Most of our efforts to track down and review Mac writer’s tools have focused on three areas. Word processors. Add-on tools. Writing tools. Who doesn’t use a word processor. Add-on tools provide specific functions.
Writing tools? They’re more complex, complicated, and more expensive than mere processors of words. More difficult to find is a writing tool that combines powerful functions, ease-of-use, and low price.
Cheap Doesn’t Mean Featureless
For mere writing, one of my favorite Mac apps is Bean. Think of it as WriteNow for the 21st century. It’s not Word or Pages, but it’s more powerful and feature rich than TextEdit. And it’s free.
Like it, love it, or ignore it, Bean remains a mere processor of words.
Ulysses is a powerful Mac writer’s tool that dares to think different. First, it’s loaded with features. Second, Ulysses combines simplicity with complex functions. Third, it manages writing projects.
Finally, and surprisingly, considering all the built-in goodies, Ulysses remains very affordable. Very.
To Write Different, Think Different
Most Mac writer’s tools require specific similarities. A ruler across the top. A toolbar with icons tied to functions. WYSIWYG display. Fonts. Spell check. Auto save. Templates and styles.
Ulysses will be much less familiar to those who come from the world of word processors, yet contains the features and functions available in more powerful and complex apps such as Storyist and Scrivener.
Think of Ulysses as an app for a writer to publish a document, rather than merely write what goes into a document. WYSIWYG? Uh uh.
Ulysses brings built-in project and document management to what appears to be a strange way to write. Yes, you can assign styles tags to define how your text will look.
Yes, you can go crazy with document and project notes. No, you won’t use Ulysses to write a cover letter, references, and resume. If you understand the complexities of semantic text editing, you’ll be right at home writing on Ulysses.
The app uses a tabbed, single-window user interface and features a distinct separation of style vs. content.
Search and replace functions can be term centric and span projects, documents, and notes. Full counters details are instantly available—character, word, and pages.
Shortcuts? I’ve never seen so many. Exports? Decidedly limited—LaTeX, PDF, Word, RTF, text.
The sidebar panes are collapsable and expandable with a click.
Meta data is configurable.
Full screen editing? Sure. But it’s not what you expect. Ulysses is decidedly classic and neo-WordStar-ish. The visual focus is on writing, not style—on publishing, not pretty pages—on notes and content, not WYSIWYG.
If iWork’s Pages is too much for you, and all the bells and whistles in Microsoft Word give you a headache, avoid Ulysses. It’s not pretty. It’s functional. If you create complex documents for publication, take Ulysses for a 60-day spin. You’ll need the time.
Ulysses comes in three versions. Standard (still priced less than many common word processors). Educational for about $15 less. And, Ulysses Core, which is a lite version at nearly half the price.
In the case of Ulysses, power and pretty don’t have a close relationship.