Why I Moved Back to Ulysses III

Sometimes seemingly simple writing apps aren’t actually that simple.

When iA’s Writer Pro came out I promptly switched over to it (having previously being a huge Writer fan) and I was largely happy using it over Ulysses III. The difference is splitting hairs in the simplicity realm of writing, but I’ve come to find out that single hair makes a very large difference to me.

Both Ulysses III and Writer Pro are exceptionally simple. Writer Pro is a no-nonsense ‘here is what I am, and that is all there is’, type of app. Ulysses III is more of a ‘this is your writing space and it is as simple as you want it to be’, type of app.

Both are simple, just in very different ways.

To me the complexity inherent in Writer Pro is evident in two areas:

  • The modes are the first stage. Where you actively have to think about what part of the writing process you are in. That’s a great tool overall, but one cannot argue that on some level it adds psychological overhead to the process of writing. “Wait, I want to write, but I am in edit mode.”
  • The file storage is the biggest area of concern for me in Writer. Writer Pro relies on simple text files, yes, but those files can be stored anywhere, or in varying folders within iCloud. Each must then be opened by themselves in new windows and thus managing your files becomes more complex than in an app that manages files for you. In other words you have to think about organizing those files.

Ulysses suffers from different levels of complexity:

  • It is meant to house all of your writings. Which is great because they are all there, but also they are all there. You see everything when you have more than just the editor window open — and that’s just distracting. Though to be fair, CMD+1 removes all that visual clutter.
  • Unlike Writer Pro, Ulysses has options — and those options can lead to a more complex tool. The way they are presented keeps things on the simpler side, but options adds complexity.

In my opinion, Writer Pro is actually the more complicated app to use.

Everything you do in Writer Pro, outside of writing and editing, must be done somewhere else — not in the app. So while Writer Pro is more simple, it adds more complexity to my overall workflow as I need more and more tools to do something — anything — with that text I just labored over.

In a nutshell that’s the top reason I am back with Ulysses after a stint with Writer Pro: Ulysses affords me the ability to interact with my texts after I am done writing them and keeps them all in one depository. I can do more with one app in Ulysses than I can in Writer Pro.

Of course there are a few other reasons why I came back, and in no particular order here those are:

  • I think the overall design of Ulysses is better than Writer. And if I don’t like the design, I can just change the colors and fonts. The flexibility is there, but not a distraction as can be in so many other apps.
  • Variable typewriter scrolling is amazing. I like the line I am writing on to be static in position, but I don’t like that position to be the middle of my screen, or maybe I do. With variable typewriter scrolling I can decide on the fly where I want that line to be. It’s fantastic.
  • It’s nice to use, nice to work with, and constantly being improved.
  • Feels like a notebook with endless pages and a notebook always feels like endless possibilities for new ideas and thoughts. Writer feels like an endless stack of sheets of paper, where they will get lost and are limiting in usefulness. You don’t go into the most important meeting you’ll have this year with a stack of loose paper — you choose a fine notebook.
  • I like the document states in Writer Pro, but I’ve been able to replicate them (and more) with tagging in Ulysses.
  • Color and fonts: I can choose them. I can tweak them, and Ulysses remembers that I like my light theme in window mode and my dark theme in fullscreen mode.
  • Daedalus is better on iPhone than Writer Pro. But, you likely disagree with me. It’s an odd duck, but I really like it. (And you can install your own fonts to it to match your Mac!)

Of course there are somethings that are still not so great:

  • I really don’t like the process for adding links. If you paste a markdown formatted link, then the app doesn’t recognize it properly. So you have to start the process and paste in the link when the popup appears. If I hadn’t figured out how to automate this with Keyboard Maestro this would have been a deal breaker.
  • Markdown is not copied by default. Instead you have to use a different keyboard shortcut — maybe. Actually the secondary copy shortcut can be one of many formats and which one is based off of the format you used last. Which is not only annoying, it’s inconsistent with logic of any kind. Just let me set what type of text ‘copy’ copies.
  • Lack of publishing support to weblogs. It’s been promised, but it’s not here yet. This is something that any writing app should have at this point in time.

Overall though, still one of the best writing apps I have ever used, and the best I have found for OS X.

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