hands on with ulysses 2.0

October 27, 2009 | 14 Comments

As NaNoWriMo drew near last year, I wrote a comparison of StoryMill and Scrivener. Both have undergone minor revisions in the last year and are still worth a look for the aspiring NaNoWriMo’er. But…

There is also Ulysses to consider. Ulysses 2.0 was released in recent months as an upgrade to an already worthy writing program. I’ve been putting Ulysses 2.0 through the paces and it offers a great user experience. Read on…and don’t miss the Ulysses 2.0 license giveaway at the end.

A screenshot of a Ulysses project is below. Each project consists of as many documents as you would like. Each document is defined by the main text of that document (pictured in the center window), and any notes related to the document (on the upper right). Of course, a large project might have many documents, so they can manually be sorted into collections, or automatically filtered using whatever criteria you use. For further organization, groups can contain collections, filters, or even other groups.

Visually, the interface is very simple to allow you to focus on getting thoughts formed. And it can get simpler by collapsing all the sidebars so all you see is a text editor. Ulysses offers a full screen mode which fills the screen and removes the menubar, and a console mode which is similar to WriteRoom or Full Screen mode in Scrivener.

There are five screencasts available from the developer which offer a good run through of the featureset of Ulysses. A few of my favorites:

  • Text Trash – When deleting text, you can use shift-backspace to tuck anything you delete into the Text Trash where it can be easily retrieve if you decide you need it back.
  • Automatic Backups – Ulysses can keep a document history should you decide you want to go back and use an original draft instead of your uninspired revision.
  • Semantic Editing – Ulysses is a straight text editor to allow you to focus on writing only. But it offers tagging formats which can be converted to formatted text when the document is exported.
  • iPhone Version – It’s indevelopment!

If you are familiar with Scrivener, you will find Ulysses is similar in concept and function. You may or may not like the way that notes are connected to each individual text document. Project wide notes are also available, but cannot be organized as well as in Scrivener. You might miss the ability to edit multiple Scrivenings and the corkboard viewer as a way of organizing thoughts and structure.

If you are familiar with StoryMill, you will find that Ulysses is more diverse as it is designed for writing more than fiction. You might miss the Timeline, but appreciate the added flexibility of sorting notes and characters, plot, and research as unique documents.

Ulysses 2.0 is reviewed here and sells for 45 Euros (approximately $67). Ulysses Core has a reduced featureset and is available for 25 Euros (approximately $37).

TheSoulmen have been kind enough to make a license of Ulysses 2.0 available for a giveaway. There are three ways you can enter:

  1. Leave a comment on this post.
  2. Email me with “Ulysses giveaway” in the subject line.
  3. Retweet this.

All entries must be received by 12:01am CST on Monday, November 2. The winner will be contacted that day via email and/or the @creativityist Twitter account.

  • I too have been looking at this software. It is a pretty neat way to write, but I find it too cumbersome for short things such as blog posts.

  • Joanne

    Thanks for this review. I am an avid user of Scrivener (it had a huge impact on my workflow – an absolute revelation), but I’m always on the lookout for similar programs that might play more nicely with LaTeX. I do a lot of copying & pasting into TextMate nowadays. I’m intrigued by these tagging formats you mentioned, though I’m not sure I can live without that “Edit Scrivenings” button.

    By the way, this is my first comment on your blog. I found it only a few days ago, but already you have a solid place in my RSS reader. I’ve been trying to streamline my workflow lately, and your product mentions have been really helpful. So thanks!

  • Looks great!

  • Carl

    I’d love to try it. I can imagine the workflow being helpful for my work as a copywriter, and it sounds like it would be great for my personal writing projects, too.

  • Tom

    While Ulysses does look promising, it seems to be missing HTML export and Markdown. I use Scrivener for all my writing and for blogging I’ve really gotten used to Markdown as a quick and very efficient way of preformatting my posts. So, at least for me, the lack of these features is a show stopper.

  • max

    HTML export is on its way into one of the next updates. It’s already under development. You can write directly in Markdown in Ulysses – just set up the styles as the tags in markdown.

  • I love Scrivener. I only use it to write 1-2 big things a year but it’s worth it. I haven’t tried it out yet but look forward to the WriteRoom.iPhone → Scrivener import. I’m considering writing a Children’s Book or other graphic novel this November, or possibly an “official” NaNoWriMo project. My illustrated books (so far unpublished) seem to start as all text before I even start drawing… so a lot of writing is involved. It’s sort of in–between a screenplay and novel.

  • The writer in me wants something like this.

  • As a recent Mac convert, I have been going back and forth on if Scrivener or StoryMill is going to be best for me. I was using Writer’s Cafe on the PC.

    I guess I have another program that I need to look at now. Thanks for the review!

  • I’m using Scrivener at the moment, but Ulysses looks pretty nifty as well.

    I have to do some writing that requires ToC and ToA, and I wish one of the indie Mac writing apps would support this in an intuitive and non-broken way. This might be doable with tags ( semantic markup), which would probably be a lot more reliable than Word and WordPerfect’s hidden control codes, which often get cross-threaded and then you can never figure our how to fix them.

  • Greg

    Looks pretty cool.

  • John

    Great review. I’m also torn between Scrivener and StoryMill. I’ll have to give Ulysses 2 a serious consideration too. Thanks!

  • ulysses cabinatan

    nice review

  • Pete Johnson

    I’m exploring all three of these programs but haven’t had time to figure out which one would best suit my needs.