What Has Changed: Me, Writing Applications, or Both?

While working on a significant position paper about AI in private Christian education using Ulysses, a question flashed through my mind: “Why am I now drawn to using applications like Ulysses or Scrivener and fret about using the “right one” for complex documents when for 30 years I “comfortably” used Word for everything, including a doctoral dissertation and more papers, proposals, and position papers than I care to remember?”

Could it be that because there were fewer choices, Word was the “simple” default, which was and is still the ubiquitous writing tool and because Word represented a significant leap from what preceded it, namely typewriters. (I’m not comparing Word to other word processors like WordPerfect here.) For many years, options were limited, at least to my knowledge. Is that the main reason for not giving the issue much thought? I know I didn’t.

Yet, despite having applications like Ulysses and Scrivener (I’m not attempting to provide a laundry list of possible apps.), most professionals continue to use Word for lengthy, complex documents and many authors rely on it for their novels and non-fiction works. They never seem to give the matter a second thought.

Is it just me or others in this forum who have grown fond of applications like Scrivener and Ulysses, primarily because we discuss such things? Could I (we) just as effectively use Word or Pages as most people do? Is this dilemma, if one wishes to call it that, similar to what we face when deciding on note-taking and storage applications, such as Obsidian and DEVONthink?

In short, why do we expend so much thought and energy on such things when most of the world moves on blissfully, using Word for all their writing needs? Is ignorance bliss? :slightly_smiling_face:

I have no agenda in posing this question. I’m just curious as to what the “hive mind” thinks.

Now, back to my writing. :slightly_smiling_face:


A fair point! I think we are a unique bunch who are drawn to this stuff (apps, workflows etc). 95% - 99% of the world “just get on with it!” :wink:

But we have more fun! :rofl:


I’ve heard people say they use Word because it works so well with WordPress. Others say their publisher requires it. And I think @MacSparky may have mentioned it is used in the legal profession. It’s been around for 40 years. Some people have to use it and others prefer to use it.

IMO, to most people the computer and software that they use are just tools that they need to do their job. To others they are something that we enjoy using. So we spend more time than we need to learning about them and making changes to get things just the way we want them.

Much like I did with my GTO when I was young. :grinning:

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I had this same thought just this week. I’ve been wrestling with selecting a note taking app for work; Obsidian or OneNote.

Just when I think OneNote is the answer (better pencil support, more visual - which I like, better integration with Outlook and office etc etc) I then hear the call of this forum and others like it.

“But your notes aren’t portable, they’re not safe, OneNote doesn’t do backlinking - I NEED backlinks or I’m dead in the water.”

Two things occurred to me this week.

  1. If I asked anyone in my office if they were concerned about the portability of OneNote notebooks, not one of them would have the faintest idea (or care) about what I’m speaking of

  2. I was in a OneNote notebook this week that was on my first work PC over 10 years ago. It’s now in my OneDrive and still going strong, and OneNote is still here, still alive and well.

I’ve heard the term “there is no perfect app” a lot in our circles. I think that’s mostly because we’d never allow there to be one. There will always be a new app on the horizon with that new feature we HAVE to have. But we don’t.

And before you assume that I think I’m on my high horse here - I just can’t use OneNote for work. It’s too clunky, so I’m a victim of my own criticism as I work in Obsidian daily :joy:


I have had a couple of thoughts percolating about this very issue, and more broadly the explosion of choice in apps.

I’ve been practicing law since 1999. When I first started there was WordPerfect, Word, Excel, the e-mail client, various PIMs, and the browser. There were some specialized tools, too. I loved WP, but it was clear the world was crystalizing around Word. I used Word for everything. It was, of course, were I typed briefs and memoranda. But it was my database, my notepad, my journal, my outliner, my scratchpad, my analysis pad, etc. I used Word for everything. And I think most people in professional [business/corporate professionals, not art professionals] circles did.

Now, there are so many different tools to accomplish a task, that, while I do the same type of work I did in 1999, some days I don’t even have to open Word. Strange to think about.

I have noticed today that lots of people don’t want to learn apps. They want to get their work done and are satisfied to use whatever tools “corporate” gives them. There is very little curiosity factor among this group.

We who are drawn to MPU have a high curiosity for apps and tools. So, we study apps, download them, tinker, adjust our processes, and repeat.


Even for pieces that aren’t particularly long, I find an app like Scrivener a big help because it lets me just jump in and write now, then figure out the order later.

It’s harder to do that in typical word processors like Word, or even simple writing apps like iA Writer.


Also, Microsoft is an industry standard. Even if you think it’s horrible, it’s horrible and standard. Microsoft even offers certifications so that employers can (at least in theory) know that somebody is competent in the tools before hiring:

I know at least one 4-year business school that builds those certifications into their coursework, simply because it’s something that doesn’t take that much time and helps their graduates get jobs.

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When I tried to go full Linux, I learned the hard way that if you need to exchange, edit, and mark up documents with people in professional and corporate settings, you need Word (and the rest of MS Office). Not some other word processor that can open and save to .docx.

I neither love nor hate Word. It’s undeniably powerful and versatile, but beyond the little buttons on the ribbon are complex and idiosyncratically implemented layers of functionality with poor discoverability that MS has built up over the last 30 years. You just have to learn it and be willing to look things up when you get stuck.

I can’t prove it but I don’t believe there are more choices now compared to, say the late 1980’s when personal computers were taking off. I remember an article in Byte listing dozens of word processors. I know that back in the 1970’s I was using TECO for editing and some program that was like nroff for formatting and printing. I think the biggest change over the years was the introduction of WYSIWYG. Programs like Obsidian and DEVONthink would not have been practical then because of the huge disk and memory requirements necessary. But I did use a program, KAMAS, in the mid 80’s that reminds me of Scrivener.

