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OmniOutliner 4 Pro: Top-notch Mac outliner gets a new interface

Tom Negrino | April 21, 2014
I admit it. I'm a proud member of the Cult of Outliners. Outlines are the best tool I've ever found to create my book and other writing projects, presentations, business plans, and more. My love for outlining programs goes back to MORE and Acta, running on classic Macs, and I roll my eyes at inferior attempts like Microsoft Word's Outline view.

I admit it. I'm a proud member of the Cult of Outliners. Outlines are the best tool I've ever found to create my book and other writing projects, presentations, business plans, and more. My love for outlining programs goes back to MORE and Acta, running on classic Macs, and I roll my eyes at inferior attempts like Microsoft Word's Outline view.

For many years, my outliner of choice has been OmniOutliner Pro (Mac App Store link), from The Omni Group. The current release, version 4, is long-awaited (version 3 was released in 2005) and provides a welcome user interface refresh, as well as many tweaks to make working with outlines easier. But work remains to be done to use outlines in other programs, and you should try before you buy the Pro version.

Facelift

The biggest change in OmniOutliner is the refreshed user interface that's cleaner and easier to use. The previous version's drawer, which held a miniature view of your whole outline, along with a pane for row styles, has been changed to a sidebar that can be hidden. The Inspector, where you make style changes and specify how the outline displays, has been overhauled and reorganized, to good effect. OmniOutliner has always been unusual in that it supported not just outline rows, but also columns, and you can now hide columns you don't need to see. The program also automatically populates pop-up lists to make data entry faster, and parses date entries such as "next Wednesday," "tomorrow," and "+5d (for 5 days ahead)." A new favorite feature is the ability to zoom the outline to view it larger or smaller.

Creating outlines is faster with the addition of the Resource Browser, which contains more than a dozen premade templates to help you get started. Of course, you can save your own outlines as templates. You can now also add the styles from a template — its theme — to your own outlines.

Along with the user interface changes come changes to familiar terminology. In previous versions, the Hoist command allowed you to display only the current topic and its subtopics, hiding the rest of the outline so you can work on the current topic without distraction. OmniOutliner 4 takes a cue from the company's OmniFocus task manager, and renames Hoist to Focus.

Smooth sharing between devices

There are versions of OmniOutliner for both Mac and iPad, and rather than struggle with implementing iCloud syncing across platforms, OmniGroup created their own synchronization app, OmniPresence. This app syncs documents in a local folder on your Mac with documents in OmniGroup's iOS apps (OmniOutliner and OmniGraffle).

After installing and launching OmniPresence on your Mac, you must specify a cloud location, either the free Omni Sync Server service or your own WebDAV-based server. Once you're set up, files and folders placed in the OmniPresence local folder are available and automatically synced to your iOS devices, and to other Macs that also have OmniPresence installed.

 

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