Andrew Canion

Thoughts on technology, business and productivity.

The challenge of choice

Following on from my thoughts about Setapp, and now having all this extra software choice in my life, is that I now have to confront the challenge of choice.

For many, many, years I have been using OmniFocus to manage my life – keeping all my work and personal projects and tasks safe and sound. I was using OmniFocus before it was even an app – back when it was a series of OmniOutliner scripts put together by Ethan Schoonover to replicate this magical GTD (Getting Things Done) philosophy that had entered the world not all that long before. So I’ve got a long-term relationship with OmniFocus. I love it. But as with any relationships, there are hurdles and things that you really wish were different. I wish OmniFocus had graphical elements, like visual timelines and kanban boards. I wish it had better abilities as an information/document manager. I wish it would move away from the arcane view of ‘contexts’ which in this modern, connected, mobile world are not nearly as useful as they were in David Allen’s 2001 world where he could walk to the park and suddenly not be able to answer email.

So, Setapp has some alternative apps. One in particular, Pagico, looks nice. It has some interesting file management concepts. It has a visual timeline. Maybe I could get to like this? But, hang on, I have a decade of history with OmniFocus. The switching cost – not in dollars – but in time and effort is huge. OmniFocus has inertia, muscle memory and comfort in its favour. How can Pagico compete with that? So I’ve tried using Pagico, and it looks pretty on the surface. But underneath it feels a bit… brittle. The sync engine is weird and the mobile apps feel pretty terrible anyway. The interface seems slow. I am struggling to trust the app.

Maybe I should just stick with OmniFocus…

Okay, so let’s go with another choice. I’ve used Scrivener for many years and more recently have been using it heavily as the starting point for the report writing I have to do for my work, before it is transferred into a CMS or Word file. I like Scrivener, but it is big and heavy for what I need. So now, with Setapp, I have Ulysses. This is an app that I’ve followed but not ever felt compelled to buy since I had Scrivener already. Now, though, I can give it a chance.

So I have to learn a new app, remember to always write in Markdown, and then hope that I can easily get the text out of Ulysses in a format that I can use it in for its final form. Yes, Markdown is great but bureaucratic government systems don’t grok it, okay?

So I’ve got to deal with another app choice, and now potentially have my stuff spread across two different word processors. But, of course, I’ve built an ecosystem around Scrivener across macOS and iOS – but Setapp only gives me the macOS version of Ulysses.

The list goes on, and I guess this is capitalism at its finest. There is never the tool to use. Wherever a successful product is built, others quickly join the party. This is not something that is limited to software – this happens throughout the economy. Some of these apps are really good, and some come with their own idiosyncrasies. My challenge is to decide which of all the flawed products, speaks most to me. Which of these apps has been designed most in the way that my brain works, and which have flaws that least often affect me? This is the challenge of choice. I think I might just need to look on the bright side, and realise that this is all just grist for the mill of a software tinkerer, indulging his hobby.


Tonight I installed Setapp on my Mac. This service provides a wide range of full version software in exchange for US$9.99 per month. There is no escape from software as a service, and I appreciate the challenge that software developers face trying to earn an income and support a living with the old “full version plus upgrades” pricing model.

A couple of the applications in the Setapp bundle I have been eyeing off for a while; some I have wanted but not enough to pay for; and some I’ve no use for. The only downside is that many of the ‘highlight’ apps I have previously bought independently, so I’m missing the good deal on those ones.

I admire MacPaw for having the idea and the temerity to build this kind of store, and to attract a wide range of developers into it. I wish everybody involved the best of luck. Apple’s own Mac App Store is a cesspit of garbage apps (and sandboxing restrictions) that has never really worked for me, or it seems, quality developers. Perhaps Setapp can be subscription software done right.

If you’d like to sign up to Setapp yourself and give this service a try, I’d be much obliged if you did so using my Setapp referral link. Thanks!

Back on the website wagon?

Many years ago I started a Movable Type blog when the web was young, and doing such things was hard.

Then a young upstart named WordPress arrived, and I couldn’t resist its modern design and dynamic database structure. I transitioned, and spent hours monkeying with CSS to get things looking just right.

Then the web became social, and I gave up on blogs. The big shift was to micro-updates and photoblogs and pseudo-conversations through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, respectively.

Gradually, the web became corporatised around these big brands.

Meanwhile, I was still loyal to reading blogs through RSS feeds and my Feedwrangler account (valé Google Reader). These blogs were where I got my web nutrition, not the vacuous Facebook shares and fleeting Twitter exchanges. Blogs belonged to people. They were hosted at personal domains and the work was their own. I used to be one of those people.

Time has moved on, and Movable Type and WordPress are still out there, but I don’t have the time to invest like I used to, nor the interest to dig in, nor the will and desire to set up on a large-scale web host. So I am trialling a new approach. This time, using RapidWeaver and its very simple blog module. It seems too simple. It seems like I will find myself frustrated by its ‘simple’ approach. But that is probably all I need. I don’t intend to blog every day. I don’t even expect to have a readership.

This is just a hobby for me; a rekindling of something I used to do when I was younger, and when time was more available.

Let’s see how we go.