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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.

Matthew's picture

Just found this post, and...

Just found this post, and wanted to put a word in. Personally, I think Ulysses kills. In fact, I liked it so much that I bought a Mac. I'm not joking.

I keep finding new things to like about the thing. I write a newspaper column, and it includes the main text, a summary, and a sidebar. I need to hit a specific word count for the summary and a different one for the main text. For years I've been throwing it all into a single Word document and highlighting, then clicking the word count button. Lame.

Then it hit me: a Ulysses project. Now, for each column, I have four documents in a project: main text, summary, and sidebar. I can keep track of the word counts and switch between the documents with much more ease than in Word. Furthermore, I can use the notes pane to keep track of questions that I need to answer before the column is done. When I'm finished, I export as text, and it's all nicely strung together, ready to email to my editor.

There are definitely things in Ulysses I'd like to see improved, but no showstoppers. It's certainly worth more to me than the price of Word, whatever they're charging for that these days. I think, however, that I'm Ulysses's perfect audience: I almost never have to print anything except to proofread (all of my work is turned it online), and I have no need for technical writing features like embedded equations or figures or footnotes. If I needed those things, I'd probably get frustrated with U, and fast.

Oh, as for CopyWrite, it's pretty darn good. I found Ulysses first, and CW has a couple of annoyances I can't get past, but I'd probably advise people to try CW first, given the price difference.




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