Gilles Vandenoostende

Hi, I'm Gilles Vandenoostende - designer, illustrator and digital busybody with a love of language, based in Ghent, Belgium.

Get Things Done

I’ve been using Things as my to-do manager for over 18 months now. I bought both iOS versions (iPhone & iPad) and the Mac app and really went all-in with it. My whole life is in there now, from my lists of ideas, to my projects and even my grocery-list! Using its repeating tasks feature I’ve been building good habits (like drawing and blogging every day) and generally I’m more on top of stuff than I was 18 months ago. Aesthetics- and design-wise, it’s a truly lovely suite of applications, as evidenced by the design awards they’ve won.

But if you asked me now if I would recommend it to anyone, I’d have to think long and hard about it.

Y’see, for any GTD application to be truly useful, in this day and age, it has to be multi-platform. Ideas and inspiration can strike at any time of day, wether I’m sitting behind my desk or when I’m on the bus. And so it makes sense to have your database available on as many devices as possible. And that’s for me where Things fails – hard.

Things currently uses Bonjour and your local wi-fi network to get your iOS devices’ databases in sync with Things for Mac. It’s slow. Very slow. And it’s flaky: with no real “force sync” button it’s normal to spend a lot of time launching, re-launching, force-quitting and launching again and again until my iDevice finally “finds” my Mac and starts the sync.

It’s so frustrating that I haven’t even touched the iPad version of Things for over a year now – it just wasn’t worth the effort to keep in sync. Right now, I’m basically living off the iPhone version and just use the desktop as my backup. I find that a waste.

But Cultured Code have been teasing us with the promise of “cloud syncing” for over a year now. In fact, their first public communication regarding cloud-sync dates back to December 2010. Since then, they haven’t gotten further than a private beta – which has recently gone public.

The beta

I’ve tried the private beta. It worked well. But I haven’t been able to use it much, because they still haven’t figured out a way to migrate your existing Things database to the cloud. So your only option is to ditch (or manually transfer) your entire database – all your projects, areas, tags, all your ideas – just so you can begin using a beta version.

I’m sorry, but that’s just not good enough! A simple database exporter/importer is the type of thing they give to CS students as homework – not the thing a team of programmers working for over 14 months couldn’t have figured out.

In the same timeframe, Apple announced and released iCloud, and lots of people have either updated their existing apps, or even built completely new apps, that leverage it. But Cultured Code just kept working at their own proprietary solution.

I’ve thought about switching. Wunderlist has cloud-syncing and cross-platform straight out of the box. And it’s free – but I won’t switch to it because it lacks repeating tasks[1], and they also don’t offer a Things importer. I’ve also looked at Omnifocus (which has had cloud-syncing since 2008), but I’m reluctant to buy into them, because they’re even more expensive than Things, which also wasn’t exactly cheap to begin with.

So we’ve been waiting. And waiting. And Cultured Code keeps teasing us with betas that, to me, aren’t really betas[2].

Ben Brooks made a bet with someone on Twitter that we’d see Textmate 2[3] before Things cloud-sync, and won, sort of.

Eternal support

But I’m not un-empathetic. I  understand the troubles a small independent company can have, trying to support software indefinitely, for free. And I know Cultured Code aren’t incompetent: they managed to build a version of Things for the iPad in the time between its announcement and launch[4], so we know they can work quickly, if they want to.

Which is why it’s all the more infuriating to see them taking so long on something so seemingly straightforward. They write about the difficulties keeping stuff in sync and preventing merging conflicts, and scaling to thousands of users, and I get all that, but I can also see that people have been doing stuff like that successfully for years now. Those problems can surely be considered solved now? Are they just reinventing the wheel?

So look, Cultured Code, if it’s about money – I wouldn’t mind paying for an upgrade to cloud sync. You’ve got plenty of mechanisms at your disposal to make that work, like in-app purchases. Hell, I’ll even buy the Mac App Store version of Things[5] to replace my current version if I have to.

But just. Get. It. Done! … Or at least give us a concrete deadline when you’re planning to finally launch it, so we can decide for ourselves if it’s still worth the wait. Don’t keep us endlessly waiting for a future that – for all we know – might not come.



[1] It is a planned feature though.
[2] Beta software generally means it’s feature-complete, but can still contain bugs and/or performance issues.
[3] Textmate 2 is like the Duke Nukem Forever of the Mac world, and they’ve released a public alpha before Things got a public beta.
[4] The iPad was released on April 3rd, Things for iPad came out on April 1st.
[5] I bought my version from Cultured Code themselves.

One Comment

I have heard a lot about Things and its usages, but as of now we have only tried 2DO and Tootledo for all our task management.

Posted by Electronic Timesheets Software at October 9th, 2012 at 1:29 am.

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