Web/Tech, Writing

Ulysses, an interesting, eccentric writing app for OS X

Sometimes it doesn’t pay to be the first in your field. Scrivener started off as an innovative fledgling among writing apps back in 2007 and now is a piece of software used by writers, researchers and journalists around the globe. But as Keith Blount has freely conceded since Scrivener first appeared some of the inspiration for its approach to writing came from an app that’s still less well-known — Ulysses, now in its third incarnation from its German developers The Soulmen.

Being then minded to buy just about every writing app that appeared on OS X I picked up Ulysses 1 (at quite a price I seem to recall) when it first came out and then upgraded to Version 2 — and still never used it. From the start Ulysses has taken a very left field view of the writing process. It set out to be minimalist before minimalism was fashionable. It eschewed conventional word processing formatting in much the same way. Much as I was intrigued by this approach to writing the thing drove me nuts in its first two versions because the developers placed absolutely no store on such simple things as being able to make a word italic with any great ease.

Now version three is out — a completely new app, available on the Mac app store only (which means there’s no upgrade path for earlier users — though there is a demo version available too, details at the foot of this article). Happily Ulysses has seen some of the light. Italics are a doddle and many of my earlier misgivings have been addressed.

So what exactly is this curious piece of software? And should you be using it? Continue reading

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A quick look at IA Writer Pro

There’s an update on this subject here — and I’ve now got an instant refund for this very unsatisfactory app

IA Writer was a pretty pivotal app for writing on the Mac when it came out a few years ago. There’d been simple writing apps before, including a couple that emulated old-fashioned DOS screens. But Writer wasn’t looking backwards. It wanted to reset the writing process altogether and do minimalism in a modern way. So you got one font, a very simple screen, ‘focus mode’ which allowed you to concentrate on a piece of work sentence-by-sentence, and an absence of formatting.

I buy all these things (which is why I ended up with Scrivener in the first place). So naturally I got a copy, just as I got Ulysses, Byword and lots I’ve forgotten. Of all of them IA seems to have taken off the most and now has a very capable iPad app which syncs with a Mac through iCloud.

But here’s the big question: have I ever really used it?

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Web/Tech, Writing

Going on a software detox diet

A comment yesterday reminded me what a software junkie I used to be. Had I tried TextExpander instead of setting up auto-correct in Word? Of course. And Typinator. And probably lots else besides.

I started using computers in the Eighties, when most of them were as inadequate as they were expensive. True they could do things that nothing else was capable of. But there were always holes, glitches, things you needed that weren’t there out of the box.

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A pretty amazing discovery with the Windows RT tablet

The Microsoft Surface tablet I picked up on Amazon Ebay for £310 has a video out port and a USB port too. I happened to have a three or four quid mini HDMI cable lying around here which turns out to be the same as the video out on the thing.


I plugged it into the tablet and the other end into my 24-inch Asus monitor. Then for good measure removed the wireless dongle from my desktop for its Logitech wireless mouse and keyboard and stuck that into the RT tablet too.

The monitor got the signal immediately and, once I told the tablet to extend the display, got the right resolution too. So this was now a two-screen setup. The mouse and the keyboard worked immediately without any drivers. I pulled up Word and IE. They worked fine.

You wouldn’t play games on this and I didn’t check it in detail. But it seemed a very usable home office two-screen desktop to me, albeit one locked to Microsoft Office since the RT won’t let you install any other desktop apps.

Er, wow.