Update on Software Reviewed for Writers

| Reviews

There are many software tools that are better for novels, screenplays and research reports than a word processor alone. They provide more functionality and facility to assist the writer with those specific tasks. Because Mac users are known to be creative and artistic types, TMO has embarked on a project to formally review the major contenders in this category of software. 

Here are the Mac applications that have been reviewed to date:

  1. StoryMill Takes a Novel Approach 03 April 2009
  2. Scrivener Brings Out the Scribbler 07 April 2009
  3. Ulysses is a Heroic Writer's Application 15 April 2009.

StoryMill, from Mariner Software, received a TMO score of four out of five. It's strengths are managing the overall, strategic structure of a novel, especially when critical timelines must be managed. It has great documentation and help. However, it is a very technical program that may make some writers feel constrained. It's about average in text management.

Scrivener, from Literature & Latte, was the second app in the series to be reviewed. It has a less rigid structure, feels more friendly, free wheeling, and approachable. It's particularly strong on text manipulation. It also received a four out of five rating. If I were embarking on a novel, this one is my favorite so far, but there are many more apps to look at.

quill and pen

The most recent program reviewed was Ulysses from Blue Technologies Group. It's more ambitious than Scrivener and, as a result, suffers a little with trying to manage its own strengths. Also, the documentation was inadequate. For a variety of reasons, detailed in the review, it failed to meet expectations and received a 2.5 out of five rating. However, the publisher is readying version 2.0 and expects to solve many of the problems identified in the review. Ulysses has a lot of potential, but its style for semantic formating may not be for everyone.

Next up will be Jer's Novel Writer followed by Storyist 2.0. Storyist 1.6 is shipping, but version 2.0 is close to completion, and that's the version that will be reviewed. After that, possibly on the calendar will be CopyWrite and maybe Celtx to finish up the series.

If you have any requests for writer's software to be reviewed, especially those which are geared towards novel and screenplay writing -- as opposed to strictly technical writing with formulas, etc. -- send an e-mail to marty@macobserver.com. Technical writing software, geared to the scientist and researcher, may be covered at some future date.

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Comments

Black_Dog

John,

As a writer I thank you for this series.  After reading your first installment on StoryMill, I downloaded the demo program.  I also went ahead and evaluated Scrivener and Storyist on my own.  All are good but I ended up deciding on StoryMill because I felt it has the strongest features.  I really don?t feel that it is overly technical and it has the best tools for managing characters, locations, timeline, etc.

One of the determining characteristics of these programs that you haven?t addressed is the strength of the online support, namely the support forums.  Storyist?s forum is a barren wasteland with few recent posts.  Steve Shepard (Storyist?s developer) is there ready to respond to user concerns, but alas he is all by himself.  Customer posts are few and far between.

Conversely, the forum boards of StoryMill (Mariner Software) and Scrivener (Literature & Latte) and far more vital.  Todd Ransom?s (StoryMill?s developer) active participation on the forum, as well as contributions from many other knowledgeable users, was a big selling point for me.

etienneg

I would like to have a comparison with FrameMaker. Framemaker uses to be available for the Mac and even if it is not longer available it is some kind of standard. Actually, it would be nice if it could be replaced.

John Martellaro

FrameMaker only runs in Classic.  I don’t even have a Mac that can run Classic anymore. Sorry.

-JM

etienneg

Version 7.1 of FrameMaker run fine on a Mac without Classic. Starting at 7.2 its window only. I run version 8 on intel mac with Parrallels.

drackmere

FrameMaker is a pro tool, not a novel writing tool.  The base price alone puts it out of contention for most individuals writing a novel. Since I use this app everyday and know it very well the only thing I can see which is comparable from a price range standpoint is OpenOffice.  Remember, Frame is meant as a tech pubs tool, not a “writing” tool, these are two very different tasks.

etienneg

I completely agree with you.

I beleive that someone could write novel on Frame (Let say that someone which is a tech writer and write novel on his spare time).

It would be a good ideas to compare Frame and let say Scrivener. I see the ability to do a table of content on one side and the ability to do some research on the other.

I like to know what I am giving up and what I am gaining for a lot less money and be only on the mac (without emulation).

drackmere

Well in terms of configuration a great deal.  The basis of Frame is that it is highly configurable.  The downside to that is the knowledge that it takes to get the most functionality out of the program takes quite a while to acquire.  However, that being said, I doubt if one is writing a novel that most of that functionality is useful.  Tags, index markers, toc markers, etc. these are all helpful in keeping your place, notes, conditional text.  It is an extremely powerful program, but once again, I am not certain the time it will take to learn some of these functions is worth it.  Now having said that, I actually wrote my PhD thesis in Frame, but I already knew the program.  What I would like to see is a cut down version of Frame, I would use it exclusive of anything else.  I hope this helps a little.

etienneg

What you are saying is concurant to what I am thinking.

No one would start learning Frame for novel but it left those who know it already.

The question are the cost (I have version 8 and the upgrade to 9 is expensive) and the fact that it is no longer compatible with Mac.

I want to find something to replace Frame.

drackmere

There is no direct replacement for Frame.  The best I can tell you is to try OpenOffice.  It has Frame like functionality, as well as Word like functionality, but works better then Word.  My question is this: what has Frame 9 got that Frame 8 doesn’t have?  I am on 8 so I have not seen the latest release.  Also, if Frame 8 works for you, why switch?

Here is an aside, if you want a pre-processor, you can always try one of the Latex distributions.

etienneg

Frame 9 got nothing more than frame 8 but what about Frame 10 or 11… I believe in having the latest version. I have Word and I will try OpenOffice.

The question is DITA and structured Frame.

drackmere

Structured Frame, nothing that I am aware of comes close, so that may be an issue for you.  However, going forward I am not sure that Adobe is going to be putting anymore standard functionality into the application.  I envision them making it much more integrated into their suite with RoboHelp, Acrobat, Air, etc.  So having the latest version may not gain you that much.  I don’t need the SHTML so I cannot speak to this point, sorry.

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