Ulysses 2 Lives Up to its Name

| In-Depth Review

Ulysses 2 is the next generation of the well-known writing tool developed by Blue Technologies in Leipzig, Germany. Now, Ulysses 2 has been revamped, simplified slightly, made more robust, and gained added features. The developer has also re-imagined itself and has been reborn as The Soulmen. Ulysses 2 is now a worthy competitor to the other novel writing programs.

Back in April, I reviewed Ulysses 1.6. At the time, I called it heroic, with flaws. It's an ambitious piece of software that can be used for many different kinds of writing projects, including a novel. However, the app was overly ambitious to a fault and suffered from several major defects.

First, it was under-documented and expensive. Second, it had too many app crashes. Perhaps worst of all, the preferences had the appearance of organization, but the actual implementation led to user confusion. There were too many levels, check boxes and radio buttons to make sense of what the effect would be.

 

Ulysses Main

 Main Window

I am happy to report that these problems have been fixed in the reincarnation of both the application and the company. For background, read the blog entry that explains the development of Ulysses and what led to the new company, the Soulmen, consisting of Maxcript src="http://www.macobserver.com/scripts/tinymce/jscripts/tiny_mce/themes/advanced/langs/en.js" type="text/javascript"> Seeleman (the original Soulman), Marcus Fehn, Michael Fenske, Götz Fabian and Dirk Legler.

What's Fixed and Improved

Here's what's better in version 2.0 that was a problem in 1.6.

  • The price has been reduced from €79.99 to €44.99 (roughly US$116 to $65).
  • I could no longer get the app to crash.
  • The documentation has been expanded slightly and clarified, but remains electronic. Given the developer's location in Germany, a printed manual, at any price, for U.S. distribution, doesn't make a lot of sense, much as I would like to see an English edition. Also, in version 2.0, the app has ben localized to over ten languages.
  • The preferences have been cleaned up considerably and made into simple, obvious check boxes that clearly indicate what's changing. Also, themes were pulled out and made into a separate menu item to control the app's appearance, simplifying the preferences considerably.
  • A Cocoa-style tool bar has been added, leading to a more transparent, intuitive user interface.

 

Ulysses prefs

Much Improved Preferences

In addition to fixing those issues, additional features have been added in version 2.0:

  • Multiple Notepads
  • Trash for deleted text that can be recovered
  • Project-wide search and replace
  • Bookmarks
  • Localization to ten languages: Czech, Dutch, English, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Swedish. Spanish coming in v 2.0.2.
  • Project templates. Any project can become a template
  • Full 60-day trial

Overview of Version 2

In this series of reviews for novelists and screen writers, I have found that each application has a strength or two that the developer focuses on. In the case of Ulysses, one of those is document management. While Storyist emphasizes the creation and organization of characters, settings and the plot and the novel look and feel on the screen, and Scrivener emphasizes the tactics of manipulating text, Ulysses is strong on document management within a project. As a result, one can view the project's document structure in many different ways, including a search function that acts somewhat like a Mac OS X Smart Folder.

Of course the semantic handling of the text for later output is also what Ulysses is known for (see the first review) as well as being the first to offer the full-screen typewriter mode.

Regarding the documentation, it is fairly good, and there are several screencast videos that explain the use. However, one of the rules for translation is that when translating one language into another, the human doing the translating should be native to the target language, not the original language. That eliminates small problems with idiom, grammar and spelling altogether. While the Ulysses documentation in English is literate and readable, it still has those earmark translation problems. Some won't mind, but it does detract from the professionalism of the app.

Projects created with 1.6 need to be updated for 2.0 and can no longer be read by 1.6.

One remaining defect of Ulysses 2.0 is backups. Unlike Storyist which has named, application accessible backups, the Ulysses user will have to manually go into the Finder and extract named backups from /Library/Application Support. Automating this, in the stye of Storyist, should be a priority. Also, Ulysses currently has no implementation of writing goals in words and/or time. This feature is being looked at for a future version.

Summary

In the original review, I said:

Ulysses took me to great heights of joy, then deep despair and finally great hope. I wanted this to be the ultimate writer's tool, and I admired the unusual approach of handling the deferred formatting of text.... Unfortunately, in the final analysis, Ulysses doesn't reach its full potential."

In version 2.0, those problems that kept Ulysses from reaching its potential have been eliminated. The app now earns a 4 out of 5 rating, and is a worthy competitor to apps like Scrivener and Storyist. The only issue remaining, now, is the taste and specific needs of the author/user. Ulysses 2 is now price competitive, has a 60-day free trial period, and that's plenty of time to determine if it syncs with your personality as a writer.

Ulysses 2.0 is also available in a stripped-down version called Ulysses|Core, simplified version that deletes some of the added niceties without sacrificing what makes Ulysses special and powerful.

A lot of work went into the Ulysses 2.0 update, and it shows. I am impressed, and an I can now recommended it without qualifications for the writer, researcher, and novelist, especially those who need the localization to their language.

Product: Ulysses 2.0.1

Company: The Soulmen

List Price: €44.99 (upgrade €24.99)

Pros:

Clean user interface, focus on writing clean text with specific formatting deferred, strong document management, text to speech, localized to ten languages, highly customizable look, bookmarks, customizable toolbar.

Cons:

Needs better handling of named backups. No writing goals in time, words. (May come in future version.)

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