I'm a busy guy – working at home with two small kids means I need to be organized. I work on a Mac and I just bought an iPhone. Are there tools to help me stay organized? You bet. These are the two that made the final cut, and I'll tell you which one I ultimately went with.
Here's the setup. I have been an OmniFocus user for about ten months. I paid the $79.99 after trying it out and comparing it to similar programs. Last week, I bought a new 3g iPhone, the Apple iPhone 3G S. I knew that OmniFocus was available for the iPhone, but it's $19.99 in the App Store. I knew that there are alternatives. I tried out many free GTD tools and listing/notes programs (booo to the App Store for not having trials of the software). I had just about settled on paying for OmniFocus for the iPhone when I remembered one called Remember the Milk.
Two days ago, I fired up my Twitter client du jour, Nambu, and prepared to send a message to my friend Sam Harrelson. Sam is a big proponant of GTD – Getting Things Done – programs, and I wanted his opinion about OmniFocus vs. Remember the Milk. Coincidentally, Sam had just posted to Twitter that he was switching from OmniFocus to Remember the Milk on his iPhone. Ooooh, drama! Would Remember the Milk change my mind about buying OmniFocus?
Remember the Milk – RTM – is free to use on the web, and the iPhone app is free… sort of. The app is free to download and install, but you must be a Remember the Milk Pro user in order to login and actually use it. Pretty sneaky. RTM Pro users pay $25.00 annually, and the list of perks is pretty slim.
OmniFocus for the Mac is $79.99, a price I was happy to pay 10 months ago. OmniFocus for the iPhone is $19.99. Point updates are free for both versions, but major updates are not… I think. Neither the Mac nor the iPhone version has had a major upgrade yet, so it's unknown what will happen. The good news is that there have been many, many updates and improvements so far – the Mac version is up to 1.6.1 without an upgrade fee.
Winner: OmniFocus. My Mac version is already paid for, and I'd rather pay $19.99 once for the iPhone version than $25 annually for RTM Pro.
Looking at the two products, there's a lot of similarity in function, but not form. When it comes to GTD products, ease-of-use is paramount. If the product is too difficult to use, it'll be abandoned and defeat the whole purpose – I won't be Getting Things Done anymore.
When I bought the Mac version of OmniFocus, it took me about ten minutes to have the entire program figured out and working the way I liked. I found it very intuitive and needed no help from anyone to get things going. The interface is clean and organized, and being a desktop app, right clicking has meaning.
Right clicking in the Remember the Milk web interface simply brings up the default browser right-click menu. Not intuitive. This is, to me, symptomatic of the entire RTM experience. I found myself wrestling with the interface for 20 minutes and even though I could get a few tasks set up, I never felt like I was using the program correctly. Could I learn to use it effectively? Of course. Do I want to take the time (and then learn the iPhone counterpart)? Not really.
Winner: OmniFocus. It's easier to use, plain and simple.
How well do the products sync between the Mac/Online version and the iPhone app version? OmniFocus syncs via a variety of methods: iDisk/MobileMe, Bonjour, networked volumes and WebDAV. Setting up OmniFocus to sync locally, via Bonjour, is quite easy, but it would limit me to syncing only when I'm home. I decided to see about a WebDAV sync, and it was quite easy to understand once I got some handy advice from the OmniGroup forums. I signed up for a free SwissDisk account and I stored the Mac's OmniFocus sync file there. Should I decide to buy the OmniFocus iPhone app, I'd simply point to that password-protected file.
The Remember the Milk sync is more straightforward because RTM is based online, not in a desktop application. All of your tasks and notes are stored on the RTM servers, and when you launch the iPhone app, it syncs.
Winner: Remember the Milk. There's nothing to set up for syncing. You just plug in your login info, either on the web or in the iPhone app and you're good to go. OmniFocus isn't difficult to set up; there's just a little more to it.
While on the subject of syncing, I should mention access. One of Sam's points to me was that he needs to be able to access his tasks from any machine at any time, and if that's the ultimate goal, then Remember the Milk wins overall. To use OmniFocus, you need either your Mac or your iPhone – you can't just login to a central website from any browser on any computer. I always have either my Mac or my iPhone with me, so for me, it's a toss-up – neither product has an advantage over the other.
I bought, and am happily using now, OmniFocus for the iPhone. Although OmniFocus won the contest for me, I am not saying that Remember the Milk is a bad product – far from it. RTM has some great features going for it. This isn't a Heavy Metal vs. Polka comparison, it's more like Beatles vs. Elvis – both of these GTD tools are very similar in many ways, but different enough that people will generally like one more than another. I'd love to hear what you think.