Review: Ulysses III plain text editor for writers

I’ve used a keyboard for over 40 years, and I’ve been pleased with each change that has made it easier for me to produce documents. When I started typing, I had to strike a key several times to make the letter bold. My delete tool was the typewriter eraser and, later, a bottle of Wite-Out. Imagine my happiness when strike-out tape appeared. When  keyboard combinations and clicking on icons came along, and I had more time to concentrate on what I was writing rather than the readability of the document.

A few weeks ago, a review request for Ulysses III appeared in my e-mailbox. The app is a plain text editor and its goal is to make things even better for writers. That caught my attention, so I thought I’d give Ulysses a try.

I’ve grown to love the “distraction free writing” option that both Scrivener and WordPress give their users, and Ulysses promised that same type of writing atmosphere. Also, I was intrigued by its use of Markdown to format (“define”) text.

With Ulysses, the screen opens to a blank window. You will not find icons, words, and images.

All you do is start typing.

But here’s the trick: If you want to use formatting within your document (bold, italics, headings, etc.), you must type the Markdown codes to create the formatting.

Using Markdown ensures that when you export your work to another place, such as a blog post, e-book, or PDF, you will keep the formatting  that you included in your document.

ulysses-app-screen-shot-1
Screenshot from http://www.ulyssesapp.com

Instead of hitting an italics format button, you place an asterisk mark both before and after the word. Want a bold word? Place two asterisks before and after the word. For a headline level, you type the markup for that level. A list is generated in the same way.

You won’t find commands like “Save” and “File-Open” in this application. Your work waits for you in the app window.

You will find features common to all modern word processing programs, like links, footnotes, and comments. You can also add images and open panes.

Screenshot from www.ulyssesapp.com
Screenshot from http://www.ulyssesapp.com

I may need to use Ulysses for a while longer to appreciate it. At this point I don’t see the advantages to using Markdown for formatting. So far it’s only created more work and distraction for me when I write.

Perhaps this app is more useful to writers who work with multiple platforms and formats. It also has a technical sense to it that may be attractive to some writers.

We’ve come a long way with technology since I first placed my fingers on a keyboard. And that could be the reason for my reluctance to give a recommendation for this app. Though I do enjoy having a blank page and no distraction on a screen, I also feel like I’ve earned the luxury of letting the click of a button do the formatting work for me.

Ulysses III earned a spot on the Mac App Store’s “Best of 2013” list. This app is not for everyone, but if you’re curious about a writing program that calls itself “the premier writing tool for serious writers,” and “the greatest text editor the world has ever seen,” then visit the website for a free demo version with 10 hours of use.

Note: A rep from The Soulmen (creators of the Ulysses app) contacted me and gave me a full version of Ulysses III to test drive for this review. I do not receive any money from the sale of their app as a result of this review. See my Disclosure Policy.

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4 thoughts on “Review: Ulysses III plain text editor for writers

  1. I agree. I so want to like Ulysses, but I find it just doesn’t sit well with the way my mind works and slows me down. Really all I need is Byword for standalone pieces such as blog posts and Scrivener for more complex work. And I do have a manual typewriter – an Olympus SM4. I love it!

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    1. Now you have me thinking about getting an old typewriter. It would be fun to use one again! And Byword — I hadn’t heard of that app before you mentioned it here, so I will take a look. Thanks for visiting, Martin.

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  2. You keep introducing me to new writing tools, Darla, when I’m still tempted to use the old manual typewriter my mom stored under the desk in her writing room.
    But Ulysses has many intriguing features. I may just try it!

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    1. If I had an old manual typewriter, I’m sure I would use it occasionally. There’s no need to wait for it to “start up”! I held on to one for years but finally parted with it on a purge day. Let me know if you try Ulysses.

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