Mac Software I Want in 2011

Posted by mitch on December 25, 2010
productivity, software

2011 is just a week away now and there’s a few things I’d like to see come to the Mac in the next year.

This past year, we finally got something called ‘Outlook’ native on the Mac. It’s time that this Outlook got a few things that have been missing on the Mac for a while–for me, that means:

1. Google Apps Sync Engine for Outlook. Without this, Outlook on the Mac isn’t as exciting for Google Apps as it is for Windows.

2. Xobni for Mac Outlook. Xobni is a very handy tool and I have bought copies for it for both machines on which I use Windows. But I’d really like to have it on the Mac.

3. A plug-in for the Mac Outlook. Again, we feature parity with Windows would be nice. Specifically, I want to easily tie emails onto contacts and opportunities in

In addition to these Outlook items, I have some other wishes:

4. OmniFocus needs a little email improvement. Right now, using email to send something to OmniFocus requires Apple Mail and custom rules. I’d like to see one of two solutions: (1) is to have OmniFocus check email with a dedicated account that the user configures. This seems confusing to explain to customers, so I am not sure that’s a good solution for Omni. (2) is for Omni to provide an email service, just like Evernote does. Evernote gets email integration right–just like Salesforce does–everyone should copy their approach.

5. More native DropBox support for iPad and iPhone apps. OK, this isn’t exactly Mac-specific, but I’d really like to see OmniFocus and Evernote applications able to browse DropBox contents easily. Native DropBox support for DAV as a front-end and DAV in apps with an eye towards simple DropBox integration would be handy.

6. Some better graphics tools. I use Photoshop, Illustrator, OmniGraffle; I’ve played with Pixelmator, DrawIt, and others–but somehow none of these quite do what I want for “marketing graphics”. I want the control of Illustrator and Photoshop to build widgets and something like OmniGraffle but with more intelligence to piece them together. This almost sounds like ClarisDraw… but EasyDraw isn’t the answer either.

7. More head-less and powerful virtualization. VMware Fusion guest processes are lost when the Mac window server goes away (e.g., killed via remote ssh). VMware Fusion needs support for multiple Ethernet interfaces without hacking around in random files. I’d like to see something marketed for a more professional workstation user with more of the Workstation features. I’d be happy to see a Fusion Pro or something at a higher price point if that is what’s needed.

8. VMware VI Client without having to run a Windows virtual machine in Fusion or investigate awkward WINE stuff.

I have some other wishes as well–I’d like to see Apple fix the broken iTunes sync with devices and limits around a single library. For example, music I buy on the road I cannot sync to an iPod or iPad or iPhone, since they all sync to my desktop–and my 256 GB MacBook Air isn’t big enough to hold my 1 TB iTunes library.

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Mac Productivity Software Round-up

Posted by mitch on December 23, 2010

Recently I spent some down time playing with some new utilities to see what’s out there that might help me. I’ve added the following tools to my Mac toolbox:

TotalFinder ($15) — This is a plug-in for the Mac Finder that adds tabbed browsing and some other nifty hacks, such as a “two-up” tab view for looking at two directories concurrently in the same window. Finder window management has been a mess for 26 years, and perhaps a real problem for me for the last 20 years, so it’s nice to see someone working on this.

SecondBar (free) — This puts a second menubar up on a second monitor. Unfortunately, the name reflects reality–it only provides 1 more menubar, and not one per additional screen. However, it works well for what it does. I tried some other menu utilities, but they all miss the boat for my needs.

BetterTouchTool (free) — This does a number of things with the Magic Mouse that didn’t seem very useful to me. However, it also provides Windows 7-style window snapping, which is one of my favorite Windows 7 features. And it works better with multiple monitors than the Windows 7 feature does.

StoryMill ($50) — The killer feature for StoryMill is the full-screen mode. It’s significantly better than what Word or Pages have for full-screen and makes writing prose much easier for me. Of course, it brings a lot of organizational tools for writing very long documents (books!) as well. I love using StoryMill for cranking out raw text to be edited later.

Kaleidoscope ($40) — This is a very cool differ. There are certain things that I miss from my own differ, RoaringDiff, but my favorite part about Kaleidoscope is that I don’t have to fix the bugs. I just started looking at Kaleidoscope today, but expect I will be registering soon once I’ve confirmed that the CLI entry point will work well for my svn workflow.

