Refreshed review of Outlinely — a new outliner for Mac

[Due to the major hash I made of my previous review of Outlinely, I have decided to start over with a (mostly) new review.]

Thanks to the eagle-eye of one of the folks over at outlinersoftware.com, I was recently made aware of a new outlining application for Mac known as Outlinely (requires OS 10.8 or higher). Aside from the name, there is a lot to like about this nifty little app. The introductory price of $5 makes it a real bargain. If this application were for Windows, it would instantly be one of the top outliners on that platform — which, admittedly, is more of a commentary of outliners for Windows than accolades for Outlinely. Nevertheless, Outlinely is equal parts slick and simple, and looks like a nice option for cranking out notes and gathering thoughts.

Outlinely is a new option for people (like me) who use outlines for writing, planning, thinking, tracking, note-taking and more.

Outlinely is a new option for people who use outlines for writing, planning, thinking, tracking, note-taking and more. (The note-style text is easier to read than it appears in this screenshot.)

The application has a clean interface that does feel a lot like a word processor, which is one of the goals stated by the developer. Like most outliners, it allows you to show and conceal sub topics. Focus mode is a hoist function for zooming in on one topic and its sub-topics. Add notes to a topic, which serve more as annotations, as you can’t export those with your outline at present. And, speaking of export, after cranking out your outline, you can output your work to a number of file formats, which include:

  • OPML
  • PDF
  • HTML
  • RTF
  • DOC
  • Markdown (it adds the markdown code for you — see the screenshot at the end of this article for an example)
  • Plain text
With Outlinely you can focus in on one topic. You can also change the font, the font size, and the color theme.

With Outlinely you can focus in on one topic. You can also change the font, the font size, and the color theme.

You can toggle topics between “done” and not done using the keystrokes command-D. Topics marked done are grayed out and have a hashline through them. You can also alter the font, text size and color theme to your liking. You can’t change the font or size selectively, just universally for the current outline, but you can selectively apply bold, italics, and underlining.

Currently you need to use keystroke commands to reogranize your outline — there is no drag and drop. You can demote or promote a topic with the TAB and SHIFT-TAB keys, or COMMAND-[ (for indent) COMMAND-] (for outdent). Add the OPTION key to those combinations to move topics up and down in the outline. (Update: As of April 9, 2014 Outinely does have drag and drop functions for reorganizing the outline.)

You can’t select or change the bullet/labels for the outline. In fact, bullets only appear for topics with sub-topics. Otherwise the indication that the text is part of a separate topic needs to be inferred from the slightly larger space above it. I’ve found that when topics run on for several lines, and you have a few of these together, it isn’t instantly clear where one topic ends and the other begins. This is a small price to pay for the editor which is refreshingly clear of bullets and symbols. If you’re creating a formal outline, however, you may have to export to another app to provide the numbering/labeling style you prefer. (If labeling of an outline is important to you, you might want to try Scribe.)

If you read my previous snake-bitten review of Outlinely, you will know that I had a major problem running the application. I sent the developer an e-mail and received a response with a fix (the problem was a corrupt extension database or some such thing), that solved the problem. It also allowed me to open the help file (which is simply an Outlinely outline), and that allowed me to answer a couple of other riddles that I had (like how to create a new topic under another topic with a note attached). Needless to say, I was impressed by the responsiveness of the developer.

This is the Outlinely document shown in the above screen shots, exported as markdwon then opened in Ulysses III.

This is the Outlinely document shown in the above screen shots, exported as markdwon then opened in Ulysses III.

Some people never need the bells and whistles of a full-featured application like OmniOutliner, and others, like me, often want a quick, hassle-free app for creating outlines for project planning, brain storming, and outlining an article or process. Already Outlinely has stepped up as the best option for that role. I wish there were a version for Windows and the iPad.

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6 comments

  1. It’s interesting that Outlinely uses the ellipsis (“…”) to indicate hidden text, rather than disclosure triangles. The only other outliner that I’ve ever seen do this is org-mode. I wonder if the author is a fan of org-mode and might bring some of its features to a graphical environment. That said, I think I prefer disclosure triangles… it’s easier to tell when something is collapsed.

    1. I agree that it takes some getting used to the ellipsis in Outlinely. In fact, I frequently click on the (…) in a futile attempt to open the sub-topics (clicking the bullet opens the sub-topics). Still, having no disclosure triangles does make the editor feel cleaner, more like a word processor.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. I am runing Outlinely in my Macbook, but need something as simple and fast and good as it but for Windows. Are you aware of any Windows application that compares to Outlinely ?

    1. Sadly, I am unaware of any outliner for Windows that matches the elegance and simplicity of Outlinely for Mac. However, I would suggest you take a look at Noteliner, if you haven’t. It is an effective outliner (once you get the hang of how it works), and has some nice bells and whistles. Not to mention, it is free.

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