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Flexible OmniOutliner
Pages: 1, 2


Think of a Mac-OS-X-native spreadsheet application, and you'll probably struggle to come up with anything other than Excel, or maybe AppleWorks (although, after doing a quick check, I did stumble across BC Spreadsheet, which looks kind of interesting). OmniOutliner's next hidden treat is the ability to act as an effective cruncher of numbers, offering some very nice spreadsheet-like functions.

Throw some numbers into an outline, use the Info panel to make sure those columns are of "number" type, and then switch on the "calculated summaries" option immediately underneath.

Lo and behold, OmniOutliner totals up all of the child items in a parent item figure. It's an ideal way of keeping track of expenses or the sales figures for a small business.

We found some good additional tips for Omni accounting over at Loud Thinking that you might want to take a look at if you're contemplating ditching Excel for simple accounting. A pretty good spreadsheet template is included in the Sample Documents download on the Extras page.


If there's one thing you cannot accuse OmniOutliner's creators of, it's skimping on the export options. There are so many ways of getting your information out of OmniOutliner that some people might find it hard to pick one.

Built into the program are export options for HTML, XML (as in Keynote, too, as you'll see later in the article), OPML, plain text, or RTF. From the Omni Group's extras page, there's also a script that will export an outline into Microsoft Word, another potentially useful feature for wordsmiths. You need to download and install Late Night Software's XSLT Tools 1.0 to make it work.

The exported file is HTML, and if opened in Word under outline mode, retains all of its outline features. See Figures 7 and 8 for shots of an outline before and after being exported to Word.

Figure 7. The outline viewed in OmniOutliner ...

Figure 8. ... and exported to Microsoft Word.


Possibly one of the best uses for OmniOutliner is to use it as a brainstorming tool for your next Keynote presentation. You can take advantage of Outliner's simple tools to organize your thoughts, then export them to Keynote where you can create and refine the design elements.

For many tech types, Outliner is a more comfortable environment (AKA "text") for working out ideas than Keynote's interface, which can distract you with managing visual elements while you're still at the "thinking" stage. Omni added XML-export capability in version 2.2, and specifically called out Apple's Keynote application in the preferences and export options.

Figure 9. Not only can you export your outline to Keynote, but you can specify the template and some basic styling, so much of the work is done before you ever open Apple's presentation app.

Then, when you are working in Keynote, you can open Outline view in the sidebar, and it should look just like what you created in OmniOutliner. Here are the "before" and "after" screenshots.

Figure 10. Here's my outline that I dashed off in Outline. I didn't have to spend any mental capital thinking about templates and other design elements. I merely focused on the ideas themselves.

Figure 11. Then I opened the exported Omni file in Keynote and switched to the outline view in the sidebar. It looks just like my original outline, but now I've got a big start on the design work.

I really like having a pure-text environment to use for brainstorming and organizing, before getting into the design phase of a presentation. Even if I didn't use any of the other Outliner goodies, I would consider keeping it in my applications folder just for this use.

In you're interested in learning more about Keynote and XML, I recommend that you check out David Miller's article "Keynote's XML Connections," right here on Mac DevCenter.


And still, we've only scratched the surface of OmniOutliner's hidden talents. Other delights on the extras page include a widget to turn outlines into BrainForest Professional documents for viewing on a Palm OS computer, another that exports to LaTeX, and yet another that extends the built-in HTML export, giving you greater control over the look of the exported web page.

Further afield, Steve Ivy has created another HTML renderer for OmniOutliner; the Studio Log offers a fascinating look at using OmniOutliner as a script editor; and Mark Guzdial has been using it for initial outlining of articles, before using home-made scripts to export to LaTeX via BBEdit and TeXShop. Nifty.

There's plenty there to keep even the most devoted OmniAddict busy for weeks.

Giles Turnbull is a freelance writer and editor. He has been writing on and about the Internet since 1997. He has a web site at

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