Ulysses III

For anyone who’s missed it, Ulysses III is now available on the Mac App Store:


In case you’re unfamiliar with Ulysses: Ulysses is a Mac OS X app that provides a plain-text writing environment using semantic markup (very similar to Markdown), but allows you to write in small or large chunks and export them together or separately (although that brief description does not do it justice). If that last part sounds a little like Scrivener, then that’s because Ulysses 1.0, along with probably Z-Write and RoughDraft (the latter on Windows), was one of the first programs designed specifically for writers of long texts, and its early versions helped set the benchmark for long-form writing apps. It was also the first program to my knowledge to introduce a full-screen writing mode, which is now everywhere. Software doesn’t evolve in isolation, and certain elements of Scrivener - Composition mode, typewriter scrolling, document notes, label and status - owe a huge debt to those earlier versions of Ulysses. (In fact, if Ulysses 1.0 had been rich text and allowed hierarchical groups in its source list, I might never have written Scriv. :slight_smile: )

With Ulysses III, they have redesigned it from the ground up to make it the ultimate plain text editor, and they’ve done an amazing job. (Although calling Ulysses a “plain text editor” is only as accurate as calling Scrivener a “word processor”.) I think it’s fair to say that some elements of other apps have now fed back in (and only fair that they took some things back!)–with a scrivenings-like capability and the ability to view research documents in floating windows, for instance–but as usual, they’ve created something unique and beautiful. It’s interface is Mail-esque but with an iOS sensibility, and it is very easy to use.

Now, obviously, I’m not so suicidal as to want to persuade our users to jump ship to Ulysses, but the apps are so different that I think it’s more likely than ever that they can live side-by-side. And even if not, I’d rather have happy users who chose Scriv after checking out the rest of the best writing apps out there. :slight_smile: Either way, Ulysses III is definitely worth checking out.

All the best,

I tried Ulysses II and while there were many things I liked about it, it had limitations that did not work for me. As far as I remember, the main one was that Ulysses II projects could not include PDFs, .pages, .doc, and other kinds of files. Keith, you say “the ability to view research documents in floating windows”. Does this mean that now Ulysses III allows to include PDFs etc? From its App Store description, it still doesn’t look like it can. That’s why I am asking.

You can bring in images as attachments to text documents (although there seems to be a 1.0 bug where I can’t get that working), and you can then tear these off into floating windows, like Scrivener’s QuickRef windows. Apparently you can do something similar with PDF files, but I haven’t worked that out yet (which might just be because of the bug I mentioned).

It feels like Ulysses’s implementation of markdown (you hit command-i, Ulysses gives you this etc.) is a neat way to keep things plain-text-nerdy and mass consumer friendly at the same time. In so many ways, Ulysses hits that nerdsumer sweet spot, and I admit, that appeals to me (as does the ability to dash off a quick outline using markdown in the middle of a larger document. Not so much my use of “nerdsumer”, which annoys me, but I may have invented it so I’ll keep it in.) The fact that Menlo is the default font (that you can’t change!) makes me happy. Well, initially happy (see below).

Parts of the UI I love—the rounded corners of the work area, and the unobtrusive-but-helpful paragraph numbers are nice touches (can Scrivener do line numbers? I’ll have to check.) I like the second column as a concept, especially that each synopsis is just the first few lines of text in the corresponding document Didn’t someone just request this feature, Keith? I bet that guy was a plant.

That said, the Mail.app look of that second column fills me with email-y dread. I understand that you can hide it, but I like the feature. To my eye, that style just says email, and I really dislike it.

The preferences are minimal (intentionally, obviously), and I get why that’s a good idea, but I’m kind of shying away from enforced minimalism on the Mac these days. There’s simple/elegant/minimal/distraction-free — all of which I love — and then there’s rigid for no reason. I’m too accustomed to Scrivener’s massive ([size=85]if, cough, a little unorganized[/size]) preference options to just do everything Ulysses’s way, though. If you looked at my Scrivener screen, you’d think that it’s about as minimal as an interface can get—but that’s the result of a lot of under the hood complexity.

