Warlord of MarsEdit

Continuing my first impressions of offline Mac blog editors…I’ve now moved on to MarsEdit.

Hmm. Already I’m liking it less than ecto. Although as I typed that last word I have to give MarsEdit’s developers proper respect for being unafraid to use the “Shift” key when naming a product. Every type I type “ecto” I feel like I’m using an open-source product or something.

Whereas MarsEdit feels like an open-source product when I’m actually writing a blog post with the thing.

I mean, oh dear. Let’s see if I can insert a shot of the editing window so you can see what I mean:

Picture 43.png

(Note: after posting this, I had to go back in and manually resize the pictures. It was screwing up the layout of the blog.)

So the good news is that MarsEdit does indeed allow me to upload an arbitrary file. The bad news is that it doesn’t offer any integration with iPhoto or Aperture at all. The good news is that it does let me access my Flickr stream, viz:

The Long View

…And I certainly dig that. But the bad news — I know, I’m violating some sort of rule about nested Good News/Bad News loops; let’s just press on — is that it apparently doesn’t resize these images.

Hmm. The best answer is a hybrid of both ecto and MarsEdit. To put a finer point on it, I want ecto’s approach, with additional support for both Flickr and arbitrary files.

I also want this new solution to do something that neither one can apparently handle: the image should be scaled down to 400 pixels wide, and clicking on the image should open the full-rez version in a new window. I was able to code that up in less than an hour with my old AppleScript blogger. Why is this such a mystery?

But I digress. If you look at the MarsEdit window, you essentially see the exact same thing I used to see when I was using BBEdit as my post editor. There’s a preview window behind it, but why on Earth wouldn’t they support visual editing? They are aware that this is a Mac product, and not something intended for a Sun workstation, right?

And I don’t see a tool for italicizing text. Let’s go look for it…

…Yup, but it’s under the “Post” menu, and not under a “Format” menu, which is a standard Mac UI standard. And of course, it just wraps what you write in HTML tags. Like this. But then after you’ve typed the word you wanted to italicize, you have to move the cursor past the closing tag before you can continue editing.

Dear oh dear. This won’t do. This won’t do at all.

I command-tab back to ecto. I note that on top of all of the goodies that I already miss, I can easily flip between that rich, visual editor and the actual, raw HTML. Not merely tags, but complex formatting. So it would appear that anything I might want to do (like those iTunes divs) would be a piece of cake.

Even cakier, in fact: ecto allows me to define my own styles.

MarsEdit is nice enough to include an “Edit in BBEdit” command, but for $29, should I really need to have a second app already installed to share the load?

I note that ecto costs ten bucks less.

Hmm. This little contest appears to be going to ecto, in an utter blowout. In fact, I’m finding MarsEdit so difficult to like that I wonder if I haven’t simply overlooked a separate user mode. You know…a mode which causes MarsEdit to work the way I’d expect a blog editor to work.

If you folks have anything illuminating to share, then comment away by all means. Keep in mind that I’m literally commenting on what I’m experiencing as I’m creating this blog post. So these are the impressions of someone with just fifteen minutes’ worth of experience with MarsEdit.

But for now…I mean, ick.

16 thoughts on “Warlord of MarsEdit

  1. Chris

    I think the reason MarsEdit doesn’t have a visual editor is that it’s just based on a different underlying principle. I find that it works well for me, but I can understand some people might want it the other way around. I have my blog set up to use Markdown syntax, so that’s what I type into the MarsEdit window. And if I’m going to upload something resized, I’ll probably drag it out of Skitch or ImageWell. I agree, though, that there should be some plumbing in place to let us build that kind of workflow right into the application. But it’s basically a straightforward, not-too-many-frills, get-on-with-it sort of application, and that suits me just fine. Those looking for something else have a few other choices. Maybe there’s room for yet another enterprising OS X developer to step in for the people who are still not served by the existing blog editors.

