Bear Writer revisited - transferring from Ulysses

I’ve already reviewed Bear Writer and in that review I (only just) cast it aside in favour of Ulysses as my main writing app. However, I then had a Ulysses synchronisation problem, which, I should point out, was actually an Apple problem rather than anything Ulysses-specific, and decided to switch back to Bear. As you’ll see by my original review, I liked Bear a lot, so I wasn’t too upset to switch back even if it was somewhat forced upon me. It has, however, meant I had to export my nicely categorised articles out of Ulysses and import them into Bear.

I’m using this article to document some of the things I noticed during the transfer back to Bear Writer.

Export from Ulysses and Import into Bear Writer

The way I went about doing this is by first going into Ulysses’ Settings -> Library and switching on Dropbox. This adds a Dropbox folder in Ulysses’ left pane in which I created a ‘ul’ directory to contain my exports.

I didn’t, strictly speaking, do an actual export. What I did was I copied (not moved) the articles in batches, on a folder-by-folder basis, to the Dropbox -> ul directory I had created. I then switched into Bear Writer and imported the articles from Dropbox. Tediously, Bear Writer only lets you import one article at a time (as far as I can tell, anyway) and this really needs to be improved upon.

Part of the reason I did this on a folder-by-folder basis was so that when I’ve imported the articles into Bear, I can then tag them with (roughly) the same name as the category I used in Ulysses. This is fine and I now have a similar structure in Bear’s left pane to the one I had in Ulysses’ left pane.

Categories and Tags

What were my categories in Ulysses are now my tags in Bear, so what am I going to do with the tags I had in Ulysses? Well, my solution is just to create more tags in Bear. I imported my articles into tags named as follows:




So, to emulated the tags I had in Ulysses, I’d add an additional tag to the Bear note along the lines of:



This isn’t quite the separation between categories and tags I had on Ulysses but it’s a fair compromise.

On this subject, I think the Shiny Frog people who created Bear Writer are trying to avoid metadata wherever possible, which is why tags are simply # prefixed lines in the note itself. But I can’t see why they don’t use a similar system to allow categories as well as tags. I appreciate they may not want to use up too many symbols doing this but maybe they could use a compound symbol where the # on its own is a tag, as things are now, and something like #:cat becomes a category, although there are probably reasons I’m unaware of why this can’t be done.

Other Minor Gripes

Bear Writer introduced something called the Drop Bar to allow you to select multiple notes at once and perform whatever action you like on them. I’m not a fan. It’s a multi-fingered process that I find awkward and I’ll need my middle finger in traction for a week after using it to categorise all my notes after importing them from Ulysses. I can’t help but think they’d have been better adopting the Ulysses approach here and having a ‘Select’ link above the middle pane that then brings up checkboxes next to each article so you can select your articles with just one finger (and similarly a ‘Select All’ link would be useful too).

There are a couple of other things I think the application is lacking:

  • live preview: you can preview in Marked if you’re using MacOS but I think Bear needs its own preview, one that also works in iOS,
  • links: links could do with a space to enter a ‘title’ attribute,
  • tables: table support via markdown might be nice,
  • custom themes: it would be nice, although far from essential, to be able to create custom themes,
  • tag-by-tag sorting: at the moment, Bear sorts all tags the same way (which you specify in the Settings) and I’d like to be able to sort tags individually so, for example, I could have one tag sorted by date and another sorted by title,
  • saved searches: I’d like to be able to save searches either as a ‘tag’ of sorts or within a separate section of the left pane. Yes, these last two items have stolen shamelessly from Ulysses but they’re very useful in that app and they would be in Bear too.

Those things — along with the desire for both tags and categories, the multi-select awkwardness and the lack of multi-file import I mentioned earlier — make up my Bear Writer wish list.

Over All

Over all, I’m not too stressed at going back to Bear. It is a nicer looking app than Ulysses and it’s a joy to use (mostly). It doesn’t quite support the feature list Ulysses does but we have to remember that Bear is primarily a notes app at the moment whereas Ulysses pitches itself as more of a long-form writing app.

Bear Writer is also a much younger application and I’d expect features to be added with time. I live in hope it will abandon — or at least add to — its ‘notes’ personality and become a genuine writing app. There’s no reason why an app can’t be both. Indeed, I’d argue it’s nearly there anyway — I’m certainly using it for both notes and long-form writing. It’s really just about those bells and whistles it needs to make it complete.

I stand by my original four star rating for Bear Writer for now but I remain optimistic that that rating will increase over time.

Most importantly for me, bearing in mind the problems I’ve had with Ulysses and iCloud, it synchronises without getting its knickers in a twist.