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Ulysses 2 review

Verdict:

Ulysses is an acquired taste and has some very attractive features, but it's flawed by an inability to open more than one project at once.

Review Date: 14 Aug 2009

Price when reviewed: (about £38); upgrade ?24.99 (about £21)

Reviewed By: Giles Turnbull

Our Rating 4 stars out of 5

Ulysses is a niche product in a category of niche products. It's an editor for writers, but it won't appeal to everyone, or even to all writers.

A Ulysses document lives inside a project; documents and their associated notes are stored side by side in Ulysses' own file format. Project files can contain as many documents and notes as required.

Ulysses edits plain text only. It expects you to make use of semantic styles that can be translated into formatting later on in the process. Notes, however, are rich text documents and can include images.

In version 2, project templates make it possible to create new default styles, a new bookmarks feature makes it much easier to jump around within very long pieces of text or very complicated projects, while find and replace can now scan not only the text documents, but also their associated notes. Moreover, the preferences window is now greatly simplified and much easier to use.

The gorgeous, full-screen editor, known as Console Mode, has had a facelift and looks better than ever. It really is a fantastic way to concentrate on writing, and now conveniently permits access to notes via a white-on-black HUD window. Handily, optional typewriter scrolling means you can always keep the current line centered vertically on screen.

Documents are organised in the browser pane, and can be assigned labels, statuses, and put into user-defined collections (analogous to smart folders). A document can only have one label at a time, but can live in several collections.

The new Document Trash keeps everything you've 'deleted'. Trashed documents retain their notes and relationships with other documents, and can easily be put back, while a Text Trash feature remembers snippets deleted with Shift-Backspace for later recall.

The single most frustrating thing about Ulysses is that only one project window can be opened at a time. If you're working on two books side by side, or perhaps one book and a bunch of shorter articles, the only way to have them all within easy reach is to put them all inside a single, huge project. Which rather defeats the point of having projects at all.

The developers say this was the intended behaviour from the very early days of Ulysses, but acknowledge that a multiple, open projects feature needs to be added urgently. Sadly, that's a significant programming task and unlikely to happen soon. And that's a great shame, as only seeing one project at a time is at best a hindrance, and at worst an omission too far for some people.

With that in mind, it's important to remember Ulysses' sister application, Ulysses Core. This omits certain features (project-wide search and replace, text trash, bookmarks, and project notes, among others) and isn't as flexible when it comes to exporting the finished project. However, it still has all the editing functions and the superb Console mode, and most importantly is half the price.

Ulysses is unlikely to appeal. It's not an eye-candy application and requires some getting used to. If writing matters to you, however, and you've tried standard word processors, you'll quickly start to appreciate its wow factor.

Comparisons with Scrivener, a rival application that has emerged more recently and won much praise, not least from us, are inevitable. Scrivener squeezes a lot more in and puts more emphasis on the presentation of text from the outset. It's an editor for formatted text. Conversely, Ulysses cares more about text structure, which is why its primary editor only handles plain text, to which formatting styles can be added later. If you care about this distinction, Ulysses will probably appeal to you more. That said, Ulysses has no built-in storyboarding or outlining tools, and Scrivener is very well equipped in this regard. It's wise, we think, to try out both applications before deciding.

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