Tales Of Brave Ulysses

Today I'm setting up to start using a new program for my writing called Ulysses. The experiment is to do all or most of it on a tablet using a 2017 Apple iPad. The program on iOS sets you back a cool $24.95 at present so you have .05 left over if someone gives you an iTunes card or something. There's also a desktop version for the OSX platform that runs $49.95 as of this writing. If you find yourself with three iTunes cards you are set and will have a dime left over. Compared to a year of Microsoft Office even at a student rate it's not unreasonable. No subscription fees and even when MS Office used to be available for purchase it ran a lot more especially if like me you used it on a PC.


I may date myself but I confess I first got office when a suite of apps was a new thing and bought MS Office 2.0. It came on 30+ 3.5" floppies that really were not very floppy. After about a 30-45 minute ritual going one disc at a time you'd get it installed. Compared to the purchase and installation with Ulysses it's like we're on a different planet. First I did use an iTunes card. All I had to do was peel off the strip protecting the code on the card and use the iPad's camera to enter it. You can type it in if you want but it insto recognized the code and credited my account with $25 in just seconds.

If you are used to programs like Word or Word Perfect then Ulysses is going to be a paradigm shift. Gone are the nested trees of menus of menus with still more sub-menus. Not that there isn't a learning curve but it's a totally different approach. Instead of using an elaborate menu system there are about 25 items you type in to do almost all the basic formatting called Markdown. This is pretty significant on a tablet where you generally are not using a mouse to operate menus. If it were menu based you'd be chicken pecking it and on a smaller iPad Mini maybe missing the mark a fair amount. Let on an iPhone with it's even smaller screen. I haven't even learned the system and I already know I like it. It's not that hard and worth the time for the freedom it gives you to leave a computer that's tethered to a wall behind. The trade off with a laptop would be different but increasingly the iPad is beginning to really step in where the desktop leaves off and is assuming many laptop tasks.

If by chance you are writing to insert into another blogging platform the markup language might even be semi optional. For instance at this point I'm using Squarespace and it's iPad app to draw up blog entries. You can jot down your outline or notes in Ulysses and then add in additional elements when you move over. Part of the reason I like doing that with this app is the "dark mode" where instead of black and white the screen is white and black or inverted from what you used to see on a typewriter. Yes I'm old enough to remember.

I'm sure I'll blog more articles but I thought less than 24 hours in I might share a note and a few thoughts. I do see why people like it. I could also see extending it by adding other apps that are more job specific. Before I do add something that is say specific to writing scripts and plays I will try this interface. It allows you to use both iCloud and Dropbox as folders to add documents and groups into. I've only just begun by creating an iCloud group or folder for blogging but I suspect that if you nest them it will produce much of the same effect you get from what is called mind mapping software. Laying it out in a tree like structure visually as you say trace an idea or storyline but with the added benefit that you are in the writing environment and don't have switch to a word processor as you might with mind mapping apps.

Of course the added bonus in using things like Dropbox and iCloud is that you can share it and collaborate of course. At present I don't intend to use Ulysses for things like "to do" lists. I find Wunderlist is a much more ubiquitous choice for shared collaboration there. I might however share a manuscript or an outline from Ulysses on those services. I've opted to keep Dropbox at the minimal free level for space which is present 5 GB. For about $60 a year these days you can get a terabyte of storage but when I looked I did not see any smaller options. On iCloud though I did. .99 a month nets you 50 GB. It depends what you are doing of course and how you use it. For text based documents that's a lot of space even if you store them all online. With video the dynamic is different especially with 4K. 50GB is generally enough to share a reasonably short clip and I don't generally store those online by default or if I did it might be through YouTube. For the occasional collaboration project 20 GB or less is currently not uncommon as not many devices can even read 4K and in MP4 format in 1080p you can make do with 50 GB. Even with storing all your text and writing on the cloud by default. I just recently reviewed all the Dropbox audio video materials I had and found many of them were less than 10 MB. Particularly with audio only and voiceover materials. So for $12 a year versus $60 a year it makes sense for now. However if the need goes up then really $60 for a terabyte isn't too bad but iCloud is still comparable.

Getting back to the main point is the fact that Ulysses can do both at the same time. So if you started with a smaller account at iCould but then for some reason went to Dropbox? Not a problem.

Thus far those are the observations I have after working with it for less than a couple hours this morning. I'm sure we'll see much more of it in the form of my future writing and observations. It'll be a safe bet most if not all of it will come through an iPad and Ulysses.