From the Lab: A Call for Styles

Style Exchange

Hi there,

this is Style from the Ulysses Style Exchange. Ok, just kidding, but here’s the deal: We’re in the final stages now, and the Style Exchange should go live within the next two weeks.

In order to offer our users a couple of styles to download from the get-go, we need, uhm, styles. Your styles.

So if you have created an export style for Ulysses III and would like to share, now’s the time to step up, attach it to an email, and drop us a line – no questions asked.

It doesn’t matter which export format you’ve chosen to support, by the way. If we get 100 styles for PDFs and none for ePub, so be it.

Just make sure to include your name, so we can give proper credit.

Please note, that we can’t offer any incentive here, besides being among the first to have your styles featured on the Ulysses Style Exchange. And while this may not mean much to some, it may mean the world to others.

You may also get a warm, fuzzy feeling knowing you’ve helped test and ultimately build the world’s greatest and most important website for exchanging Ulysses’ style files.

Because that’s what this will be. Ultimately.

So, yeah, styles. Your styles. Attach to email. Send to us. Make the world a nicer place.

Have fun,

From the Lab: NaNoWriMo, here we come

ulysses iii writing goals

You know, ever since we launched Ulysses, people were asking for writing goals. Like… not as in “give me a reason to write, I don’t know what I want to accomplish, if I want to be an author at all, if I want to create a novel, a screen play or just brainstorm all day long”, but in that good old trivial sense of “oh dear, your app makes me write so much with such an ease, I’m loosing track of time and my character limit”.

And we said: “Haha, dear user, we hear you, but why don’t you just write down your character limit someplace, and then check the character count and compare the two? A little math no harm doth, see?”

But the users answered: “We want progress! No, we mean… we want to check progress! No, wait, we want… aw, screw you, give me writing goals or give me death! That’s a deliberate twist of a Patrick Henry quote I pulled from a Frank Miller comic, by the way.”

And we said: “Whut?”

And so it went, for more than a decade. And many a moon passed over NaNoWriMo and its crazy 50.000 words minimum, with no harm doneth in a little math doneth. Writers wrote, and writers mathematized, and no goals, no deaths, no more Patrick Henry quotes.

But the seed… the seed was planted. And seeds grow after they can.

And so, without any further ado (but, quite frankly, only because I’ve almost reached my 1500 character limit), we hereby announce writing goals for Ulysses III 1.2 – and no, these are NOT “in the works”, but already done.

And I… I am done, too. See?

From the Lab: Editing Keywords on Multiple Sheets

multi sheet multi keyword

One of the most requested features since launch has been: “Let me edit keywords for multiple sheets at once.”

And we nodded. And nodded. And said it was coming. Because it was sketched, and mocked up, and laid out since waaaaaaaay before the initial release. It didn’t make it into 1.0, and it then got buried someplace between a sheet list rework and the option to actually *show* keywords in the sheet list in the first place.

So, with 1.2, we will finally enable keyword editing for multiple sheets at once – right from the sheet list. Select some sheets. Bring up the contextual menu. Select “Keywords…”. Edit away.

Keywords that are present on all sheets, will be available in the familiar keyword editing field. Adding a keyword will apply it to all selected sheets. Keywords that are only present on some sheets, will be shown in a list below, unaffected from any editing.

If you want to apply any of the grey keywords to all selected sheets, click on it. Bam! ;)

It’s the simple things…

From the Lab: Smart Lists and Tags

Smart List Setting

Dear men and women, boys and girls (and everybody in-between) of the Ulysses underground. We heard you loud and clear. You want automatic list continuation, and you want automatic end-tag insertion. You want it right, and you want it now. We listen. And we act. We good. You good. All good.

Peace and hair grease!

A preview on Preview

Export Preview

I know it was supposed to be a week off, but I just couldn’t wait. So here it is, the first shot of the upcoming preview HUD.

You can call it from the Quick Exporter, and you can have it update in real time. You will be able to switch styles right from this window and export to the chosen preview format.

Like so: Quick Export › PDF › Preview › Switch Styles › Drool & Save…

Preview will just be one part in a set of new options coming to Quick Export. We now have a dedicated action menu/button, which holds Copy to Clipboard, Send as Email (where applicable), Attach to Email (yup) and Preview.

The image above is the HTML preview with no CSS selected, but I believe you can imagine how it will look with a proper style.

As a matter of fact, I would like to encourage you to send us your favorite preview CSS, so we can incorporate it in the final release or at least have it up on the Style Exchange, once this goes live. Just drop us a line, attach the file, and we’ll handle the rest.

Say hello to Ulysses Style Sheets

Ulysses Style Sheets

With 1.1, we will open up Quick Export to user-generated styling. This should come as no surprise, since we always intended export to be open, and since it’s the number one feature request next to search and preview.

However, instead of trying to create a graphical user interface for modifying export options, we decided to go the opposite direction: We will have full CSS support for HTML and ePub, and we will offer our own style sheet syntax for PDF, RTF and Word.

The latter may sound like a strange decision, but we have come to the conclusion that we wouldn’t be able to offer truly decent output otherwise. There is just too much relative styling, too many exceptions involved, for an interface that could both be used by normal people and still produce results worth the effort.

And, yes, it’s also a means of keeping Ulysses clean of convoluted output settings (not to mention that creating any kind of visual style editor would take a huge amount of time that could be better spent elsewhere).

So, Style Sheets.

Loosely based on SASS, Ulysses Style Sheets can be created and edited in any code editor, and we will even try to offer syntax definitions for a couple of popular ones, such as Coda, Sublime Text and so on.

