Archive for the 'Omni Group' Category

Screencast 4 – OmniDazzle

Below you will find MacSparky Screencast #4 – OmniDazzle. This little gem gives you a variety of cursor effects useful for demonstrating on your screen, presentation work, or just to have fun. I spoke with the folks at Omni and they agreed to give MacSparky viewers $5 off OmniDazzle (usual price is $15) for the week of July 27-Autust 3, 2007. Just type in the discount coupon “Sparkcast” at checkout from the Omni Group Website. That is $5 less than I paid.

Right (Ctrl) Click Here to Download. 

OmniFocus Check In


I’ve been using the Sneaky Peak of OmniFocus exclusively now for several weeks for task management and I’m very pleased with the progress Omni is making with this program.  If you have any interest in it, get yourself over to the Omni Group web site and get your name on the list.   It is “different” from what I was doing in iGTD, but generally better for my workflow with a few small (hopefully temporary) annoyances.  It is still just Alpha after all.   

Moving to OmniFocus


While I’ve been a member of the OmniFocus “Sneaky Peek” for some time now I hadn’t really embraced it yet. This is a result of the fact that things have been very busy lately and I’ve got such a smooth workflow with iGTD that I, frankly, wasn’t all that motivated. I then began a series of email correspondence with Robin Trew, who is, by they way, much smarter than I. Rob put together an amazing apple script that yanked about 250 tasks out of iGTD and dropped them into OmniFocus in as much time as it took me to brew and consume a cup of green tea.

Rob having saved me the tedium of transferring data, I began playing in earnest with OmniFocus a few days ago and it looks like I’m not going back to iGTD. I’m not taking anything away from iGTD which is a very good application (and free!). Indeed, with Quicksilver triggers and other features I think iGTD is, in several ways, superior to the current OmniFocus alpha I’m working on. However, after a few days usage I can already see the writing on the wall. Frankly I’m willing to have a little less efficient input in exchange for other benefits in OmniFocus. Specifically, I find the ease of use in moving and copying task groups, the better data management, the ease of use in designating projects with concurrent or subsequent tasks and the general fit and finish of the program have me hooked. Rob also explained the data security in OmniFocus is better. Being that I was an arts major and I still leave cheese out at nights just in case there IS a little mouse inside my Mac on a wheel, I’m simply going to paste Rob’s explanation here.

“The iGTD approach of storing everything in a single binary (SQLite) file does introduce a slight vulnerability – a binary file can be quite hard to retrieve things from if it gets corrupted. Omnifocus also uses SQL internally, but it stores everything on disk as a cloud of (gzipped) XML files – one for each transaction, which is inherently rather robust. (Regular backups are streamed out as single XML files, which, like the small transaction files, become human-readable as soon as you gunzip them in the Terminal).

There is a more lucid and authoritative account here.”

So it looks like I’ll be talking more about OmniFocus and less about iGTD. Unless, of course, OmniFocus is not up to the task and then you will hear all the gory details right here. For those iGTD faithful I say stick with it. If it weren’t for OmniFocus, I certainly would. I don’t think questions as to which tool you use to accomplish your productivity is really, at the end of the day, all that important. The question is whether you actually are productive.

Review – OmniPlan


I recorded the below review and you can listen to it on Surfbits #110.

I have been intrigued with the idea of using project management software in my law practice for several years now. As a litigation and transactional attorney at any one time I have about 30 different cases and I am responsible for along with delegating work to several staff members and paralegals. Having the ability to organize these projects in a way to allow for strategic thinking and keep me honest as the weeks and months tick by would be invaluable. I explored this in my old PC days with Microsoft Project but it felt to me something like trying to hammer a thumbtack with a sledgehammer. Likewise I tried to use a custom template in Microsoft Excel but that also didn’t work for me. Enter OmniPlan [].

I must admit I am a big fan of the OmniGroup. Having been pulled in by OmniOutliner and OmniGraffle, I became curious to see if OmniPlan, Omni’s project management software, could give me that planning edge I’ve been searching for. Put simply, it does.

OmniPlan is a project management application for the rest of us. It allows you to manage project elements, staff, and resources through the use Gantt charts. Like all of the Omni Group programs, the user interface is very well thought out with intelligent use of inspectors. This allows you to keep your project as simple, or complex, as your needs require. This also allows you to begin working with it in just a few hours.

The workflow for setting up a plan is really simple. You type in to the outline all of steps for a particular project along with the time required for each task and then set them out to the planned dates. During this process you can also set up dependencies where one task does not begin until another task ends. There is a lot of customization with these dependencies allowing you to set prioritization or even relating them to material supplies. You can also create these dependencies with your mouse by just dragging an arrow from one task to another. As you go through this process, OmniPlan builds an elegant Gantt chart graphically showing each task. Once you get your plan in place, you can then track your actual time and costs and compare them as you move through a project.

In addition to managing the critical path and milestones, OmniPlan also tracks the costs and resources attached to a project staff member, material, equipment, and groups. Using the built in calendar you can then apportion the availability of these resources or move areas of responsibility. You can even associate an hourly cost to these resources to keep track of your costs.

The program also checks to make sure you don’t goof anything up. For instance if I schedule someone to make lemonade on Monday but don’t schedule anyone to purchase lemons until Tuesday, OmniPlan will let me know ahead of time.

