My favourite OS X Yosemite feature… yet to be

It’s not fair to say this to you yet because I’m only tried it exactly once and exactly one minute ago. But it didn’t entirely work and I can’t see why, so I want to explore it. And also, frankly, tease you.

This is the feature and this is the bit that is working: I can now make phone calls from my Mac. It uses my iPhone but that’s the thing, it uses it, I don’t. Scroll through my Contacts list and click or right click on any phone number anywhere – in an email, on a website, in an OmniFocus task – and I can dial it from there. It may ring using my phone but you don’t care and I don’t notice: the sound comes out of my Mac’s speakers and my voice is sent via the Mac’s microphone.

I found the call quality to be a bit crackly and the person I called – okay, it was my mother – had trouble hearing me but it did work and it was useful.


I realise now that I will use this for all my calls when I’m in my office because it’s just so handy but I did originally want to use it for recording interviews. And that’s the bit I can’t get to work yet. I use Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack Pro a lot and it’s the obvious choice for this kind of thing but it isn’t working for me yet. I tried grabbing the audio from FaceTime, the application that the Mac uses to do these calls and got exactly nothing recorded. I tried switching to have Audio Hijack Pro grab my system audio – so every little bleep and whistle my Mac makes – and that did work except it audibly dropped the volume on the call so that now I was having trouble hearing my mother.

I wonder what we’ve both just agreed to.

So let’s consider the interview-recording to be a work in progress but, blimey, calling from your Mac. As with so many things, this is the way it should always have been – and so this is the way it will be. If you’re on a PC then thank you for reading this far but you’re going to get this Mac feature as soon as Microsoft finishes its cycle. That would be stage 1) deriding Apple, stage 2) claiming you could always do that anyway with a PC, stage 3) announcing it as a new feature and hoping you don’t notice Apple’s already done it, stage 4) eventually shipping the new feature and stage 5) eventually shipping a version that works.

Handiest. Thing. Ever. Make and take phone calls on your Mac

If you’re the kind of person who leaves your iPhone in a pocket or purse placed inconveniently across the room, you’ll appreciate the ability to answer an incoming call with your Mac. You can also initiate calls from your Mac—to the other person, the call will look like it’s coming from your iPhone, but you’ll be chattering away with your Mac’s built-in microphone and speakers. For this to work you have to configure both your Mac and iPhone.

How to make and receive iPhone calls with your Mac – Christopher Breen, Macworld (17 October 2014)

This is the thing I think I am most looking forward to using now that I’ve moved from the OS X Yosemite beta to the final release. In theory it worked before but I had problems and put them down to the beta nature of it all. Plus I just put it down, decided to do it again some day.

That day is now. Or it would be if I were back at my office. I’m away with my iPad and I have already used that to make and receive calls. The audio quality is subtly different but receiving calls sounds great and making calls sounds fine. I love how it just happened, too. I’d left my iPhone in my office and was reading something on my iPad somewhere else in the house when the phone rang – and then so did my iPad. One tap and I was taking that call. Gorgeous.

So I know I’ll use that again and I know that I’ll use it when my Mac is doing it too. Maybe even more so: I do a lot of phone interviews so I’m assuming I will be able to use Audio Hijack Pro to record these. This could even transform my biggest problem of prevaricating before phoning people. When they are one tap away, I’m going to tap.

If you’re using iOS 8 on an iPhone and an iPad, those two already work together, you’re set. If you want to do it with your Mac too, you need to do a couple of things. Read this full piece on Macworld for exactly how to do it.

Evernote for Mac gets needed update

Short version: Mac users who got Evernote from the official site, go back and get the new one. If you got it from the Mac App Store, the update will be with you soon.

Longer version. If you’re an Evernote user then you tend to think that it is great but you have either one or two specific concerns. The one that everybody has is that starting a new note is slow. This is why there are a slew of iPhone apps that do nothing but quickly launch so that you can type something, then squirts your text into Evernote while you go off doing something else.

It’s also why a very welcome iOS 8 Extension is own controls for creating new notes. By itself, that doesn’t make the process much faster but we’re talking nuances here anyway: if it were that slow to start, we’d never start it.

The second concern is chiefly for Mac users. Evernote for Mac could get in knots and become frustrating to use for its speed issues, for how fiddly its tables were.

