Ulysses

Major New Ulysses Release

As you probably know if you follow this blog, I am a massive fan of the writing application Ulysses (yes they are a sponsor but I was using it for several years before that). I think every post that has appeared on The Mac Quad has started in Ulysses.

Well, the best has just got better. A major new release hit the usual outlets on 28th May with some great new features. These new features include:

Daily Goals and Deadlines (img.1), users can now specify the number of characters or words they aim to write on a daily basis. A circular symbol visualises the progress in relation to this goal and is reset every morning. Daily goals are not the only upgrade to Ulysses’ existing goal feature. While users were always able to set the desired length or reading time of a text and track their progress towards its achievement, they can now also set a deadline. Ulysses will then calculate the number of words that need to be written per day in order to finish the project in time. I think the deadline feature will be a welcome addition for myself, being the only member of The Mac Quad and The Mac Quadcast team I could occasionally do with somebody else giving me a prod in the right direction.

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Coloured Keywords (img.2), keywords can be used to classify and filter texts stored in the Ulysses library — for example, I could assign the keyword “Homepod” to text I've written about Apple’s new device. In the new version, keywords can be assigned a dedicated colour, making them easier to spot and distinguish in the library. The available colour selection covers the seven colours of the spectrum and a light grey. 

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Revamped Code Blocks With Syntax Highlighting (img.3), for the coders out there. When writing manuals or documentation, technical writers often need to add code examples, and Ulysses has always featured a dedicated code block markup tag. In the new version, the addition and handling of code blocks are greatly improved, and they’re now easier to distinguish in the editor. Also, if a programming language is indicated, code blocks can now display syntax highlighting in the editor and when exported. These can import from, and export to GitHub style fenced code blocks. This is the feature that I possibly may not make use of, my coding attempts floundered back in the days when Basic was modern!

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There’s more which you can find out about in the New Features section of the Ulysses website. As I previously said I think the best just got better.


Ulysses

Website: Ulysses

Price: $39.99 (£35.99) (Billed Annually) $4.99 (£4.49) (Billed Monthly)

Free Trial: Yes (14 Days)

There has been a lot of discussion about the writing application Ulysses recently, very little of it has been about the app itself but instead focusing on the fact that the developer has moved the application (both macOS and iOS) to a subscription model of payment instead of the one-off purchase that it has been up until the present. I must admit I am one of those who has entered into this discussion and is opposed to such applications opting for this payment model. However, having looked at several other options of a minimalist markup text editor I have come to the conclusion that the yearly subscription of $29.99 (for existing owners of both applications) is a price worth paying for one of the best markup text editors on the market for Mac and iOS.

Some basic users may be asking why would I need a text editor with markup when I have many word processors available to me on my system, also, what is markup anyway? Firstly, markup is a form of computer text language that can show on screen actions such as Bold, Underline and Italics without adding ridiculous amounts of script in the background, this enables writers to enter their text and add their basic formatting but also enables them to export the text to whichever destination they want to without having to worry about underlying script being added. Secondly, a text editor such as Ulysses, Byword or IA writer give a distraction free environment for writing while maintaining some features of a word processor that writers like or require such as word counts and other such stats about their document.

I have been using Ulysses for a couple of years now but when it moved to a subscription model I searched for a replacement, however, I quickly realised that Ulysses had become my preferred writing tool and despite my aversion to subscription models the yearly payment was going to be an essential expenditure. So what makes Ulysses such a good writing tool?

On the initial launch of the application, a section in the library is displayed called introduction which gives a basic overview of how to use Ulysses including First Steps, an introduction to Markup, the finer details of using Ulysses and also some shortcuts and tips (img.1). This introduction is very helpful to new users of markup and basic text editors but once the introduction has been mastered it can be turned off and hidden in the application’s preferences. Ulysses gives the user a library pane where the organisation of writing projects is accomplished, writing projects can either be saved on the Mac or iOS device solely or in the cloud via iCloud syncing (Dropbox is available via the external folders option), iCloud is obviously the best option if you wish to access your documents across all Apple devices. The library allows nested folder structures and also, the nice touch of, user selectable icons for each level of the nested structure. The next pane that is available to the user is where your sheets of text are kept this is named the article pane (img.2), the sheets that are shown here are dependent on what is selected in the library, if a top-level folder is selected everything in the lower levels will be shown, however, if one of the bottom level folders is selected only the sheets in the lower level folder will be displayed, this offers the file structure that many users are used to. The final pane is the editing pane where the entry of text takes place and where users will spend most of their time.

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The first two panes can be hidden just leaving the editing pane for distraction free writing (img.3), other features available in the editing pane are typewriter mode (which keeps the text at a set level on the screen so the text entered only scrolls upwards), Dark Mode which inverts black to white and vice versa on the screen making writing at night much easier, there is also a Page Mode which gives borders to the page, once again enabling distraction free writing. Ulysses has autosave which means you will never lose text due to a power cut, crash or if the application is quit for some reason. As noted above an icon in the toolbar gives access to a number of stats about the document currently being edited including number of characters (with and without spaces) and number of words, paragraphs and pages. Another icon gives quick access to the markup commands while there is also an attachment icon that allows images etc. to be placed within the text (as with all markup text editors the images do not display in the editing pane but can be seen via a preview or export). Web links can also be added and once again show via a preview or export. This brings us to the share icon where a preview of the document can be seen in HTML, PDF, EPUB and several more file formats, exports can also be executed from the share icon.

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In the application preferences, the look of the entire application can be set to the user’s desired preferences, while Ulysses offers predefined themes and access to users uploaded themes on their website. The application preferences also allows accounts from WordPress and Medium to be added so that documents can be published directly to them. Finally, there is an option to automatically have Ulysses backup the user’s library to a destination of their choice.

The subscription model payment could be a problem to some people, I myself feel that too many applications are moving to this model and users have to be much more selective as to which applications they use and subscribe to, this, could in the long run, lead to a decline in the number of people using a specific application, however, I do realise that developers must find ways of making their hard work in developing and updating good applications give them a decent income. Ulysses is a writing application that I now find indispensable and worth the yearly subscription.

A 14-day free trial is available and the subscription cost is $4.99 per month or $39.99 on a yearly basis, there are lifetime discounts for owners of the stand-alone purchased applications that were available prior to the subscription plans being introduced. A subscription gives the user access to both the macOS application and the iOS app.

I feel that Ulysses is probably the best application in this area, the markup text editing application field.