iPhone and iPad Mac

Is It Time to Ditch Pages and Word for Ulysses?

Bryan Wolfe 18-04-2016

Before people waited in line for the newest smartphone, they anticipated the next version of Office and iWork, but today Microsoft Word and Apple Pages updates are rare. When updates do occur, they barely register with the public. The reason for this isn’t that surprising: many of the bells and whistles were added long ago.


In 2016, not everyone needs a full-service word processing program, especially in a world where digital text, not paper, rules. It’s for these reasons that writing programs Ulysses, Pages & Write: 3 Very Different Writing Tools for iPad We're no strangers to the Mac versions of Pages and Ulysses or the earlier version of Write for iOS, but which is of these apps is best for writing on your iPad? Read More such as Ulysses exist.

Here are some of the reason you may wish to ditch your word processing program once and for all.

It’s a Writing Tool, Plain and Simple

Writing can be a frustratingly slow process, even more so when you’re distracted by setup tasks associated with word processing programs like font, size, and menu selection. Writing software removes these obstacles and encourages immersion within the text. In doing so, productivity can rise.


Programs such as Ulysses use simple text and only text. To get started all you need to do is, wait for it, begin writing. Specifically, this program uses Markup, which is a dynamic web-ready language Learning Markdown: Write For The Web, Faster Markdown is the best way to write in plain text but still create complex documents. Unlike HTML or LaTex, for example, Markdown is simple to learn. Read More that’s quick to learn. Better still, it translates easily into HTML, so it’s perfect for bloggers, authors, journalists, and students 5 Mac Word Processors To Help You Write That College Paper Finding sources to cite is easy. Planning a paper is easy. Sitting down and writing the thing? Much harder — do yourself a favour and get the right tool for the job. Read More .


Forget the Folders

Microsoft Word and Apple Pages save documents via a folder system. There is nothing inherently wrong with this approach, except that it makes finding your documents more difficult over time. If you don’t really need such a high degree of organisation and grouping, there is an easier way.


Ulysses takes a different approach. Here, all of your documents are kept in the same location and easily accessible from one screen. Still want to use folders, at least to a degree? You can add external folders so that your links to your documents are easy to find. You can also group your documents according to project or subject, and go even further by adding subgroups.

Access Your Files Across Multiple Devices

As any writer knows, inspiration often hits when you least expect it. This fact of life is why it’s essential to have access to your files on multiple devices. An important selling point for both Microsoft Word and Apple Pages is the ability to use your documents on Mac, PC, and iOS, and sync them when you can.


Ulysses also offers simple synchronization. In this case, it uses Apple’s iCloud system iCloud Drive Not Syncing? How to Solve iCloud Sync Issues If you have issues with iCloud Drive, don't despair. Here's how to resolve iCloud syncing issues and get it working again. Read More , allowing you to begin writing on one device, and finishing it on another. You don’t need to pay for an Office 365 subscription, you just need to make sure you have spare space on iCloud for a few text files.

Beyond the Writing

Once your copy is complete, you might need to convert it to another format. We’ve already noted that Ulysses documents are exportable to HTML. You can also transform your texts into PDFs, Word documents, and eBooks. Better still, the program does an excellent job at previewing your document using these formats before you hit the export button.


To preview your document, go to File > Preview, and then select the design you’d like to see from the middle of the screen.


What Else Can Ulysses Do?

There are some other tools found in Ulysses worth highlighting. These include the ability to create different themes, the use of typewriting scrolling, and more.

By default, Ulysses features a black text on a white background theme. You can also reverse this using the software’s dark mode and dark theme. The former turns the menu location on the left side of the screen black while the latter changes the color of your current document. When used together, your entire workspace Get Some Work Done: The Best Writing Environments for Mac OS X When tackling writing projects, you need the best writing environment possible to get the job done. Here are seven of them. Read More becomes white on black. These tools are great to have during late-night writing sessions, or in situations where your environment is dark and you don’t want to strain your eyes.


For further customization, Ulysses offers a theme editor, where you can choose from handpicked color palettes. You can also download user-generated themes from the Ulysses Style Exchange.


