Ulysses 13: the lucky number?

It’s been a while since the developers of Ulysses, one of the best text/markdown editors for the Mac, decided to migrate their owner-based licence to a subscription model. Since then, Ulysses has seen regular updates, but no upgrades. Ulysses 13 is the first upgrade, meaning its version number before the decimal point increases by one. The question is whether it’s an update or an upgrade.

That question doesn’t matter much in a subscription model as you continuously receive new and improved features because the developers have a constant stream of income and can spend a lot more time on improving and adding to the application. That’s the theory, anyway.

In practice, it turns out it’s not that clean-cut. Yes, the theory seems to hold true when giant software businesses like Adobe install a subscription model and are willing to release updates frequently. Not all of them do. As far as I know, Microsoft, for example, is much slower than Adobe when it comes to point releases and major upgrades. But, in theory, a subscription model is more interesting to the developer and, ultimately, to us users.

So, now we have Ulysses 13. There are three improvements in this new version:

  • Daily writing goals and deadline tracking
  • Improved colour coding within code blocks
  • Coloured keywords.

Let’s start with the latter: who needs those? I can imagine that you would like to make your library sections stand out more with coloured icons. Colour keywords work the same way on the section level, i.e. with colour keywords, you can make your documents stand out more in each section individually. That, however, doesn’t work for every writer. If I may, for a moment, take myself as an example, I use keywords only to create smart sections. For example, all the documents I’m currently working on reside in a smart section (a saved search for the concerned keyword) called “Edit”. The ones that are ready for uploading to one of my magazine publishers’ CMS is called “Finished”, etc.

Coloured keywords in my setup would duplicate the smart sections’ functionality. The best I can get out of coloured keywords is that I can get rid of those smart sections, but the colours can’t be customised and the keywords aren’t big enough to really stand out. In my setup, I would be better served with coloured icons because those would better differentiate my section management that is based on the publishers I work for, e.g. red for Photoshop User, blue for RedShark News, green for Visuals Producer, etc.

But never mind, let’s move on to the next in the list: syntax highlighting in code blocks that can now span several paragraphs. This actually works great and is incredibly simple to use. You create your code block the usual way, then click on the code icon at the right and select one of the code bases Ulysses knows about. Obviously, this includes HTML and CSS, but also Objective C, Ruby, Apache, AppleScript and many more. The rest is done behind the scenes. Your code will look monospaced on-screen and in the output version.

Finally, the third big improvement lets you set your goal in terms of words or characters you need to write and set a deadline by when the goal has to be reached. That is one feature that is really powerful, especially as it counts down, so when you have a deadline within three days, you will see three days counting down. In addition, you’ll be able to analyse your performance over time, although it’s not clear to me how that works out. In the sidebar, Goal is now a small disc with deadline and some other info in small text. To get all this info in big type on-screen, you can tear off the Goal and show it in its own floating panel with text that’s clear and big and fat in the right places. Ulysses also has an option that lets you set your writing days of the week, which makes the app look like it’s intelligent in that it won’t count down on days that you don’t write anyway.

So, am I impressed with the new version? To be honest, I was eagerly anticipating those coloured icons, because for my writing environment those matter most.

Having said that, I can’t help reaching for Ulysses for any sort of writing because it has functionality beyond any of the other editors on the Mac – functionality that makes my writing life comfortable. Which is another way of saying that I don’t care much if I’m impressed or not; as long as the already available functionality of Ulysses isn’t tampered with, I’m happy. For example, it is the only one to let me directly publish my stuff to Medium, WordPress.com, and output to all the formats it supports.

As far as I know, there’s no other editor out there that delivers this in the very broad way Ulysses does.

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