For the past ten days, I've been using BlogJet and ecto to create some of my posts. Both these applications are offline blog editing tools which let you manage your post content wholly offline, creating your content on your own computer and then publishing that content to your blog.
I'm going to focus my comments on my impressions from using both tools, not describing each one's functionality in any depth. You can find information about both apps on the respective websites, including detailed feature lists, and you can download trial versions. BlogJet runs on Windows only while ecto has versions for Windows and the Macintosh OS (it was originally developed as a Mac application). I've also included links to some other bloggers' reviews of these tools, listed at the end of this post.
Both these tools are excellent and are definitely worth considering, for good reasons like these:
- If you use a hosted blog service, you can use BlogJet or ecto to write your posts instead of having to log in to your account each time and write them online. If you have a dial-up internet connection, clearly that will save you money by not having to stay online all the time. Then, when you're ready, you connect to the net and publish your offline posts.
- You will have copies of all your posts on your own computer, not solely on your blog host's server. Especially useful for the time when you forgot to do that backup from your blog and the host server and/or your blog itself is unreachable :)
- Both BlogJet and ecto support a wide range of blog services including TypePad, Blogger, b2, BlogHarbor, Blogware, DasBlog, DeadJournal, LiveJournal, Lockergnome.net, MovableType, pMachine, Squarespace, .Text, WordPress, cocolog, Nucleus, Drupal, Blogger API and MetaWeblog API. So the chances are high that the service you use is supported.
- Full support for blogging RSS feeds from FeedDemon.
- Easily embed images and video and audio material into your posts.
- You can spell-check your posts before publishing. I find this useful as I can't do this with TypePad.
- WYSIWYG or code views: both tools give you the choice. BlogJet offers full WYSIWYG editing as the default, just like you're used to with productivity apps like Word or FrontPage, to make composing your posts extremely easy. You can also switch into code view. Ecto only has a code-based interface (ie, you're exposed to all the various HTML tags) although it does offer a preview browser-like popup window so you can see what your post will look like. For creating and editing posts, which approach you prefer will no doubt depend on what you're comfortable with.
I've been using the latest BlogJet version 1.1.0 build 20 and ecto for Windows version 126.96.36.199 (the latest version is 188.8.131.52 which I installed and used over the weekend.) Both are very easy to install and set up for access to your blog: after installation, answer a few questions about which service you use, enter your user ID and password, and you're set.
In actual use, both have their respective strengths and weaknesses. Here's my review of each one.
The major strength of this tool is that it's very easy to use. Load it up, and start editing. As you can see from the screenshot above (click it for a larger view), the interface focuses on your content, hiding things like selecting categories, viewing current posts and what's been posted to your blog (to see these, you get a popup window).
What you see on the screen is broadly what it will look like on your blog. You can customize your editing settings; for instance, I changed the default editing font to be the same as the one on my blog so it looked as close as possible to the text on my blog.
Adding formatting attributes to your text is very easy, in line with the overall ease of use. You want a set of bulleted paragraphs? Just highlight the text, click a button on the toolbar and you've got your list which you see on screen with bullets. Never mind the terminology of websites (bulleted text is an 'unordered list') or manually entering HTML codes. Just click and you're done. A numbered list? Choose 'Format > Numbered list' from the menu. How easier could it be?
The same goes for including photos or other graphic images in a post. Click the cursor where you want the image, click the insert pic icon on the taskbar, choose the image and insert. And, you see the image as you're editing. True WYSIWYG. When you publish your post to your blog server, the image is uploaded as well. Easy. (But it doesn't support creating thumbnail images, a useful feature in TypePad.)
BlogJet does have some limitations. The biggest one with the current version is that it does not support trackbacks and setting pings. So if you write a post in BlogJet and want to include a trackback to a post on another blog, you're out of luck. You'll need to complete the editing in the editor on your blog host to include trackback and ping URLs.
Neither does BlogJet yet support extended posts, excerpts or keywords. Extended posts are when you have a post (like this one) that has a few paragraphs on your main blog page that includes a line of text saying something like 'Continue reading [topic]' that links to a separate page that has the complete post. Not all blog services have this feature but if yours does, it is very useful as it means you can write a pretty lengthy post without having all of it on your main page. TypePad Plus and TypePad Pro support this feature.
Dmitry Chestnykh, BlogJet's developer, says such issues will be addressed in BlogJet version 1.2, which will be available in October.