Anyway, it’s hard not to be thrilled by Ulysses III. It’s clearly the result of long hours and thoughtful work. I admit, though, I’m more excited about what Ulysses means for Scrivener. It’s about time someone stepped up and made a piece of writing software that is at least in Scrivener’s ballpark, and I like the prospect of two competing developers learning from one another.

It can (not in page layout mode, but in the regular editor): Format > Options.

Yeah, I’ve been pondering on using the first few lines of document text as a placeholder in index cards and outline rows for documents that don’t have a synopsis, probably a light grey to indicate that it’s placeholder text. I know that this will confuse a number of users, though, so it’s a tough call. What I might do is offer it as an option that’s turned off by default.

Yeah, but how the hell do you organise that many preferences? There are already ten - ten! - preference panes. The options (and we are thinking about this, as the preferences are a bugbear for many, so your feedback is welcome) are:

  1. Have more preference panes and either:

a) have the icons in the top scroll horizontally, like Xcode used to. (But even Xcode dropped that.)

b) have a vertical source list of panes along the left and get rid of the icons in the top, or reduce their size (like Scrivener’s Compile pane).

  1. A mixture of 1a and 1b - fewer panes, but with source lists down the left of any panes that require lots of options. E.g:

  1. Strip out lots of the more obscure preferences and place them in expanded “Advanced…” panes somehow.

I think Ulysses III is so different from Scrivener in its entire philosophy and approach (markup vs rich text, single-window vs project-based etc) that they can happily sit side by side without competing too much. Many users are going to fall one way or the other, and some users will use both for different types of writing. However, it’s only natural that, when I see another best-in-class writing app come out with a new release, I take note. What I find exciting about Ulysses III - and what I really, really respect Max, Marcus and the rest of the team for - is how they have completely started over. I did that to a huge extent with Scriv 1, discarding Scriv Gold, then to a lesser extent with Scriv 2, which changed a lot. But these guys have completely rewritten what Ulysses is - how it looks and behaves - while maintaining their fundamental, underlying philosophy of what they want from writing software.

My first reaction was: dammit, I wish I could just drop support for anything earlier than 10.7, strip out a bunch of code, and get rid of every feature and and preference I don’t use myself. If I did that, I could really simplify the preferences and menus… But I’d strip down our user base, too, ha.

But it has made me take a fresh look at Scrivener, at the parts of it that we could improve to make things easier for users without taking away from what it can do. For instance, I’m going through the menus and thinking, “Huh, do we really need Project Statistics and Text Statistics? Shouldn’t they be the same feature?” And: “Meta-Data Settings, Text Preferences, Auto-Complete List, the Project’s Template Folder, Composition Backdrop… Aren’t these all just Project Settings? Do we really need a billion different windows and menu items for all that stuff? Shouldn’t that all be part of the same, easily-discoverable window, like this:”

I also like their “Quick Export” feature. We tried to do something like that with our “Summary” view in Compile, but Compile is still really tricky for users. There’s still more work we have to do there.

I also wish there was a way we could just hide all the scriptwriting features for users who don’t need them.

Scrivener’s never going to be a minimal app, as it’s an app that requires that requires a deal of complexity, but Ulysses III has certainly made me think about what we can be doing better.

All the best,

I think the part about `different types of writing’ is absolutely right. I’ve been playing with Ulysses for the past hour or so (half-price! who could resist?) and though I very much like the writing screen (expand the page-width to 80 characters and go Pure) and the possibilities of the nvAlt-like 2nd column, there is simply no way it could replace any of what I normally use Scrivener to do - (basically steps towards two book-length projects).

