There are a plethora of text editors available on the Mac, some more fully-featured than others, and some that rely on minimalism to be attractive to users. Pages is Apple’s take on a text editor, largely fully featured, with integration to iCloud, and a great layout that hides a massive amount of customisability. iA Writer is another alternative to this from the Information Architects, which gives the user a blank sheet to write on, and not much else. Ulysses 3, released earlier this week treads ground between both extremes, providing extreme simplicity as well as a large amount of customisability.
Developer Soulmen have really poured their hearts and souls (excuse the pun) into this application, and it is evident from startup. Ulysses is comprised of a three pane design, one for file navigation, one for files within a folder, and one for writing.
The left pane operates in a similar fashion to that on Apple’s Mail application. Here a list of folders and files are located, each with sub menus and the like, allowing the user to create a simple or complext file system. The strength of this pane is that these files are located in iCloud if the user wishes to do so. Whereas Pages only presents the iCloud menu upon startup, in Ulysses, it is persistent, allowing for easy file management without having to delve into the Finder.
This is the only application I’ve ever seen which takes such an approach to iCloud storage. Usually these settings and options are completely hidden, which personally, I find to be frustrating, since I like to keep files in order at all times.
The third pane is where all the action takes place, this is the writing pane. Here lies a simple background, with a page in front. As is evident in the overall simplicity of the interface, there are no formatting buttons, no rulers, nothing of the sort. All formatting and the like is done through keystrokes, using Markdown. Markdown is a simplified form of HTML, using a series of symbol combinations to make words bold, italic, add links, annotations, code, headings and the like.
Ulysses is built around the concept that the user knows, or itends to learn Markdown, or Textile’d, an alternative of approximately the same difficulty.
Already having a basic knowledge in Markdown, I was able to easily format my writing using Ulysses. However, my fluency in Markdown is limited, and for this reason, I added the Markdown cheat sheet to the right side of the page through typing ‘cmd+9’.
While this may alienate some potential users, I assure you that Markdown is not overly difficult to learn. After spending some time writing with it, it becomes much easier and quicker than stopping during writing to format text.
Exporting is still available, with a variety of options present. Documents can be copied to the clipboard, exported in RTF, TXT, and PDF, and in either Markdown, HTML or Plain Text. To Ulysses’ credit, the RTF format can be exported to Pages and Word, making it easier to customise font choices and sizes before printing or sending the file.
Ulysses even provides you with introductory pages, giving users the basic rundown on the interface, and some useful tips. While at this point I am not aware of all the features of Ulysses, it is something that will take time.
The strong point of Ulysses comes through its adaptiveness. As is said in the introduction;
Ulysses III is built to grow and adapt. You can use it as a sophisticated notepad, you can create your next American Novel. You can feed your blog, keep everything neatly organized, or mess around at will.
I eventually hope to move my whole writing workflow to Ulysses, one article at a time. The file system works extremely well in accomodating large numbers of documents, and this should become highly beneficial to me in the future.
Ulysses is a massive transition for anyone currently working in Microsoft Word or Pages, and not one that should be made lightly. Ulysses is fantastic, it takes a different approach to writing that will benefit many users, but will also not agree with others. For now, I am very impressed, but using it over Pages is a big move, and one that will take time. Soulmen have promised to deliver updates to Ulysses 3, and remembering that this is a version 1.0 product, it is on to a fantastic start.
Ulysses 3 is available from the Mac App Store for %50 off, at $20.99. After approximately a week, the price will raised.