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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.

Michael J.'s picture

I've been evaluating Ulysses for...

I've been evaluating Ulysses for two or three days now. It has some really appealing aspects:

1) The built-in notes area for each document is excellent. I also like Jer'sNovelWriter's 'margin notes' feature. Not sure which works best, or if both would be optimal. Seems like Ulysses has doc-level notes, and Jer's has line-level notes. I can see the use for both, and I can see how Jer's might be too much clutter.

2) Document preview is very handy and smart.

3) Being able to re-arrange (unsort) the documents in a project is very good. Took me a while to figure it out due to docs, and it's a must-have feature for me, but it's there once you find it.

4) The text-only file format is critical. If they go out of business you can still get your docs out to something else. This is a make-or-break feature for me.

What I'd also like to see in the future:

1) Groups (folders) for the project documents (upper-left pane) with disclosure triangles so that I can basically outline via the documents. Must have ability to nest groups within groups.

2) A price of US $50-75. It's easily worth 50-75, but $130 is pretty steep. I understand they're defensive about this, but people saying they're willing to spend $75 are not asking for something for nothing. If the developers are going to argue for the future direction of the app, then they have to answer to the delays of version 1.1.1. So far, we haven't heard much about the future.

3) Better docs. I don't expect much from shareware or low-cost software, but for $100 I want something pretty substantial, that answers most of my questions and provides some typical usage scenarios. There are many ways to utilize software -- what are some starting points? This is sorely lacking right now, and combined with the long-promised-but-where-is-it nature of 1.1.1, makes me a little nervous that the developers are getting in over their heads. The app is clearly excellent, and well-executed so far, so I have faith that they can figure it all out, but it's a bit of a gambit right now.

Short summary: Should they keep rockin' on like they have so far, there's a lot of promise here. They should win an award simply for re-envisioning how a writer's tool should behave. Major congratulations are in order on that point!




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