Chris Bowler’s strong and compelling reply to my ttttask piece, stating that OmniFocus is the solution.

I have been getting a lot of recommendations to use OmniFocus lately, but I’m just not ready to switch yet. Is the OmniFocus iPad app getting nothing but rave reviews? Yes. Does their cloud sync look like a dream come true? Yes.

But I am in deep with Things. I adore the app, have a lot tricks established for how I use it on my Mac, and the app itself is built in a way that makes sense to me.

Moving to OmniFocus would be expensive, time consuming, and risky. Risky because we all know cloud sync for Things is en route at full speed, and who knows just how amazing it will be? Even if Cultured Code’s syncing solution did but one thing — let me keep all my devices in sync over the air — I would be ecstatic. But if it does even more than that it almost certainly means another time-consuming switch back to Things for me.

‘One Bucket to Rule Them All’

So you can’t define a keyboard shortcut for launching your bookmarklets in Chrome. But you can set a keyword shortcut for quick launching from the Omni Bar.

For example: I’ve added my MarsEdit bookmarklet as a “search engine” and defined its keyword as “m”. Now I can bring up a MarsEdit post linking to the webpage I’m on by: hitting CMD+L to go to the Omni Bar → typing “m” → pressing Return. Not as convenient as just hitting CMD+2 like I do in Safari, but it does beat using the mouse.

(Thanks for the tip, Dan.)

How to Create Keyword Shortcuts in Chrome

Safari has been acting quite buggy lately. Basic troubleshooting was to no avail, and so instead of fiddling further I thought I’d try Chrome for a while.

My three biggest speed bumps with Chrome so far have been: (a) My own muscle memory of invoking LaunchBar and typing “s” for Safari when I want to launch my web browser; (b) the lack of keyboard shortcuts for bookmarklets I want to launch from the bookmark bar (such as Instapaper and MarsEdit); and (c) the ability to screenshot a website and annotate it.

At least for one of these I found a solution: the Awesome Screenshot extension. And it works exactly like the one in Safari I linked to last week.

Awesome Screenshot Google Chrome Extension

All You Need is Simplenote

Simplenote is a note-taking app for your iPhone and iPad that syncs with the Web. It is the sort of app adored by those who pride themselves in their use of beautiful and uncomplicated software.

It is also an app for people with ideas. It’s for those who need some way to jot an idea down, build on it, and refine it until they’re sick and tired of it; regardless of where they are or if they brought their laptop.

As a writer, Simplenote could very well be your principal writing app. It has a straightforward design that makes it effortless to use. In Simplenote there is no text formatting, it’s just plain. There is no document titling — when you create a new note, the first line is the title. There is no saving a note — you just write and your note is backed up in real time, and even synced with any other other devices you use: iPad, iPhone, and Mac.

This humble application began a few years ago in response to two big needs of iPhone users: (1) the need for a notes app that synced over-the-air; and (2) the need for a notes app that didn’t use Marker Felt.

In some respects the app has barely changed since 2008. In fact, arguably the most obvious changes have been to the icon. The original icon was as a yellow sticky note taped to the front of a locker. That changed into a grey note card resembling a garage door, which then changed to a white notecard with a blue wi-fi bubble, which changed again to what you see today.

The Simplenote Icon Evolution

To say the app has barely changed since 2008 is, of course, not to say that Simplenote is the same as it was two years ago. It has been refined, polished, and updated with taste. Only a handful of new features and UI improvements have been added over the years, with many of the most notable changes just recently emerging in version 3.

Compare for a moment Simplenote to Apple’s two text and note-taking apps for the iPad, Pages and Notes. Pages was one of the first apps I bought for my iPad. It was touted as having most of the features of Pages for Mac, but on the iPad. For me, after a bit of use, Pages was quickly relegated to nothing but a full-screen typing app. It is a great showcase for what sort of apps the iPad is capable of running, and for those who need to edit Pages documents on their iPad it is a necessity. But it is somewhat difficult to get documents in and out, and the document syncing process is flat out ridiculous.

Notes is Apple’s other in-house note taking app. It ships with iOS and is quite simple (in fact, much of the foundational user experience that Simplenote has is parallel with the built-in Notes app). As it is with Pages, the biggest downfall with Apple’s built-in Notes app is, again, sync. Though the system for syncing in Notes is better than in Pages (your notes sync into your IMAP email account), nobody I know actually uses the IMAP sync.

The Simplenote developers actually beat Apple at their own game. They made an app with a better design (Helvetica!), better functionality (over-the-air sync), and they proved that less (compared to Pages) is, in fact, more.

Version 3

The latest update to Simplenote sports a slew of new toys. But, as Charlie Sorrel said in his review on Wired, “if you don’t want them, you won’t even notice.”