But I get to say could, past tense, because I’ve been running the updated release all morning and it’s great. From the Evernote blog:

You know what’s better than adding a new feature? Making a bunch of existing ones a million times better. That’s what today’s Evernote for Mac update is all about.

For months, our Mac team has been quietly rebuilding every underlying aspect of the app. This allowed us to tackle speed, sync, and editing in a holistic way rather than piecemeal improvements. On the surface, things look more or less the same. Hidden beneath is an entirely new Evernote, designed to put a smile on millions of faces.

Evernote for Mac: Better Note Editing, Faster Sync and 100s of Fixes – Andrew Sinkov, Evernote blog (22 September 2014)

If you can buy only one OmniFocus, get the iPad version

That used to be obviously true. Today, it’s obviously true.

The thing is that in between those two sentences lies a huge amount of movement on the Mac and the iPhone versions which went through revisions to become OmniFocus 2. Now OmniFocus 2 for iPad is out and it’s not only regained this ground as the best version, it now really works on its own.

Officially, all three do. There is no requirement to buy OmniFocus 2 for Mac, iPhone and iPad, you can get any of them. Or none, obviously, but you wouldn’t have be missing out on the single best productivity tool I know.

But in practice, it has been that you start with one version and you are drawn to the others. Partly through how useful each one seems, partly because they work best as a set. Or put another way: they don’t work so well on their own.

The Mac edition has always been the closest working on its own. Its problem used to be that it was just hard to use. Hard to grasp, somehow. Now with OmniFocus 2 for Mac that’s gone, that’s completely gone and the app is as improved in ease of use as it is in features. Today I’d argue that the only problem with the Mac one is that it’s necessarily less portable. You need your To Do list with you everywhere you go because it’s through this that you can make best use of an unexpected delay or a chance meeting.

So if you were intending to buy just one version you would look at the iPhone and the iPad editions first.

Rule out the iPhone one. It is very good. I’ve used it directly perhaps ten times today. I’ve added tasks to it via Siri a couple of times. I’ve now used the new Today View maybe seven or eight times. The iPhone version of OmniFocus is very good and I’d call it essential.

However, it doesn’t include the Review feature that the iPad and the Mac one do.

That’s a really important feature and I think a big omission from the iPhone OmniFocus. It’s how you take a step back and go over every task to see what’s on your plate and think about it all. You do that one or more times a week, then you forget stepping back and instead dive in to do things. It keeps you focused but it also keeps you concentrating on what needs to be done now.

Review is in the iPad version. Now with the new edition, so are improved Perspectives. This is a tool to slice up your tasks in myriad ways so that you can see what you can use and what you can do right now.

OmniFocus comes with some baked-in Perspectives such as the Forecast view that shows you what’s on your plate today plus lets you look ahead to tomorrow and the rest of the week. It used to be that you could only create these Perspectives on your Mac but now, there they are, right there, in the iPad version.

I imagine that OmniFocus 2 for iPad lacks some of the power of the Mac one but in my stress-testing today, I’ve not seen any of that.

So I would say that if expense means you can only really get one version of OmniFocus that it should be the iPad one. But I won’t say that. Because you won’t do it. Whichever OmniFocus you buy, you will pretty soon want the set and pretty soon after that you will be buying the lot.

It’s just that today all three versions are genuinely superb.

Urgent – Nisus Writer Pro for Mac on sale (briefly)

This one is important. Nisus Writer is the strangely still little-known and unfortunately a bit little-used word processor for Macs. While every other Mac word processor died in battle against Microsoft Word, this one mostly carried on. It was wounded, it may have had some time in a coma, but it survived and in recent years has been bounding back.

I don’t use it.

But Nisus is special to me because of its history and specifically of how it was the first to introduce features we now depend on. The one that jumped into my head was non-contiguous selection. Cor. That’s a teeshirt phrase. But it means being able to highlight that sentence over there, then that sentence down here, and copying them at the same time. It’s not just a time saver for copying out bits of text you need, it’s a boon at the other end to. When you hit Paste, it all goes there in one go.

I remember using it for repurposing copy from somewhere. Can’t quite recall. Maybe something like a bio where I knew these three or four bits would help in whatever pitch I was doing. Copied those out, pasted them into one new bio and I could’ve just sent the lot off like that but equally I could take some of this reclaimed time and spend it crafting the bits into one good, persuasive whole.


