Firetask: A new(ish) GTD app for Mac OS X

February 19, 2011  (Jeffrey Kabbe)

Our firm has finally settled on a practice management application (more on that in a few days).  That tool should cover our task tracking needs for client work.  But we still need an application to make sure our marketing and practice-development projects stay on course.

Until recently, I had been using OmniFocus.  My path to OmniFocus (via Things and other apps) has been a long and storied one.  But I still wasn’t entirely sold on it.  OmniFocus has some quirks, and it’s not the easiest application to use.  Plus, OmniFocus just isn’t pretty (yes, I know that shouldn’t matter, but it does!).

And then I stumbled upon a new entry into the field, Firetask.  What makes Firetask somewhat unique is that it started on iOS and migrated to Mac OS X after the success of its iPhone and iPad apps.  The design of the desktop client was clearly inspired by the iPad app, both usable and attractive.

Firetask has a few interesting differences from other GTD apps.  First, Firetask is (proudly, I might add), a project-oriented task manager.  Every task belongs to a project (by default, tasks go into the Miscellaneous project).  Unlike OmniFocus and Things, Firetask doesn’t distinguish between types of projects (ie. completable project vs.  single action / area of responsibility).  Second, Firetask has predefined categories.  These are similar to the contexts in OmniFocus, but they include a handy visual icon indicator.  The colorful indicator allows for easy identification of different types of tasks when scanning through a list.  And like OmniFocus, Firetask allows users to define their own categories (although you’re limited to the set of 31 built-in icons).

Firetask has much to like:

  • Attractive interface is quite user friendly, letting you get in and start working without a steep learning curve
  • Category indicators allow me to quickly identify different types of tasks

But Firetask isn’t perfect:

  • No apparent way to add long descriptions, links to email messages, or attachments to task description
  • Needs to make better use of drag-and-drop (for example, the info palette seems to be the only way to change a task from Today to Someday)
  • Using the calendar for entering a due date oddly requires users to click on a different task first
  • Syncing is limited to wi-fi (no MobileMe syncing yet)

Firetask is definitely a contender.  But as you can see, the list of negatives is longer than the list of positives.  Of course, the same is true of OmniFocus and Things (which is what has made choosing a final direction so difficult!).

I stopped using Safari this week

December 24, 2010  (Jeffrey Kabbe)

I have mentioned before my dissatisfaction with the stability of Safari.  It just seemed odd that in this day and age, a web browser would need to be “rebooted” occasionally to keep it running smoothly.  But the memory was also a concern.

As the Chrome releases piled up, I decided to give Chrome a test drive.  Using it for a bit revealed a very small (in comparison to Safari) memory footprint.  The final ounce of courage to make the switch was provided by a report showing Chrome blowing past Safari and reaching almost a 10% share of the browser market.

The Chrome experiment has been quite successful.  A quick check of Activity Monitor after using it for some time reveals a memory footprint about 75% smaller than Safari’s.  I did have one crash (that took down the entire application), but Chrome recovered gracefully when I restarted it.  Overall, I’ve had a good experience with Chrome.

Office 2011: Microsoft learning the worst practices of Adobe?

November 11, 2010  (Jeffrey Kabbe)

I’ve been using Microsoft Office 2011 since it came out, and boy is it different.  Up until now we had been primarily using Office 2004 (skipping Office 2008 because there was no compelling reason to upgrade).  We’ve had Microsoft Office 2010 for Windows for some time now, so the ribbon concept isn’t a new one.

But before I get into that, I wanted to comment on the major security update released this week for Microsoft Office 2011.  Why on earth did Microsoft decide to copy the most annoying installation feature from Adobe (which, surprisingly, Adobe seems to have rectified recently)?  Installing Microsoft Office 2011 and the update required me to shut down Safari.  I am sure there are some plugins being installed.  But couldn’t the installer ask me if even I want them?  Or just install them and let me reboot Safari later.  It’s been well-documented on this site that I use Safari as an important part of my workspace.  Forcing a Safari reboot is a major interruption to my workflow.

Apart from the update process, I have been quite pleased with the changes in Office 2011 (and more specifically, Word 2011).  For details of the changes, check out a few reviews by other sites.

When I first heard about the ribbon, I thought it would be a disaster.  But in practice, I have found it to be quite useful.  On a large display with many windows, going to the ribbon is much more convenient than finding the palette window.  I have actually wished a few times that iWork Pages would have something similar (the Pages palette always seems to get lost!).

There have been a few issues, though:

  • When updating, Word conveniently forgets to remember that I defaulted to DOC files in Office 2008 (reverting instead of DOCX files).  This seems unlikely to have been accidental.
  • Word stepped into the 21st century and added a Paste and Match Style feature (accessible with the keyboard).  There was much rejoicing in the Kabbe household…until I started using it.  The “Match Style” part of the operation does seem to match some of the font styling, but it’s far different from Paste Special — Unformatted Text.  Paragraph styles (including margins) are often kept with Paste and Match Style, rendering it fairly useless.  Why couldn’t Microsoft have just given us a keyboard shortcut to Paste Unformatted Text?

I don’t think the improvements in Word 2011 have made me want to switch and use Word as our primary word processor.  The layout is nicer, but the experience hasn’t changed too much.



The Apple Event – Surprisingly little for business

October 26, 2010  (Jeffrey Kabbe)

Last week’s Apple event was a little of a disappointment.  I had been hoping for some good news for Mac business software.  Perhaps a new version of iWork.  Or maybe some powerful new features in Mac OS X Lion.  So I found myself feeling rather empty after the event.  The new MacBook Airs look really cool.  But I don’t really need an ultraportable.  My vintage MacBook Pro is still humming along just fine.  The iLife upgrade is interesting, but not compelling for anything we do in our business.

But Mac OS X Lion was the big disappointment.  I expected to see more than an interface teaser.  I am not sure exactly what I was hoping for, but nothing excited me.  In fact, with the switch to an iOS apps-save-their-state paradigm, Lion raised more questions than anything.  Is every app going to need a major upgrade for Lion?  Memory is already at a premium (my tales of woe with Safari and 50+ open tabs could fill an entire blog).  Hopefully Lion will make better use of our limited resources, rather than requiring big memory upgrades (Vista anyone?).

Well, there’s always January.

MobileMe calendar takes a step forward

October 20, 2010  (Jeffrey Kabbe)

Before today’s Apple event begins, I thought I would squeeze in a note about an important Apple release from last week.  Apple updated the MobileMe calendar application.  The MobileMe web app now much more closely resembles the iPad app.  But more importantly, it now supports calendar sharing.

We previously had been using iCal server on Mac OS X server.  But this setup limits us to syncing our shared events to our iPhones by plugging it in.  Two years ago, that wouldn’t have been a problem because my iPhone couldn’t last an entire day.  But batteries and cell efficiency are far better now.  My iPhone 3GS lasts a couple days without being plugged in.  And working off a two day old calendar is a big no-no.

So we’ve tried setting up a few shared calendars using the new MobileMe sharing, and it works pretty well.  I ran into one situation where I updated the text of an event and it didn’t sync to the “shared” computer.  But other than that one hiccup, the sharing has worked quite well.

We still have big plans for Mac OS X server, but right now it seems that the plug is being pulled on iCal server.