September 27, 2011: I’ve reconsidered the decision that I made in this post. Check out my update, where I explain why I’ve now switched to MarsEdit.
The hardest part of making the switch from Windows to Mac is often on the software side of things. While there are many great OS X apps, sometimes it can be hard to find the perfect replacement for an app that you’ve used on Windows. Since I’m not dual booting or running virtualization on my MacBook Air, I ran into that issue when searching for a replacement for Windows Live Writer. Cast whatever stones you want at Microsoft for other reasons, but Live Writer is an excellent blogging app. My search for a replacement for Live Writer focused on three choices: Blogo, MarsEdit, and ecto.
All three apps offer a fully functional trial version, so you can try out each and decide which one you prefer. You should do that, as there’s no right or wrong answer here. Each app has strengths and weaknesses, so your choice will come down to your workflow and your personal preferences. Don’t expect any of them to be as easy to use as Live Writer, though, as none of the apps offer an easy way to import your theme for WYSIWYG editing, as with Live Writer.
What I was looking for was an app that handled images easily (especially padding between the image and the text), something that integrated well with WordPress, and something that just let me write. I know that some of you are coders, and like handcrafting each post, with minute control. Not me. I just want to write, without thinking about HTML.
When I first started, I thought that Blogo would be my choice. It has the most attractive interface of the three, and is also the most simple. That simplicity can be good, but also comes at a price. Unlike MarsEdit and ecto, Blogo just doesn’t give you as many options to tweak to your liking. If Blogo works for you out of the box, great. If it doesn’t, you’re kind of stuck.
Blogo’s image handling is as simple as the rest of the interface. You drag an image (I did it from LittleSnapper, but you can do it from Finder as well) into a post, and then specify the image size. Short of editing the HTML of your post, there are no other options readily available to tweak an image, such as adjusting padding and margins.
Blogo’s other functions are basic, with buttons to bold, italicize, underline, or strikeout text, and to block quote text, create a list, and insert a link. You can also select your blog’s categories from a dropdown list. From the interface, you can publish a post to your blog (immediately, or scheduled for a future date), send a draft to your blog, or preview the post. The preview functionality is quite good, giving you a look at what the post would look like on your site. It’s a shame that this look couldn’t be carried over to the editing interface, like Live Writer’s WYSIWYG mode.
Blogo’s simplicity initially appealed to me, but over time I found too many limitations. I wanted more control over images, and, worse yet, I encountered a few bugs. On one occassion, I couldn’t get my cursor back to the Title box to edit the tile. Also, I’ve found that toggling between Rich Text mode, and back again, would add white space between paragraphs. Worse, this switching between modes inserted HTML code into my posts.
Blogo was an attractive, simple blogging app, but it left me wanting more. It can be purchased for $25.
While using Blogo, I also was using MarsEdit. MarsEdit isn’t as simple as Blogo, but provides more options. MarsEdit has a dropdown formatting menu, that allows you to easily format your text. The image editing options are as basic as Blogo’s, and pale in comparision to what is found in Live Writer. You can set image size and alignment, but can’t do much more than that. As of this writing, I still haven’t found a way to edit an image once it is inserted into a post (short of editing the HTML, or deleting and reinserting the image). This is such basic functionality, that I may just be missing it.
MarsEdit allows you to easily select post categories from your blog, and to input tags. While MarEdit retrieves your category list from you blog (or, at least it did with my WordPress blog), it does not do so with tags. This means that you have to recall your tags from your own memory, assuming you want to be consistent with your tags on your site.
MarsEdit has a nice Server Options interface, where you can use a dropdown menu to set a post’s status as published or draft. I preferred this over the interfaces in Blogo and ecto, where I sometimes held my breath clicking a button, not sure if I was unwittingly sending an unfinished post to 40Tech.
MarsEdit is a well-rounded app, and a strong choice for someone who likes to tweak options. Ultimately, though, I wasn’t happy with the image handling options, and how MarsEdit handles tags. If MarEdit suits you needs, you can purchase it for $39.95.
The third and final app that I tested was ecto. ecto is closer to MarsEdit than it is to Blogo. As with MarsEdit and Blogo, you can select categories from a list, but you also can select your blog’s tags from a list as well (at least on a WordPress blog you can). This gave ecto a leg up on the competition.
The expected text formatting options, such as bold, italics, and text justification, are present in a smaller toolbar in the editing window. One selection that isn’t present is the ability to designate a heading for text. For example, the word “ecto” at the start of this section of the article uses heading 4, which is set by a tag in 40Tech’s CSS. Blogo didn’t have this option either, but it was present in MarsEdit. That doesn’t mean you’re out of luck with ecto. You can use this heading selection, if you know some basic CSS. All it took was setting up a custom tag using the “Custom Tags” button. In my case, I had to insert the letters “h4” into the custom tag field, give it a name, and highlight text and select that tag whenever I wanted to implement that text styling.
I liked ecto’s image handling the best of the three apps. When you drop an image into ecto, you can select the image margins, padding, float, border, and class. You can also scale the image, and select the file format and quality level.
At first glance, ecto doesn’t appear to let you post only a draft to your site. If you look closely, though, you’ll see a button (among other buttons) at the bottom left of the composition window that lets you change the behavior of the “Publish” button, so that you only publish a draft to your site. You can also set a publish date and time from within the app. To be safe, though, I went into ecto’s settings and set the default behavior to only publish drafts to the site.
ecto wasn’t perfect, but came closest to what I was looking for in a blogging app. Fortunately for me, ecto is also the least expensive of the three apps, at a current price of $19.95.
Each of the apps have other features and tweaks not mentioned here, that may or may not be important to you. Your best bet is to download the trial of each, and see which one works best for you. For me, ecto won out, due to its image handling, and also because of how it handles tags.
Do you use blogging software, or compose your posts directly on your site’s backend? If you do you use software, what do you use?