Thu 04 September 2014

Filed under Text Editors

Tags Ulysses

A couple of weeks ago, I tweeted this:

when talking about my struggle to find a plain text alternative to Scrivener. This is something I plan on writing about in more detail, but whoever runs the Ulysses account for The Soulmen replied and asked me to email them my concerns. So I did, and I'm just going to also post it here in case I want to reference it later:

My main problem with Ulysses is that it completely breaks one of the greatest strengths of writing in plain text -- interoperability. I rely on being able to compose in something like MultiMarkdown with footnotes, comments, etc., to sync my files between my Mac and my work PC, and my iPod and my Android phone, to edit and save those files, and if needed to be able to process them into rich text, html, or PDFs. Ulysses makes this impossible because of the way it stores data. I would end up composing in something that is almost but not quite like any of the flavors of Markdown I can do anything else with, and I wouldn't be able to sync them to other platforms -- heck, even syncing with Daedalus is barely useful at all, and that's your product. And you promoted syncing between Daedalus and Ulysses as a feature.

Also, tagging was an absolute shambles, at least initially. It may have improved since then, but it made a very poor first impression. In general, Ulysses III at launch felt like beta software. I don't mind that you guys didn't initially put out a demo or have upgrade pricing, but the fact that you didn't do those things, plus the fact that you were asking money for something that didn't even feel like 1.0 doesn't incline me to spend more time with your stuff. (Or more money on your future products.)

It's too bad, because while I have really good solutions for actually writing in Markdown on all my platforms, I could really use a Markdown-aware, writer-friendly program with a GUI for managing files (especially splitting and joining).

If Ulysses had functionality comparable to Scrivener's external folder sync, and it worked well enough to allow me to have a functional workflow, Ulysses might be a viable option for me. But it would have to either convert to and from a fairly sophisticated flavor (MMD or Pandoc) or else allow me to pass metadata & formatting through easily without it looking terrible when editing it in Ulysses.

That would be great for me, but I don't get the sense that it's what you're trying to make. Which is okay; I'm probably just not the correct audience for Ulysses.

Background for those who may not have tried Ulysses: Most desktop plain text editors store your text in simple text files, with extensions like .txt, .md, etc. You can move them around as you like, easily sync them with Dropbox, and open them with anything that can open a text file.

Ulysses, like Scrivener, takes a different approach: it stores your text in a package file, along with other data and assets (e.g., images). And they sync it via iCloud. Ulysses can also work with what it calls "external sources", which are actual damn text files, but in doing so, you lose some essential functionality. Incidentally, this also applies to their iOS companion app.

They're working with Brett Terpstra (the creator of Marked) to set up a sort of standard format for this kind of package. Which is cool if you're a Ulysses user who wants to preview in Marked (as you should, Marked is great), but I doubt it's going to enable the kind of cross-platform workflow I need.

Anyway, in general, I think Ulysses is probably a decent choice of text editor if you want to live your entire writing life in it. But I think by doing so you give up a lot of the power of plain text.


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