Feb 27

WP Blog Editor Review: Desk 3

I’ve decided to work on doing weekly blog posts to get back in the habit of writing about what I’m doing. One of the things that bothers me about editing in a web browser is that the keyboard shortcuts never work well. As someone who spends a lot of time on the keyboard, the shortcuts not working properly can throw me backwards. The one that has bitten me in the past is accidentally trying to navigate backwards and losing what ever changes hadn’t been automatically synced. As a part of that I’ve been looking at Mac native editors to write blog posts on without having to land in the web interface too much.

This post, and a few others, have been written using “Desk 3” an app that bills itself as “Writing, Blogging and Notes for WordPress”.

I’ll be honest I’m going to ditch this product. I’ve only done four blog posts so far and I’ve not really had a chance to thrash it however I’ve hit issues already: It’s crashed a few times on me and already lost data. Not a small amount of data but in fact it managed to lose an entire blog post. How? I clicked the zoom button. Yeah. It also crashed once while trying to create a new blog post and I’ve had other issues with the editor where trying to create a link caused the entire editor to become unresponsive requiring me to bounce the app. Ouch.

Desk stores files in the local filesystem or also in the cloud but that also means that the post titles, which are the filenames, are limited by the filesystem reserved characters. On the early Mac the colon key (:) used to be the path separator. The Mac now uses slashes (/) as the path separator however the colon key is still reserved. This means that for this blog I ran into the situation where I couldn’t put a colon in and it took me a moment to realise why: the underlying file system won’t let me. It’s a minor thing but I’ll need to clean up the title once it lands in WordPress.

The blog posts I was working on included screenshots taken from my retina MBP. This means that the resolution on them is double the size. Desk appears to have a “2x” button to reduce the size down but the images seem to upload incorrectly and quickly get mangled by the WordPress visual editor. The problem is that the markup generated is rather horrid though I guess the assumption is that you’d not want to look at the markup anyway. Maybe I’m not the target audience but since the images were broken I needed to fix them. I clicked on the visual editor which then nuked the images entirely and then for each of the images I used the WordPress editor to re-add the media again to get them to work. A rather frustrating need to have to clean up after the editor again.

Now what I like about it is that it’s a clean editor, relatively straight forward and of sorts also no frills. When it works, it seems reasonably decent but I’ve had to go back and edit every post in WordPress. One thing that particularly annoys me is that I’m having to go back and re-insert the images to get them to behave properly which is annoying. The code management seems non-existent. There’s some strange oddity with the scheduling system where it uses a different time zone locally to what is set for my account on the server which again means I need to go back to WordPress to fix up the schedule dates. I’m there already but it’s something I’d hope to not have to fix each time, it’s actually one of the things that I’d hoped I’d not have to bother with.

It also has some odd quirks where if I highlight a bunch of text and then press a button in many applications that would replace the highlighted text with what I just typed. Desk behaves different and leaves the highlighted text in place. This leads to frustrating situations where I highlight something, start typing expecting it to be wiped out and then have to clean it up later again. I also realised I highlight sections of text and then press the spacebar to add back some white space. The pasting also behaves oddly as well but I’ve not quite figured out what’s going on there and the ability to hold option down for the rectangular selection mode doesn’t appear to work properly compared to say TextEdit.

One other quirk that ironically came up while I wrote a blog post on the shortcuts was that “Control-A” doesn’t respond like it does in many other applications on the Mac but it behaves like it does on Windows for select all (the same as “Command-A”). This is more annoying for me than you’d realise as I use this to navigate around.

Desk does have a Markdown mode which is interesting. It seems to work ok but when I used the three backticks to create a code section it generated pretty mangled HTML. Markdown mode in general creates nicer HTML than what the Desk WYSIWYG editor does but I still find myself back in WordPress cleaning it up again.

The Markdown mode also then removes the nice UI that the WYSIWYG mode has when one selects some text to quickly make a link. That means moving back to the menu or keyboard shortcuts but I’m not familiar enough with this apps shortcuts and annoyingly link isn’t Command-K (which works in Google Docs, Microsoft Office, Atlassian’s Confluence and the WordPress Visual Editor). Even when I do link, the highlighted text gets spliced into both the link and text section and there seems to be no way to use the clipboard unlike MarsEdit.

The WordPress integration feels like an afterthought. It’s clunky, it doesn’t feel smooth and when I used the keyboard shortcut for “Publish”, the app crashed again. When it did work the panel that appeared didn’t default to the one blog that I had selected which means I need to manually go and select it. This isn’t a major issue but it’s the continual lack of polish or thought with this application, apparently on it’s third major version, that strikes me as odd. If I open the publish panel, open up the date picker and then resume editing (as I’m doing right now), the publish panel disappears. When I re-open it again it’s almost blank with the previously selected blog deselected however the date picker from the calendar is still visible. The date picker itself is a quirky tool. Changing the hour field automatically sets the time to be “am” even if you’ve manually selected “pm”. When I first ran into it I wrote it off but when I manually selected “pm” and then changed the hour it annoyingly set “am” again. If you don’t click “Publish” then and there, the panel completely forgets any information you might have put in it about the blog post meaning you have to start from scratch including selecting categories or tags. The panel is also light grey on dark gray which has next to no contrast in it.

Desk is looking like it’s not the editor for me, I don’t want a tool where I continually have to clean up after it and that’s a recurring theme for me in this review. The editor is a frustrating to use with the hijacking of Control-A and the inconsistent behaviour of not replacing selected text like almost every other application on the planet on almost every operating system I can recollect. The point of the exercise was to be in an editor more friendly to keyboard shortcuts not less friendly. Add in random crashes, data loss and other editor quirks? Not worth it.

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