Outliners have always left me feeling a bit so-so, frankly. They’re fantastic for conceptualising long documents or narrative structures, but most of the rest of the time I’d prefer something two-dimensional (or more…). Unfortunately, the only application that really fits the bill in the latter category, TinderBox, I’ve found clumsy enough that I’ve never quite got my head around it. It’s also a bit too costly for me to want to invest the time learning its ways.
So by and large I’ve stuck with outliners. The one I liked most, back in the System 7 days, was the late lamented InControl. I can’t honestly remember why I liked it so much, excpet it allowed one to attach documents to lines, and have them open with a click. I found this terrifically useful for a couple of projects, not least working on LaTeX documents, but since I haven’t run Classic for… um… about four years, I can’t have used InControl for about as long.
There are, of course, plenty of outliners for Mac OS X. And by ‘plenty,’ I think I mean ‘dozens.’ Some are hugely innovative, attempting to emulate research notebooks and scrapbooks stuffed with clippings and photos and so on. I’ve never got on with them; all I want is a simple outliner that looks nice, has decent search, and allows file linking. So for the last few years I’ve been using OmniOutliner, which was cheap, clean, and unfortunately didn’t do very much. But I like Omni’s approach to their apps – and to user support – so I was reasonably content to give up features. While I’ll usually adopt Vinays ‘If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly’ maxim, in some situations a feature badly implemented is simply an annoying feature, and I’d rather it wasn’t there at all.
I’ve recently been looking at Process, which seems rather dashing and is aimed less at taking research notes and more at ultralight project management. That has its appeal, but… well… it’s just not quite right, somehow. I think because it’s not really aimed at entries longer than one line of text, which isn’t how I usually use outliners. Though I could be wrong – the seven-day demo timeout is a tad onerous, and I can no longer find out.
All hail, therefore, OmniOutliner’s latest incarnation: OmniOutliner 3, and OmniOutliner 3 Pro. I’m hoping this plays out much like the OmniGraffle 3 Pro transition did; that is, I fall instantly head-over-heels for the thing, buy without a second thought, then delight as the subtle problems, lapses and oversights are gradually patched out. A year later I’m still loving the application but hoping against hope that a new version arrives before too long with just a few extra bells and whistles, specifically… you get the idea.
It’s hard to say just what’s so right about Omni’s stuff, but theirs really are the best applications I’ve used. OK, so Final Cut Pro and Photoshop are pretty darned good too, but Omni’s apps… I think it’s that they marry apparent simplicity and approachability with very subtly hidden power scratching along just beneath the surface. This is why they’re often regarded as the quintessential Mac OS X apps – they’re a perfect fit for the design philosophy of the Mac.
So, anyway, yes: OmniOutliner 3 public beta is out. Have a play.