Thursday, July 10, 2008

OmniFocus for iPhone and OS X – a webdav odyssey and a really big problem with OmniFocus

(Note: Firefox 2/3/Safari 3/Blogger 2/1/draft is messing up my post formatting big time. I had to open this post in Windows Live Writer (yay!) to repair it. It’s quite an impressive set of bugs we got there!)

This post has more than a couple of updates. It gives a sense of how messy this iPhone transition is going to be.

Briefly, the two immediate problems are that OmniFocus can’t import tab or csv delimited data and iPhone synchronization requires a webdav server. The second is a hassle, the first is a killer.

Here’s how it all evolved.

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The first post

I’ve been waiting eagerly for OmniFocus desktop/iPhone. It’s a key piece of my struggle to migrate off the Palm platform.

I'm a registered OmniOutliner Pro customer, so I get a good break on the full app price. The iPhone companion is $20. It sounds like there's a way to sync with a LAN WebDav server, I'm looking forward to directions on how to do that.

To learn about OmniFocus desktop and OmniFocus/iPhone you need to first download and test the latest Sneaky Peek Build. Then pay $20 for the iPhone app. The OmniGroup is great about free upgrades, so there's no financial downside to buying both apps now if you're sure they're right for you. I know the OmniGroup will make them work -- they have the talent. I'll have some early impressions in a few days.

The First Update: After checking out the pref files in OF, it's clear you need a real webdav server. Desktop OS X can be hacked to enable Apache's webdav services, but it's too much work for me. I'm shopping around for a nice Java webdav server I can run in my user account, but I think those are oddly hard to find. OS X Server has webdav services enabled, but that's too much trouble too. I probably just need to pay for Mobile.me. I might as well have Apple deduct a monthly stipend directly from my employer ....

Update: Ok, so neither XDrive nor Windows Live Skydrive provide webdav access (box.net might?). Free webdav access is pretty much nonexistent, and even commercial solutions are not common. Resin used to be open source with a good webdav service; whatever the owners may say it feels pretty closed source now.

The W3C has a WebDav server, but it feels dusty and is very XP/Unix centric.

I used to use a WebDav service in the 90s, it really feels like WebDav has slipped away since then. Really, MobileMe might be the only practical WebDav solution outside of OS X Server! Too bad GDrive has gone missing.

So why has WebDav become so unpopular? Too easy to abuse? Insecure? It's not like we see better file sharing services around!

Update: umm ... maybe webdav services with Plone? Here's Apple's download blurb on Plone, but contrary to the description it now downloads an Intel only unified installer version 2.5.

The Plone site (use versiontracker) has a UNIX installer for version 3.1.2, you need to run terminal to install it in your user account. Since I'm only interested for now in supporting webdav sync for the iPhone from my WLAN I installed it as a regular user rather than as a root user service. Be warned, however, after compilation the install is 250MB!

I think this may also not be a fully complaint WEBDAV implementation.

A thread in the OMNI Group Forums mentioned box.net, but that service is blocked by many corporate filtering services (which supports my suspicion that the reason webdav is so hard to find is that webdav services are often used illegally).

“Final” update: Well, I installed Plone into 10.4.11 with the universal UNIX installer and edited the .conf file to enable localhost:1980 webdav services. Incredibly, 10.4.11 finder worked perfectly. Unfortunately OmniFocus didn't. At first it gave a basic can't connect error message, on retry it crashed and I sent the OmniGroup a crash report.

Final update plus: After all of the above, I find in early testing that OmniFocus has basically no data import/export capabilities I can use.

Here's what I read from an OmniGroup Forum post:

1. If your organization has any development capacity, it is not difficult to write a specialised importer using Applescript. This would give you the most efficient workflow.

2. For a quick and dirty solution in the interim, you can use search and replace to convert your CSV text into tab-delimited text, and use Omnioutliner to import that. Omnifocus can import Omnioutliner files.

Hookaayyy. I can hire a developer to write an AppleScript importer to move Outlook tasks into OmiFocus?I don't think so.

So cross out OmniFocus! I'll keep the skeleton of my original post. At least I learned something about webdav services and Plone!

Looks like it will take longer than expected to come up with a good iPhone task management solution...]

Final-Final update plus: Ken Case of OmniFocus replies in comments:

Just thought I'd mention that we're planning to add the ability to import CSV files to OmniFocus, it's just not there yet. (The priority for 1.0 was to get the basic workflow and functionality working, and the priority for the in-progress 1.1 release is synchronization. Hopefully CSV import will make it into 1.2!)By the way, here's a pointer to the best tutorial I've seen on setting up WebDAV on your Mac.

The referenced webdav directions are for 10.5 workstation Apache and are very well laid out. The directions include lines like "be sure to use sudo", so they're not written for most users. Maybe OmniFocus will write a one-click utility to enable Apache WebDav? Lastly, I work in software development, and in my world "hopefully" means -- "if we're visited by space alien coders", but the OmniGroup may operate on a higher plane.

Bottom line: I'm going to be carrying a Palm around for a long time yet.

2 comments:

Ken Case said...

Just thought I'd mention that we're planning to add the ability to import CSV files to OmniFocus, it's just not there yet. (The priority for 1.0 was to get the basic workflow and functionality working, and the priority for the in-progress 1.1 release is synchronization. Hopefully CSV import will make it into 1.2!)

By the way, here's a pointer to the best tutorial I've seen on setting up WebDAV on your Mac.

Anonymous said...

You can put down your palm finally. I got the sync working with swissdisk.com's free webdav service.