The most notable for me is the full-screen writing environment on the iPad app. When writing on the iPad I prefer to use Simplenote. But at times, I may want to see just the page with no list of notes next to it. Up until now, I would copy my text out of Simplenote and paste it into Pages. But now there is a subtle, full-screen button at the bottom-right corner of your note — tap that and Pages on the iPad all but becomes obsolete.

The Simplenote fullscreen button

Perhaps the most clever of the new features is sharing notes with others. When in a note, tap the icon that resembles a phone with an arrow pointing out. From there you can enable note sharing and email the person whom you want to share with. This is a great way to empower team collaboration and keeping others in the loop with information and ideas.

One of the many thing I keep in Simplenote is meeting agendas — especially talking points for 1:1s. Now for my 1:1s I can share those talking points in a note with the other person I’m meeting. This way he or she can see what’s on the docket, and even add items of their own. Furthermore, with the addition of version history, we can drill down within the same note to see what last week’s agenda items were.

Additional cleverness comes in to play here: if my friend doesn’t have Simplenote installed then I’m going to bug him to get it. And I’m going to bug him to use it so that our collaborating is actually useful. Which means not only is sharing notes useful and helpful for users like me, it is indirectly word-of-mouth marketing for the Simplenote crew. Nicely done.

This is just one example of how the more you use Simplenote the more you find new ways you to use it. People are using it for recipes, ideas, lists, blog posts, chapters of books they’re writing, and more. And for all those power users who are finding themselves with a list of notes longer than there arm, a way to organize may be in order. But a folder structure could slightly hurt the simplicity of Simplenote. Tags on the other hand are a great way to add structuring to your notes if you want.

And one way that I see tags as coming in especially handy is in regard to the aforementioned shared notes feature. Since Simplenote does not label who is sharing a note with you, you can tag that note using their name. Which means someone you’re sharing a lot of docs with, you can see them all at once using a tag filter.

What’s in my Simplenote?

What's in my Simplenote

So what do I actually have in my Simplenote at this moment? All sorts of things. Some are notes of importance which I want synced on all my devices. Others are completely trivial and are in Simplenote by sheer virtue of it being my note taking app of choice.

  • Meeting agendas and talking points: mostly for upcoming 1:1s. These meetings are usually informal and quick. And, in fact, the very point of a 1:1 meeting is so the two of you only have to connect and meet once a week — saving all your conversation topics for that one meeting. Being able to jot down questions, ideas, and the like using Simplenote has long been my workflow.

  • Ideas for businesses, software projects, and other things.

  • A list of gift ideas for friends and family.

  • Blog posts in all stages: I usually write them in Simplenote or Notational Velocity, and finish them in MarsEdit.

  • Recipes: well, actually only one recipe: Grilled Artichoke with golden mustard dipping sauce.

  • Reminders of things to order next time I’m at a restaurant I don’t regularly visit.

  • And other simple notes: such as cool quotes, shopping lists, miscellaneous data, and the like.

For a wider look at what is in other people’s Simplenote, check out Patrick’s community listing on Minimal Mac.

Other Reviews

If you liked this review of Simplenote, there are more like it here.

All You Need is Simplenote

Awesome Screenshot is light-weight, straightforward, and very useful. You use it to take a screenshot of a site’s entire page, or just what you see in your browser window. And you can draw on your screenshot, add notes, crop it down, save it, share it, and more.

Although it doesn’t have some of the extra functionality and personality of Coda Notes, Awesome Screenshot seems snappier and more reliable (I’ve sent several Coda Notes that never made it to the recipients, though it may have been operator error because you have to type in recipient emails by hand.). And so this is one reason I like Awesome Screenshot — you can save your annotated screenshot to your computer and then email it using your own email client.

Awesome Screenshot Safari Extension

Jonathan Christopher’s Sweet Mac Setup

Who are you, what do you do, etc…?

My name is Jonathan Christopher, and I’m a Web developer/designer from Albany, NY. I currently spend my days filling the role of Development Director, surrounding myself with writing code, discussing design, site evaluations, and a bit of managerial material along the way.

Perhaps you’ve found yourself at some point reading Monday By Noon, my weekly publication focusing on Web design and development? If not, we’ll need to have a talk.

I try to take photos as much as possible and I’ve got an obsessively long wish list full of gear I’ll never be able to afford, but enjoy thinking and talking about.

I’m recently married and loving every minute of it so far. I’m completely thrilled to be stepping into the next phase of life with my wife. I still get a kick out of saying ‘my wife’ — you can understand.

I also watch at least one episode of Seinfeld per day. Almost.

What is your current setup?

Jonathan Christopher Mac Cetup

I’m currently using a 15″ unibody 2.66 GHz Intel Core i7 MacBook Pro with 4GB RAM. At home I’m externally connected to a Samsung SyncMaster 205BW, but I wouldn’t mind a 27″ Apple Cinema Display.

