Your August nvUltra update

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The nvUltra private beta now has about 500 users putting it through its paces, and is rapidly nearing readiness for shipping. There are still a few major hurdles to jump through, and we’re sifting through user feedback — deciding what’s a valid feature request and what needs further clarification in our driving philosophy. I can’t put a solid date on release yet, but I have fond hopes of a late August release. Much to do before then, though, and you probably know how my release dates can slip (but I 100% guarantee this is not going to be BitWriter all over again)!

Latest stuff nvUltra does

Here’s the latest, with the caveat that there’s always the possibility that certain features change or don’t make it to final release. (A lot of other behavior changes have happened, but most people not currently testing wouldn’t have known the original behavior to begin with, so on that you’ll have to trust me when I say that it’s getting better and better.)

First, nvUltra can now run without a Dock icon (menu bar). When bringing it back up, either by hitting the user-defined hotkey or clicking the menu bar, the Dock icon appears temporarily. This makes all of the menu items available, allowing full control over the application in menu bar mode. I believe this to be a good solution considering that in nvALT — when running in the menu bar — you couldn’t even get to Preferences without knowing the keyboard shortcut for the menu item. Now you can get to everything, and as soon as you switch away it’s out of your Dock again.

Rather than going with a 3-pane layout to include folders, we’ve added a “Folder Navigator.” While most modern note-taking apps provide a left pane where you can build whole folder collections and hierarchies, this runs contrary to the way we use Ultra. Coming from the “one big bucket” philosophy of Notational Velocity, we focus first on tagging and fast and accurate full-text search, avoiding the need to file everything in specific folders. We also keep everything in plain text on your drive, so files have to actually exist in a subfolder to be “foldered” in Ultra, i.e. not a database that can just represent files in whatever folder(s) you assign them to.

That said, Ultra can open any folder as a new “bucket,” and can have multiple folders open at once. Subfolders are recognized within any folder as well. So if your organization system includes, for example, a subfolder for each project with deeper subfolders for drafts, assets, etc., you can just open that project as its own window, perhaps keeping your main bucket open for reference and copying. That’s where the Folder Navigator comes in: once you’ve opened a folder, it’s stored in a list and you can type a keyboard shortcut to bring up a “quick open” style window with fuzzy search and keyboard selection. You don’t have to search a sidebar to get to regularly used folders, they’re available in a few keystrokes any time.

Drag and drop is a big deal in Ultra. Assets (images, PDFs, movies) show up in the file list just like notes, with Quick Look previews when they’re not editable text. You can drag an image into a note from the sidebar and have Markdown syntax generated automatically, or drag another note in to either [[wiki link]] it, or generate MultiMarkdown transclusion syntax to actually embed one note in another. And you can copy files into the notebook from outside, or notes from one notebook window to another by drag and drop.

Stuff nvUltra does not do

As we’ve worked on this, we’ve solidified our roadmap and there are a couple points that could use early clarification.

First, we don’t do Simplenote. This isn’t out of any distaste for Simplenote itself, it’s because Simplenote requires a single bucket. We focused heavily on the ability to use as many “notebooks” (folders) as needed, switching freely, keeping everything in plain text on your disk (or in your cloud syncing service of choice). There’s no way to make that compatible with Simplenote. Using Dropbox or iCloud Drive is preferrable for this kind of sync, and apps like 1Writer on iOS are superior to the Simplenote app (in our opinion), especially for Markdown. And any text/Markdown editor on iOS is compatible with nvUltra (though there is a distinct possibility of nvUltra for iOS after the Mac app is solid).

Speaking of Markdown, we’ve doubled down on it (specifically MultiMarkdown). Thus, we don’t do RTF, nor do we plan to. Fletcher and I consider RTF to be a pretty awful format, and not conducive to portability and longevity. You can take your notes in plain text, but if you need emphasis, tables, images, footnotes, etc., Markdown is the way to go. I realize this limits our audience a bit, but I believe that by and large the target audience is already using Markdown or is receptive to learning it. Major apps like Bear and Ulysses already embrace it, so I know it won’t kill our audience.

Beyond those two things, nvUltra does everything nvALT ever did, and does it even better. I’m using the app daily for everything from storing code snippets to writing documentation. We won’t be further expanding the beta pool en masse immediately, but if you think you’d be an ideal tester for certain edge cases (disability/accessibility, multi-lingual use, bizarre uses that currently push nvALT to its limit, etc.) please do contact me and I’ll see if a special invite is warranted. Everyone else, sign up for the mailing list to get updates as we near release!