One other matter that made my overall positive experience with BlogJet less than wholly satisfactory was that every time I published a post I'd written with BlogJet, none of the categories I'd set were maintained. I had to open the post in TypePad and re-publish it in order for the categories to register, so to speak. I took this up with TypePad Support, who said: "The category functionality works fine when you just use TypePad by itself and the problem only appears when you use the publishing tools. If the tools weren't designed specifically for use with TypePad but for general use, then they might not be configured properly to work with TypePad."
What this meant for me was that I did not live-publish any further posts - I published all as drafts and then manually published them from TypePad. That rather defeats the ultimate objective in using a tool like this.
If all these issues - including categories being maintained when a post is published - are fully addressed in the upcoming new version, then BlogJet would be a serious contender in the blog tools editing and publishing market, ideal for anyone who especially wants ease of use and WYSIWYG editing.
My rating: 3 stars out of 5.
BlogJet costs $19.95. You can try it free for 30 days.
Where BlogJet focuses on form, ecto for Windows focuses on function. By comparison, this is an industrial-strength blog editing tool, you might say. You're into HTML coding here, not WYSIWYG editing. You want a bulleted paragraph? Go ahead, write in the codes manually. Numbers? The same. You still get ease of use but you do need to know a bit more about how web pages work.
To use ecto, you need to have the Microsoft .NET Framework installed, so make sure it is before you run ecto. During the past week, I was using ecto version 184.108.40.206 and my experience with it generally was mixed. Yes, I was pleased with how the program performed from an offline editing point of view. I liked the overall way of using it. I don't mind editing in code view, for instance, which is how Tyepad's post editor works. I like the popup preview window that shows me what my post will look like when published. And I especially like being able to see a list of posts on my blog in an Explorer-like tree on the left of the program window, and all the categories I have.
Like BlogJet, unfortunately, the category settings just didn't work no matter what categories I set for my posts. If I posted live, the categories didn't carry through. According to info on the ecto website, this feature does work properly. Well, for me it didn't with version 220.127.116.11. TypePad Support's comments (above) about categories also related to ecto. I found that a bit odd, actually, as TypePad mentions ecto in the online TypePad help manual as a suggested offline editor for using with TypePad blogs. Furthermore, ecto say: "ecto was originally targeted at MovableType and TypePad users."
The good news, though, is that after I downloaded and installed the latest version 18.104.22.168 on Saturday, and used ecto during the weekend, everything worked perfectly - I'd had a few crashes and Windows memory-full messages with the previous version - and the category settings did work correctly, carrying though to live publishing. So I've been creating content in ecto since Saturday and posting it live to my blog with 100% success.
Where ecto excels is in its detailed control over every element of your post.
You can write extended posts and have excerpts and keywords. And you can set trackback and URL pings, as this screenshot of post properties shows:
For pings, you have better options than in TypePad, being able to add as many blog services to ping as you want (see my recent post on manually setting post pings to Technorati from TypePad - no need to worry about that if you use ecto).
With inserting images, your control extends to being able to specify precisely which directory on the blog host server you want to upload the image file to. I like that feature. Like Blogjet, though, it doesn't support creating image thumbnails.
In essence, you can do all you want to do with an individual post that you can do directly in the TypePad post editor, including set live publishing for a future date and time. (I'm impressed that ecto are even thinking about how this works if you're blogging when traveling, say, and you're in a different time zone to that of your blog: what date will be used? There's discussion about that on their blog.)
Ecto makes use of templates which I didn't explore. My TypePad service level doesn't include template editing, so I didn't see this feature as being useful to me. But if you have a service that lets you create or edit your blog templates, then this feature could be very useful.
Overall, I think ecto is a winner if you want an offline blog editing tool that enables you to dive into the more technical elements of blog publishing and gives you total control over every element of your posting. A new version is in the works - in a post on the ecto blog dated 16 September, developer Alex Hung says: "I am currently working on the next major update with improved user interface."
My rating: 4 stars out of 5.
Ecto costs $17.95 or €15.54 (and the order page lets you choose from a long list of other currencies). You can try it free for 14 days.
Other bloggers have also written reviews in recent months about BlogJet and/or ecto. Here are links to some good ones I have found:
Final word: I wrote this post with ecto 22.214.171.124 but could not publish it through to live. Ecto doesn't support creating image thumbnails, as I mentioned, so the images in this post were created by the TypePad editor from the original images with links to the full-size images. As a further result of doing that manual finalizing, I couldn't see how actually publishing an extended post live works (I haven't tried that feature yet with ecto).