ecto and MarsEdit

Brent writes about things you might not know about MarsEdit. That's a good idea, indeed. ecto and MarsEdit are probably the main competitors in the field of desktop blogging clients (in particular, those clients that can handle a wide range of blog systems). Both products are in an evolving state. ecto is a descendant of the popular Kung-Log and MarsEdit is a stand-alone rewrite of NetNewsWire's built-in editor. The competition is good-natured as Brent Simmons and I are on friendly terms, but it's still competition and I'm using MarsEdit's release as a motivation to further improve ecto, just like ecto has been one of Brent's inspirations. Obviously, I want ecto to be the number one blogging client, but the main objective is to make users happy and their blogging experience smooth.

So what are the things you may not have known about ecto? Apart from external editor support (which I'm still considering), most stuff you see in MarsEdit has been in ecto for a while. A list of new features of ecto 2 is already listed in the ecto forum, but let's get some of the “hidden” features in order as ecto is chockful of them:

Browser support
ecto 2.0 now also has a bookmarklet that you can install in your favorite browser (See ecto → Insert Bookmarklet), an idea inspired by Brent Simmons and its' quite neat. Of course, if your favorite browser is Safari, you could already use ecto's Services menu support, which does the same thing as the bookmarklet does. Note that the Services menu commands work with selected text in any application you are using. In addition, you can blog to ecto anytime from within NetNewsWire, PulpFiction or Shrook by using the “Post to Weblog” command (you need to set ecto as the default blog client in your newsreader's Preferences). To change the way the quoted text is shown in the draft, just edit the “Blog This” template via Weblog → Edit Templates.

Default settings
ecto stores settings on a per-blog basis, so that you can have a set of settings for one blog and a different set of settings for another blog. This works on anything, from comments to notification addresses. Most of these settings are set as default automatically. For comments, formatting, notifications, and trackbacks, you have to tell ecto first. In a draft window, just select Options → Save as Default if you want the configuration of this menu to persist for new drafts.

Customizable keyboard shortcuts
The HTML tags menu in the HTML editor of a draft window are not only fully customizable, you can also assign your preferred keyboard shortcuts. Choose Window → HTML Tags to reveal the editable list of tags. Under the “Shortcut” header, click on the row for the tag you want to assign a shortcut to. This will reveal a sheet in which you can just type any shortcut using any modifier keys and ecto will create the shortcut for you. That's all there is to it.

Anything can look like your want it to look like
ecto's preview is fully customizable, you can change layout and stylesheet any way you want (more details). But that's not the only thing you can customize. You can customize a lot more using ecto's strong template support. Just take a look in Weblog → Edit Templates.

By the way, ecto has live preview. Run the preview, then click on “Appearance” in the toolbar to get to the automatic preview settings.

Clipboard and tags
ecto comes with a default shortcut that lets you create links on the fly in the HTML editor if you have a URL on the clipboard. This shortcut is called “url with clipboard” and has a customizable shortcut. Applying the clipboard to tags works with any custom tag as long as they contain a “%@” field.

Help book
Documentation and help for ecto is in many places. You can use Help → ecto Help, go to the online documentation, browse FAQ and support forum, or read the ecto blog.

Media blogging
You may already know that ecto can upload files. But it does much more. There's the iPhoto import, obviously, but what about the things you can do with attachments? Resizing images? Converting images to PNG or JPG? Make thumbnails? Customize the IMG tags? Make embedded movies or even poster movies? It's all there.

del.icio.us
ecto has a feature-rich link creation dialog (Edit → Insert Hyperlink). If you choose it and you already have a link in the clipboard and text selected, the fields are filled in for you. ecto also remembers links you have used before, so you only need to type the first few characters to get the full link. In addition, ecto has full support for del.icio.us, a fantastic social bookmarks manager. If you don't know about this, I recommend looking into it. And what if you're blogging about a blog? You can subscribe to that blog via ecto and your NetNewsWire or PulpFiction will add the referred blog.

Stationaries
Are you always writing blog entries that have the same layout? Use stationaries! Save a draft as stationary via the File menu and you can create new drafts with the stationary, saving you lots of time to write the same text.

Send emails
For each of your weblogs, you can tell ecto to send notifications after posting entries. Set up the addresses via Window → Notifications (it has AddressBook support), and just choose Options → Send Notification before posting an entry. ecto can send emails as plain or as rich text. It can also send emails via your default email client. Pick your poison!

Smart quotes
Do you like curly quotes? Do you think it's a pain to add them? Then turn on smart quotes in Weblog → Edit Settings. Each time you post a draft, ecto will take your draft's straight quotes and make them nice and curly.

Language-based dictionaries
So your one blog is in English and your other one is in French? Isn't it annoying to have to reset the spelling dictionary each time you write in one of the blogs? Again, dive into Weblog → Settings and just set the preferred language for the current blog's spelling checker.

Those editing thingies
Take a look in the Edit menu. Notice the “Insert iTunes” item? It inserts the currently playing iTunes song right into your draft (and of course, fully customizable with templates). What about your clipboard's contents? You can paste it as is, but if you're in Rich Text mode, you may want to paste without Formatting. Or, if you're in HTML Edit mode, you can paste as encoded (replacing brackets and ampersands with the correct html entities).

Markdown and Textile plugins and more
ecto has built-in support for Markdown and Textile. If you are using MovableType or any other weblog system with text formatting support, you can choose a format from the Formatting list in the draft window's Option menu and not only write entries in that format, but you can also preview it!

If you don't see your format previewed, you can add a custom preview plugin. For a sample, read Jacques Distler's entry. Currently, plugins have to be in perl, have filenames that match the keys returned from mt.supportedTextFilters and that end in .perl (I'll work on support for Drupal's way of replying to mt.supportedTextFilters and for alternative scripting languages).

Auto-summarizing
This feature is available if you have a MovableType API compatible weblog. If turned on in the Preferences, ecto will generate a summary of your text when you save or post your entry, but only if the Summary field is still empty.

I have no doubt that I have missed some more features in this list...

Posted by Adriaan on October 04, 2004