Obsidian vs Ulysses

hey MPU,

I have been trying to use both in hopes of getting rid of at least 1 subscription. I tried Notion, didn’t like it. I tried Craft, it feels like I need to be more ‘preparing my environment’ than actually writing. I use Craft now for a specific purpose, a specific project and nothing more.

Ulysses has been my go-to for the last 2-3 years. I wanted to test it out Obsidian, because based on the forums, trends, etc, it seemed that this could be better.

Usage / Purpose

  • I write sermons for church and various meetings, or I am preparing lecture talks for retreats.
  • I don’t publish them anywhere, so features of publishing aren’t important to me.
  • Before the age of Obsidian and Ulysses, I wrote everything in Evernote.

Before Evernote, I would write each sermon/talk/lecture in a separate Microsoft Office Word Document (I cringe looking back at those days) The reason for moving away from Word all those years ago was accessibility, searching, etc.

I don’t present my notes to anyone, if I am doing a presentation, I take whatever is Ulysses/Obsidian and create a Keynote. However, when I am speaking weekly at church or in meetings, I have either Ulysses/Obsidian (wherever the sermon notes were written) using the iPad Mini or my iPhone. There are times where I may be inspired and add something quickly from my iDevice, so it helps that everything just syncs and works.

As far as markdown goes, it’s used for me, so that I know which bullet point I am emphasizing, or what sections I am working through when I am speaking. Or if I want to keep quotes color-coded separate from my personal thoughts.

That being said….

  1. From your perspectives, do you see an app that functions better than the other in this workflow?
  2. Is there a better more efficient way of doing things?
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Have you tried composing a sermon in Obsidian?Where do you think it is inefficient for your workflow ?

Sorry maybe I made a typo. I did try composing in Obsidian for a couple of months. I’m trying to see which I can cut out. I still haven’t seen (or maybe still ignorant) in how Obsidian or Ulysses is better than the other (in terms of what I use it) There may be other uses that I have yet to come across…

This is pretty much my workflow for sermons too.

I started in Google Docs which worked pretty well, reading the document from the GDocs app on my iPad. There was near instant sync from my (then) Windows PC.

I then tried Word, because it was provided by the national church. Again, it worked OK, synching via OneDrive, although I was always slightly nervous about late changes making it across. I find Word too cluttered these days.

Obsidian worked OK, but I didn’t find it an attractive place to work and I needed plugins to get where I wanted to be. The export functionality was poor (or needed more low level config than I was willing to do, despite formerly being a programmer!)

I settled on Ulysses. It has these benefits:

  • I like the interface
  • it breaks down a church service into its component parts so I can move them around and export/print individual parts eg Order of Service or a reading.
  • I can have extensive notes which aren’t printed/exported. This is helpful if I return to a service as I can see my workings and sources.
  • It allows target word counts in each section. I don’t stick to these religiously (if you pardon the pun) but it’s helpful to know if my sermon or prayer is going on a bit.
  • I can export text in wildly different styles from what I write in. For preaching I use a large font and bright colours for bold/italics so things can stand out. The style sheet was easy to create. I use a more restrained font for eg order of service.
  • Multiple export formats. I export the order of service to send to the church team in Word so they can easily cut and paste. I export the service for my own use as PDF.
  • I might get round to putting a summary/notes on the web one day. I’ll be able to do that straight from Ulysses.

I preach from my iPad using the PDF, synched via iCloud and opened in Preview. I have an Apple Pencil which I can use to scribble on the PDF - either highlighting a tricky word or writing in any last moment changes or inspirations.

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I used Ulysses for this before the subscription came and and I attempted to use Obsidian last year. Both failed for me. This is because my sermons need Scripture references and quotes need citations inline. Plus I need them to be visibly distinct. This was a pain in both Ulysses and Obsidian. Markdown does not cut it for me for preparing sermons. Another problem is that neither have a good “preaching” interface. Larger fonts and full screen. You could cobble together some CSS, but that was too much hassle for me. In the end I have stuck with Omnioutliner for over 10 years and in my opinion nothing beats it for sermon prep and delivery.

I have created my own sermon template with different colours for Scripture and other quotes. the reference goes nicely in the notes field which I can also easily style:

I can also use normal formatting BIU as well as colours and highlights where I need it. Markdown has some massive shortcomings in anything except the basics.

Omnioutliner also has it’s own sync; Omnipresence (no pun intended :grin:) which does a great job. All my sermons are synced and available. Any changes made on one device appear on the other.