The syntax features all the cool stuff, from variables to arithmetic expressions, child elements and mixins, so that it will be relatively easy to create great looking output with just a couple of lines of code. Plus, since it’s very similar to CSS, the learning curve should be minimal, and styles can be easily shared, modified and personalized.

As a matter of fact, we are also in the process of creating a dedicated website for such efforts, dubbed the Ulysses Style Exchange, where you will be able to upload, search for and download styles for the various exporters.

This will all launch in August, alongside the beta release of 1.1, so that you can start designing styles and have them ready once the update hits the App Store.

That’s it for now. We’re off for a week, moving to a new office, after which we will offer some examples of what can be achieved with Ulysses Style Sheets.

Until such time, have fun.

From the Lab: Alt-Tags for Images

An image depicting the use of an alt-attribute in Ulysses' images HUD: Shows some random mockup as image, a URL field, a title field and description field, the latter one highlighted

Folks, we heard you. You want your ALT-tags, you’ll get your ALT-Tags. And yes, of course, the correct way is to call them ALT-attribute, but really – you want them, or you want to nitpick? :P

We will submit 1.0.3 this week, and they’ll be in for your full descriptive pleasure. Markdown folks rejoice. Multi Markdown folks multi rejoice. Rest ignore.

As for some explanation of their current absence? You’ll get them in 1.0.3, you should be satisfied. Some things are better left… unsaid.

We’ve taken the liberty to not label that field ALT, though, because, really, nobody knows what that means anyway. So we call it “Desc.”, which is short for “description”, but we figure you figure this out by yourself, so go figure. Haha.

Ah, well, the joy of tiny feature announcements over big blog posts. Love it.

Quick Open

Here’s a little something we’ve been working on. It’s essentially in-app access to Spotlight, but based on the currently selected top-level group in the sidebar.

From the Lab: Localizations

Since this question pops up after pretty much every announcement and/or bug-fix release, I’ll try and answer it a bit more in-depth here and now. We… oh, the question first, of course:

When will you add localization, and why haven’t you already?

The first batch of localization is slated for the first big update: Ulysses III 1.1, due this summer. It will most likely cover German, Spanish and French along some additional languages that have not yet been decided.

As for why we didn’t ship localized — it’s fairly easy: Localization takes time, and it needs to be done on a finished product. Else it takes even more time. There’s no sense in localizing an app that’s 90% done, since the missing 10% may very well require 50% of all in-app text to be modified.

While we tried to keep the UI as minimal as possible, there are still lots and lots of strings to translate. Dialogs, of course, menus, but just look at the introduction. Look at the info text for each markup definition. Look at the default titles in the sidebars and all that stuff. And once you’ve got localizations in place, you can no longer design freely (aka for a single language), but need to take into account longer strings or different spacing. Which, I’m repeating myself, takes more time.

Localization also adds another layer of complexity, which means a new layer of stuff that can break. E.g., if something went wrong when injecting the localized strings into, say, French, the app may no longer launch on French systems. Or, let’s say some string was translated wrongly. Suddenly, a certain feature may not make any sense in the localized version. Since we are only fluent in German and English, we can’t guarantee the quality of most localizations ourselves, which takes me to…

Localization costs money. We want great quality (and you want that, too), so we hire professional localizers. In our case, we’re estimating a month’s worth of Ulysses’ sales to go into the localization process upfront. From a purely economical standpoint, that’s risky business, since there’s no guarantee that this investment will ever return a positive. Especially given that once a certain localization is out, it needs to be updated with every subsequent app release, which again means time, which again means money, which again… you get it.

And time we didn’t have. And money we didn’t have. Not much at least. And so 1.0 released English-only, and it will stay like that until 1.1 comes along.

Good? :)

On Window Chrome

Ulysses 3 Window Chrome

This is the first part of a series of posts on the final Ulysses 3 user interface. We hope that these will get you over the next couple of weeks. ;)

The above shot is Ulysses’ window chrome. Yes, all of it. There are the obligatory OS X window buttons, of course, but apart from these: That’s it. These four buttons (fullscreen doesn’t count) are the result of 14 months hard work, heated debate, sleepless nights and numberless mockups, revisions and rewrites.

They may not seem like much, but this is what design is all about: Make it not seem like much. And to me, us, these four buttons resemble everything Ulysses 3 is in terms of user interface and interaction: Focus. Scalability.

We will reveal more of that in the coming posts, but the general theme is adaptiveness. For example, the initial view of Ulysses will pretty much resemble a simple note pad, and you can use it as such. But once you’re done submitting your third novel, you will have grown the app into a fully-fledged text editing power house. Yes, you.

It’s all there from the get go, of course, easily discoverable, but we won’t rub it in your face, and you won’t have to use or even see any of the app’s advanced capabilities. You may add notes and keywords to your texts, but if you don’t, there won’t be empty spaces nagging you to do so.

This is a vastly different approach than our current offering, where we tried to create a highly optimized interface that offered every option upfront, while at the same time feeling not too crammed (well, hopefully). It was a formula well suited for the time, and as such was quickly adopted and built upon by various other outlets.

But times have changed, and expectations have shifted.

So back to the buttons. They are, from left to right: Favorites, Quick Export, Statistics, Navigator. Clicking these buttons will each produce a popover, which can be torn-off and thus turned into a HUD window.

The contents of three of these windows will update according to the contents of the editor, so they will always relate to what you’re currently looking at. In tight spaces, on small screens, they are ever only a single click or shortcut away, while they can just as easily be placed on a second monitor.

We’re confident that this approach is not only more flexible, but once again far superior to anything currently available — on any platform. Whether you’ll use Ulysses 3 to write novels or blog posts, or whether you’ll just use it as your personal diary, you can do so with just as much options as you currently need.

To be continued…