Ulysses 1.5 beta

Has anyone tried it yet? What do you think about the interface changes and the new features? (You can find the download instructions here.)

This is a huge update with many intriguing new functions (check out Search and Replace!). For me, the biggest disappointment is that the file browser still does not allow any form of hierarchical organisation. You can add files to “collections” and set up complex filtering rules, but it’s nowhere near as intuitive as a simple folder/file structure. More sophisticated, yes. More useful, no.

Since most of you are Ulysses users, I’d be interested in your opinion. To me, it just doesn’t feel right. There is some fascinating new stuff in it (tag colouring, etc.), but I don’t like the direction the developers are taking. Ulysses 1.5 feels like a complex programming tool rather than an intuitive writing environment. It feels like an editor for geeks and coders, something in which you program your novel - whereas Scrivener lets you compose it. (If this differentiation doesn’t make sense, I apologize. :slight_smile: )

Hmm… Well, as you may or may not know, I’m a Ulysses customer myself (I created Scrivener because Ulysses didn’t quite fit my needs). I always liked Ulysses because it was intuitive and easy to use… But I find this new 1.5 version rather obtuse. I can’t guess what everything does. Now, I’m not saying that Scrivener is free from these sort of problems, but I’m just saying that I am surprised to find that Ulysses 1.5 isn’t as easy to use as I thought it would be. What’s with the filter view changing to orange or blue depending on what I’ve clicked on? And why is it the merged preview pane that has the disclosure triangles rather than the notes pane, which was what I thought was going to go the way of Stapler… Hmm, I must be missing something.

But then, I’m in a bad mood anyway, as my MacBook is about to go back to Apple.

There are Stapler-like disclosure triangles in the notes panes. What you see in the preview pane is - well, a preview of the notes. (If you click the little icon in the upper right corner of the preview pane, it changes the preview from project notes to document notes to Text Trash etc. - Text Trash is a nice feature, by the way.)

EDIT: Apart from the loss of elegance and simplicity, my biggest problem with the new interface is that it looks too cramped on a 12" screen. All the fonts and panes and notes and icons are too tiny. I experimented with enlarging the fonts and adjusting the size of the panes, but it simply doesn’t work. It seems to have been designed on a 30" cinema display.

Of course I could replace my trusty old 12" PowerBook with one of the new MacBooks to get more screen space, but from what I hear, it might be wise to hold out for one of the next revisions. :wink: (If it’s any consolation, a friend of mine is on his third MacBook. The first had the random shutdown issue, the second had urine-colored stains on the surface after three days of use.)

I both like and hate the new Ulysses beta. It feels super geeky now. It’s almost indulgently geeky. It’s still elegant, and has a lot of power under the hood.

But, to be honest — I liked Ulysses 1.2 more than SG; but I now enjoy Scrivener more than Ulysses because Scrivener promotes, rather than stifles, creativity. I don’t need to invent codes and filters to work. I can just work.

You are doing a very good job Keith, even against a very respectable competition. You’ll need a good advertising strategy for Scrivener to put it in front of as many writers as possible :slight_smile:

Thank you, Gaijin - much appreciated. :slight_smile: It’s very nice to hear that you enjoy using Scrivener a lot more than SG - it means that I did something right.

Actually, the ace up my sleeve as far as advertising goes is that I have a best-selling author using Scrivener who said in an e-mail to me that he thought Scrivener was “the biggest advance in writing software since the word processor”. And he has very kindly agreed to let me use that quote - so you can bet that as soon as I get to 1.0 and rejig the web page, that quote will be splashed across the home page!

As for Ulysses 1.5 - I’ve been playing with it in spare moments over the past day. Whenever a big release of a program such as Ulysses comes out, I naturally worry that they are going to come out with everything I created Scrivener for, and that I could have just stuck with that software rather than spending so much time writing my own. But U1.5 makes me even more glad I created Scrivener. That is not to slag it off - not at all. I think Blue-Tec have a real eye for a lovely interface and are creating something unique and special with Ulysses. I also have a lot of respect for them as developers. Subtle touches such as the light purple highlight and the unique and cool way they use a box view in their Preferences pane, and esoteric interface decisions such as making the toolbar text-only by default, make it a cut-above most applications, I think. They really have a good aesthetic; if it fits your way of working, it really is a beautiful application. It just doesn’t fit the way I work. Had it rich text and a hierarchical browser and I probably never would have written Scrivener (even though the main drive behind Scrivener was originally the notion of having synopses and documents linked). I often open Ulysses and admire its design; but, alas, it just doesn’t fit my workflow.

Anyway, on with beta 3… I really want to get it out before my MacBook is taken away again. :frowning:

All the best,

Curious. I have been waiting for a proper look at 1.5 for about a year now. I used to beta test for them, but decided to give it up with Scrivener came along. I followed the same precise pattern that Gaijin did. As much time and energy that I put into SG, it never did ring with me as something that I would be able to use for all of my writing. I used it in parallel with Ulysses for Nano2005, but after that it kind of languished.