Thanks for reading my reminiscing, now go take a look at the deal. This is a MacUpdate deal, nothing to do with me, and for an extremely limited time it’s got Nisus Writer Pro for 50% off. So that’s $39.50 instead of $79.

I think $79 is a bargain anyway. But don’t be like the colleague of mine who decided to buy Final Draft 9 one day after it was on a half-price sale.

Prototypr for Mac (briefly) free

You know how when you need something, it seems to be everywhere? I’m going to be working on an app and so everywhere I look I am reminded of this.

Sometimes it’s useful, as in references on various podcasts. Sometimes it isn’t, as in Community season 5, episode 8, “App Development and Condiments”.

Look out for it.

And then there are times when it’s handy. As in tonight, when there’s a Mac app called Prototypr that has briefly gone free. Usually retailing for £6.99, it’s for building a kind of demo version of your app idea: showing the screens and what it will look like without it actually being able to do anything.

It means you can try things quicker and get to the design you need sooner.

Have a look at Prototypr. I’ve not used it, but while we were talking, I was downloading it.

Is this good or bad? Quicken 2015 for Mac is out

I’ve never used Quicken, not once, not on any platform, but when I was writing about computers I was aware of it as a popular accounts and budgeting application that ran on both Mac and Windows. Then I became aware that the Mac version became significantly poorer than the Windows one. Now after a seven-year hiatus without a new Mac one, there’s a new Mac one.

That’s got to be good.

But it’s still not on a par with the Windows one. I looked at the company’s chart listing great features both versions have and the first one is:

Free feature improvements included*

Golly. I’d consider that padding wherever it comes in the feature list but that it’s number one – and that it comes with a footnote which says this is only true until August 2015 – I’m not running to buy this.

Still, the Mac needs this kind of software: there are people who run Windows machines solely to run Quicken on. True, maybe today they run Windows in a partition on their Mac so it’s the same machine but it’s still a big and expensive faff.

I’m choosing to look at this instead as Quicken coming round to the Mac market and I’m choosing to see this as a first step. That’s partly because the company explicitly asks you to vote on what missing feature you’d like to see done next.

I don’t think that’s very impressive. Especially not as I understand that all the features on offer are already in and working for the Windows version. I get that it’s got to be harder converting them to OS X than it might seem, but still if I were tempted by Quicken, I think I’d wait a few years until they’d caught up.

If you’re in need of a money manager for Mac, take a look at the official site and see for yourself. You can’t try out a trial version of Quicken for Mac, there isn’t one, but the company does say that there is a 60-day money back guarantee. Look into the detail of that before you buy, though, okay?

Review: OmniOutliner

I am still tickled that the one thing I am currently dragging my feet over is writing a review of the productivity tool OmniFocus 2 for Mac. I use this constantly. I waited a year for that to come out. But still I haver. I did write several thousands words about it but threw them away: I felt it wasn’t a review as much as it was a manual for using it. There are plenty of places that tell you how to use OmniFocus, I need to get my head straight over what I feel I can usefully tell you.

And getting your head straight is what OmniOutliner is for.

The clue is in the name – actually, the two clues are in the name. OmniOutliner is an outliner made by The Omni Group, the same company that does OmniFocus. They make many applications and, truth be told, the only reason I looked at OmniOutliner first was that I adore OmniFocus so much. It also helps that OmniOutliner is affordable where the other products are expensive. Well, the graphics package and the project planning one are cheap for what they do, they’re just expensive if you only want to play with them. I’d play with the trial versions but I know that before long I’d be convincing myself to buy it.

This is what happened with OmniOutliner. I got the trial of version 3 and before the end of the day had bought it. Before the end of the week there was a beta release of version 4 and I switched to that. Fortunately for my wallet, when version 4 came out officially, I was able to get it for free because I’d bought 3 so recently.

I am going to rave about OmniOutliner, I think there’s little chance you hadn’t twigged that yet, but it isn’t an unqualified hymn of praise and I think I am a very low-level user of it. I now use it extensively but, for instance, there are close to myriad options for doing outlines that look pretty. I don’t mean that dismissively: there are design tools that make outlines clear and easy to read even when they are swamped with information. I’ve had a play but I keep coming back to the plain and basic outline.

