a project or task, then zoom back out for a global view; developer has great track record for quality, support; system-wide quick entry

Con:

The most expensive of the bunch; you may get bogged down by all the sorting, viewing and tagging options; relatively steep learning curve

1. Cultured Code’s Things | Developer’s site | full review

Summary:

Things is clean, mean, and lean. It’s the least ‘GTD-like’ of the bunch, so if you want a pure GTD-based workflow you may not like this app. The developers came up with some really interesting ideas with this one; most notably they integrated user-defined tags to organize and view data in a variety of ways.

If you like the idea of creating your own workflow and don’t have a problem with putting in some time to set up a tagging structure that works for you, you may love it. It’s still early in the game (as it hasn’t even bee
n released yet) but the Beta is great. I’ve been reading a lot of positive user comments out in the macosphere — and people seem to be genuinely excited about using this app. The trial is available now. Check out the developer’s wiki for tutorials and inspiration.

Pro:

Beautiful user interface; it has a certain Zen quality of simplicity to it; don’t need to know any GTD to quickly understand and start using it; system-wide quick entry

Con:

Many features are still missing; the app interface can start to feel cluttered if you have too many tags/tasks; minimal ways to enter new data

Conclusion

As I noted in my initial post in this series, I think the program that will rise to the top of the pack in popularity will be the one that does not require the user to know anything at all about GTD, is easy (dare I say fun) to use, and best captures that elusive ‘Mac-like’ quality of simplicity and elegance.

With this in mind, I think Cultured Code Things stands out as the best bet.

OmniFocus is a close second and will likely be the app of choice for many business users who have tons of tasks to manage (the higher price of OmniFocus will continue to be a limiting factor). Midnight Inbox and iGTD will surely continue to build upon a stable cadre of dedicated users, but I don’t think they will be the breakaway apps that bring sophisticated GTD-based task management to the masses. They are great, but they may be just a little too geeky for some.

I should note, in closing, that this site and these reviews are not sponsored by anybody. I should also add that I am by no means a GTD expert, and that all the reviews here are just my opinions. I really believe that all four of these applications are excellent, well-designed and full of promise. I urge you to try each one out to decide for yourself, and I hope this series will help you get started. Oh, and by the way, ‘GTD’ and ‘Getting Things Done’ are registered trademarks of David Allen & Co.

Good luck Getting Things Done!

16 Comments

  1. Thanks a lot for this series. Synchronization is indeed a big deal, but unless I’m mistaken none of these programs solve it satisfactorily (I gave up on iGTD because of this, and OF is supposed to have it… in later versions).

    In case you’re searching for review ideas, programs that let one organize reference material may be a logical next step. This field is quite crowded (Together, Yojimbo, EagleFiler, Journler, DevonThink, and Mori are a few ones that come to my mind right now) and it’s a place where I find that Mac software excels. But choosing the right one is very tricky…

  2. My postscript about syncing with the iPhone/iPod Touch seems to have disappeared. That’s odd. WordPress can be quirky. Apparently, you read it, though, based on your comment! I agree that all the apps have a way to go with the sync. That’s a great idea for the next series, but for now I need a break! I use DevonThink for creative writing notes, Yojimbo mostly for web code scraps, blog ideas, etc. and VoodooPad for story writing, by the way. Perhaps I use one too many, but each has strengths. It is hard to choose just one! Thanks again for reading the series!

  3. […] you’re into GTD/Todo List applications for OS X, you’re spoilt for choice. View From The Dock has an interesting comparison (including detailed reviews of each option). My favourites are OmniFocus and Things, even though […]

  4. A fantastic series – thanks for taking the time to write out those long reviews!

    Personally, I started my GTD/Mac experience with the Kinkless kGTD scripts and OmniOutliner (I LOVE OmniOutliner!). Needless to say, I was extremely excited about OmniFocus (especially since they brought Merlin Mann along), but the $80 price point is just too much. Oh, and it seems that Merlin doesn’t really think all that much of the application either, if his podcasts on MacBreak Weekly are any indication.

    So, with OmniOutliner prohibitively expensive (didn’t even bother with the trial), I moved to iGTD. Simply put, I found it to be buggy, and I kept having to restart the app. I love a lot of the features (especially once I redid the interface icons with CandyBar), but the bugs were too much, and it was a bit too ugly still (and I agree – starting at all those empty fields wasn’t cool).

    Next, I tried Inbox. Installed it, looked at the pretty interface, tried to use it, failed, deleted. Not for me.

    Lastly, I tried Cultured Code’s Things. FINALLY, I think this is the one. I was a little taken aback by the lack of an obvious “Contexts” panel, but the tag filtering system is brilliant and oh-so flexible. Still seems a bit high at $50 (the $40 early-adopter price is better!), and some functionality isn’t there, but I’m very excited for the 1.0 release.