OmniPlan offers a variety of options to share this data. It imports Microsoft Project files as well as a few other formats. Likewise, it exports to Microsoft Project, iCal, HTML, OmniOutliner, OmniGraffle, pdf, and a few other image formats. You won’t have any trouble sharing your plan with others. I use my MacBook Pro in a windows office and export my OmniPlans to pdf for the various staff members that need access.

OmniPlan is the first project planning program I’ve tried that I can actually use productively. Its friendly interface and simplicity of use make it perfect for my needs. I spent about 2 hours going through the manual and I have already got that time back in better project management. I am admittedly using this in a small office environment but I do not see why this program cannot scale up for more resource intensive projects. There are other project planning programs for the Mac out there and some of them have been around longer and are, presumably, more feature rich. However, OmniPlan was so easy and quick for me to adopt into my bag of tricks that I don’t intent to stop using it any time in the near future.

This application could be of help to you whether you are constructing a building or a pine wood derby car and just about everything in between. If you are considering adding project planning software to your arsenal, I encourage you to visit the Omni Group website and watch the online video demonstrations or even download the demo for yourself. At $150 for a license it is a significant investment but well worth it in my mind.

Waiting for OmniFocus …


Its been a few weeks now since the Omni Group announced the beta of its quasi GTD product, OmniFocus. I know I’m on the list and must admit I’m curious to give it a try. Depending on how well it works I’ll have to decide if I’ll run it as a sandbox application or actually re-enter my roughly 200 iGTD entries. I’ll keep you posted.

Review – OmniGraffle



As usual, this review was recorded and written for my friend Tim at and released with Surfbits episode 108


I have a confession. I diagram everything. I think it has something to do with the way my brain is wired but I am always pulling out a sketch pad whether I’m trying to understand some complex client problem or simply explain to my kids the difference between a phillips and a slotted screwdriver. An offshoot to this diagram fixation is that I like to include them with just about anything I write or present. As a trial lawyer, I have personal experience that a few good diagrams can help the jurrors and judges understand exactly what it is I am trying to explain.


It is needless to say that when switching over to Apple one concern I had was “how am I going to continue making brilliant diagrams?” I knew with the OS X interface there had to be a program to meet my needs and indeed I have found it in OmniGraffle by the Omni Group.


OmniGraffle is a diagramming application used to create simple diagrams, flow charts, and illustrations. What I really like about this program is the way it combines powerful diagramming tools with a simple interface. It has a streamlined set of inspectors that, after spending some time learning, make it very easy to alter just about every parameter of my diagrams. It also has a unique set of “Palettes” which are pre-defined objects you can simply drag and drop right onto your diagram. Out of the box, OmniGraffle has multiple sets of Palettes but there are even more on the Omni Group website. These include such things as logic flow, idea mapping, website planning, GUI planning, architecture, and a host of other subjects. There are also several websites with many professional looking user created sets of palettes. I found particularly good and it is now on my RSS feed. In addition to the palettes, there is also a robust set of drawing tools. One nice feature is the ability to double-click on a tool in OmniGraffle Pro’s tool palette and it stays active for multiple creations.


When creating complex diagrams you can create them in multiple layers which is really helpful to me when explaining complex concepts. Related to layers, are canvases, which are somewhat akin to separate pages for related diagrams. With OmniGraffle Pro you get an unlimited number of these which allows you to go crazy with related diagrams.


OmniGraffle takes full advantage of Mac OS X’s Quartz graphics layer. This allows for antialiasing, smooth scaling, transparent drop shadowing, and other features. It also allows for Bézier shapes although the Bézier tool is not particularly easy to control with any degree of accuracy, but it is fine for the diagram work I do.


Often I make adjustments or additions to my charts as I get closer to presenting them or exporting them to Keynote. With my old software this was always a pain because then you would have to re-align all of the arrows and lines attaching everything. This is not the case with OmniGraffle. The program “magnetizes” the lines and arrows to stick to the object you attach them too. I can drag boxes and objects around the screen and everything stays attached unless, of course, I tell them to unstick. It also has tools to allow me to adjust precisely where on the object these lines and arrows stick.


An interesting feature is the ability to create hotlinks on the diagrams themselves. This allows me to click an object on a diagram that brings up a separate object. I use this to link pictures and pdf’s that relate to my work files but it also could link websites, video, music and just about anything else on your Mac. If this isn’t enough it works with OmniOutliner allowing me to import an outline as a framework for a diagram.


Once your masterpiece is completed, OmniGraffle can output to PDF, TIFF, PNG, JPEG, EPS, HTML image map, SVG, PICT vector, Photoshop and BMP bitmap documents. With OmniGraffle Pro, there is better support to import and export to Microsoft Visio. The Pro version also gives you the ability to merge objects and other advanced tools.


I spent several weeks using this program and strongly recommend taking advantage of OmniGroup’s support tutorial and sample documents as well as some of the great user created webcasts to help you learn to take full advantage of this powerful program. Realistically it took me about 3 hours to really get my arms around it. Time well spent in my case.


OmniGraffle costs $79.95 and OmniGraffle Pro costs $149.95. These programs aren’t cheap but if you have a need of a diagraming application, they are well worth the investment. You can download a free trial at the company’s website and try them for yourself. I am so pleased with this program. It is well designed and easy to use, once you get over the moderate learning curve. Best of all, my diagrams have never looked better or more convincing.

Email MacSparky

david @ macsparky . com

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