Ulysses III: Slick new text editor from The Soulmen

Ulysses III: Slick new text editor from The Soulmen

Great new text editor from The Soulmen: Ulysses III

As anyone who reads this site regularly knows, I love writing in Markdown. It’s a writing syntax that is best described as a tool that allows me to focus on the writing, not the formatting.

For Markdown, there are a number of text editors and other tools to support. On OSX, I rely on nvALT for capturing ideas on the go, and starting an initial draft of something. I love Byword for the actual writing process, supported by Brett Terpstra’s Marked app to have live previews of the rendered code. I also like the excellent MultiMarkdown Composer, thought I do prefer the simple, clean layout of Byword.

On iOS I use Drafts and Notesy in a similar way to nvALT on OSX, and Byword as my main editor.

A new OSX app in this class called Ulysses III was released this week, and since its on sale and has had good reviews, I decided to grab a copy from the Mac App Store (A$20.99).

Right from the start it’s clear that this is an app built from the ground up for Markdown. Although it is the third generation of a very successful family of Mac based text editors, the developers warn existing users to treat this as a completely new app.

They are quite confident in their product, stating the following in one of the introductory “sheets” loaded into the app:

If you’re new to this, then please enjoy what we believe is the greatest text editor the world has ever seen. A blank slate powered by a toolset of endless possibilities, limited only by your imagination as a writer.

Like Byword (and similar apps such as iA Writer), Ulysses III presents a powerful distraction free writing environment. A blank sheet that is sorted in groups of sheets kept in a library. You can show/hide columns showing the Group or the Library+Group using hotkeys or menu commands.

Writing is straightforward, and the user interface is best characterised as described by MacSparky:

Ulysses III is gorgeous. The way it renders text and iterates on the three pane view is truly remarkable.

Essentially, the app gets out of your way and allows you to focus on the writing.

iCloud support is built in and even somewhat emphasised. I am sure that Dropbox support would be straightforward, but it wasn’t presented to me as an easy option in the setup phase.

Although I’ve long loved the promise of iCloud, it hasn’t really taken hold for me. I tend to agree with David Sparks that iCloud is at its best with plain text type apps, but since I tend to work across several different apps (Byword, Multimarkdown Composer, nvAlt, Notesy, etc), I need Dropbox to allow files to move easily between apps.

Of course, the creators of Ulysses III, the Soulmen, also have an iOS app called Daedelus Touch. This app, for both iPhone/iPod Touch and iPad, integrates with Ulysses III.

This article is the first thing I’ve written in Ulysses III, and the following are my initial impressions:

Pro’s

  • Beautiful, distraction free, writing environment
  • Variety of HUDs to bring up stats, export options, links to favourites, navigation (within the sheet) and even syntax assistance
  • Simple exports (“sixport”) to txt, RTF and PDF formats
  • Ability to copy HTML, Markdown or plain text to the clipboard
  • iCloud integration (with iOS Daedelus Touch app)
  • Quick rendering of Markdown syntax, showing you most of the syntax but de-emphasised
  • Choice of style sheets to work with
  • Dark or light background options
  • The name: Ulysses Paroz was my ancestor who first brought the Paroz family to Australia!

Con’s

  • When adding links, the Markdown way of adding inline or reference links is hidden away. This makes it one step more for me to see my link, and also makes it hard for me to re-use a link
  • When doing lists (like this one), I have to type a new “-” followed by a space for each line[1]
  • No obvious Dropbox support, particularly with Daedelus Touch[2]
  • Not sure how I can get Drafts on iOS to work into the system[3]
  • Expensive

Initial thoughts

I’ll personally keep playing with Ulysses III / Daedelus Touch for some stuff to see how it goes. It grabs me as a great repository and editor, with a lot of great features. It has much promise, and if I didn’t already have Byword, nvALT, Marked and Drafts it might be a great one stop app.

But it won’t be my core app at the moment, because it’s Markdown behaviour (e.g. for links) is a little quirky, and because it would require me to change my workflow.


  1. Hitting Alt+Enter automatically brings up the next bullet point. See comment from Nicholas below  ↩

  2. Dropbox integration for Ulysses III and Daedelus Touch is quite do-able. See detailed explanation in the comment from daedalicious below  ↩

  3. As daedalicious mentioned in the comments, if Dropbox works as described, Drafts support should be straightforward.  ↩

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