With Typewriter Scrolling, whatever you are typing remains in the center, top, or bottom of the screen, depending on your preference. It’s just another way that Ulysses helps you have a customized writing experience, and it might even keep you more focused on the task at hand.

Finally, a word about backing up your data in Ulysses for Mac. You get Time Machine-like versioning directly in the application, and previous revisions are just a few clicks away under File > Browse all versions … 


You can also view backups without activating Time Machine under File > Browse Backups… With this tool, text from every backup is available without restoring. Copy the text to add it to your current document.

Other Solutions

Ulysses isn’t the only writing application for Mac and at $45, it’s not exactly cheap. Here’s a brief look at some notable alternatives.

Flowstate — Are You Committed?

If you’ve ever done speed dating, you know that time is your enemy. If you leave the person in front of you unimpressed once the clock winds down, you’ll probably never see them again. Flowstate uses a similar approach. In this case, however, the longer you stick around, the better the outcome.


With Flowstate, you must write for a set period of time without stopping. If you do not, your words will fade away, unsaved. This process is all about pushing you to create, not edit. Once your time is over, you can save your document as you would with other programs. You can set your Flowstate to various intervals including 5, 10, 15, 30, 60, 90, 120, and 180 minutes.

Flowstate for Mac is available for $9.99. The universal iOS version is $4.99.

Scrivener — For Large-Scale Projects

Scrivener is a word processing program and outliner tool Power Up Your Writing Workflow: Make Better Use Of Scrivener When it comes to getting a research paper, ebook or novel completed, Scrivener can help you stay organized and motivated — that is, if you know how to use some of its best features. Read More designed for authors, researchers and scriptwriters. It offers templates for screenplays, fiction, and non-fiction manuscripts. It also features a management system for documents, notes, and metadata.

You can purchase Scrivener for $44.99 from the Mac App Store.

Focused — Because Text Should Look Beautiful

Finally, there is Focused, a Mac-only solution that calls itself the “Zen based Markdown Editor.” Like Ulysses, Focused wants to make your writing time free of clutter and distractions.

Do you want to relax while you work? The Zen Mode heightens your focus with a choice of eight soundtracks. You heard right, soundtracks.

Focused is available for $29.99 from the 71Squared Store.

It’s All About Concentration

Are your writing assignments becoming too much of a chore? It might be the time to take a look at Ulysses. The Mac version is available for $44.99 [No Longer Available] in the Mac App Store, while the universal iOS app costs $24.99 in the App Store.

What do you use to get your writing done?

Image Credit: Emotional Stress by www.BillionPhotos.com via Shutterstock

Related topics: Text Editor, Writing Tips.

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  1. Anonymous
    May 21, 2016 at 4:06 pm

    Well, I can't see any major functional distinction between the two - particularly one that would justify the price. And while I don't necessarily trust Google, I'd be careful in thinking that Ulysses' privacy policy is somehow "noble" (it's not actually listed on the site). Ulysses might be a nice app, but the title of this article - "Is It Time to Ditch Pages and Word for Ulysses?" - very much implies that it's the only app people should be using. IMO, this is quite premature.

  2. Anonymous
    April 19, 2016 at 1:56 pm

    Ulysses is a solution in search of a problem.

  3. Roc Rizzo
    April 19, 2016 at 1:51 pm

    I simply write text for my own use. I don't need fancy fonts, weird spacing or (ugh) kerning. I don't even need to print most stuff! All I need is to see is text! Most temporary things I can get away with Notes on the Mac, and Notepad on the PC. I use TextEdit on the Mac, and Notepad ++ on the PC.

  4. Jerry McCoy
    April 18, 2016 at 10:55 pm

    Last time I checked I couldn't use my favorite citation manager - Zotero - with it. That's a deal breaker.

  5. Anonymous
    April 18, 2016 at 9:44 pm

    So Ulysses sounds a lot like Google Docs/Drive but without the pricetag of FREE and without the integrated nature of Google products on a variety of platforms.

    • Bryan Wolfe
      May 21, 2016 at 1:04 pm

      I would disagree with that assessment. Besides, there are large pockets of users that don't want anything from Google because of how they share data.