However, as well as books and other larger, complex projects I also write monthly review articles which need a little structural help but often no more than a navigable and relatively mobile TOC. Having tried and abandoned FoldingText I’ve recently been using MMDC2 for this; but it looks as though Ulysses III might just take over from that for these tasks. I like the Ulysses/Daedalus Touch sync too, but I’m an insomniacal sucker for anything that lets me talk to my i-phone at the dead of night and present it to me as text on my MBP the next morning.



Got it. Thanks!

I think the important part of what you just wrote is “for documents that don’t have a synopsis.” As in, only those. That makes sense. I’m wondering how well the Ulysses way of synopsizing is going to work out for them. Even in the context of their short demo documents, I found the “first few lines” approach to be a little confusing. I was looking for something specific that I’d lost track of, and reading the first few lines didn’t help much. I can imagine that, in a longer document, made up of writing chunks with word counts in the thousands, it might well be impossible to figure out what the hell the synopsis is referring to.

When you’re reading those first few lines, everything starts to sound the same. Funny, when you first introduced the concept of notecards that did not contain the text of the corresponding document, I was skeptical. I wanted to be able to write the whole thing in notecards. After all these years of using Scrivener, I can now see that you were totally right not to give in to that. (And now, the ability to customize the size of the text window in the editor has given me my stupid little “writing in notecards” affectation.)

I have a vague idea for some feedback, but I don’t have time for it right now. Briefly, though, my kneejerk preference is for option 2 above, with some modified options. One of the things I’ve noticed about Scrivener’s preferences is that they’re not consistent:

Sometimes they’re a behavior, Scrivener-wide: Corrections. Backup.

Sometimes, they’re a section of Scrivener: Editor. Corkboard.

Which is why “Apearance” is so confusing. It’s couched as a behavior, but it really applies to sections of Scrivener. Isn’t the font you’re writing with part of the appearance of Scrivener? I feel like if you go with either Scrivener-wide behaviors, or specific sections, but not both. That’s just food for thought, though. I’ll try to come up with something more coherent.

I thought the same thing on your behalf when I saw Ulysses, though even just a few hours of playing with it made its minimalism seem limiting. I still wanted to do what I can do in Scrivener.

I agree, and I’m a user who needs them. Is it not possible just to create a Screenwriting mode?

Yes, I’ve had a play with it too.

I used Ulysses when it first came out before switching to Scrivener. Lovely layout, great sync feature with their iPad app (which I’m sure will be duplicated any day with Scrivener) and iCloud sync, and I love the the annotations pop-up feature. But for those writers like myself who don’t want to use Markdown (just how does it deal with dialogue indents?) it is not gong to work. I get Markdown, but personally, when writing a novel, I need to see the WYSIWYG page layout as I work, not a page littered with codes and colours.

WIth regard to simplifying Scrivener: yes, sometimes one needs to rootle around to find a menu item and it isn’t always where you think it’s going to be, but on the other hand I love the fact that I constantly find new things that Scrivener can do, things that I want it to do. For a novelist and and screenwriter (and now starting my first play in Scrivener) it is a life-saver. :smiley:


What you need is an overarching spaceship themed metaphor to overlay the whole Scrivener UI. That will provide all the insight and logic to the preferences that any self-respecting space commander could ever need.

Or organ. Overarching ORGAN metaphor. That’s the job.

But what I want to know is this stuff about dialogue indenting. Have I been missing something? You’re telling me, all these years I have been making of myself a putz, where I thought dialogue was like everything else, which you indented it five lousy spaces already and then just kept typing, a paragraph’s a paragraph and never mind it’s got some frail talking, her dress is torn, her makeup’s smudged, she’s standing in the doorway but behind her in the warm spill of light from the bankers’ lamp on the desk it’s a dead body geshlumpt, you want to read on buy a copy of When Rabbis Go Wrong out any day now when I get round to working out how to, excuse me for living, indent the dialogue.

So tell me. Don’t spare.

