Client Test (Ecto)

First up in my tests of blog posting software and its interaction with WordPress is Ecto, currently published by IllumineX and currently in beta for version 3 and with no sign of earlier, non-beta versions being available. It’s been around for a while, and, alongside MarsEdit, is one of the most recommended Mac blog posting clients.

In the realm of absolute basics, Ecto certainly manages offline posts. Nice. The offline posts are kept in the app’s own database somewhere, and I don’t have to worry about files cluttering my filesystem. Also nice.

It also works with multiple blogs quite well. I can edit posts from multiple blog sources all in one app window, which is a really nice feature when dealing with multiple blogs. Thus I can edit Strange Torpedoes (this blog), my personal, laptop-hosted blog, and the HiRISE blog all at once.

As for my basic desires:

  • Word-counting widget
  • Proper Mac rich text editor

Ecto does okay with the word-counting widget, in that one exists. Unfortunately, it’s a modal widget, meaning I have to stop work, click a button, examine the results window (a nice overlay, I’ll give Ecto that), and then click another button to dismiss the results before getting back to work. I prefer a modeless widget, one that keeps a live count of my words as I type. The WordPress built-in editor has something nearly live, but not completely, but at least it’s modeless. My current favorite writing tools, Scrivener and Journler, both have live, modeless word counters. Scrivener has a nice target mode for its word counter, in which you can set a goal and track your progress towards that goal. Nice. Ecto, though, is not so nice. But at least it’s got a word counter, and I’ll give it a pass.

As for the proper Mac rich text editor front, it does pretty well. Once you’ve got a proper Mac app, though, it’s not hard to have a proper rich text editor; it’s one of the system-supplied widgets. Thus, the text editor has all the things you’d expect, including the popup menu and a Format menu with the usual formatting commands and the usual command shortcuts (Command-B for bold, for instance). It has a decent widget bar at the top, one that features buttons for formatting. There’s something like this supplied with the system rich text editor, in that when you activate the ruler, you typically get a set of formatting widgets, too. Ecto’s particular set, however, is not the system-supplied set. It’s a custom set that’s more appropriate to the world of blog publishing. That’s a nice feature, but the custom set looks… well, it looks custom. It doesn’t quite fit with the Mac interface. Functionally, though, it works just fine, so I’ll give it a pass.

Other nice features include the management of tags and categories, as they’re called in WordPress. In fact, it appears to get information about the kinds of metadata supported by the blog from the blog, so if your blog doesn’t support tags, you don’t see tags in Ecto.

Ecto works with images, but I’m not willing to test it out yet. I feel like that’ll break the spell.

So then. Ecto looks pretty good, at least as far as it works with WordPress. Overall, I’m pleased with it, and the price is right: $18.

Unfortunately, Ecto did not work well with Blogger, but I think at least part of that problem was due to Blogger. Ecto kept adding additional, unnecessary newlines between paragraphs of my posts, resulting in paragraphs with more than a comfortable amount of space between them. Because Ecto seems to work fine with WordPress, however, it seems like at least part of the problem is Blogger—but on the other hand, Ecto ought to be able to adapt to Blogger’s data format, unless Blogger isn’t publishing a useful API or format. (On the other other hand, I’ve given up on Blogger so I don’t really care.)

As an aside, back when Mac OS X came out, IllumineX made a name for itself—in my book, at least—with a suite of pretty cool games that were also, well, pretty. They took full advantage of OS X’s “lickable” interface. BabelBloX was pretty fun.

As another aside, it looks like the app’s proper name is “ecto” in all lowercase. I find that a little annoying, a little pretentious. On the other hand, I have apps that I’ve written with names like HiPlan, the HOGG (where I insist the “the” is part of the name, yet don’t necessarily insist on capitalizing it), HiTemp, HiSEAS, and HIPHOP, so who exactly am I to judge?

Update: Eh, the tag/category management is a little buggy. I set a new category for this post in Ecto, but Ecto did not update the categories on my blog and it filed the post as Uncategorized. It also now lists some tags multiple times, and flipping between categories and tags in the editor sometimes seems to leave cruft behind.

Update 2: I’d meant to check out the use of ordered (numbered) lists in these tests, not just unordered (bullet) lists. So let’s take a look at one. Here are the main apps I’ve written for HiRISE:

  1. HiPlan/the HOGG
  2. HiTemp
  3. HIPHOP
  4. HiSEAS
  5. HiCommand

How’s that look? Answer: Nice! I’m quite pleased, given how Ecto and Blogger worked together on this front, which was basically not at all.

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