Sorry, Chandler

For a while now, I've been using Chandler to keep track of my to-dos.  Chandler is a semi-historic open source project which I've been following ever since I read Dreaming in Code (and in many ways, it's saga parallels ours at The Open Planning Project with our work on OpenPlans)  I've been rooting for it through the last several releases, and have eagerly anticipated updates. So, I was intrigued when I came across this post, which compares a handful of new to-do management applications for Mac.  My first reaction was "this field is getting pretty crowded," and my second was "interesting to see that Chandler's not on that list."  Finally, my third reaction, after having checked out some of the tools, was "wow, these are just like Chandler, only better." Maybe it's because it takes forever for it to load up, or that it takes forever for it to shut down, or perhaps it's the fact that it heats up my computer and makes my fan go into overdrive every time I use it, but Chandler just hasn't been working very well for me.  It's a shame, really, because the project has such a long history, and is backed by so many good intentions.  But when it comes to the final level of polish and the feeling that the program gives you when you use it, it's just not there yet. Of the applications featured in the comparison, the two I looked closely at were OmniFocus and Things.  OmniFocus is the more powerful of the two, and is actually quite similar to Chander in many ways (both have "Clean up" button in exactly the same place). Both are proprietary applications that come at a price (OmniFocus is $79 and Things is $49), but I'm not an open source hard-liner (I'm typing this on a Mac); I'm willing to pay for software if it actually makes my life easier, though of course I prefer to use and support open source tools. I've been using Things for a few days now, and in terms of usability and addictiveness it's got Chandler beat hands down (at least for my needs).  It's still pre-release, but the fundamental experience is very good, and the really important details are done right.  It does the things I need it to and doesn't try to do the rest.  Creating, organizing, and viewing tasks is quick and easy, and the views they present me with let me focus on what I'm working on at the moment.

Above: Chandler's main screen

Above: OmniFocus' main screen

Above: Things' main screen So, the question is: how come these new applications are better (or seem better to me) than Chandler?  Offhand, I can think up a few potential reasons:

  • Chandler paved the way for many innovative features in task management (e.g., turning tasks into calendar items).  Not particularly likely.

And on to the more likely reasons:

  • Chandler is too complicated, and these other applications do less, better.  Yes.

  • Chandler couldn't cross the chasm between early interested techies and the mainstream market.  Seems true.  Interestingly, Things seems to be starting with the mainstream market and doing well.

  • Chandler had too big a team and too much funding.  This much seems to be widely understood.  Looking through the project wiki, one can find years worth of theories and plans, but somehow those were never translated into actual, usable product, whereas Things was produced by a small, balanced team including just two developers.

It's too bad, of course, but it definitely provides another valuable case study in the danger of not getting real early enough.

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