    That’s my two cents. Thanks for the reviews!

    ——

    One final note: while I did in fact read every word from your 6 articles on this face-off, I think I need to take an Advil after starting at the small white-on-black text. A more reader-friendly style sheet would be an awesome addition to this site!

  5. Thanks for taking the time to comment on this series. I appreciate the feedback! I am going to tweak the style sheet when I update this site in the very near future. I’ve had a few people say it’s hard to read – sorry I gave you a headache.

    On a side note, you can change the interface icons within an app with CandyBar? I thought this app was just an easy way to change the main app icons.

    As for Things, Cultured Code is really producing something special. I haven’t heard a negative review of it yet. People just seem to love it. If they added a note-taking tab and gave me the functionality of Yojimbo within Things, too, that would be one less app I needed. I think it would be handy to have my notes and to do list managed within the same framework.

    Last thing I hope they roll out soon after June with Things is web/iPhone/iPod Touch synching and update-from-anywhere functionality.

  6. Thanks for the review and wrapup. I loved iGTD then jumped to KinklessGTD (but wound up going back to iGTD) and currently use OmniFocus extensively. OmniFocus feels like a re-hash of OmniOutliner Pro and I suppose it should, since it was inspired by Kinkless. The interface, for me, has much to be desired and that’s why I began looking at Things (crikey couldn’t they have come with a better name). If I do make the jump to Things it will be solely for the tagging feature. Despite all the available view in OF, tags offers a more simple viewing solution. Setting up perspectives is frankly a pain. Lastly, a GTD app would make a nice addition to iWork so here’s hoping Apple takes notice of the explosive interest in this area.

  7. It’s really late and my eyes are burning. However, I have been feeling so close to so many applications for the last 30-60 days. Your post has been great. I love that you have a consistent review of each app and are able to compare apples to apples really well.

    The big issues I see are simple clean integration and syncing
    Ability to capture wide variety data
    Sort and organize data
    Keep it simple

    I have tried the following:

    FMP 8.5 and devloped personal/business solutions – complicated and isolated as opposed to integrated (powerful though)

    Bento – super wimpy and pretty

    Entourage: I just can’t stomach it for many reasons

    Daylite: Close but no cigar. Too complicated in the places where it should be simple and too simple where it should be flexible

    Contactizer Pro: One of my favorites but has some holes. You can actually approximate GTD using smart filters through out.

    Omni Focus: Really like it. Although I am sill pushing it through paces.

    Things: competing with OF.

    I am aware some of my apps are not really GTD. That said, my goal is to get things done. I have been experimenting with them all. When I am not feeling so sleepy, I am happy be more specific with any of my feedback. – Peace EM

  8. Oh yah I forgot iGTD – SUPER BUGY

    IGTD2 is quite different than iGDT. It seems to go in a very different direction. It’s also missing a ton of functionality. Meaning contextual menus seems to have not been built yet. We will see TBD.

    -EM

  9. Thanks for the writeup. I’ve ended up on Things as well, although whether it will outdo CircusPonies Notebook is an open question still. Not a lot of structure in CP Notebook, but great ability to nest todo’s which is very important for project outlining.

    I agree about the white on black. I’m looking at your website in with stylesheets turned off finally (recommend that as a temporary solution to everyone else). If you’d like a redesign, let me know. We’ll make you a very good offer.

  10. Nesting todos is an important feature, but I think I’d turn to OmniOutliner for project outlining? As for the white-on-black, you can choose to view the site as black-on-white (via the Styles choice at the top of the left hand column). Thanks for the offer, but I enjoy working on the site design here in my living room. Cheers

  11. Hi there,

    Just wanted to thank you for taking the time to review/compare these GTD apps. I am new to the whole GTD concept and have been looking for a software tool that would work for me in this regard. Your reviews of four of the main ones for the Mac have been a very helpful starting point in what each offers (and what their limitations are). OF and Things look the most promising for what I want/need, so I’ll look into them further.

    Thanks again!

  12. Hi !

    Late comment, but I wanted to add one aspect that made me chose OF over Things (I have paid for both):
    Outlining in OF allows me think about and brainstorm on projects. In Things I would need an additional programme.

    Maybe you could update the reviews, especially OF has improved a lot (I had originally left it for Things, because of the lack of Due Date sorting).

    Anyway, thanks for the great reviews !

    George

  13. That’s a really good point, George. Things can’t do that. I would like to update the OF and Things reviews someday, but only after I get to the LONG, LONG overdue organizer app reviews I’ve been wanting to get back to for about a year now … think I’m going to have the time starting in July! Appreciate the feedback.

Comments are closed.