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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.

willie's picture

I purchased Ulysses. This program...

I purchased Ulysses. This program really helps you focus on writing. It's easy to be organized and having everything you need at your disposal is very useful. It is simple and bloat free.

Ulysses has three flaws.

1/ There is no way to maintain footnotes, endnotes or any type of bibliography. All footnote/bibliography management is manual. This is a real handicap if you write non-fiction documents. The developers say Ulysses is for creative writing, and they mean it. There has to be a way to incorporate simple citation management/tracking in the spirit of Ulysses' bloat-free, keep-it-simple approach. Do the developers expect us to use note-cards as if it were 1970?

2/ There is minimal control of line spacing and spacing between paragraphs. If the limited optiions in Ulysses do not work for you, than you must add blank lines and remove them when it is time to format your work in another program. It's easy to do, but for the cost it is annoying to go through this all the time.

3/ The user guide is barely adequate. While the on-line forum is a big help, the user guide needs more detail. It would help new users if there was a section that discussed different ways to take advantage of Ulysses' strengths. I've been using computers since 1973 and it took me awhile to figure out all the features I needed by trial and error. If someone had only used Word all their life, I'm guessing they might not see how Ulysses should be used.

I used to write everything in NeoOfficeJ. I jumped between three or four OOo documents (outline, notes, document/version/history, etc.) at once. Ulysses eliminates this. Still, I spent a great deal of time working out procedures for using NeoOfficeJ (OOo) together with Ulysses for academic manuscript production.

Eventually, Ulysses improved my efficiency as a writer. It's too bad they will not expand this program to meet the needs of non-fiction document production.




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