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Tales of brave

Sometimes the technology is so damned close, but it’s not quite there. Ulysses is like that; now that I’ve tasted it, I want the perfect version, but I don’t think I can quite use it as it is.

OK, so: as a writer, I don’t use most of Microsoft Word. Mostly I want is something I can type into. It needs to do spell checking. It needs to be able to save style information with the document, because I want to be able to mark headers and bold text and so on. It needs to be able to export the style information in a format which InDesign can handle, since that’s what I use for layout these days. It needs to be able to do smart quotes and hyphens.

Word does all of that. It also does a million or so more things, which is vaguely annoying.

Ulysses is a very simple text editor with an amazing interface. The interface is now on my list of things I want, after about ten minutes of playing around with it. It’s hard to explain without pictures, so check out this screenshot.

The big middle area is your typing space. The tabs up at the top — “Obstacles” and “10x – Notizen” are different documents; you can also see a list of documents in the first pane on the left side of the window. The project is the sum of the documents in the left hand pane. You can have as many of them as you’d like open in tabs at once. The right pane is mostly an area to type notes, with a small pane for title and word count down below.

If you select a document in the left hand pane, you get the text of that document in the little window below; you can select it, but not edit it. This is great for reference or for copy and paste. You can set the status of any document — New, Final, Draft, Done, etc. You can also set colored labels, which are customizable.

When you’re done, you export the project as a document. You order the individual sections however you like during the export process. The notes don’t show up in the exported document unless you want them to, so you don’t need to worry about cleaning up the little bits that say “Don’t forget to add an example of play here.”

This is the best idea for editing large books I’ve ever bumped into. Everything’s readily accessible; you can get to any chapter of your text whenever you want. But nothing’s ever in the way. You never get lost in editing windows. It is insanely great.

But it doesn’t do styled text, because the authors are purists about formatting getting in the way. I can’t even get it to change the spacing between paragraphs, which means that paragraphs will always jam into one another unless I put extra blank lines in, which will mess up any layout work I may do. You can do styled paragraphs by tagging them with a code at the beginning of the line, but the RTF export format doesn’t have named styles, so it’s a pain to do layout once again. The only other export formats are plain text and LaTeX.

So now I am frustrated. It’s not quite good enough to use as my main writing platform, but the interface it offers is so much better than anything else I have that nothing else is going to satisfy me either. So close! So far!


  1. t. rev t. rev

    Looks like it’s intended to be used for TeX, which enforces a strict division between text and formatting.

  2. Ah so! That would explain the LaTeX export format, etc.

  3. …pity about the formatting, because damn, that looks like it’d be great. But no *way* am I writing books in a system that won’t let me properly format for printing manuscripts right off the bat.

  4. t. rev t. rev

    TeX is a markup language for typesetting books (and papers, letters, etc.), and using it is a lot like using HTML–write it in a text editor, then process the file to format it. It works very well, but it does require learning a whole extra language to use it.

  5. Which I’m unlikely to do. 🙂

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