Omni Group interview: part 1

Omni Group interview: part 1

of.jpgThe Omni Group is one of the most popular software developers for Mac with applications like Omniweb, Omnioutliner or Omnigraffle recognized as functional and original productivity tools. The company is expected to release a private beta of its next product Omnifocus, a Getting Things Done application to simplify your workflow that has geeks all around wetting their pants. We recently posed a few questions to Ken Case, founder of Omni Group, to know a bit more about Omnifocus and Omni Group in general.

The Omni team seems like a fun bunch of creative and talented people. What is a typical work day at Omni?

A typical work day at Omni… Hmm. (Can any day at Omni really be called typical?) Some early risers show up before 9am, but most of the office shows up between 10am and 11am. The snack room is just outside my office, so at this point I hardly notice the constant sound of the espresso machine running during those hours.

We have a few 11am meetings during the week, but most people only attend one or two of those meetings. (Two of those meetings are focused on one product or another; each product team meets every other week.) These meetings are typically pretty short (maybe 15 minutes), but when we have a lot to think about (like what features should go into a release) they can run for quite a while.

Our chef serves lunch around 12:30pm, and about half of us eat our lunches at one big table; while those who can’t stand to hear another word about World of Warcraft tend to eat lunch in smaller (less World-of-Warcraft-vulnerable) groups. After lunch, we generally focus our attention on our various projects until dinner is served. There are some impromptu hall conversations here and there, of course, and sometimes a few people will get together to hash out a UI decision or to continue the interrupted meeting reviewing plans for an upcoming release or to figure out the best way to answer a support question or the best way to write some code—but in general, this is the best time of the day to work on projects. (It’s also the time of day when it’s easiest for our massage therapist to schedule massages…)

Dinner is usually served around 5:30pm; some of the early risers will pack up their dinners to take home, but a fair number of people stick around to eat together—and after dinner, some return to their work, some go home, and others stick around to play games.

Tell us a bit about your future release, Omnifocus:

OmniFocus is a tool which helps busy people capture their thoughts and organize them into projects and contexts, so that they can plan their tasks in projects while acting on those same tasks in contexts. It’s inspired by the Ethan Schoonover’s Kinkless scripts for OmniOutliner Pro, which were in turn inspired by David Allen’s work-life management system called Getting Things Done® or GTD® (see

What was it like working with GTD experts Merlin Mann and Kinkless creator, Ethan JA Schoonover? How did this come about?

We really enjoy collaborating with Ethan and Merlin. We all share a common goal of helping people to be more productive, and I was thrilled when they both agreed to help us plan OmniFocus. I guess this all started with a conversation I had with Ethan about the possibility of closer collaboration on Kinkless. As we explored the idea, it quickly became clear that the best direction for Kinkless would be to turn it into a full-fledged application of its own rather than leaving it as a set of scripts. When we realized we wanted to make a new productivity application, we also invited Merlin to join the conversation, and before long we all were meeting around a whiteboard at Omni and sketching out user interfaces. (Note: While that doesn’t sound like a very big deal it actually involved a fair bit of commitment on their part, since Omni is located in Seattle while Merlin is in San Francisco and Ethan is in Hong Kong!)

Since then we’ve been having regular discussions about the design decisions we’re making during the development process, and it’s been great to have their wisdom to help guide us.

(By the way, you can read a little of their perspective on this collaboration at and

How will Omnifocus be different from all the other GTD apps (Actiontastic, WhatToDo, Kinkless, Note Studio, and Ghost Action)?

The only other GTD app I’ve tried is Kinkless, so I don’t really feel qualified to comment on the others. But I can certainly compare it with Kinkless…

OmniFocus is intended to work in much the same way as Kinkless does now, with an efficient process for capturing tasks (whether or not you’re working in OmniFocus at the time), a fast and intuitive process for organizing them into projects and assigning contexts, and an easy way to view tasks by context. Some of the changes from Kinkless are that OmniFocus has a true database of tasks behind the scenes (so you don’t have to run scripts to process each of your edits), a simpler user interface (eliminating all the irrelevant controls), and a very simple setup process. And, of course, it has much better performance and is very scriptable.

By the way, we posted an OmniFocus screenshot and feature overview to our blog a few days ago; you’ll find it at

Check back soon for the second part of the Omni interview on insideTonic!

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