Archive Reviews

Review: Mars Edit 2 - Blogging on the Mac

ME.pngIn the world of blogging on the Mac there are only a few choices for a desktop client that interfaces with your CMS. Probably the most acclaimed is Mars Edit 2 by Daniel Jalkut at Red Sweater Software. While not the original author of Mars Edit, he has brought it to it's best version ever, offering several enhancements over the previous version.

Compatibility

Mars Edit 2 is largely compatible with all of the popular blogging & CMS platforms, such as WordPress, Blogger, Movable Type, Drupal and more. Even non-officially supported can probably work, if they use a compatible XMLRPC, such as Movable Type.

Setup

Configuring your blog is a breeze. Simply click on 'File->New Blog' and it will prompt you for your weblog name and the URL of the home page. Mars Edit will go out and 'discover' what type of blog you are using. If it can't determine it, it will offer you the option to manually configure it. marsedit_1.png Once it understands your blogging system it asks for your username/password which it will add to you OS X Keychain, and then it will download your most recent posts & categories. The auto-discovery feature proved reliable on the Wordpress blog I tested, but not on my Drupal based website, Thinkmac. For this website I have several content types - Reviews, Articles, News, etc. I had to manually configure each of these, since Mars Edit looks at them like separate weblogs. With the most popular systems, it seems to work just fine. Drupal is a beast of it's own, so I wasn't really surprised there were issues with it. Note: author is looking into getting the auto-detect to work on the Drupal content types.

Posting

Creating a new entry on your blog couldn't be easier, and it makes using the web interfaces with typical Content Management Systems (CMS) seem outdated. To create new posts, you simply click on 'New Post'. Up pops a familiar editing window that is simple and reminiscent of Mail or your basic text editor. Simply enter a title, type in the body of the text, and add check marks to the categories that are applicable to your post. marsedit_7.png You can also use a bookmarklet, which is a little bookmark shortcut you put into your web browser. When you are browsing the net and you find something you would like to post, you click the bookmarklet and Mars Edit will open up with the website link embedded in the new post. Mars Edit offers the ability to add Technorati Tags, choose pre-defined categories, and ping weblog services to let them know that you have updated your content.

Media Manager

Adding images and files to your posts is pretty easy, offering the ability to simply drag and drop images into your editing window. When you add an image, the Media Manager pops up and then allows you choose how you would like the image aligned. Choose 'Upload and Insert', and then the HTML that links your image will appear in your editing window. marsedit_8.png marsedit_10.png With the included Flickr integration, you can also link your Media Manager to your Flickr account, and browse and insert images right from there. This is very handy, especially if you find yourself including images frequently from your Flickr stream.

Macros & Apple Script

Probably the most powerful feature of Mars Edit is the ability to create Macros that you can utilize while writing your posts. For example, I like to make all of the hyperlinks that I add inserted with a bold format. So, I created a Macro that allows me to select text, choose 'Paste Link Bold' and then it will add the needed HTML to make that hyperlink bold. This is a great time saver!! These are pretty extensible, and you can assign keyboard shortcuts to each one. For example, I made keyboard shortcuts for all of my H1, H2, and H3 headings. If I want H3, I simply press my assigned keystroke. mars_edit_4-1.png Another very functional but probably underused by most is the ability to use Apple Script. Mars Edit comes with some default scripts, such as 'Show Text Statistics' which can be used to find out how long your post is, and 'Currently Playing in iTunes', which lets you share with others what you are listening to as you write a post. This is a fantastic feature for those that want to extend Mars Edit even more. mars_edit_5.png marsedit14.png

A little too simplistic

Mars Edit isn't without problems. While keeping the interface simple, it also keeps features a bit too minimal. My biggest issue is with the Media Manager. When I choose an image to add, I would like to be able to add custom 'ALT' tags to make my images screen reader friendly. Also missing is the ability to resize or apply pre-defined CSS to them on the fly. I would love to have the option to rename the file that will be uploaded to the server. Missing little features like this makes Mars Edit seem incomplete. The editing screen is missing some familiar items. For example, non-techies are used to seeing formatting icons, such as BOLD, CENTER, etc. Mars Edit only offers Menu drop down menus that offer these features, and thus doesn't offer a true WYSIWYG interface. When you select text and then choose 'BOLD' from the menu, you see the actual HTML, which will be confusing for novices. None of these missing features are deal breakers, but it certainly would make Mars Edit feel more robust and provide it with missing features that many power users long for. Conclusion: Mars Edit 2 is a fantastic weblog editor. Red-Sweater software is very open to feature requests and the author is actively updating and evolving the software into the top blogging client on the Mac. I've used it exclusively for posting to this website for quite awhile, and it has proved to be reliable, robust, and a must have piece of software for any Mac user with a blog. 4 out of 5