Hands on: Writing blogs on the Mac with the new MarsEdit 4
MarsEdit has helped bloggers on the Mac for a decade, and the update that includes a revamped design for the online writing tool is compelling.
We really like the updated blogging app MarsEdit 4 for Mac so of course we're about to recommend it and tell you why. It's just that if we stuck to form, we wouldn't mention the price until the end — and for once that's too important. MarsEdit 4 costs $50 and arguably doesn't do anything you can't already do for free. Yet it's how it does it and it's how hugely it helps bloggers that makes it well worth the cost.
If you only blog once in a blue moon then MarsEdit 4 is overkill and you might as well go type directly into WordPress or whatever else you want to use.
Let us change a word, though. Every time you read the word blog, imagine it says article instead. The same process that lets us have a writer-centric blog and that lets other people recount kitten adventures is the same one that news agencies use to publish stories.
So MarsEdit 4 is for writing articles that appear online. You can write anything in MarsEdit. It's just that it's particularly built for writing pieces that you then use it to directly post from MarsEdit onto blogging platforms like WordPress, TypePad, Blogger and Movable Type.
If you write on any of those platforms, you typically have to log in each time you want to post anything. With WordPress, in particular, that means accepting that you're going to go around the "You entered a wrong CAPTCHA" a couple of times, too. Whereas with MarsEdit, you enter your login details once and never again.
From that moment you can just fire up MarsEdit when you have an idea, write it and post it immediately.
Once you've logged into your blogging service that first time, MarsEdit now also grabs all of your previous posts. So you have a complete and searchable archive of everything you've written on that blog.
The only problem with MarsEdit supporting lots of different platforms is that not all of those platforms really support it back. The developer says he can't promise that the archiving of all your previous blogs will always work.
We can tell you that it did with WordPress, though, and it's how we've just discovered we've been running one blog for 12 years and 540 posts.
Some of MarsEdit's features for writing new posts also vary depending on which blogging platform you use. However in every case you can write in MarsEdit on your Mac, click Publish and know that the post will appear right away on your blog's site.
MarsEdit 4's update includes a new look for that writing and editing window. By default it's quite a small window that makes it feel concentrated. Alongside the text, though, you get the typical other elements that blogging platforms need.
Above the text editing window there are options to say which of your many blogs this post is for. You can say it is actually a post, as in text, or it's a gallery of images, a video and so on.
You can write some tags describing the post — what WordPress sometimes calls keywords — and you can pick a category from any you've set up. New to this version 4 is the ability to drag in a Featured Image for WordPress, too. The idea remains the same as it has for the now decade-old MarsEdit app: you get everything you need here instead of having to log into your blogging service.
It doesn't sound like a big deal, yet even something as straightforward as WordPress does involve a lot of scrolling and clicking. The steps involved in publishing a blog post on services is far from coal mining, but it's also a little bit of a chore and it's distressingly easy to forget a step.
MarsEdit helps. It will warn you if you forget to add a title, for instance, and there are options to be reminded of other elements too. MarsEdit won't stop you publishing something with gaps in but it'll make sure you know about them so it's your definite, deliberate choice to go ahead.
All of which should be in WordPress or the rest themselves but even if it were, the true benefit is having one central and good system that flies through all you need.
We obviously wrote some blog posts to try this out and the process felt faster than doing it directly in WordPress. Blogs vary in length and the time it takes varies on our caffeine intake too so there's no quantifiable way to say MarsEdit is some percentage faster than blogging directly. Yet it feels as if it is and that's a big thing.
You bash the text in, knowing that various blog settings are either already done or that you'll be prompted before you forget them. You highlight some text and make it a link. Drag an image in. Then publish it now or leave the whole thing knowing that you won't lose your text because WordPress times out.
That convenience of being able to build up a substantial piece of writing before committing it to the blog is first class, but still there is a difference between seeing it in MarsEdit and seeing it online. The app does optionally provide a preview of how it's going to look on the service you're posting to. However, it's basic and doesn't look enough like the final published web page so we never use it.
MarsEdit supports Markdown and you can use that language's tools for saying that this line of text is a heading, this other one is in bold or italic and so on. If you do that then the Preview is better. It's more problematic with previewing, say, embedded videos. Today if you want to embed a video from YouTube in your WordPress blog, you just paste the link in. Previously, though, you had to know the web's HTML code for embedding video and use that.
Considering that it's mostly the same code each time and we just kept it as a TextExpander snippet, this isn't a big deal. Yet YouTube's new way is quicker and it's what we use every time - unless we're writing a blog in MarsEdit 4. Paste the YouTube link and MarsEdit's preview will show you the text of that link. It will only show you the actual video preview if you use the old HTML coding.
However, the link method works when your post is published on WordPress so it's a question of trusting that it'll be fine. It always is but this kind of thing negates the worth of a Preview.
We get especially twitchy about not being able to see what something will look like when we also use MarsEdit's facility for scheduling posts. This, too, varies between blogging platforms and the developer says it won't work on all of them. It works with WordPress, though, so we currently have several blogs lined up to appear online over the next few weeks.
We'd like to see that scheduling feature be in the main editing window so that as you finish your post you can choose when it will appear. Instead you have to choose Post from the Mac's menu bar and then choose Edit Date. It doesn't have a great calendar-like date picker either, though it does have quick options for saying a post should be published today, tomorrow or yesterday.
It is possible to use MarsEdit to publish a blog post for you which has a Last Modified date of yesterday. If you can think of a good and legal reason why you'd want to do this, let us know.
There is one more serious thing that does make us hesitate over fully recommending MarsEdit, though, and it's that it's a Mac app. It is solely a Mac app: there is no iOS version. Since we are as likely to blog on the move as we are at our Macs, we'd really like to see an iPad and iPhone version.
MarsEdit 4 remains a powerful Mac app that's done very well and which is somehow still just a pleasure to write in. We may have to just confine our blogging to it when we're at our Macs.
MarsEdit 4 requires macOS 10.12 or higher and is available direct from the developer for $50.