Is the Ulysses App a Microsoft Word Killer

A new writing app designed for a web-centric world makes the case for plain text.

IBM started using the term “word processing” in the late 1960s to describe a typing interface that involved, among other things, tape drives, a Selectric typewriter, and – here’s where it gets crazy – paper. The term is still used for programs like Microsoft Word, the master bedroom of the MS Office Suite, because it is essentially designed to do the same thing, make writing and editing on a computer easier than writing and editing on a typewriter. Let’s say the program succeeds: It is way easier to use than a typewriter. Slow clap. Fortunately, a genuinely better option is waiting in the wings. Named for that book you always intended to kind of read so you could say you read it, Ulysses is a writing program designed around the idea that your computer is more than a next-gen Underwood.

The bad news first: Ulysses, which presents a very simple, very clean interface, uses Markdown. It’s a simple coding language that allows writers to format their text using minimalists commands. *This sentence is italic in Markdown.* It takes time to learn – about three minutes. The advantage of it, at least in this context, is that it can be easily translated into HTML. Ulysses provides this extremely helpful service because, hey, people like to put stuff on the internet sometimes. It does so gracefully and efficiently. It also allows you to basically staple together your projects.

The reason to buy Ulysses, which costs a not-unreasonable $50, is that it cleans out your computer when you’re writing. If you frequently write memos or speeches or presentations or love letters or roman a clefs or whatever the hell, it’s worth the money. By insulating you from the noise of traditional processors, it does a truly impressive thing: Turn your computer into a writing tool. Novel idea.