OmniOutliner Styles: An Exercise in Useless Frustration


While I am a major cheerleader for OmniOutliner, there is one area that is a source for endless frustration for me. I am working on a font inventory for my iMac and I am forced to apply styles on a block-by-block basis. For instance, I have Level 1 Rows defined with Avenir Next Thin 16 pt. The problem is that for the last two columns in a Level 1 row, I want to have a different appearance. The columns styles are defined as,

Classification(s) Avenir Next Thin 12 pt
Copyright(s) Avenir Next Regular 11 pt

The problem is that the column styles are always de-prioritized because the row style always takes precedence and there is no way to change the order for styles. Thus, in what will ultimately be a large document, I am being slowed down because OmniOutliner is dictating style priorities instead of letting me to define where and how styles are applied.

Named styles are also hit or miss. Just getting the attributes right for a named style seems to be inconsistent; I am witnessing the named style becoming deselected each time an attribute is modified. Applying a named style to a selection seems to easily fall prey to the same behavior I see with the document styles, where the named style applied to a selection is superseded by the row style.

While it looks good, OmniOutliner Help, offers little information. The help document is not searchable, and when the user happens upon the topic they wish to explore, the details are at best spartan; if any information is provided at all. In The Omni Group’s defense, much of OmniOutliner’s features are self-explanatory, but when I actually need to look something up, OmniOutliner Help seems to just gloss over many topics instead of providing in-depth details.


So, I was finally able to get the document styles to work properly (for what I am doing). The downside is that I was doing so much firing in anger that I am not sure of what actions led to the document now behaving as I wish. Part of the issue is the way in which styles are applied in OmniOutliner. The standard for multiple applied styles is what one would see in Microsoft Word or Apple Pages—it may also be the case in some graphics software that permit user-defined styles—where there are only two classes of styles.

In Word and Pages, paragraph styles serve as the basis for a paragraph, while character styles supplement or replace the paragraph style for a subset of text in a paragraph. OmniOutliner permits applying numerous styles, and therefore, should have a level style management that is absent, and not necessary, in other software. To that end, either the application of styles need to be detailed much better in OmniOutliner Help, or better, the user should be able to modify the order in which styles are applied.


Another thing that frustrates me is that there’s no way to apply checkboxes to only a part of an outline - it’s all or nothing. I have large outlines covering all aspects of projects and would like only a few selected topics and their subtopics to have checkmarks, as to-do lists. Filed a feature request ages ago, but this product seems to get little love; OF gets all the attention.


People have been asking for usable checkboxes for years without success, or even much of a response. At this point, I’d guess that they’ve decided against it, perhaps because it would give OO a functionality that’s currently only available in OO. At least for me, checkboxes in OO wouldn’t cause me to drop OF, it would just make OO usable in a much wider range of problems.