Now it is reversed. Scrivener has completely blown away my expectations. While I vastly prefer Ulysses’ approach as far as plain text with mark-up and combined with a powerful exporter, goes, I think Sb3 will solve all of my reservations, and perhaps even exceed Ulysses in the end. I am comfortable editing XSLT and Perl scripts. If I want to add functions or change style foundations in Scrivener, I can. In Ulysses, I can do a little by creating a LaTeX template, but I would have to learn Objective C and their exporter SDK to make real changes.

As far as 1.5 goes. I honestly just downloaded it and have not given it a proper look yet. There are definitely some things I really like, but so far I agree with everyone else: They have definitely stepped away from the slick simplicity of 1.2. I always felt 1.2 was a little too simplistic under the hood – but the interface was a darn near perfect as I have ever seen. 1.5 does not feel that way at all. There are little things that bother me; what feel like rough edges. But, this is ten minutes in, we’ll see.

So how is it now …?

My opinion has not differed a lot, except that now I am sure that a lot of its issues are rough edges. This is a surprisingly early beta cycle for them to be releasing it public – but that is their call. Given the state that it is in, and that I only really have energy for one project at a time, I’m holding off on any big decision about it until it has formed into a final product.

But my gut answer is that I think they have strayed from their core a bit. The additions are all things that people have been asking for. More flexibility with Markers and Levels, better support for them in export; better browser functioning for large projects; better support for keywording. They have listened to their users and attempted to meet the concerns addressed. However, I feel as if their implementations are a little – heavy handed – as if they are trying to hard to re-invent the wheel. Part of what made Ulysses 1.2.x so good was that, once you clicked with its philosophy it stepped right out of your way. It became transparent. Perhaps 1.5 will eventually reach that point with refinement, but as it stands, I feel no potential for transparency.

We’ll see though. It actually took me a long time to warm to Ulysses. Initially I waved it off as a ridiculously overpriced notepad. It was only after I gave it a solid chance with a large project that its true strengths really came out. So I’m not really going to say yay or nay until I’ve done that.

I do have to say though, with Scrivener having become what it has, I find myself in less of a position to really want to give it a chance. Back then, there were very few alternatives, and Ulysses was somewhat of a pioneer in the field. Things have changed a lot in the intervening years.

And an aside: I am accustomed to their stubborn and sometimes fiery responses on the forums, so it comes as no surprise that they’ve taken a rather heated stance in defence of 1.5. But because of that, I find myself reluctant to post anything on the forums. Given my public involvement with this project, I would not want to come across as some sort of negative element. Such would be the furthest from the truth, I’ll always have a fondness for the Ulysses project. They have some really talented thinkers, and I do wish them the best. I hope 1.5 turns out great in the end – but at this point it is going to need a bit of work, both with bugs and with concepts.

This will make you smile. I went looking for my copy of 1.2. It was in a folder I keep for all my notebooks. I also saw it as a notebook.

I walked around the block recently and a dog ran out of a house and frightened the blazes out of me. I must have had a memory lapse and I walked the same way last night with the same consequences. Will I do it again? No way. Once is unlucky, twice is coincidence, three times is a preventable disaster.

The Ulysses guys are like the dog. I will never post to their forum again. They remind me of George Bush’s administration, ‘if you don’t tell us what we want to hear, you are against us’. What happened to the long grey continuum of reason, argument and insight.

I agree with AmberV. I will wait for the final 1.5 release - but they are not getting my help to bring it about.

Anyway, why would I pay for a notebook when I can buy Scrivener?

Well to me, Ulysses represents one of the most fascinating case studies in software development that I have seen in years.

Keith, don’t take this the wrong way, but here’s the way I see it.

There’s at least two of them; there’s one of Keith.

They have more experience developing in general. They have written their own text engine and revamped the standard Cocoa controls.
Keith needs help running a shell script.

Keith is a full time teacher; my partner is a head so I know how busy teachers are.

So looking at the stats; Ulysses 1.5 should have blown Scrivener out of the water. Instead, the beta is … well …
And Scrivener is a production quality masterpiece of usability and lean functionality.

What went wrong?

The clue was when they wrote that piece showing how they had cleverly written their own tabs because they didn’t like Apple’s. All very technical, all very clever; but what does that have to do with writing?
I think Ulysses 1.5 is exactly what you expect when programmers are locked in a room for a year, with no input from their users; an engineering marvel that is locked into the mindset of the developers. Developers love writing clever filters and scripts to customize their working environment; so writers must love it too.

