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Ulysses: Cocoa Writer's Tool

UlysseslogoMy 30-day demo copy of Ulysses has only been running for three days, but it already feels like a must-have addition to my Applications folder.

Ulysses is a text editor for writers. That’s it. It doesn’t make code, draw pictures of your kitty, or pop kettle corn. It just helps you plan, organize, track, and write your stuff in a way that I find entirely intuitive. The features page and screenshots are plenty informative, so I’ll just add my favorite bits.

  • It’s Cocoa - That means i-Search, AutoCompleter, OS X Services and spell checking, and all the Cocoa keybindings work from the first time you open the app. No hacking or remedial keystroke classes required. Dear every Mac app developer: please go Cocoa. Please. Now.
  • Projects - All the files for a novel, a long article, or what have you are contained in a single file. Searching across files and copying is a breeze thanks to the editor preview window. The tabbed interface also makes it easy to jump around your files quickly.
  • Exporting - Output any or all of the files in a project as plain text, rich text/MS Word, or LaTeX. Just enough controls and prefs to tweak the look without being a big distraction.
  • Labels & Status - Smart metadata for marking your drafts, tagging your notes, or identifying which version is the publisher-ready final draft.
  • Per-document notes - A separate window for your notes keeps your manuscript tidy.
  • Skinnable - Choose your type and size, sure, but even the colors of the various interface widgets are customizable. Troglodyte mode? Not a problem.
  • Fullscreen mode - Battling writer’s block? Try running Ulysses for an hour in fullscreen mode, where the entire screen is nothing but your words on a plain background—no chrome. Talk about focus.
  • Elegance - It’s been gratifying, over time, to watch OS X apps get simpler—better at doing a few things very well. This is a program that appeals unapologetically to people who write, and the feature set reflects that. There’s not a lot of cruft, and that feels good.

My only major quibble is the price, which seems a bit steep at EU100 (~US$130), or EU50 for educational use. I’ll probably end up buying it anyhow, but I would like to see that price come down. Still, if you spend all day working medium- to large-sized writing projects, it might be worth the dough to you. Either way, have a look at the demo. It’s a pretty swell little app.

Jeffrey Windsor's picture

I keep trying, and trying,...

I keep trying, and trying, and trying Ulysses, and hoping each time that I'll discover the thing which makes it a killer app. But I haven't found it. Despite really, really wanting to, I can't justify the purchase price.

There's really one one feature that I desperately wish I could have: full screen mode. I keep the demo on my machine because I'm not aware of any other app for writing text which gives me that option. So I copy-and-paste whatever I'm working on into Ulysses and write until I get nervous, and then copy-and-paste back to somewhere I can save it. Lather, rinse, repeat.

And there's one big, fundamental flaw: styles. I appreciate that the creators of Ulysses want me to focus on the words, but sometimes I just need to make something bold or italic. We're not talking major formatting here, just some simple visual emphasis, even if it's just for myself (like a comment which reads, "I know that Charlotte needs to confront Herman, but it's not flowing right now. Insert confrontational text here.") Sure, I could use ASCII symbols to do it, but then it's more invasive and un-intuitive, rather than less.

Does anyone know any other apps which provide a similar full-screen mode, so I can die happy and finally finish my novel?




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