  2. David Chartier

    The current ecto2 and the new ecto3 are both capable of your image trick. Once you get your pic inserted into an ecto2 post, I believe a right-click contextual menu houses the option to customize how the image is embedded, and whether you want a full-res version to be available upon a click. I believe you can also save multiple presets to speed all this stuff up.

    ecto3 presents this image customization dialog immediately upon dragging the image in.

  3. TjL

    Hey, by all means, trash someone’s hard work after you’ve hardly spent any time at all working with it.

    Did you ever consider, just consider, using email instead of a blog post? You know, to give your comments to the developer and see how he might respond? Because you might have found he’s one of the most responsive Mac developers out there.

    A few minutes more and you might have seen how diggity damn easy it is to setup your own keyboard shortcuts for bold, italics, whatever. No rich text editing mode, true enough.

    As far as having the option to use BBEdit, yeah I was glad to see it there, but I’ve gradually stopped using it entirely. But if you have someone with a whole lot of stuff already setup in BBEdit, why make them re-invent the wheel?

    Yeah, image sizing would be nice. It would help me with a daily blog that I maintain. But I’ve never really thought of MarsEdit being a place for doing so.

    Maybe it’s me, but it just seems like your comments were better suited for an email to Daniel rather than a public blog post.

  4. Chris Messina

    Ouch man, those’re pretty tough words! Not that Daniel (the soul developer of MarsEdit) couldn’t take’em, but it doesn’t seem like you’re giving MarsEdit much of a chance.

    Truth be told, I used to be an ecto junkie myself. I’m also a fan of 1001 (though I’ve mostly moved off to Skitch). Anyway, I’ve now been using MarsEdit for at least a year because it does away with so much of the feature bloat of ecto. If anything, it helps me *just write*, rather than get caught up in bells and whistles.

    Rich-text editing might be a Mac-like thing, but unfortunately (or fortunately) the web isn’t controlled by Steve Jobs, and so those rich styles come at the cost of not being entirely web-friendly. I personally prefer the fact that MarsEdit doesn’t try to do HTML output — and leaves me fully in charge of how my code arrives at my blog. Certainly there’s room for improvement here — but it’s not just MarsEdit’s fault.

    As well, I think the customization of the markup menu is done fairly well, though it could definitely be improved. I also think that multiple blog management is quite good in MarsEdit (I currently have 7 blogs). These things all add up to a pretty elegant solution for blogging…

    Is it worth $29? Well, I think the price is steep, but then again, Daniel (and Brent before him) are decent folk, so I don’t mind helping them pay the bills.

  5. Ihnatko Post author

    @Chris – Yup, and I certainly understand that philosophy. Remember, for 12 years, BBEdit was my blog editor.

    I think it comes down to the user’s definition of “get out of my way and let me focus on what I’m creating.” If “what I’m creating” is “A 700-word essay on why Spider-Man’s marriage to Mary Jane is a good thing for the book,” you want visual editing. If it’s “a unit of electronic publishing that offers fingertip control over formatting and which plays well with every standard,” then it’s code editing.

    For now, I think Ecto gives me the best of both. But I’m certainly hearing complaints from people who gave it a try and found it lacking.

  6. Ihnatko Post author

    @David – Yup, I’ve been learning more about Ecto as the evening progresses. I do wish some of these features were more immediately visible. An app should ask “Which picture do you want to embed?” and then “How do you want it to appear?” Though double-clicking on the embedded image is a pretty obvious way of making changes, I admit.

  7. Ihnatko Post author

    @TJL – I think I was pretty explicit about my level of expertise with MarsEdit and the nature of these comments, y’know? And oddly enough, at about the time you were suggesting that I email the makers of ME, I was doing just that (an email to both ME and Ecto’s makers, actually).

    No need for me to set up keyboard shortcuts for B, I, etc. They’re attached to the menus. But the way these features are set up, I find it much simpler just to type the required codes manually. When a user prefers to do things the hard way, that usually means the app has failed somewhere.

    Your mileage may vary, but I have certain expectations for a $30 app and they weren’t met by MarsEdit (at least not yet). One expectation is that I’m buying an all-in-one solution. For $10, even $20, sure: don’t reinvent the wheel. For $30? Yeah, at that point I think you shouldn’t be sending me to an external editor to do something I consider fairly basic.