This Ulysses III: a fine piece of work. Scrivener also: a fine piece of work. Generous of Dr Blount to be so unstinting in his praise. As the guy said on the radio when they asked if he was worried that his movie was coming out same week as another big CG/animation film: “You don’t understand Hollywood. In order for my movie to succeed, it is not necessary that his movie fail.”

That’s a great quote - and spot on.

Thanks, Trip!

:open_mouth: I have to show this to my wife. She’ll never believe that anyone could ever think I was right about anything.

What do you call the current screenwriting mode? :slight_smile: The thing is, one nice - and unique - thing about Scrivener’s scriptwriting is that you can mix it in with other text. So you can write some prose, hit cmd-8 and add some script-formatted text, then hit cmd-8 and return to standard mode. I know some people write treatments that way, and I quite like it for drafting dialogue sometimes, too. So it’s a tough one.

All the best,

If my personal experience is anything to go by (and the world would be a better place, I assure you, if more people went by my personal opinion), then I’m actually MORE likely to go see your movie if there’s another good movie out at the same time.

I don’t go around saying to myself(*): “I MUST go see a movie on Friday. I’ll go and watch whatever happens to be the single best film out on that day, even if it sounds awful. Hell, even if it’s Anna Karenina”. I tend to go through phases of going to the movies or not, and a critical mass of good things to see will likely invoke a spate of popcorn purchase.

(*) I don’t really go around saying anything to myself. That would be weird.

Absolutely. If you want to open a restaurant, make sure you open it where there are other restaurants nearby.



And make it different from them! (That’s the part that’s often sadly omitted in today’s consumer industry.)

As at Version 1.0, U-III is just another notes editor. Like most (all?) App Store apps these days, it’s made for editing documents that it alone created although it does seem to export reasonably standard markdown docs (but with only a subset of markdown markup). It does drag-n-drop mages and it does links but not tables.

It is not a W Processor. It does footnotes and annotations (not sure what these are for) but it does not do citations in markdown format. You can create many ‘sheets’ in each folder but you can’t arrange them or search them (search works only on one sheet at a time). There are ‘keywords’ that may be used to filter/group sheets but nothing as elaborate or flexible as Scrivener’s Binder.

My biggest beef with U-III (1.0) is that it won’t edit imported marked-up text. In other words, it BREAKS the real liberation of simple text-mark-up… that it should be readily editable in a variety of text editors. U-III simply refuses to recognize any marked-up text that you import (by importing the folder as an ‘external source’) and if you ‘export’ this text it disables (escapes) the mark-up so that it can’t be directly used in another editor or previewer.

The reason seems to be the need to preserve the pretty, but app-specific, markup widgets that Ulysses presents to the user. In other words, the simplicity and interoperability of marked-up text is forfeit to yet another cute interface.

U-III seems to work with iCloud OK. But I don’t trust the absolutism of iCloud (‘our way or no way’) and its insistence on deleting (everywhere) any files that you no longer wish to maintain on iCloud. The Dropbox integration in U-III really bogged down for me. It was slow and the markdown files I imported from Dropbox were not editable (see above) so I gave up.

Not for me, I’m afraid. I sent the SoulMen an email (rather than grouch on their App Store page). I hope they fix these things in the next iteration. Along with the frequent crashes.


@michaelbywater Wow. I have always, since my first tentative keystrokes, used the Tab key to indent dialogue, as one key press is faster than five. Nobody, in the long line of people involved in transforming my schlumpy drafts into published books, has berated me for doing so, or taken me aside to say, ‘listen old chap, this is a bit embarrassing, but about these tabs you insist on using…’ But please - and I mean this most sincerely - please tell me if I am doing it wrong. I could see that in Markdown you would have to use the five space workaround as my experience of it (and yet again I may be guilty of syntactic abuse) is that an indent will indent the whole paragraph, not just the first line.


