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The Soul Men launched plain text editor Ulysses 10 years ago and introduced Mac users to the glory of a full-screen writing environment. I don't claim to know Merlin Mann's opinion about the latest release, but this is what he had to say on his site 43folders.com in 2004:
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. Other document editors have a full-screen option–Scrivener1 springs to mind, I'm a fan–and the concept has infected Macs and iOS devices as full-screen design was embedded in the operating system. The developers of Ulysses have had ample time to reflect, refine, and redesign the writing environment.
New design for a new era
One of the concepts that made Ulysses unique from the beginning was the idea of semantic writing. Using a predefined set of textual cues, a simplified set similar to the HTML and CSS use to manage textual style on websites, allowed the writing to embolden, italicize, and otherwise enhance the style of their text completely within a plain-text environment.
Since the application's genesis, semantic writing has become relatively commonplace as more writers adopt John Gruber's Markdown, which is baked right into the app.2 The Soul Men also include “Markdown XL,” which augments Markdown with text-based editing marks to mark up a document with inline comments, annotations, or suggested deletions for yourself and collaborators.
By default, the blinking blue cursor is reminiscent of iA Writer for Mac OS X and iOS. The rigid standards required by Writer pushed me away, though I appreciate that app's resistance to my fiddly nature.3
iOS influence, iCloud done right
Well-placed popover windows peppered throughout Ulysses III attractively spice up the app with a flavor of iOS.4
Apple Pages and its ilk still freak me out a little when it offers an iCloud dialog box upon opening. Ulysses III eliminates any weird iCloud-Finder5 confusion by altogether skipping the dialog. Much like most iOS apps, users just open a new “sheet” and start writing. Those sheets may be organized with groups or filters.
The developers built in support for their iOS app, Daedalus Touch, as a natural extension to Ulysses III, though wordsmiths may also sync their work via Dropbox (affiliate link) and Box.com, or their own WebDAV server.
Write once, publish anywhere
Most of the words I write are slated for publication on the Web, yet who doesn't need to print every now and then. Ulysses III provides an attractive stylesheet for printing to actual gasp paper. (Print tip: limited options to adjust the fonts are available in the print dialog box).
Room for improvement
Autopairing items such as
"" would be helpful for writing in any flavor of Markdown (keyboard shortcuts exist for tasks, i.e. select a word or phrase and press ⌘-i to wrap it in asterisks or underscores for italics, ⌘-b for bold, etc.) and I'm fairly certain I'm not the only one who would like to see MultiMarkdown support rolled into Ulysses III.
The Soul Men encourage and welcome suggestions at the bottom of each page at their website:
There may be shortcomings, errors even, and you will have questions. We are anxiously awaiting your feedback, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Let us know how it fares. The Soul Men have done a lot of things right with their latest iteration of their premium writing application. Let them know how they're doing by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter as @ulyssesapp.
- Scrivener also enjoys cross platform support with versions for Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux. More information is available at literatureandlatte.com. ↩
- I look forward hope the developers will expand to support Fletcher Penney's MultiMarkdown (fletcherpenney.net/multimarkdown), which enables writers to display attractive tables set in plain text and more. ↩
- For writing apps, I waffle between Adobe Source Code Pro and Inconsolata (though I'm trying out Courier Prime as I write this review in Ulysses III). ↩
- Apologies if my extended metaphor left a bad taste in your mouth. ↩
- For the record, I prefer Path Finder. ↩