October 25, 2015

Review of Ulysses 1.1

Ulysses III hit the App Store a couple of days after the Maverick launch. Naturally with my obsession for text editors, I was excited about the product, hoping that this would be the product that the developers promised. You know, The most advanced text editor on the planet.

Version 1.0 met with rave reviews around the web. There were few dissident voices, one of them, mine. I have included the whole review of version 1.0 below this updated look at version 1.1.

Firstly, the two major issues I had with version 1.0: Lock in and arbitrary changing of file content when you bring in files from external sources have not been solved. The lock in is an integral feature of the design of the application and I am sure that the developers can't do anything about that. With the improved export options, I am willing to give up that criticism. I am not so forgiving about the change to file content that happens with files in external sources. I have a feeling that this criticism is going to be addressed when the developers revisit the design of the text editor. This is not based on anything the developers have said explicitly. It is based on the tweets from the developers (@ulyssesapp), and a lot of wishful thinking on my part. I might be still wrong and the application might exhibit this unacceptable behavior for the rest of its existence. The criticism was valid for version 1.0 and it will remain valid till they explicitly fix it. It was unacceptable behavior and it continues to be so. It has forced me to not enable external sources at all for the application.

The claim of being the The most advanced text editor on the planet is somewhat shaky if I have to keep another text editor involved in the process of handling text files because the application is ill-behaved. But, I am getting old and discovering patience as a virtue. So, I will wait, hoping they fix this obnoxious behavior.

Now the good stuff.

Ulysses III is much improved over the last version. Version 1.1 is considerably better and it adds a whole host of features which were conspicuously missing from the last release.

Typewriter Scrolling

It is back. It is well implemented giving you complete flexibility on the placement of the text. No one else does this in the text editing field. I get to choose the most comfortable position for me, and the program keeps the line I am working on right there? Fantastic. You have to try this to get it. I am telling you, that it has made writing on the application an absolute pleasure for me. I think this feature alone has made me want to live in this application. It is something that other writing environments like Scrivener should look at adopting. Impressive and indicative of the innovation The Soulmen have always brought to their software.

Quick Open

The way Ulysses III is organized gives me the opportunity to have different collections of documents on the Mac. So, I have a collection of files which deal with my blog. Another collection, which deals with my book, another one which deals with ideas I have on politics and so on. ⌘ + O gives me a fuzzy searchable panel somewhat reminiscent of Sublime Text, my other favorite text editor. Importantly, it makes switching between documents I have been working on easier.

New Window

Sometimes you need a few documents to be open while you work on one. Type ⌥ + ⌘ + N and you have a new window. Choose the document you want to remain open. Switch between open documents with the standard ⌘ + `. Makes working with documents much more convenient in Ulysses III.

Smart Paste

Yes. The developers have made pasting text into a document smarter. If you use the old ⌘ + V keyboard command, the text takes the same format as whatever you are pasting into. So, if your section is code and you paste into that, whatever you pasted, is now code. You get to invoke smart paste by holding down the ⌘ + V keystroke. You get a nice panel which lets you choose the format you want to paste in with. You can select through the keypad or numbers on the top or select through the mouse. Intelligent.

Smart PasteSmart Paste

Assorted Other Improvements

  1. The export options have been much improved in this version. You can export to epub, pdf, rtf (word documents) and you can use styles to control the look of the output you will generate. The customization of this feature is explained in detail in the Styles section of the website. I have not finished exploring this section yet. I am more interested in generating markdown documents and html documents from my writing.
  2. Fuzzy search through all the documents that you have asked Ulysses III to manage for you. This coupled with in-collection markup search or in-file content search means that you are now equipped to deal with a large collection of documents in the application. Search by MarkupSearch by Markup
  3. There is now an efficient in-app preview of your document. I must admit that I prefer previewing my document in Marked 2. It adds a host of tools to improve my writing and that is essential to me. You can customize the style of the preview and have your custom style applied to the preview window.
  4. There is an integration with Daedalus Touch available to you. So you can work on a document both on the Mac and on the iOS devices, with some constraints.


Ulysses III has evolved. It has gained more polish. It has grown some amazing one-of-a-kind features. It is still one of the prettiest environments to write in. I am impressed. It still hasn't sorted out the habit of turning into reference links all the inline links in your external source documents. My workaround is to not let it handle my external source documents. I must admit that this is not an optimal solution and it would be much better if the developers changed this behavior. In the meantime, I am going to keep working in Ulysses III, and Sublime Text.

I recommend Ulysses III with some reservations.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie

Previous Review

Ulysses III - The Pretty, Passive-Aggressive-Braindead Text Editor

The web is replete with rather glowing reviews for Ulysses III. This is a fair sampling of what is available on the Web:

Mac App Review: Ulysses III - the candler blog

Ulysses III: A Next Generation Writer's Environment for OS X - The Mac Observer

Mac App review: Ulysses III - BrettTerpstra.com

Ulysses III – A Markdown Writing App Like no Other | Mac.AppStorm

Ulysses 3, A Text Editor From The Future [Review] | Cult of Mac

Ulysses strives and seeks to be a better text editor for Mac | TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog

Ulysses 3 review: Get ready for change | Apple 24 Seven

Wordius - Ulysses III: A review

These two are the exceptions in that they are not particularly gushing:

Ulysses 3 (The Soulmen) Mac App Review - Stale Coffee

Ulysses 3 by Gabe

I am going to add my perspective on Ulysses III to the "not-so-gushing" category.