  • I key with a full-sized wired Apple aluminum keyboard
  • I mouse with a Logitech MX Revolution
  • I back up to a series of 2TB Western Digital My Book Elites (photos and videos) and 640GB Western Digital Elements (Time Machine)
  • I shoot with a Canon 7D (50mm f/1.4, 35mm f/2, 17-85mm f/4-5.6)

Why this rig?

My first Mac was a black MacBook sometime around 2006, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I’ve chosen strictly notebooks since then simply because I work in an office and I truly prefer to be in the same environment both at work and at home. I use external peripherals at both desks which I prefer, but having the ability to go mobile has come in handy on more than one occasion.

What software do you use and for what do you use it?

  • for all things email.
  • iTunes all day every day.
  • OmniFocus (and on iPhone) for task management and getting things done.
  • 1Password for password management.
  • TextMate for every bit of text, code, markup, style, and script I write. I’m even writing this very content in it. I’ve tried everything and always come back to TextMate.
  • Fireworks CS5 when designing my own stuff, Photoshop when cutting up everyone else’s. Acorn when I don’t want to wait for Photoshop to start up.
  • Yummy FTP when moving sites and assets. Seriously great app; fastest FTP available. Promise.
  • ExpanDrive for wonderful network mounted TextMate projects.
  • Safari
  • Versions for SVN (source control)
  • XAMPP for my local development environment.
  • Skitch for taking and annotating screenshots. There are lots of apps but Skitch fits my workflow the best.
  • Aperture for photo management and post processing. FlickrExport for publishing straight to Flickr.

There’s a bit more but I’m honestly shuffling through these applications every day of my life.

How does this setup help you do your best creative work?

With the combination of mobile hardware along with a tried and tested arsenal of chosen applications, I’m able to focus on the work itself instead of figuring out how I’m going to do it. Not having to worry about software or hardware problems alone helps me get things done, and that can be attributed to being on a Mac running OS X and the software built for it.

The software environment itself also caters to a creative mind. The attention to detail Apple puts forth (as well as software developers) is truly inspirational and sets the bar quite high out of the box. When you’re staring at that in everything you do, you’re inspired subconsciously all day long.

I also try to keep my work environment inspirational as much as I know how. The referenced photo includes a shot of my home office, which I try to keep organized and a bit private. There’s always music playing and it’s always better when heard over speakers instead of headphones. There are two book cases flanking the desk full of not only Web related books but also other books great for leafing through from time to time. Banksy’s Wall and Piece for example is a great piece to revisit from time to time for me. The posters in the background are prints from Joshua Davis, an artist I’ve followed and looked up to for quite some time.

I hope to spend more time on the home office, specifically with my wife as she also has her workstation on the other side of the room. It’ll be a great project for the both of us as time goes on.

How would your ideal setup look and function?

My ideal setup would definitely be in my current home office space, but include a few more details I haven’t had the time (or finances) to pull off quite yet. My wife and I moved into the house (our first home) about a year ago and the office is the last to get attention. It was recently painted Elephant Skin gray and I really like the color, but if I were to change one thing about it I would have to start with the lighting. Lighting is a big deal in an office environment and I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for a set of lamps to replace the extras I’m currently using.

On a technical level, my ideal setup would include a 27″ LED Apple Cinema Display, completely wireless connections for everything, and wireless electricity. I don’t like wires. I’m supremely happy with my current MacBook Pro and wouldn’t trade that in, but I’d love to see it house a speedy SSD drive should the option come up.

Last, I’d love to have a new series of applications in which to work. Don’t get me wrong, aside from all the quirks here and there I totally love working in Fireworks and TextMate. If I absolutely had to choose two applications to use while stranded on a desert island, they would be it. The issue though, is that the industry has outpaced their development.

TextMate is an open and shut case. The application is truly fantastic but it’s now the job of another publisher to take the torch and continue on. So far, no one has stepped up to the plate as a major player; I’m anxiously awaiting that.

Design software, though, is a different story altogether. Beyond the heated battles surrounding which existing app is better than another, the truth is that no application in existence has been designed to meet the needs of modern Web design. Without getting too philosophical, I’m hoping over the next number of years we see a change in the thought process behind facilitating Web design from the ground up.

More Sweet Setups

Jonathan’s setup is just one in a series of sweet Mac Setups.

Jonathan Christopher’s Sweet Mac Setup

Canned is a pitch-perfect iPhone app from Sky Balloon that lets you pre-write the text messages you send often, and even pre-assign those to the individuals and groups whom you often send that same text to.

I used to have a folder in Pastebot for these types of texts, but Canned is the perfect solution — it is simple and oh so fast. You can get it in the App Store for the price of a soda.

Does This Link Seem “Canned” to You?