When preparing my review of Ulysses 2.5 for MacStories, I asked my fine Twitter followers for any questions they’d like me to answer. I covered some of them in my review, but it occurred to me that I left quite a few on the table. Here is my attempt to clean up.
Note: if you’d like to support my work here at Finer Things in Tech, you can buy Ulysses for iOS and Mac through my affiliate links. I get a small cut of your purchase, you get a fantastic app—everybody wins!
Can you publish to WordPress, Medium, and other CMSes? Also: how about those export features?
No, yes, and no. Ulysses has never really been about publishing, but with this recent, major 2.5 update, it can now publish to Medium. In fact, you can even add multiple Medium accounts.
However, Ulysses has very powerful and flexible export options that can prepare your content for just about anywhere it needs to go. It can convert one or more sheets written in Markdown with links and style into HTML for pasting into WordPress and other CMSes, or strip all the Markdown out and make them plain text. You can create ePubs, PDFs, and even DOCX files for Office folks in the audience, complete with any images you embed in-line.
Yes, you read that right. Ulysses is primarily a text editor, but you can also embed images. This is aimed at those who produce document-based media, such as PDFs and ePubs; the images will not make the trip if you export to HTML for pasting into WordPress.
Is there a dark mode?
Yep, it’s a switch under the gear menu. All the default themes and the few third-party themes I have installed seem to work pretty well with it too, all adjusting their unique colors for proper legibility.
What about smart quotes?
Yep, but you have to use the option from the keyboard bar (under the Command icon), not the on-screen or hardware keyboard quote button. There might be a custom keyboard shortcut to create them, but I don’t have a hardware keyboard to try finding it.
Is Ulysses good for taking notes?
I think that would depend on how complex your note taking system needs to be. You’re basically dealing with plain text, Markdown, and some clever enhancements added by The Soulmen.
You can easily create the facsimile of a bulleted list thanks to smart Markdown shortcuts and even indent items. But if you need more advanced tools or visual cues in your notes, such as bolded section titles in larger sizes, the ability to collapse certain sections to focus on others, or highlighting certain notes, I don’t think Ulysses is your tool.
What is the Attachments panel, and how do you use it?
The attachments panel is toggled by the paper clip in the upper right (iOS and Mac), and it houses four separate features: keywords (tags), Word Goals, notes, and files.
These are four separate, optional features that will each appear in this sidebar if you make use of them, which I highly recommend you do since they’re one of the best things about Ulysses.
Keywords are pretty straightforward: you can add multi-word tags to your sheets to aid in organization, filtering, and search. When viewing a list of sheets, your tags appear below the title of each sheet so they’re easy to pick out at a glance. You can search for your tags and also build Smart Groups that filter for them.
Word Goals are another of my favorite Ulysses features. You can set various goals for each sheet, or an entire group, of “at least” X number of words, or “no more than” Y words. If you trigger this feature, a colored word count pie appears in the top right of a sheet or group name in the list. It’s a great way to keep yourself on track for large projects like books, that long Medium article, or assignments with hard word counts.
Notes are pretty self-explanatory. I’m the type of writer who, in the past, added ideas and notes to the bottom of the document I’m writing in. Now I add them to the Ulysses attachment sidebar for a few reasons.
One is that they’re easy to get out of the way when I don’t need them anymore and just want to focus on writing. My other big reason is that I do enough work that requires specific word counts, and having all those notes in the document I’m writing messes with those counts. However, I do have a pro-tip here: if you display Ulysses’ word count bar (the speed dial button on the left of the text shortcut bar) and select some text, the bar will update live to show you the character count of just your selection. This is useful, but I still prefer to keep notes in the sidebar.
Pro-tip number two: Ulysses notes also support Markdown. If you like to add notes in bulleted lists, as well as links, you’re in luck.
Can I truly trust iCloud?
iCloud has its problems, though after iOS 8 and 9, nearly every iCloud syncing app I use has gotten much better, faster, and more reliable. In my experience writing nearly everything in Ulysses for the better part of the past year, it’s handled iCloud sync superbly.
I’ve never lost a document or even an edit, though a handful of times I have had to wait a little longer for something to sync. I often find myself on 4G though, and I’m pretty sure I was on it each of those times, so I’m not too worried.
I’ve mentioned it elsewhere, but I do all my writing in Ulysses these days. Even if it ends up in Quip or Google Drive to collaborate with others, I now start virtually everything I write in Ulysses.
Of course, your mileage may vary. If it helps, Ulysses for iPad and Mac both have backup systems that fire every hour, week, and month. They even have a Time-Machine-like interface for exploring your backups and restoring anything you need. Fortunately, I can’t tell you how well these systems work—I haven’t had to use them yet.
Finally, I hear The Soulmen are working on adding Dropbox support. If iCloud just isn’t your thing no way no how, it sounds like you should have an alternative soon.
How does it compare to 1Writer, Byword, and Editorial?
If we use a scale of “easy and focused” on the left and “powerful, polished, and flexible” on the right, I’d start with 1Writer and Byword well on the left. They’re easy to get started with, don’t offer a ton of options, and basically use Markdown in a straightforward way like most other apps.
I would put UIysses around 65, maybe 70 percent towards the right on this scale. It’s polished and easy to pick up, offers a good amount of flexibility, and has a number of unique, powerful features for those who want them.
Editorial is at the far, far right end of “powerful, polished, and flexible.” It’s a big, jam-packed writing app, has its own scripting features, and has a ton of customizability. I’ll admit I even find it a little intimidating; like the Photoshop or Office of writing apps. I’m not a very good source for learning about Editorial, though. If you want to know more, check the Editorial tag at MacStories.
Is it your writing app of choice?
If I haven’t been explicit enough already: yes, absolutely. Even if I jump on one of these book ideas I’ve been kicking around, I’ll do it all in Ulysses.
I haven’t been happy with managing individual files in Finder for a while. I think this started when I explored app-based organization back in the days of iLife and iPhoto, which drew me to the advantages of managing my files with an app that offers flexibility, visual tools, and other advantages over a plain file system. Early in my career I sought out apps that could do this for writing articles, and I settled on MacJournal for quite a while.
I really like all the stuff I’ve mentioned across these two Ulysses pieces, and I highly recommend it. If you’re still on the fence, note that it is incredibly easy to ask Apple for a refund on iTunes and App Store purchases these days. Just find your original iTunes Store purchase receipt, tap or click ‘Report a Problem,’ and follow the instructions to ask for a refund.