I am not going to be doing a very thorough review of the product. You can find that in a selection of the reviews which already exist. I am going to raise two issues: One philosophical and the other a matter of execution.

Before I go to the criticisms, let me reiterate some of the positives which have already been pointed out in detail by others.

  1. Ulysses III is beautiful. The UI is very well designed. The look is unique and a pleasure to work in.
  2. The improvements in the markdown specification which the developers call "Plain Text Enhanced" are very nice and useful.
  3. The developers have paid a lot of attention to the details of the application and it shows all over the product. You are going to be pleasantly surprised as you discover the many and varied little details of the implementation and it is going to make the process of writing in it, a truly immersive experience.

Philosophy of Lock in

One of the many reasons I use text files is that I don't want to be locked in to any particular program when it comes to managing my text files. I can have a folder full of text files and I can use any program I want to interact with my folder of text files. At any given time, I am using Sublime Text, BBEdit 10, nvALT, or Byword to interact with my text files. The advantage is that there is no lock-in. I don't have to use any particular program. I can use whatever I want and the text files are there and ready to be used. Ulysses III goes against this convention. It's main selling point is embodied in the statement "All your texts. In one place. Always." Of course, this implies a lock-in. Most of the improvements made by Ulysses III on the Markdown specification are only available to you if you agree to be locked in to using their application and their application only.

I have a philosophical problem with this concept of lock-in. I don't want to be tethered to any one particular application. I use text files, it is an universal format avaiable to a whole host of free and paid applications on all computing platforms. By contrast, an Ulysses III file is only readable by Ulysses III. Ergo, the lock-in.

Ulysses III tries to get away from this problem of a lock-in by giving you the opportunity of using Ulysses III as an editor of your text files which you can add from external sources. So, technically, you can bring in the aforementioned folder of text files into Ulysses III as text files and you can edit it in the program. You lose all the advantages of the "Plain Text Enhanced" when you are dealing with files added through external sources but that is a compromise which makes sense. What doesn't make sense is what happens to the external source files when you bring them into Ulysses III, which leads me into the second part of my critique.

Execution Foul up, or Thou Shall Not Screw With My Markup

If you make the mistake of adding a folder of your files to Ulysses III to manage as an external source, be prepared for your files to change in ways that you are not really prepared for, or change in ways that you really should not be asked to expect.

One of those iron clad expectations from a text editor should be the following: When you handle a file, you will not change the contents of the file unless I explicitly ask you to. That should be so obvious that I never imagined that I would have to state this maxim. So, what happens?

I have a file I maintain as a text file with a bunch of inline links.

Bunch of inline LinksBunch of inline Links

When I take this file and add it to Ulysses III as an external source. This is what Ulysses III does to it:

Bunch of Reference LinksBunch of Reference Links

Excuse me?


You changed the content of my file? Why? What makes you think that you have the right to do that? You didn't ask me. You just went ahead and did that?

When asked about this the developer said the following:

We've had a lot of discussion regarding this issue and decided to use reference-links instead of inline links in the end. You'll be able to customize the way your markup is exported with custom markup and full exporters, which are coming in future versions.

Excuse me? You had discussions and decided that it was prudent to change my content to fit some arbitrary model of yours? You changed my content. You changed my markup. Without asking me. And I can put it right by exporting? It is a text file. I don't want to export it to another text file. It is a damn text file. Leave it the fuck alone. The solution is some export model which will be available in future versions? What are you smoking? Can I have some?

I was trying to imagine the discussion between three imaginary engineers when this product feature was being discussed:

Engineer favoring reference links: We are going to be using reference links.
Engineer favoring inline links: (was busy playing with himself/herself)
Engineer favoring giving consumer the choice: What happens if the consumer wants inline links?
Engineer favoring reference links: Fuck them.
Engineer favoring inline links: (was busy playing with himself/herself)
Engineer favoring giving consumer the choice: They might have a reason for favoring inline links.
Engineer favoring reference links: Fuck them.
Engineer favoring inline links: (was busy playing with himself/herself)

Another alternate take on the discussion between three imaginary engineers when this product feature was being discussed:

Engineer favoring reference links: We are going to be using reference links.
There were no other people in the meeting.

Do me a favor. Leave my markup alone. Don't make decisions for me. And don't change my content. Don't ever change my content.


I had very high hopes of Ulysses III. The developers promised to revolutionize text editing. I followed their Ulysses 3 devblog | Building the greatest text editor the world has ever seen. with great interest. I bought the product in the first few hours of it being available in the App Store.

In its present incarnation, I am not going to be using the product though. I can look beyond the problem of a lock in. The ability to export to other formats from the program makes that somewhat easier to overlook. It introduces an extra step into the workflow but that is something I can compromise with. However I cannot trust or recommend an application which changes my content. Can't put up with that. Will not put up with that kind of passive-aggressive-braindead behavior. Sorry.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie.

Ulysses Writing

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