Well, yes, indeed, just exactly what I do at the beginning of every paragraph, whether by hitting the key or setting a paragraph first-line indent. We all do it. I am glad I’ve not been doing it wrong all these years…

But the Markdown thang… as far as I can see, U3 does that pretty much automatically when you send it off to PDF or RTF/Word. First line of a chapter (anything under a heading, actually) full left, everything subsequently five spaces in.

It’s blank LINES that are the problem…

Having purchased Ulysses I must admit it does feel very much like a V1 product that’s strongly inspired by Scrivener (although some may say that Ulysses provided many of the design cues for Scrivener in the first place). The thing that I’m most nervous about is committing to iCoud as a storage platform given all the well documented problems of iCloud synchronisation. This nervousness is multiplied by the lack of data portability with the core Ulysses data storage scheme. You can of course set up Ulysses to work with Dropbox but it loses some of the core features that make the app attractive in the first place. The reality is that whilst the iCloud workflow is smooth and ‘frictionless’, the Dropbox workflow feels clunky in comparison.

I’m glad I purchased Ulysses especially considering it’s current reduced price but think it’s a little off being ready for prime time usage. In many ways Ulysses has only made me long for better plain text/Markdown support in Scrivener (which to my mind, remains a far superior application for writing long-form documents).

On a positive note the manner in which the edit window formats Markdown for readability is the best implementation of this kind of auto-formatting functionality I’ve yet come across. This is especially useful if your Markdown documents contain lots of links be they inline or reference links. Plus as has been highlighted elsewhere the interface is incredibly elegant and offers lots of powerful options without extra clutter.

My one bugbear with the Markdown readability rendering engine is that the preview HUD doesn’t preview images that are hosted outside Ulysses (this is especially irritating for notes that started life as captured web pages or if you use cloud based services to host all your Markdown note images as I do). Even more irritating is that the auto-formatting tag placeholder doesn’t allow you to display the images alt text so all you see is a pink IMG tag. And another minor bugbear I came across in the editing window is that it doesn’t allow for strongly emphasised text (Something I personally use quite a lot). These small niggles are the only real negatives of working within the edit window and I’m sure it’s something that will be adressed in a future update.

I think that Ulysses gets a huge amount right but outside of the editor niggles discussed here I have a fundamental disconnect with storing my data within the ~/Library/Containers/ file structure, especially considering those files are given unintelligible file names. I certainly don’t subscribe to the UX theory that files & folder structures need to ber reinvented because they are in some way outdated. The Scrivener way of handeling the same functionality as Ulysses is so much more flexible, open & portable - each .scriv project file being a bundle of all the projects support files be they .txt, .rtf, .pdf etc. This means that Scrivener can support things like notes, comments & attachments in an open manner and in a way that works with other proven cloud services such as Dropbox.

My final criticism of Ulysses is that in trying to make Markdown more usable for non “text-geeks” they’ve attempted to reinvent a wheel that didn’t need reinventing. The whole raison d’être for using Markdown plain text files is data portability that survives roundtrip editing across multiple platforms/editing environments. Their combination of stripping back existing Markdown sytax whilst adding new bespoke syntax that’s only supported by Ulysses goes completely against the use cases that drove John Gruber to create Markdown in the first place.

Even with all these current V1 bugbears, I can see Ulysses becoming central to my writing workflows (especially writing intended for the web) but it has a long way to go yet.

So can one have a new paragraph that is not indented in Markdown? I couldn’t see how that was done :confused: Questions questions.

Ps I think I may have taken your original response to my post literally :frowning:

The way that Markdown text is formatted is down to the styling such as that provided by CSS (for web output) as can be seen in this example from the Marked app: markedapp.com/images/markedstyles.jpg

Markdown itself just separates the structure of your content from the end presentation style. If you’re outputting to a traditional Word processor such as Word your initial RTF file will look very much like basic un-styled HTML but you’re then free to use Word to style your document however you wish.