The best part is that I don’t need to export, I just open omnioutliner on my iPad and preach away. The killer feature for me here is the ability to zoom a document so you can increase the whole document font size. I normally zoom to 240%. Below is a comparison of 100% (left) and 240%:

This also allows me to do edits just before I preach.

I have not found anything that is anywhere near close to omnioutliner as an all in one prep and preaching solution. I can also at a pinch use my iPhone.

I should add that Omnioutliner is way more powerful than this allowing you to embed audio, video and other docs, creating columns and filtering the outline or focusing the outline to one tree.

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I don’t prepare “sermons” per se but I prepare and deliver a lot of presentations in the local community, national and international conferences, staff and board meetings, parent groups, and graduate classes. I also deliver devotionals which are the equivalent of homilies. I also write a lot of communications including blog articles, large reports and business proposals, position papers, and I’m working on another book.

I have used Obsidian, Ulysses, Craft, Scrivener, iA Writer, Pages, Word and a few others. I too strive to minimize subscriptions and I want an app that handles the composition task well while also enabling me to use it as the “presentation platform”.

I’ve gone back and forth with Ulysses. I don’t like the subscription and at one point I abandoned it because I mistakenly thought one could not bulk export sheets. After learning from a kind participant in this forum that I could in fact bulk export from Ulysses, I renewed my subscription and now use Ulysses for ALL of my writing and presentations. Here are my reasons:

  • Ulysses has a clean, distraction free writing environment on all devices
  • I can use markdown if and as desired making my text essentially “future proof”
  • I can bulk export
  • I can export in a variety of formats
  • I can glue/unglue, merge and split sheets as needed
  • Ulysses has a robust integrated grammar and style checker
  • I can embed images
  • I can set writing goals
  • There is built in revision and outlining modes
  • I can create material sheets (think research)
  • I can add external folders
  • I can add keywords (tags)
  • Customize styles and themes
  • Sync across devices
  • And more …

In short, I use Ulysses for all writing and as the “presentation platform” and I use Obsidian for all research. I find that the two work well together.

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My impression is that each of these tools does something really well: Obsidian for its ability to connect concepts/ideas/content together; OmniOutliner for its ability to organize hierarchically (i.e., create outlines); Ulysses for creating a distraction free writing space. They all do more, for sure, but that’s how I think of them and use each of them. I can see how you might choose to write in Obsidian, but I find the interface less than ideal for writing, but perhaps others have found it to work well. But I’ve wanted to dump the Ulysses subscription, like @Bmosbacker, but in the end I’ve found Ulysses both useful and reliable for the different kinds of writing I do as a full-time university lecturer, part-time graduate student, and semifrequent presenter. So if writing—nothing more, nothing less—is what you want to do, I would recommend Ulysses, with the caveat that all of the software tools mentioned in this discussion are useful, but, at least for me, for purposes other than writing.

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I usually prepare a full script for a sermon, and for preaching I prefer using a paginated PDF file over scrolling a note vertically, so I use Pages for sermon scripts. After all, Pages is much simple and uncluttered than MS Word.

But for researching, drafting, or outlining, everything I do before making them into a sermon script, I mostly use Notion, where I have organized every sermon draft by books.
These days I mostly use Obsidian, trying to take every note for my PhD studies in Obsidian, which is awesome for this sort of academic notetaking due to its connectivity, but I feel more comfortable with using Notion for sermons because Notion seems better at organizing things in a more visually appealing way.

I agree. I’ve tried all other writing programs and always end up back with Ulysses. It’s solid and works amazingly across all devices. I also do all my writing in it.

I export to Obsidian when I archive most things and only keep academic work and current projects in Ulysses itself.

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That’s a good idea, I’ve been archiving within Ulysses. I think I’ll follow your approach. :slightly_smiling_face:

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I made the same journey as some of you. Left Ulysses then came back. Big thing for me is keyboard control with a few Keyboard Maestro hot keys I can do it nearly all from the keyboard. I store in DEVONthink 3 most things and write in Ulysses. LaTeX sometimes for old times sake almost. I will export to Mellel or Pages or whatever sometimes if I need docx or whatever.

I am curious why it’s useful to export archival work to Obsidian. I keep an “Archive” group in Obsidian and move work there when complete. It is unobtrusive, and yet preserves the Ulysses- specific Markdown XL format of the sheets and remains available for searching.

