Exclusive Omni Group interview (part 2)

omniweb-icon.jpgFollowing on the first part we gave you last week, here is the second bit of our interview with Ken Case, a founder of the Omni Group.

iT: How threatened do you feel by the rise of online applications (like Google apps) and how do you think it will affect your business model?

KC: I’m not sure whether you’re asking about online applications which are written with native tools and leverage the Internet (like Google Earth), or web applications which are written to run in web browsers (like Google Spreadsheets) and store their data online. But perhaps my answer to either question is basically the same, so it doesn’t really matter: either way, we’re talking about online technology being leveraged to build software solutions.

All software solutions are built by leveraging some set of technologies. At Omni, we happen to focus on leveraging Macintosh technologies, though we’re certainly no stranger to online apps (which I’ve been writing since the mid-’80s, before founding Omni) or to web apps (which we built a lot of during Omni’s consulting years in the late ’90s). Most technologies aren’t exclusive, and we may well make more use of online technologies in future versions of our applications. But what we’ve decided to focus on are Macintosh technologies, and we’ve done this because we feel they make us the most productive.

So do we feel threatened by online applications? No more than by Windows applications, or Java applications: none of those approaches to building software seem as appealing to us as the way we’re building our software now. And we’ll continue to be on the lookout for technologies that can help us be even more productive.

Tell us a bit about your Omniweb browser…

OmniWeb is a web browser which is designed to save you time. Everybody understands that it helps to have a nice fast network connection and a browser which renders pages quickly (and right now, we’re one of the fastest)—but even more important than that is how much time you spend doing other things, like entering a page location, looking for a web page you already have open (or trying to figure out which of the pages you have open you’ve already viewed) or tweaking the browser preferences to get a particular site working.

In OmniWeb, we’ve put a lot of time into all those details, giving you customizable URL shortcuts (so I can type “g OmniWeb” to search google for OmniWeb), graphical tabs (so I can see at a glance which pages have loaded and see which ones I’ve already viewed), multiple workspaces (so I can reduce my window clutter) and persistent workspaces (so I can resume a session right where I left off before I upgraded QuickTime), site specific preferences (so I can customize the preferences for a single site for all time), and so on.

How does Omniweb effectively challenge Safari, Firefox and others?

For years, most web browsers were designed for web authors, and their focus was on providing features that would give content providers more control over the browsing experience. (For example, they gave web authors control over opening popup windows.)

OmniWeb has always been focused first on giving control to the user: so when we first implemented the ability for a web page to open a popup window, we also made sure that the user could shut popup windows off. When we added support for animating images, we also let the user decide whether they wanted them to animate forever (like in other browsers), or just for a little while (a few times), or not at all. Because the user is the one paying for OmniWeb, they will always be the one in control.

I think that Firefox has finally adapted a bit of this philosophy (and that’s what I use it on Windows), but because their browser is cross-platform they don’t really get to leverage the full capabilities of the Mac the way we can.

What are your goals for 2007?

The same as every year: create great software, make money, and have fun! But to get a little more specific… On the software side, we’ll be introducing a completely new product (OmniFocus) and we’re hard at work on some great upgrades to our existing products. To make money, we want to make it easier to help people learn our software, so we’ll be doing some more screencasts: the screencasts we’ve already done for OmniOutliner and OmniGraffle have turned out well, and we plan to make more available this year.

As for having fun, well… After being in the same building for 12 years, we’re starting to feel a little cramped (though not nearly so much as we were in
our previous office!)—so we’ll be moving to another building. This process is a lot of work, but there’s also a large element of fun: we’ll all be meeting with an architect tomorrow to discuss how to lay out the space for Omni’s peculiar work environment. (Where does the theater go? The massage room? Is there somewhere we could put a climbing wall? What about a pottery studio?)

Any plans of offering a new productivity bundle in the future?

Rather than offering a fixed productivity bundle as we used to do, we now offer the ability for customers to build their own bundles: at our online store, you now receive a discount of 5% for each application you add to your shopping cart, up to a maximum discount of 30%.

This also applies as a quantity discount, so you’ll also get a 30% discount when you purchase six OmniPlans; or you can mix and match and get that discount when buying four OmniPlans and two OmniGraffles.

The folks at the Omni Group have kindly given us 2 Omniweb 5, 2 OmniGraffle Pro and 2 Omniplan licenses to share with insideTonic readers. Leave a comment below with your idea for the next Omni product… and tell us about its killer feature.

The Omni Group has also just unleashed a pre-release of its Omnifocus application, which is available for testing to users subscribed to the Omni mailing list.

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