    FWIW, while I stand by what I said, I’m going to have to think about a way to more clearly communicate “this isn’t a formal, official review; these are conversational comments and if I’m wrong, I hope y’all will click on the Comment button and tell me where I screwed up.”

    This won’t come out right at all, but when I blog, I think of myself as just another dude with a blog. If someone emailed the creator of MarsEdit and said “Did you know that Andy Ihnatko of the Chicago Sun-Times and Macworld totally slammed your app?” I can understand why he might get upset. It’s a mischaracterization of the content, but I know from personal experience how this sort of news can come across.

  8. Daniel Jalkut

    Hi Andy – I was a bit taken aback by the harshness of the review, but I do appreciate the points you make. To be honest, a lot of the things you suggest are on my “list” – it’s just a matter of getting the time to do them right. And doing things right is important to me. What I hear again and again from people for whom MarsEdit “clicks” is that in spite of missing bullet points, it becomes irresistible to them. Of course, that’s not going to be true for everybody, and I encourage anybody to use Ecto or another tool if it’s more up their alley.

    I definitely would be the last person to say MarsEdit is perfect. In fact, I’m the world’s leading expert on what’s wrong with it. Fortunately, I’m also the leading expert on what’s right :) If MarsEdit was perfect, I’d be at the beach counting $. What I do claim is that MarsEdit is well-thought-out and delivers what it promises. It doesn’t promise a lot of really nifty things that I myself would also love to see in the app. I err towards omission instead of adding a feature before I feel like it’s finely-tuned. This strategy will obviously win me some grumbles but it also wins me a lot of cheers.

    I’m glad to see hint in your latest post that you’ll be doing a more substantial review at some point. If there’s anything I can elucidate on in terms of giving MarsEdit a fair shake, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

  9. Ihnatko Post author

    @Chris M – Truly, I’ve only had about a half an hour with the thing; this isn’t a formal review. But I do think those comments are relevant. As a user who downloaded a free demo, this experience doesn’t compel me to keep trying it, much less send in my $30.

    As with any other new tool, I’ll use it until I understand it, and then I’ll make an informed decision. I’m more eager to put Ecto through its paces than ME, though. I spent 12 years editing blog posts in Monaco and I really, really want to do it in Georgia for a change. :)

    re: rich styles — I don’t really see where it’s a problem. On the editing app I was building in Cocoa (for my homemade blog system) all I had to do was take italicized text and wrap them in studly, compliant inline CSS. Complicated formatting with boxes and rules and stuff is tricky, sure, but you’ll be doing that via a style sheet, right?

    Multiple blog management isn’t something I’ve messed with yet. This is my sole WordPress blog. Part of my goal with the Celestial waste of Bandwidth is to consolidate as much of my content as possible.

  10. Ihnatko Post author

    @Daniel – Good to hear from ya, sir.

    I think my main beef with ME is that in the short time I’ve been using it, I’ve come across way too many moments when I’ve been forced to do things by hand. As a user — not as a reviewer — I want a tool that’ll does most of the heavy lifting for me and allows me to focus on what I’m writing. At this stage, I don’t feel as though MarsEdit is offering my $30 worth of advantages over writing posts in BBEdit and then pasting the result into WordPress’ online editor.

    But like I’ve been saying, it’s early. I’ll be coming back to MarsEdit later and when I do, I’m sure I’ll be in touch…!

    Incidentally, I’m really enjoying Black Ink!

  11. Daniel Jalkut

    Thanks, Andy. I do appreciate the “first launch experience” problems you’re running into. I spend a lot of time thinking about “what will make me the user run screaming” and you’ve definitely given me some ideas there for things to fix and improve.

    Glad you’re digging Black Ink!

  12. Neil-uk

    It’s refreshing to see the spontaneous, first-impressions and frustrations of using a new app; especially when it’s from an experienced Professional. It is valuable and worthwhile to see these human moments. I hope they will not be squashed.

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