It’s just that I keep coming back to it for so much. I used to be a determined explorer, always writing to see where the writing would take me. I write Doctor Who radio dramas, though, and those require a treatment outline before you get the gig. And I wrote a 170,000-word book about Blake’s 7 which was the biggest single project I’d ever done and it needed support. I needed support. Then I had a project that required me to deliver ideas to a company. When I agreed to that I thought it would be a doddle but their definition of an idea was 1,200 words of fully worked out story. To do it and to hit the deadlines, I found I was slapping down a thought in OmniOutliner and then seeing how I could expand it. If the story had this, what would come after it? What do I need to get us to that moment? The story would grow from a thematic idea, a one- or two-liner thought into a detailed beat sheet that I would then follow as I wrote up the idea.

That’s the bit I’ve always loathed: having such a detailed plan makes me feel as if I’m not writing, I’m typing. The story is told, so far as I’m concerned. But in that case I fashioned stories faster, I groped toward them quicker. And then there was longform prose in Blake, I think I got into the habit of going to OmniOutliner.

The day I realised I had a problem, though, was when I turned to it on a domestic project. Not writing, just something I needed to do. Usually I’d have done that in OmniFocus but I needed to think through the steps and I found myself writing it in OmniOutliner.

Then in the last 18 months I seem to have grown a new career in public speaking and in producing events. For both of them,  I rely on OmniFocus but I get to my task list through this outliner. Truly, my heart is still an explorer yet I can’t deny that outlining is helping me now with many events and I think a giant part of that is down to OmniOutliner. I’ve piddled about with outliners in, say, Microsoft Word, and it’s been a shrug. OmniOutliner has become a pal.

Last week I did a gig in a college, I took over a three-day writing course and it was an interesting combination of their existing course outline and what I could bring to it. The course outline was rather good, I thought, so I didn’t change any of that, I just worked to see what I could do that would fulfil what they needed and what the students wanted. I planned the three days out in OmniOutliner and you should see it. I can’t show you because so much of it is confidential and I’m just always wary of discussing any detail that’s to do with education and students.

But it started as a copy of the main headings and main times from the college’s existing plan. Then I prefixed it with questions for the college staff so naturally it then also included their answers. I have several writing exercises I particularly enjoy so I have those already outlined in other plans so I dropped them into this outline and moved it around. Added more, deleted bits. Made it fit. Then during the three days I wrecked that lot apart, moving things around, splitting things, adding, deleting. And making huge amounts of notes right there in the middle of the outline. About the one thing I didn’t do was record anything but I could’ve done. There is a button for recording audio. It’s right there.

And speaking of being right there, I did most of this on OmniOutliner for iPad as I ran around but I could also check it and change it on OmniOutliner for Mac.

That was flawless: the outline was just there, whichever machine I went to.

But I did get display faults on the iPad. I have a Belkin keyboard case that when you pop up the iPad in just the right way it links to the external keyboard and takes away the usual iPad one. I found several times that as I broke the connection to the keyboard, because I was folding it away to let me walk around, OmniOutliner would get confused. I wouldn’t get the Apple on-screen keyboard the way you would expect but I would get a toolbar across the middle of the screen where it would be if the keyboard had appeared.

I had no way to fix that in OmniOutliner, I would work around it by quitting and relaunching.

But I look at this outline now and it’s got that glorious feel of a book you’ve worked on for a term. It no longer makes any sense to anyone but me, it is crammed with details even I will forget. And those details meant I was able to write up the student feedback very, very quickly: everything I wanted to say about them I had already made notes about right there in the outline.

I was accused tonight of using too many apps and I think my considered response is just you try to take them away from me. OmniOutliner is now in the tool bag, it is part of what I do, part of how I do it. That’s quite rare: OmniFocus has a permanent place there too but I’m a writer and I haven’t settled on one word processor yet. So you don’t get in easily. But then you can’t take these tools away from me easily, hardily or in any way at all.

Here’s The Omni Group’s own video about OmniOutliner 4 for Mac:

Introducing OmniOutliner 4 from The Omni Group on Vimeo.

And here’s the firm’s video for OmniOutliner 2 for iPad:

Introducing OmniOutliner 2 for iPad from The Omni Group on Vimeo.