I can understand why they are defensive though; it’s human nature. It can’t be pleasant to emerge after a year of hard work, and find your application being criticised as having lost its focus. I’d probably behave the same; but on the other hand, I wouldn’t even dream of attempting a major software project without regular buy-in from my users.
They promised an organisation system that would make a heirarchical storage structure obselete; they failed dismally in my opinion.
But I think it’s the attitude to their customers which I find most galling. Not me, in particular; I can be really arsey, so I probably deserved a good mauling. But some chap aired his comments in a fair and constructive way, and was practically shouted at in each reply.
Keith has a fair and firm attitude, and is prepared to listen. The Ulysses guys don’t want to listen, and that’s why I think that it will remain a niche; if it remains at all.
Still, the developers of Ulysses have always said that if one person finds Ulysses a perfect fit for them, then they will have done a good job. So in that sense they have kept the dream alive.

Lol. :slight_smile: I should point out that I’m not completely hopeless, though - I am very adept with the Cocoa frameworks and have dabbled in programming for years. I just never used shell scripts, that’s all. :blush:

Even if we granted for sake of the argument that Ulysses’ developers have a superior knowledge of ‘computerabilia’, this would not imply of course that they make a superior application. One thing is good technical knowledge, quite another thing are good ideas, a clear vision, an open mind, willingness to listen to others, and so on.

Does the most erudite man with the best mastery of vocabulary and style write the best books? I wouldn’t say so. I know some very erudite persons who write horrible books.

I think myself and the Ulysses developers just have different approaches to the same problem - I certainly wouldn’t claim Scrivener is “better” - just different. Of course, it is better for me, but that is because I designed it to suit the way I work. Ulysses, on the other hand, is no doubt designed to suit the way the Blue-Tec guys work. In the same way that I say to users who are desperate for margin notes, “Use Jer’s”, I would always recommend Ulysses over Scrivener for true plain-text editing (because Scrivener will never be plain text). Different strokes for different folks, and all that. Hopefully we are both - along with Jer and Bartas Technologies and Avenir - fulfilling the requirements of different writers with different writing methods.

I’ve played with the Ulysses beta a little more and I think it does have a lot of nice features, and they all do get out of your way if you want them to. I understand why some users feel they haven’t delivered in many ways, but Blue-Tec have always been upfront about their vision, and they’re always said that they’re not interested in a folder system. One of the many things I respect about Ulysses is that there is a clear integrity of vision about it. As a developer who wants your program to be liked, it can sometimes be very hard to say “no”, but eventually you have to do this if you are to fulfil your own vision. This is how Scrivener Gold lost its way, and I have tried to take a leaf out of Blue-Tec’s book in being a little firmer with regard to what does and does not go into Scrivener. But at the same time, I know that as a user, it can be very frustrating to use a program that you feel would help you a lot more if it just had x feature, knowing that you have no control over it.

I used to think that the developers could be quite rude, too - I spent ages asking for italics and so forth a couple of years ago. But these days, I understand why they can seem like this. I’ve come across as being rude to a couple of users myself. :blush: So, stones and glass houses and all that. When you have spent months on an application and finally release it to your users, you are, in your heart-of-hearts, hoping for a gazillion postings of, “Wow! This is fantastic!” But generally - and as a user I do this myself - users only post when they have a problem. So you release your baby to the world only to be confronted by a billion negative posts. It can be very deflating. And then there is the language barrier - I have interpreted some posts here as being very rude and demanding, when it turns out that there is just miscommunication gong on. The internet is a great place for being misread. :slight_smile: So, I kind of understand both the users and the developers on this.

Oh, and as for whether the most erudite people write the best books - well, I never could get to the end of a book by Salman Rushdie. :slight_smile:

All the best,

Just to clarify my post: While my initial impressions were that it was an overpriced notebook, my mind certainly did change. There are a lot of very subtle things in 1.2 that make it an incredible program for small to medium sized projects. Its lack of organisation and a diminishing scale of performance with larger projects does limit its use eventually, but for small books, I love Ulysses. When I first came across the Scrivener announcements, almost a year ago, I was very up front about the fact that I would love to help out in the development and beta testing, but that I would probably in the end remain a Ulysses user.

The main thing that left me a bit in the dry with Scrivener Gold (and the preliminary versions leading up to it) was its lack of any form of structural assignment and export. I think that the addition of Markdown to Scrivener, especially with its potential for extreme customisation (if you know what you are doing), will tip the scales – though I do remain very curious to see how their LaTeX exporter turns out. If it has advanced anywhere as much as their plain text exporter has advanced, I have no doubt it will be incredibly useful. Just to experiment with 1.5’s flexibility, I created a Markdown based Levels and Markers system which would allow me to take something written in Markdown, and Ulysses would understand what to do with it, even though it has no knowledge of the Markdown syntax. Simple stuff of course, not URLs, tables and all that. This flexibility is a testament to smart design – unfortunately at the cost of a little complexity if you ever wish to deviate from the defaults.

