Outliner 5 preview version -- inspectors

I just noticed yesterday that there was a preview version of Outliner 5, so I’ve downloaded him to have a look.

I haven’t had much of a chance to play around with it yet, but I’ve noticed the most immediate features. I love the new inspector, it’s a lot like the inspector in OO 3, where it shows more options on one tab with collapsable sections, and you can see the style inheritance heirarchy as well without them being burried away in a separate tab. This was something I was upset about losing with the move to version 4. It’s very nice to have it back.

I don’t like that it’s now only available as a sidebar. (Or is it? I can’t figure out whether it is possible to move it to a separate palette).

I understand that this is the way UI design on the Mac is headed now. On the one hand, I can see why – there seems to be a huge focus these days on full screen use, and this move seems to have come along with it. A lot of Applications are moving towards integrated sidebars now, but not one of them (in my opinion) has managed to get it right. I find it very painful to use most Applications that have been side-barring their inspectors. Especially when I’m unable to resize the sidebar to allow content to fit into it better (which is one of the few benefits I can see of having things moved into a sidebar, if only applications would make it possible).

To me, anchoring an inspector or palette to a window seems very anti-mac. I’ve always felt that one of the things that set the mac apart from windows was that it was far less restrictive when it comes things like toolbars and palettes (and even windows themselves), allowing you to put them wherever you need them, close them them, etc. Whereas with windows, they’d be stuck inside the main window, or hidden in a modal dialogue somewhere, or buried in a menu… And then you had MDI, with all open documents stuck inside of a single window… Yeuch.

The traditional way that OS X (or really, OpenStep) has always put things into palettes feels right. To use one of the native palettes as an example – I want to experiment with fonts for a selected bit of text. I open the font palette in any Application, and drag it right over next to the text I’m working on. If I suddenly decide that I’d like to change the text based on a font I’m trying out, it’s no effort at all – I have the means to do so without moving my cursor right to the other end of the screen. This is a big deal now that we have ridiculously enormous monitors. I’ve seen some Applications (MS Office, for example) where a little popup thing is implemented. But I find these kind of interfaces infuriating – I don’t want something to go away until I’m completely finished with it. I use the inspector in Omni Outliner in the same way. If I’m working on a particular thing – row styles or whatever – I’ll drag the inspector over, it’s right next to whatever I’m working on.

In the physical world, I like to have my tool box where I’m working. Imagine if I were repairing a computer, and all of my tools were on the other side of the room, away from my work area. Every time I want a different sized screw driver, I have to walk to the other side of the room, put away the one I am using, select the one I need, walk back over to my work area… I’d be spending more time walking back and forth than I would doing my actual job. On a 27 inch monitor, this is how it feels with things stuck in a sidebar. Keyboard shortcuts are helpful, but using them for everything seems to contradict the entire purpose of having a GUI.

The other thing I’ve found, when split screening, is that having separate inspectors for changing things can be essential. I may have, for example, a list of bills to pay open in the left pane on a full screen window, and netbank open in safari on the right. With the inspector being fixed inside the window at the right, it will force the document to shrink in size, and it takes up an entire top to bottom column of the screen. This is a big deal in a split screen environment, especially on a laptop.

With the inspector in a utility window, it’s no problem in full screen or split screen. I can open it, drag it over the top of part of the document that I’m not currently looking at, change whatever I need to, and then close it. Although you can hide the sidebar, it just doesn’t work in the same way, because the sidebar is not on top of the document. It eats into space that the document itself could be using. I can even place them on top of an unimportant area of the web page open in the browser on the right pane, and as soon if I switch to the other open application, away go all of the palettes. Then they come right back when switching to Outliner.

Having things in separate palettes rather than integrated can also be great for those with multiple monitors. If I’m working in Photoshop, I may move my palettes to the second screen if I want more space. When debugging a layout in safari, I may split the inspector from the main window and place that on the second monitor. Even with Omni Outliner, I sometimes put the inspector on the second screen.

Also related: I really like the way that styles are hidden away in a separate tab now. I have found that once I’ve finished creating all of my document styles, that I rarely touch the level styles again. Putting them into a tab frees up more space in the left pane for the TOC. But it’s kind of annoying, with the implementation. The older way of collapsing them wasn’t fantastic, because you could either hide all styles, or show all styles (just like having a tab). However, t you could do resize the styles section of the sidebar vertically, and scroll so that just the selectable styles were visible. Row styles can’t be selectively applied, so you don’t need to see them all the time. But styles in general are something that (at least for me) are frequently used, by way of the checkbox.

I think it might make more sense to add another tab to the new inspector (or another collapsible section) for style application. So, if one were to have the TOC tab selected on the left, in the inspector, it would still be possible to apply a style using the checkboxes without having to hide away the TOC.

I’d also like to add that I really like some of the “little things” which I have been noticing here and there. Like the little highlight in the gutter showing which row is the selected one. I think this will be very useful when dragging attachments in from the finder. I’ve found it hard when dragging an attachment into a field, because there’s nothing indicating which row you’re in when the main window becomes inactive.

I noticed row filtering is listed as an option now, which is something I’ve always wished to be able to do. So I am looking forward to testing this feature out.

Also, I am sorry if I’ve given too much detail. I realise that these are just my own thoughts and one usage case, and that you can’t please everybody. Having worked in web dev for many years, I know the latter is very true. And frustrating. Super frustrating. “I want to quit my job” level frustrating – especially when they won’t tell you why they don’t like something…

Also, I know that I’m supposed to email feedback like this. But I feel that maybe other people might share the same feelings/opinions, and maybe want to add something? I don’t know.

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I’m glad you shared this here, but you also need to email it to Omni if you want them to see it. They don’t always check the forum.