Omni-Outliner

I’ve decided I hate Omni-Outliner. It’s a shame, since it’s the best outliner for the Mac that I’ve yet found. But they give me no choice. I just can’t stand it any more. Here are some things I dislike about it:

  • the licensing. You can have per-user or per-machine. Sounds generous, but if you have a machine at home and another at work, only one user on the home machine can use it.
  • separate feature sets for “pros” vs. “losers.” Everything you wish it could do is a “pro” feature. We’re talking about really “professional” features like changing what is in the header or footer of a printed outline.
  • the online help. The online help itself is appallingly bad. That’s because much of the information you need is only found in separate OmniOutliner documents. It’s very nice to eat your own dog-food that way, but you shouldn’t impose it on the customers so they have to eat your dog food too. Here are some defects of this approach:
    1. You don’t get to leverage your knowledge of the Mac help viewer. True, it’s a lousy help viewer, but it’s the one that Mac programs use — well, they’re supposed to — so whatever you learn about it you can use every time you learn a new program.
    2. You can’t app-switch between the help file and the program. (This is partly the Mac OS’s fault. Some idiot at Apple decided that Cmd-Tab (when they stole the Alt-Tab idea from Microsoft) that it should switch between Apps rather than windows. I’ve been using a Mac for almost four years and I still can’t figure this one out. It means you can’t cut things from one document and paste them in another without laborious mousing around and/or rearranging of windows on your screen. So part of the blame goes to Apple. But if you’re going to write apps for the Mac, you should recognize its limitations and help your customers work around them.) So you can’t see the help file and switch over to try what they suggest without using the mouse.
  • There is only one help + Outline-document set for both the “Pro” and “Loser” editions. So you’ll read the help file and say, Oh, that’s how I do it. Then you’ll try to do it and realize the dialogs are all different and the feature is missing, and find out that way that you’re trying to use the “pro” features. Silly user!
  • Printing is hopelessly bad. Especially if you don’t have the “pro” version. More to the point, there’s a fundamental disconnect in this area, because it forces a wordprocessing model on the task of outlining, with fonts and italics and so forth. This would be — barely — explicable if the finished product looked any good, but it always looks like crap. Why not just unload all the fonts and stuff and keep the main thing the main thing?
  • Export is so advanced and powerful that it’s impossible to use. Plus it has bugs. There are a dozen-odd ways to save something, including OPML and a couple of three varieties each of plain-text and rich-text files. But you can’t do anything with the “plain text” because it includes non-ASCII characters. I think Unicode is, by definition, rich text.

There’s more, but this isn’t a professional review. It’s a cry of pain and anguish.

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