A few years ago, I took a good look at Ulysses as a writing app, and even wrote up a review. It was one of those apps that took some digging in to get a handle on, but the more I did, the more I saw how I might put it to use for larger writing projects. But, like many, I was already deep into Scrivener (App store), which served a similar purpose with more apparent access to it’s features.
Last month Ulysses III (App store) rolled out and it is rewritten and renewed in every way. And I just might be all in. (I wrote this review shortly after that, but the app was so unstable I didn’t publish. A small update seems to have taken care of that.)
My recent writing work has split between two app sets. Shorter projects, under a few thousand words, have formed in Byword, syncing beautifully between a Mac version and an iOS version. Larger projects have lived in Scrivener, synced to a dropbox folder and edited via WriteRoom for iOS. It’s worked. But not quite. I don’t like the indecision of choosing where to start writing for a project, and process of syncing a larger project in Scrivener to external folders was equal parts cumbersome and convenient.
With sidebars the allow for easy navigation through documents, Ulysses serves well for both longer and shorter projects. Here’s what I like about it so far:
- Ulysses is very Markdown friendly. I have never fully jumped on the Markdown bandwagon, though David Sparks and Eddie Smith have me experimenting with it again, and I’m even using it as I write this post.
- There is a seamless sync available to a companion iOS app called Daedalus Touch. It has a unique, but very usable, way to manage all of your writings and projects. And again, it’s nice to have a one spot of my home screen for both long and short form writing projects.
- It looks great. I find I prefer having a sidebar with quick access to other related writings, as thoughts about one section often come to mind while I’m working on another. For those who prefer it as minimal as possible, though, the sidebars can be switched off easier than C3PO.
- There is a lot of flexibility on how to store and move your data via local folders, iCloud or Dropbox. The downside is that all these options can be confusing as well. If you drag folders from Ulysses iCloud to Daedalus, it copies them and suddenly you have two versions. It’s best to choose your ideal sync method from the start and hide the others.
- Once the words are written and ordered, they can be exported to PDF, HTML, or an .rtf for further layout in Pages or, Lord have mercy, Word.
Depending on whether you are a pessimist or an optimist, there are a few areas of concern or hope:
- There is a way to connect notes to a document that won’t be visible when exported, but Ulysses still isn’t a match for Scrivener if you are working on a project that requires a lot of research you want ready access to. It’s hard to beat that Research folder in Scrivener.
- Another thing missing from a comparison to Scrivener is the ability to import and export outlines in an OPML format.
- I’m not sure how accessible it is for quick access through scripting for apps like Hazel and Launchbar unless you are storing everything in Dropbox as individual files. I’d love to have an idea for a new blog post come to mind and know that I can safely tuck it into Ulysses with a few keystrokes.
Overall, Ulysses is off to a good start as a go to writing app to keep everything in one place. If you spend any amount of energy moving a cursor one character at a time, it’s worth a look. At $39.99 it’s an investment. Though it’s only available for sale in the Mac App store, you can find a demo available on the Ulysses website.
Disclaimer: The app stores links in this are affiliate links, and all earnings will be used for putting food in my kids’ mouths. Or for my not so secret app habit.