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!

Troy Kitch @troykitch
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