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Re: the sermon discussion:

I’m using Pages as well for the preaching “manuscript”. I tend to construct the sermon in OmniOutliner mostly because it suits the way I think. I’ve tried lots of different tools over the years (Scrivener) and worked in Ulysses for a season, but they didn’t stick the way Pages and OmniOutliner have.

I keep the sermons and materials organized now in a DevonThink database.

The big reason I’ve ended up using Pages is the built-in Presentation Mode. When I’m preaching from an iPad, it’s wonderful to turn on and just go.

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I write in and preach from Keynote. I do not write a full manuscript, though. Keynote allows me to move sermon blocks around which is key to my thought process.

The main reason is that when I archive a project I don’t want to have the research and writing in different applications, this doesn’t make sense to me. I prefer to move everything together, including drafts and final papers, and link it in Obsidian. I do not want duplicate copies (i.e. one in Obsidian and another in Ulysses) of most things I write, as if I modify either, I have a bad and a good copy of the same document in different apps. I also like to archive using plain MD files, not in a database. I always keep a copy of published academic papers in their Markdown XL format in Ulysses to make sure nothing is lost (as once published in a conference/journal, I do not modify them), but these are the only things in my archive.

Also, I use Obsidian as my only GTD reference filing system and I keep everything I need to refer to there. As a result, I’ve only ever got one place to search for everything. In the past, I wasted a lot of time by having to search multiple apps, and I much prefer having one place for everything that’s complete.

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Thanks for the heads up on presentation mode with pages.

Why not use Omnioutliner on the ipad if you’re preparing in Omnioutliner anyway?

Thank you – interesting approach.

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I suppose I could create a template for OmniOutliner rather than using the presentation mode.

What I do like about the presentation mode is that you can get it to autoscroll your manuscript or outline for you. It’s a quick and easy teleprompter - and works a treat if I’m recording a video version of a sermon for online worship.

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I found this thread very informative. I too have wrestled with the Obsidian vs. Ulysses debate. Ulysses is too nice of an interface and I stick with it for writing. Subscription through Setapp so only 2 devices. Wish I had it on my iPhone as well, but not adding another device just for that.

I never thought of using OmniOutliner for sermons & presentations. Very interesting! When I first purchased OO, I tried using it for too many things. I rarely use it now.

Current approach is:

  1. Logos Bible Software for 99% of my Bible-related books & Kindle for most other reading
  2. Take all notes in Obsidian
    -For Bible notes, each book has a introduction/background note
    -One note per chapter with the verses being heading 6 and passage ranges being higher level headings
    -Links back to Logos books
  3. Full manuscript in Ulysses
    -One group for series
    -One sub-group/sermon or presentation
    -5-7 sheets/presentation (one intro, one conclusion, & 3-5 points)
  4. Export sermon to Word (carryover from Windows days) so I can see the layout before printing to PDF
  5. Exported to PDF for presenting in GoodReader (an oldie but it works well) on 11" iPad. Downside is limited last minute changes.
  6. Folder where Word files are saved is indexed by DEVONthink. DT also indexes my Obsidian notes. I’m not the best about going back to do this, but I can link Obsidian notes to sermon/presentation in DT.
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I didn’t know it did that. Would have been useful during COVID lockdowns! Still, great to know! Thank you!

I went through something similar. I’m beginning to use OO more and more. Once you work out how styles work they’re rather good and I have my own simple sermon template set up. I also use it for meeting minutes as you can create saved filters which are great for locating incomplete actions or just the lines a specific person or issue is mentioned. The only weak point is printing. It’s ok, but not great. I also use for the church’s programme for the year. Bit like a spread sheet.

I’ve stopped making tons of notes. I used to, but the majority sits unused. I now only create notes about things that draw my attention or that help a specific project. I like Tiago Forte’s Progressive Summarisation idea. I probably shouldn’t say this too loudly, but I’m increasingly moving away from plaintext apps. I love the rich text of OO and a great many apps. These days there’s also little lock in as many formats are XML at the root. Markdown has to be the biggest pain when trying to create well formatted documents. It has to be piped through a whole load of shenanigans to work. My 1995 Word documents still open and are perfectly formatted. Everyone talks about plaintext being the only thing around in 100 years time, I don’t think so. In 100 years time computers will index text from anywhere. Why restrict myself to a 1970’s computer terminal? I want colour, highlights, strikethrough, footnotes and end notes, images links and audio.

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