You can get OmniOutliner for Mac from the App Store but don’t. Get it directly from The Omni Group instead because that’s how you get major updates for free or cheap. On the official site, OmniOutliner 4 for Mac costs $49.99 US (equivalent to £28.90 UK). There are family and education discounts, see the site for details, but there is also an OmniOutliner Pro 4 for Mac that costs $99 US (£58.33 UK). I have no idea what the difference is with the Pro version but the site explains.

Then you have to get OmniOutliner 2 for iPad from the App Store where it is £20.99 UK or $29.99 US.

The wild and strange world of using Mac Keynote on a PC

20140721-221214-79934747.jpgI knew you could do this or I wouldn’t have even tried, but this afternoon I wrote and presented a talk using my favourite presentation software, Keynote, and I did it on a PC. Keynote is on Macs and iOS only, but if you go to on any computer, you can use it as if it ran on your machine.

Same with Pages the word processor and Numbers, the spreadsheet. They’re all on, along with Apple Mail, Calendar, Contacts.

But it’s one thing knowing this, it’s another doing it. And this ability is just crazy good. If it weren’t that the keyboard was clunky plastic, I could’ve been on a Mac. Now, I’m a Mac user so naturally I prefer this to PCs but it was the flawless ability to do what I would’ve expected to do, what I am used to doing, that made this wild.

Keynote is just a very good presentation application, pretty much infinitely better than PowerPoint. I had the choice of using PowerPoint locally, as in actually on that PC’s hard drive yet I chose to run Keynote over iCloud. This was in all ways stupid: what if the internet connection had failed?

But it was also in all ways sensible. I was twice moved to different lecture rooms and because I was doing this on, I just logged back on to there in each room and carried on exactly where I was.

And though the college I was at had PowerPoint, the first time I ran it, it came up with lots of messages that – read at great speed and in a rush to click my way through – gave me the impression that this was a trial version of PowerPoint. Not the full one. So it would have all the features but it would gripe at you a lot.

I’ve seen Microsoft Griping. I saw a fella us a PC that give a presentation so gorgeous that I was willing change my mind about Macs vs PCs – until he turned to face the audience. The instant his back was to the screen, there was a Windows Genuine Advantage error message. Basically, the internet connection had gone down and even though he wasn’t using the internet, Windows chose that moment to check something online and because it failed, said so in big letters.

Very amusingly, the connection must’ve come back because just as he turned around to change the slide, the error vanished.

I don’t care whether you like or dislike Apple, you know they wouldn’t interrupt your presentation with a system error.

So my choice was between a trial version of PowerPoint that would gripe and anyway was PowerPoint, or Keynote which was online at and so at risk of losing the internet connection.

I chose Keynote.

And I tell you, I always will. Right now I tend to produce my presentations on Keynote for Mac or iOS and at the very end convert them to PowerPoint. I then arrive wherever I’m going with a USB thumb drive containing one Keynote version and two PowerPoints (the old and the new formats). I also have the same files on Dropbox. And I often bring my MacBook with all versions on too.

I think I still will. But I’ll also make sure I’ve got a copy on

Keynote is a pleasure to use on Macs and iOS, I had thought it was a cleverness that you could run it on PCs via but it’s more than that. It’s a pleasure to use it even there. And to be able to present directly from it, that’s huge to me.

Try Keynote on yourself. If you have an iPad or an iPhone – it’s not wonderful on an iPhone but it works – then get the iOS app here. And if you’re on a Mac, it’s waiting for you at the end of this link.

Use the Hemingway word processor in earnest

Hemingway was an online-only app for word processing which would let you type away and then wince at you. Give a sharp intake of breath at you. And mark up your text thisaway:

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 17.53.01

Red highlighting means ouch.

I have never used it and wouldn’t rush to write anything online, said William typing this directly into a WordPress page on Safari. Hmm. That changes my mind. I have actually just changed my own mind.

Still, I’m writing where I know I have a steady wifi connection. And this news story is currently only 92 words long. You could live with me losing these 92 words, I could live with it too. But a novel, say, that would be harder to shrug off after one lost wifi connection.

Now, however, Hemingway brings all its vicious accusations to the desktop: you can buy Hemingway for PC or Mac at $4.99 each from the official site.