All of that aside, I genuinely do feel it will remain a curiosity though. While SG and me never did click completely, Scrivener 1 is hot stuff. Even with Ulysses I had to do my final formatting and proofing in LyX, and I am sure that even with extensive tweaking, Scrivener will require post production work, too. That is just the way of things. Exporting aside, the interface and control given in S is light-years beyond what 1.5 gives me. Feeling that you are in control of what you are creating is a very important part of doing good work. You can be a brilliant writer, but if your system works against you, it will be tough going.

Blue-tec still gets my props. They are a talented group of people, and as long as you don’t cross them on the forums, they are very helpful. The language barrier is definitely something to keep in mind. English is a second language for their whole team, and it easy to take things the wrong way when you feel emotional about something – on both sides.

This is very true, and I did point out in one message, that they have always been open and honest about never implementing folders. I don’t think folders is a really big problem; the mistake was disappearing for a year, claiming that they would come up with something that would be better, and showing up with a basic filter system that requires complex setting up. And you still get nowhere near the broad overview that a simple folder layout would give you. That’s where a lot of the ‘loss of simplicity’ arguments seem to be coming from.
Part of the problem is that they’re finding it increasingly difficult to differentiate themselves from other packages, so we may be straying into the ‘be different for the sake of being different’ realm; this is why the ‘full screen’ has been renamed to ‘console mode’, a term that may be less obvious to writers than developers.

I take your point about the language barrier though. A friend of mine once asked a gorgeous French girl out for a drink; after months of going on about her.

She thanked him, but politely declined.
He said OK, but then asked if there was anything he’d done that had offended her, or upset her.
She, as equally polite, replied that she thought he was a very nice and kind man, but she didn’t find him at all attractive.

Now during the mandatory ‘drown your sorrows’ drinking session that followed (someone was sick, but I don’t think it was me) we explained to our crushed young friend that English was not her first language, which meant that she may not have grasped the subtle strength of what she was saying, or that a good white lie would have been a better way to wrap up the conversation.
Anyway, one chap said that he thought he was very attractive. We all agreed, looked at each other, coughed a lot, then decided it was time to call it a night.

Yes, I can see how these things happen.

This is precisely why this makes such a great software development case study. Even though colleges have spent years trying to teach computer students differently, there is still a prevelant attitude in the industry that leads to milions being spent on a software project, only to have it written off because it doesn’t meet user requirements.

All right. I’ve now spent hours testing Ulysses Beta. I posted all my findings on their forum.

Let’s be a bit careful… it’s a beta. The guys there asked specifically to be careful in discussions of a beta on other forums. It’s the first time for them, and they’re worried about creating rumours.

My overall conclusion is that the beta is 100% on their vision. They did build in to some user requests, which is nice to see. The beta has some technical glitches they’ll iron out.

If anything, their sticking to their vision is good as it helps with clear positioning. The application market is such that I owe probably all Mac writing apps out there, even though I only use Scrivener and Ulysses daily. Now I’m clear on what to use when: Scrivener for my novel and its research, Ulysses for my many short stories. It’s just me though.

I have to say that when I discovered Ulysses I was fascinated. Very close to what I had been looking for. And I tried to contribute in their forums, with their localization, and so forth. But as time went by, I realized that the Blue-Tech team, although very sophisticated developers, were not keen on changing their vision. So, features that aligned, were considered, others were not.

I know the difference between a markup language and basic formatting, as well as the difference between the latter and page layout. The developers at Ulysses conflate page layout with basic formatting, and they just don’t want to see it differently. Therefore, you cannot use the usual keyboard shortcuts that every other app uses for Italics, Boldface, and so forth. In addition, they didn’t implement a folder structure to organize documents. Since I divide my novels in Books, and each book in Chapters, and I writer my chapters in small chunks, the folder & document metaphor is essential for me.

Meanwhile entered SGl. It had some little quirks, but it let me work. Just work. A few weeks back we had Scriveners b2, and it simply has become, to my mind, the “best writer’s toolâ€

Actually, one point: With 1.5 you could set it up to act like a regular application when it comes to inline format. The preferences allows you define a keyboard shortcut which will apply a formatting rule to a range of text, or input them for you as you type. So you could assign Cmd-I to insert the //necessary// syntax for you, and then in the interface options, even make it so that text that falls within those brackets is displayed in italics, too. Is it actually italics? Not until exported, no – but then that is the point of separating format from content.

The implementation does needs a little refinement, but they are aware of that from what I saw.

Mmmm! The application is quite a different matter to their rudeness. Let’s not mix or conflate the two. I, for one, have no intention of commenting on their beta. I wouldn’t help them if my life depended on it.

They are putting this beta up for public scrutiny for a range of reasons, one of which is that their beta tester base is drying up. I wonder why?

A real lesson here. Never, never, never ignore the users.