Evernote (free or $45/yr for premium) — I’ve been using Evernote for a while now. Recently I added two new pieces to my Evernote ecosystem. One is that I’ve configured the email address book on my multi-function printer/copier/scanner like this one (the one I have is no longer available) so that I can scan paper into Evernote with 4 button clicks. The other is that I bought FastEver Snap ($2) for my iPhone, which lets me photograph whiteboards and upload them to Evernote immediately without having to take explicit action.

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Task Management Software Mess

Posted by mitch on August 04, 2010
productivity, software

Last night, I was ranting on Twitter again.

This time it was about task management software. There’s several options out there, but everything I’ve looked at has fundamental flaws. I’ve settled on Remember the Milk for now, but I’m not thrilled with it.

Here’s what I want:

  • A clean UI that is fast and optimized for brain dumps of a large number of tasks. Smart tag management.
  • Mac-native application.
  • A web UI for when I don’t have my Mac handy.
  • Storage in the cloud and locally. I want to use it when the cloud is down, when my connection to the cloud is down, on the subway, etc.
  • I don’t want to bring my own cloud service. I want to buy a service that someone else runs.
  • Integrate with Google Apps: My calendar should show deadlines, the task system should have access to my address book, etc.
  • Good iPhone application with emphasis on new task capture and the ‘next’ to do list.
  • Nice to have — Outlook for Windows plug-in to sync tasks into Outlook’s to do. I use Outlook 25% of the time for Xobni.
  • Nice to have — Integration with BaseCamp. I don’t use the To Do stuff there much, but people assign me tasks in BaseCamp. It would be nice to see those in my To Do list (and be able to click to go to them in BaseCamp).
  • Nice to have — Integration with Salesforce. Again, tasks are created in Salesforce and I’d like to see those in my central view of the world (and be able to click to go to them in Salesforce).
  • Nice to have — Show today’s calendar item from Exchange / Google Apps. This is particularly important when planning what to do next and identifying how much time I have from now until my next commitment. I often flip back and forth between calendar and the to do list. Neither Outlook nor Google Apps get this view right.

Here’s what I’ve tried:

  • Things — I have bought Things for the Mac, iPad, and iPhone. However, after it trashed its database and tech support basically told me “I don’t care”, I haven’t been able to get back into it. Fundamentally, it is missing cloud sync, which makes it somewhat useless for someone who travels a lot. My corruption seemed to be related to syncing with the iPhone, which doesn’t inspire much confidence and so I would stop syncing with the iPhone. However, the Things UI is almost perfect. No one else seems to hold a candle to it.
  • OmniFocus — I tried it a few years ago when it came out, but it was riddled in complexity and not as smooth as Things. This might be fixed now. I would like to try it again, but Omni doesn’t offer a production cloud service yet. I generally like Omni products.
  • Remember the Milk — I like that I can use it from any computer. However, it’s tedious for dumping in a lot of tasks. Setting a new location on a task requires a manual step of creating a new lcoation. Why can’t I just type in my own locations and let it sort them out? The details for a task are presented on the right side of the window, rather than right next to the task, which leads to a lot of mousing around. In fact, the whole UI is about mousing around and a lot of clicking. For example, I have a task with some notes. When I click the task, it shows that I have 1 note, but I have to click again to see it. Just show me everything. I’d like something that I can control entirely from the keyboard. However, the iPhone app is quite decent based on a cursory examination. No Outlook integration.
  • Evernote — Not really a task management system, but I had heard of people using it as such. Great for what it does, not great for task management. But the cloud service, native apps, and sync model are all perfect.

I will keep plodding along with Remember the Milk for now, but I’d really like to see a Things-like UI for Remember the Milk, either as a sophisticated JavaScript UI or a Mac application. For busy professionals, task management is a huge tool and nothing seems to get it right. There’s a market hole here that someone needs to fill. Several people have asked, “so why don’t you write it?” I am very busy with another software company right now and one at a time is the maximum for me.

P.S. If you know of a solution that I missed that might work better for me, I’m all ears!

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