Recommendation for plain text notes organisation and syncing?


If you are okay with the limitations imposed by their design philosophy of purposefully not giving users flexibility to choose their own fonts or colors, and you don’t need the more hardcore writing features of Ulysses then go for it. But in my opinion the apps are so different and are really different types of writing apps. If you consider iA Writer similar enough for your limited needs you should really be comparing iA Writer to different Markdown editors, like MWeb or Typora (free for years now in endless beta, to be a commercial app eventually), or Byword, or Quiver, or even Bear.

Ulysses has far more features and flexibility and customizability. If it seems equivalent for you that’s great - I own it for Mac and iOS and use it occasionally (more on iOS these days), but I could not imagine living with one of only two imposed screen modes and one of 3 imposed open-source fonts, and no customizable colors for text or background. iA Writer looks good, but it gets boring for me and I need more customizability

iA Writer (light and dark modes):

Ulysses (customized light and dark modes and font):

BBEdit (customized colors and font):

I spent many years inside the BBEdit text editor and I have decided preferences for font choice and color background. The devs at iA are ‘opinionated’ but too much so in my opinion.

Use cases of BBEdit

It’s interesting that we users have such varied preferences and I suppose that’s one of the wonderful things about an AppStore full of so many choices!

I think, for myself, over the years I’ve just usually been pretty satisfied by any app that has a minimal design that lets me get my work done. Not to say I don’t appreciate great design, just that I tend not to fiddle too much and iA Write fits that bill aesthetically. I can certainly see how the limitations might bother some.

In my ranking of priorities I place a much higher value on having the plain text files in iCloud where I can easily access with a variety of apps. Also, I’ve come to prefer apps that support Apple’s Files app and open in place. So, not only can iA Writer open it’s own files it can open others and even add in other folders. That’s the kind of flexibility I prefer.


iA Writer, which I own, is one of the best of that certain class of app. But there are several, from free to cheap, including a personal Mac/iOS fave: MWeb, whose iOS app is free and whose Mac app fluctuates between $9 and $20.

Denny, if you have that minimal kind of need you perhaps shouldn’t be considering a $40/yr subscription writing app with a themeable editor, single Library (but able to access files anywhere including Dropbox), attachments, inline images, writing goals, writing deadlines, auto-save/backup, split view, semantic search, handoff support, code syntax, split/merge, smart tags, smart lists, Touchbar integration, grammar check, publishing to Wordpress/Medium, export styles (which I hate, frankly), a style-exchange where users share themes, ePub creation, etc.

They’re just too different to compare fairly on price vs features


Oh, you’re right about the $40/yr subscription. Definitely not something I need. In my use I wouldn’t have need for writing goals, deadlines, etc.

I use iA Writer for podcast transcripts and for blogging. That said, just to be clear, iA Writer does support some of the advanced features you list: auto-save, split view, handoff, tags, smart lists and publishing to Wordpress/Medium and those are features I use and appreciate. Also, it’s great for exporting to PDF/HTML/Word which I use for transcripts.

Anyway, Tim mentioned in his original post that he was interested in apps that work with files in folders which is why I mentioned iA Writer.


I like iA too, enough so that I bought it for both Mac and iOS, though I rarely use the Mac app. But my point is that it is pretty different from the design of Ulysses, which trusts users to make their own font/color/background decisions, while offering a lot more for the (additional) cost. If you are willing to let iA make the decisions for you on their fonts and their light/dark-only viewing modes it’s a good choice. But not the only one.

The thread began because the OP said he loved Ulysses but worried about the (iCloud-based) proprietary container files are saved inside. Personally I don’t see that as an issue, much as I never fretted over images in iPhoto/Aperture/Photos being in a proprietary container, or DayOne’s files (same thing) and because Ulysses seems to have proven itself as robust. Still, it’s possible to export files for backup … or put them in Dropbox instead of iCloud.

I am not in need of most of Ulysses’ features, and I’m a promiscuous dabbler in writing apps - from Highland to UpNote to Quiver - all of which are really nice Markdown apps, and better options when comparing to iA Writer for more basic text notetaking, organization, and syncing. But even though I actually own most of those apps I do still return to Ulysses because of its comfortable stability and incredible tweakability of its looks.


To get around concerns about Ulysses storing documents in proprietary format, you can just export each document to an external folder when done.

Here’s one feature of Ulysses that I find essential in a markdown editor, and have not seen elsewhere: I write as fast as I can and mark notes to myself in the text of an article as I go. “What’s the formal company name?” “What year was that merger?” “What’s the source’s first name?” And so on. With Ulysses, I can surround those questions in ++double plus marks++ and come back to them when I’ve done my article draft. Never found another text or markdown editor that supports that kind of highlighting.

Also, I love Ulysses’s easy sync between iOS and Mac. I do nearly all of my writing on the Mac but sometimes I’ll get an idea for a headline or lead paragraph when I’m in the go, and I can just pull out my phone and capture it right away in the article, not in Drafts or OmniFocus or another app.


For everybody who likes nvALT, but wants something a bit more modern (dark mode support e.g.) I can recommend FSNotes. Available on Mac OS and iOS.


FSNotes is also open sourced (MIT license) and available on Github. Basically an updated NValt-type app. Dev is charging $2.99 for each of the apps but you theoretically could install/sideload if you were really cheap!

How is the search on it these days? I remember reading a thread earlier this year questioning its ability to search between and within documents…


I don’t search that much, so I can’t tell if it’s good or bad. There have been quite a few updates lately so this may have been fixed.

I paid for the app but get it from GitHub as it takes a while for new versions to show up on the Mac App store.


I know it’s overkill for the described application but I use DEVONThink for all that sort of stuff. Part of it is simplification. I’m trying to more effectively use the apps I do keep and not go chasing after the next big thing.


If plain text notes are the primary objective, why bother with more involved apps than the native TextEdit app plus something for use on iOS? Isn’t the overall objective to store notes in a (relatively) futureproof way?


I use IA Writer with Working Copy, ala Federico Viticci’s workflow (minus the iCloud drive mirroring). Works brilliantly for plain-text journalling (the best type!).


But there are free options…Text edit on Mac, Stickies on Mac, Evernote you can use up to two devices free before needing a premium plan.