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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.

jeffabbott's picture

stopgap: Word's FullScreen mode and...

stopgap: Word's FullScreen mode and Ulysses's Fullscreen mode are different. Word's isn't truly fullscreen--you still see the Apple menu, Dock, any background apps. Ulysses fullscreen mode shows you NOTHING but your words. Imagine your screen turned into a piece of typewriter paper, and you'll be close (although their default is black screen with mustard-yellow fonts).

I am a full-time writer (I'm the novelist Kirk mentions above), so I assume I might be Ulysses' target market, and I find much to admire in the program, but the price is still too high. Mr. Fehnman's hypothetical questions aside, the most compelling attribute to me of Ulysses is the fullscreen mode. I'm used to keeping related documents in folders and using comments for notes, so the project management side of Ulysses doesn't do much for me, although I do think it is smart and elegant. But it's not powerful enough to get me to change my workflow. So that leaves you with the unique and brilliant fullscreen mode, and that's just not worth $130 to me.

There are many other attractively priced programs that are good at specific jobs where they don't charge for updates, they respond to users, etc, so the good folks at Ulysses are not alone in that regard. I think US $50-75 would be a fair price for Ulysses. As nice as Ulysses is, I don't need to write my books. On blue-tec's support forums, there has been a fair amount of discussion as to the price, but no signs of reconsideration from the developers, so I suspect that it's a non-issue for them. It was mentioned at one point (and I'm not quoting exactly, so forgive me) they wanted a smaller set of customers who would really appreciate the product, as opposed to a large customer base that might try to pull them in many different directions from their vision. I suspect the price is part of that strategy.




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