There’s notebook apps to store all your text snippets, ideas, notes, outlines, and anything else you can think of. They’re designed to make it easy to save notes, and easy to search through and find the note you need later. There’s plain writing apps, that strip away all the distractions and help you focus on your writing. And then there’s the export tools page layout apps that help you publish your finished work.
And then, there’s the new Ulysses III 1.1. Ulysses III reinvented what it meant to be a plain-text writing app when it was released this spring, and the new v1.1 update adds advanced search and improves external file and export support enough that it’s a notebook, focused writing, and publishing app rolled into one. It’s the one app modern writers need.
Everything in One Place
As covered in my original review, Ulysses III is a reinvented Markdown writing app that lets you organize everything you write in an iCloud library and add Markdown formatting with simple word processor-style keyboard shortcuts and HUDs. You can bring in your own external folders of plain text or markdown files to edit alongside your Ulysses documents, and their changes are saved back to the original files. It’s every bit as nice of a writing environment as iA Writer or Byword, if not nicer, with the addition of document management.
And now, there’s a ton more. The document library was nice to have all along, but it wasn’t very useful without search. That’s all changed with v.1.1. There’s now sidebar search to search across the full contents of anything the folder you have open, as well as a new Alfred-like Open menu that lets you open any file in any folder — including external sources — in Ulysses via search. The latter is the best addition to the app yet, making it the perfect place for everything you need to write down, including short notes.
Sidebar search works much as you’d expect. It’s essentially a quick way to filter through the documents in your currently open folder. It’ll search across every piece of text in your documents, including links and footnotes, or you can filter to only search through, say, headings or any other part of the markdown documents you want. Best of all, you can select the specific search results from a document and jump directly to that part of the document.
The Open pane, though, is my favorite. Tap CMD+O to search across everything in the library you currently are working in (say, iCloud or your External Sources), or — and this is the one you’ll want to use by default all the time, really — press CMD+Shift+O to search across everything you have in Ulysses, including all of your iCloud documents and external sources. It’ll show your most recently edited documents when you first see the open pane, so you could just tap your down arrow to the document you want and hit enter to open it or CMD+enter to reveal it in its folder in the sidebar. Alternately, start typing to find the document you want, then open it with a simple Enter. It’s like nvALT or Evernote, except in a full-featured Markdown writing app. If you’ve ever saved your nvALT notes as a folder of text notes in Dropbox, say, you can import them as an external source, then easily open and edit them in Ulysses III, and the changes will still be saved to Dropbox. It’s that simple.
From Start to Finish
It’s simple to write a document or note in Ulysses and quickly find it later, and the Glue Sheets option lets you pull several files together into one virtual document in one click. Now all you need to do is publish it. The new Ulysses has everything you need for that. There’s the same quick export options as before that let you select a snippet and press ALT+CMD+C to copy just the selected text as HTML, and the Quick Export HUD in the top right corner that lets you export your document in a variety of formats or open it directly in another app. But the latter has far more options than before.
You’ll first notice that ePub support is finally back (complete with an option to add a cover image), and the other export options have been moved around a bit. You’ll also likely notice a new preview option that’s also available by tapping CMD+Shift+P, one that will live-refresh the preview document as you’re writing, and where you can directly copy text or export using Ulysses III’s new styles.
Styles are the biggest change to publishing from Ulysses III, since they give you the option to export fully formatted PDF, ePub, RTF, or HTML documents right from the app using the styles you want. There’s a handful of nice styles built-in, or you can build your own styles using the apps CSS-like ULSS markup. It’d be simple to turn your blog’s theme into a style to preview articles before copying them as plain text, for example, or your could build your company’s letterhead template in a PDF style and use Ulysses as your one-stop publishing hub — one that already has everything you write in it.
The crazy thing is, that’s not all that’s new in v.1.1. You’ll also find a new Typewriter Scrolling option that highlights your current line of text and can set your editing view to the top, middle, or bottom of your document so you can write the way you want. There’s also new automatic list and tag completion, so writing an outline in Markdown isn’t so cumbersome. And of course, there’s still all the original goodness of Markdown XL writing (again, check our first review of Ulysses III for more info on that), customizable writing themes and fonts (including size, spacing, page width, and more), and quick Markdown reference in an option sidebar. Plus, you can minimize all the sidebars with a quick tap of CMD+3, so you’re left alone with you’re writing. It’s really great.
I try out so many plain-text writing apps, and yet nothing could win me away from the simplicity of iA Writer until I gave Ulysses III a serious try. Its beautifully advanced Markdown integration combined with document management and simple export won me over, and it’s where most of my writing in 2013 has taken place. And now, with the new quick search tool, it’s getting me back to writing notes in plain-text, Dropbox synced files like I used to with nvALT — only now, those notes are in the same place I keep my article drafts, as well as an archive of everything I’ve published. And somehow it still manages to give a focused, full-screen writing experience that’s as nice as the best other writing apps could offer.
Ulysses III is nothing short of brilliant. You’ve got to try it out if you haven’t already. There’s a free demo version on the Ulysses III website to see how it works before buying it, so there’s no reason not to try it out. Add some of your folders of plain-text files, write some new stuff, then try searching through everything. I think you’ll be blown away by how nicely it works.