Ulysses succumbs

Posted on Fri 11 August 2017 in Articles • 3 min read

Update, Matt Gemmell kindly pointed out to me that my concerns about my data being ransomed behind a paywall are unfounded. Ulysses' developers have plainly states in their Medium post that export options will always be available and the software will merely revert to it's trial mode.

This is absolutely the right way to go about it and I commend the developers of Ulysses for allaying what is my principle beef with the subscription model.

The full paragraph is question is quoted below:

One common issue with traditional software models is that the apps will at some point stop functioning. Users tend to update their computers first, only to then find out about the compatibility of their apps. As a consequence, files that have been created with apps purchased a couple of years ago will likely not open anymore — due to the apps having become incompatible with their device or OS. With subscription, however, even if a user stopped subscribing, the app will still get updates and it will be possible to open and retrieve all texts even in years to come.

Quoted from Medium

Today, popular macOS and iOS writing app, Ulysses announced they have adopted a subscription model.

Ulysses and the Sirens

I'm shocked, but not surprised.

I'm shocked because Ulysses was already a comparatively expensive application on both iOS and macOS. It was more expensive than Scrivener while offering less functionality--or at least, that was what I thought. This was not an app racing to the bottom in an over-saturated market--they maintained their pricing (and accordingly, their premium brand) even when comparable markdown editors could be had for much less. I thought their higher pricing and brand loyalty was enough to make a sustainable business -- apparently not.

I'm not surprised because the writing's been on the wall for a while. In my post on why I won't subscribe to software I discussed -- and rejected -- the growing trend to switch to this model particularly in the productivity category. It wasn't about money, it was and remains about dependency. The idea that the content I create could be ransomed behind a pay wall is utterly abhorrent to me.

Thankfully, Scrivener, the writing software I use, affirmed in their forum they had no plans to migrate to a subscription-based service.


When Scrivener 3.0 is released at the end of the year, I'll be the first in line to upgrade.

So what's my concern?

Partly, it's a reminder of why I distrust subscriptions. No matter what the product is or how much, it seems that any product can switch to this model.

Then there's something else. I'm disappointed.

I'll admit that I've been curious about Ulysses for a long time. A few weeks ago, I downloaded the trial version with the intention of reviewing it from the point of view of a long-time Scrivener user. Now, I don't know if I'll bother publishing my review.

My initial thoughts were positive but I quickly realised that it wouldn't work for me as a long-form writing tool because it lacked Scrivener's organisation features. Where I thought it might work in my workflow was to write my blog. I write my blog in Markdown; Ulysses is a great markdown editor and a very pleasant writing environment.

I was attracted to its feature parity across iOS and macOS. I was attracted to its gorgeous UI and I was definitely attracted to its iCloud-based syncing engine.

Currently, I write my posts in whatever editor I happen to have on the platform I'm working in be it macOS, iOS or Linux (at work). I love the idea of unifying my blog writing experience into one attractive and cohesive environment (that doesn't rely on Dropbox).

By offering Ulysses as a service, its developers have lowered the barrier to entry. Previously it would have cost me $100AUD to get the macOS and iOS versions. By their own admission, they are trying to entice new users into their ecosystem. The yearly price of admission in Australia is $55--almost half the previous buy outright price.

It's tempting, it's affordable. Yet, I still have very real concerns about my data being held to ransom.

It still feels like a bridge too far.

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