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I think there were a bunch of little niche programs that were distributed via BBS software and such, and there MIGHT be as many back then as there are now - but the average user had no way to discover them.

The average computer user used either WordPerfect, AppleWorks, Claris, or whatever shipped with their computer.

It’s fun to look back at that. I have good memories of the times when I was keeping a handful of precious documents on a floppy and a backup floppy. Less great memories for people who lost their work back then (I worked student IT so saw lost disks and corrupted files daily.)

Multi-device always-on Internet lifestyle changed things, too. Ulysses became popular at a time when Microsoft products weren’t great at sync and being synced.

Scrivener made new kinds of projects possible for some people, but then, yeah, you’ve got awareness of it reaching people who never struggled to write.

Regardless of why alternatives exist and for whom, it’s hard to un-know the existence of them, and our lives only flow in one direction!

I think Word was already quite popular on the Mac in the late 1980s. There was also WriteNow, which I knew about before I’d even owned a Mac, although I don’t know how popular it was generally. And back then, I think the average user was more intrepid about finding software than an average user is today. Of course the average user back then would probably be considered a tech nerd in today’s market.

I think that the “right” writing processor ends up with what a person is familiar and comfortable. Since Word is the standard, most people have a degree of comfortability with it (or forced comfortability). When I was younger I was curious to try all kinds of software for many tasks. I have written with them all; some for a short time, some longer. I have settled for Pages for essays, sermons; shorter writing. If I am going to do lengthy complex writing I would probably use Mellel. I have not had that need for years though. I am very comfortable with Pages even with its shortcomings.

What do you like about Mellel and what don’t you like about it that leads you to mostly use Pages instead? I’ve never used Mellel at all or Pages beyond briefly playing with it. I’m just curious.

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I think a lot of us write because we are required to: a report, an analysis, copy. If someone asks us to produce it as a word document or A4 printed sheet using the corporate template, that’s what we’re going to do. That’s not just in the corporate world, I lost count of the minutiae of essay and thesis requirements, which were arbitrary and unnecessary but were completely non-negotiable. Why make things even more difficult for yourself? It’s just easier to do what you are told.

Where we do have some personal choice, a lot will depend on what we are trying to achieve. I started to use Scrivener when I had to write lengthy documents which expressed my original thoughts and where I might want to re-use parts of these in different formats (e.g. principle and position papers for an organisation I was leading). I went on to use it for a book I was asked to write (to support a course I was teaching). I moved to Ulysses when I ran into some practical problems with Scrivener when I was writing journalism to tight deadlines, because Ulysses was just so much more mobile than anything else and I could write and edit and pass it to my editor from wherever I was. I found I liked the distraction-free writing environment for many projects, but that’s not why I adopted it in the first place. As print has become less prominent in my written output (being overtaken by web and other digital formats) the flexibility that comes from separating the layout, styling and formatting of finished writing from the words themselves is valuable and no printer or publisher wants you to deliver ready formatted writing that will break their systems and be far more work to edit and adapt than is worth it, so the separation of writing and final form is now almost universal, except in offices and universities.

It’s not that nerds have become more nerdy, just that the digital revolution has changed what writing is to some extent, which opens up spaces for new approaches and apps. It’s still basically about using what will meet the requriement.


Yes, ignorance is bliss. But for whatever reason we as a collective have been damned with the curiosity to strive for perfection in the tools we use.

My life partner is a disaster from a Power User perspective. She keeps everything on her Mac desktop. Her todo list? Text files here and there, you can’t see the wallpaper. Her vault? Whatever is on the computer somewhere. Her photo library is on the phone, in whatsapp threads. Evernote is “too complicated” for her. You cannot see how many open Chrome tabs she has. And don’t get me started on password management! But she is a successful professional with laser focus on her work, and I marvel when she knows which of the mess of files contains what she wants to retrieve.

She is totally oblivious to the Paradox of Choice.

But who is more powerful, the people who just get it done or the fiddlers, tweaks, automators, and explorers? I don’t even think it’s a matter of personal choice, it’s a matter of minds wired differently.


I prioritized the ability to move seamlessly between my Mac & iPad (which I do not do a lot). Easy accessibility to files. Since moving to the Mac, I wanted to get away from Microsoft. Therefore, Pages. It handles essays and, if needed, page layout fantastically.

Concerning Mellel, my only complaint is that the document format is proprietary but it can be exported. It never crashed on me regardless of length of document, handles multiple levels of footnotes (endnotes), and Hebrew and Greek. There is a learning curve, like Scrivener.

I would use Mellel completely but Pages is just simpler and handles import/export of doc files with hardly any issues.


I don’t think we’re particularly unique (sorry, everyone). This is largely a hobby for us folk, so we bring with it expertise that others don’t care about. It’s no different to any other hobby in that regard. Someone who takes cooking very seriously may have 10 different knives all with specific purposes (paring knife, meat knife, bread knife, vegetable knife… the list for kitchen tools is endless!), while someone who does not care simply uses the same knife for everything. Likewise, someone who does a minimum of DIY and tinkering might have one toolset they use for everything, whereas someone who does woodturning or DIY as as a hobby probably has a far larger suite of tools (and would be quite offended to see me argue that all problems can be fixed by either a screwdriver, a knife or a hammer). We can make such a list for any hobby really.


Nope, it’s my life. Past. present, and future.


It may not be a perfect model for Mac Power User behavior but there may be similarities to the “Jam Study”

BBC One’s experiment