A month ago, if you’d told me I was going to toss Ulysses off my hard drive, I’d have told you you were crazy. I was a real fan of the app.
And then I listened to Upgrade podcast #203, I have felt the Power of the Snell Zone, in which Jason Snell, Federico Viticci, Myke Hurley and Serenity Caldwell talked about how they use their iPads.
At one point they talked about the apps they use and Jason talked about how he didn’t use Ulysses but instead used Notes (from Apple). Byword (on the Mac) and 1Writer (on IOS) were mentioned as alternatives. One reason is because Ulysses has a few opinions on how best to manage and display some aspects of Markdown, especially links, where instead of displaying the Markdown they create a little UI widget with the link hidden inside link title, much like a typical WYSIWYG rich text editor does.
And as soon as he said that, I cussed in my hotel room, because I realized he was right, and he’d just identified a gripe I had with Ulysses I hadn’t even consciously realized I had. When I was just writing Markdown text for use in Ulysses, it was okay – the URL widget annoyed me a little but that was fine. Since I’ve gone back to work where I’m writing Markdown for my job and that text has to be pushed through various other Markdown rendering systems, the not-quite-Markdown in Ulysses was constantly getting in the way, because I had to actually bring up the content in a Markdown preview window to copy/paste it properly, and I can’t tell you how many times in the last month I’d comitted a document to git minus all of the actual links.
So when I got back from the New Orleans trip, I decided to give Jason’s writing environment a try. I moved a sample of my writing notes from Ulysses to Notes, and I fired up 1Writer and Byword and set up a Markdown folder in Dropbox to store works in progress.
I used it for a week. I then moved everything to Notes except for the docs in active development, turned off the auto-renewal on Ulysses, and removed it from my devices – one week before the auto-renewal was going to trigger, by the way.
And so now I’m a happy former Ulysses user.
I need real markdown. And Ulysses is mostly Markdown, but it’s turned itself into a Markdown influenced rich text engine, and if your primary use case is writing Markdown for use in tools that aren’t supported by their publishing system (which is pretty good for WordPress) then you end up frustratingly trying to work around how Ulysses wants to help you with things like links. What they do is fine if your primary use of the content never leaves their app; once it does, you’re going to have to run through some hoops to make it all work; there’s no great way to make it work painlessly.
it’s a bit sad; this could potentially be fixed by an app preset so that users could choose between the Ulysses hybrid writing system and “pure” Markdown, but I also understand and respect the app author’s decision not to support that.
But it means I have to move on to tools that work better with how I’m working with Markdown these days.
I’ve been living with the new setup for a couple of weeks now, and it definitely works better in my work environment, I’m able to do my personal writing (wordpress, etc) just fine as well, and I’m no longer muttering under my breath every time I need to migrate a draft out of the tool into Git to send it to the rendering system.
It’s not an absolutely perfect setup for me. I’d be happier if Notes allowed for nested folders the way Ulysses does, but I have tweaked how I organize my notes to compensate. Byword is a good app, but I’m not yet convinced it’s the best Markdown editor for me. I’m starting to experiment with iAwriter and we’ll see how that goes. Having the drafts in Dropbox gives me the cross-platform, multi-machine capability I want, as long as I remember to save before moving away from a keyboard, and that’s fine.
Maybe some day Ulysses will add the ability for me to work in pure Markdown. if they do, I’ll go back happily. But for now, I’m happier with this new set up, even if it’s not perfect (it’s close than Ulysses was).
And I gotta thank Jason for calling out a problem in a way that made me realize I was suffering from it, but hadn’t quite figured out.