OmniOutliner productivity app for Mac and iPad

Derek Schauland takes a look at the OmniOutliner app for the Mac and the iPad. This organizing app helps you structure information for projects and general productivity.

Being a bit of a productivity geek I am usually torn between the multiple ways to manage my stuff. I am also one of those who gets on, and falls off the Getting Things Done wagon rather regularly, although I am hoping to stick with it this time.

Since getting a Mac late last year and playing around with some of the various GTD friendly tools like OmniFocus to manage my action lists, I thought a review of another OmniGroup application, OmniOutliner was a good idea. OmniOutliner is an application that uses an outline structure to help you organize your notes and lists, especially if you're in the middle of a big project.

For the iPad

Because I tend to carry the iPad around for note taking and have it with me at the office more than the Mac, I am going to start here. The simplicity of the interface of OmniOutliner for iPad was definitely a step in the right direction. The interface is shown below.

Figure A

OmniOutliner iPad

Outlines are stored as documents within both versions of the application and editing them is very straightforward. Simply double tap on the screen on the iPad and a row appears ready for editing. Styles can also be applied to the whole outline or to an individual row, which makes the document completely customizable.

Who should consider this application?

Anyone who likes to stay organized could benefit from OmniOutliner. It keeps your thoughts orderly and streamlined. I also found the more freeform style of outline to be easier to use than MS Word.

Another group that might find these applications useful are those holding out for a Mac version of OneNote. It is not a perfect crossover application, but it does get close. If the Mac version of OneNote ever sees the light of day, I might be able to use the Mac (with Windows in a VM) more for work as well.

Is the iPad version included in the Mac version price?

No. The iPad and Mac applications are separate products. The Mac version has a standard edition and a professional edition costing $39.95 and 69.95 respectively. The iPad app costs $19.99 in the app store.

As with other iPad apps, OmniOutliner can be used on up to five iPads associated with your iTunes account.

What's missing for the iPad?

The things I think this app really needs are few, but they could be quite important:

  • Stylus support: To allow me to draw or use handwriting on the pages
  • Dropbox support: To allow syncing with my Dropbox account.

I am sure if stylus support were to appear, the replacement item would then be convert to text. A feature like this would help make my handwriting easier for me to read when going over notes later.

For the Mac

The interface on the Mac version of OmniOutliner is relatively clean; there are a few more knobs than on the iPad version, but with good reason. To get a look at all your notes files and formatting options, click the Utilities button at the top left of the window. This will slide out a menu with these options available. Figure B shows the OmniOutliner Mac application window and its utilities bar.

Figure B

OmniOutliner Mac

The columns button allows you to add columns to your outline creating almost a cross-tab view. This functionality helps in organizing lists and providing a way to summarize and total items in a column. This is similar to the grouping function in the iPad version.

Other things I like

Available as additional downloads, there are some plug-ins, scripts, and other goodies for OmniOutliner. These will provide additional features and functionality for intermediate to advanced users. You can check out what's available at and include things from export functionality to custom formatting.

The pro version of the Mac application also supports audio note inclusion. This is a good thing for someone coming into this from MS OneNote. I wasn't sure how useful the inclusion of audio might be, but sitting through a lecture or a meeting and being able to record the session right into my notes is a big help so that I do not miss anything.

To record audio in OmniOutliner, open a file and simply click the record button on the top of the window. To stop recording and insert the audio file, click the record button again.

Since the OmniOutliner application for the Mac is a way to make sure I have got all my notes and other stuff in one (or when synced, many) place, being able to attach files from other applications into my notes works great. This way I am not necessarily keeping folders full of documents just so I do not lose them, but keeping these items within my notes and available at a moment's notice.

The note taking experience overall is very smooth and straightforward, the less freeform nature of an outline takes some getting used to, however, but with a little routine use it gets easier.

Both versions

As would be expected, items within an outline can be indented and outdented with ease. Items can also be grouped together.  Suppose I am making a list of items to find on (an offline wishlist if you will). I can group the list under the heading items allowing me to keep all of these things together.

Outlines can be configured to support multiple columns, as in the example above; the price can be configured in a separate column with a number format. This will allow grouped items to display a summary of numeric data, which can total the items on my list to show how much I've spent.

The bottom line

I think that OmniOutliner is a great application for the Mac, but is a bit better suited to the iPad. In the absence of OneNote, using OmniOutliner to take meeting and project notes might be a huge step in the right direction. The iPad is a handy thing to carry to a meeting for sure.