July 11, 2003

Offline Blog Clients

I have been chopping and changing between blog posting clients for a while. I started off using w.bloggar which is quite good, but always felt a bit clunky to me and doesn't support the text filters available in Movable Type - I like using Textile to write my entries so w.bloggar didn't provide all I needed.

Then I tried Zempt at about version 0.1 and while it was functional it felt a bit ugly. I admit it, I prefer to use good-looking software. Therefore, I have been using SharpMT (currently version 1.2 Beta 1) - this is a nice modern looking piece of software, developed using C#. It supports offline blog entry writing which is really cool, I've been putting off finishing this post for a week (having posted others in the meantime)!

While avoiding finishing this little entry, I noticed that a new version of Zempt had been released - 0.3. Much prettier, well done guys. The UI (especially in the options) is much cleaner and a bit more of a pleasure to use. I still have the following complaints:

  1. Windows 3.1 style text-field borders in the main window.
  2. Two rows of toolbar in an unconventional order, with no visual separation between toolbar and main areas. The buttons are also in one long row with no separators. I think they'd really benefit from a bevelled line beneath the toolbar, move all the buttons into one line and separate with standard toolbar separators. See SharpMT.
  3. For some reason the Publish and Post Options buttons under the toolbar look to be in the wrong place. This might change if the toolbar had a bottom separator. They might look better at the bottom of the dialog (maybe bottom-right).
  4. Maybe change the UI font on windows to use one of the more modern standard ones (Tahoma or equivalent). I believe you can get this by using "MS Shell Dlg 2" or something similar. Of course, you need to check for availability first because that might not work on older windows versions.
  5. When I click close on the spell check dialog, I don't need to be told "Spell check cancelled by user". I know, I just closed it.
  6. I can't see how to change the look of the Preview - I'd like to be able to preview in the style of my blog. Not essential, but it would be nice.

These things aside, the new Zempt is really good - look at these features:

  1. Draft editing. A different take to SharpMT, you save your drafts on disk as zempt files but ultimately the same idea. I personally prefer the SharpMT UI idea here - at least a list of recently worked-on drafts when you open the program would be good.
  2. Edit previous entries. This is really useful.
  3. Spell check. Excellent feature, and nice to see a british dictionary included by default - no US English here thank-you! I do note with some amusement, that the terms "blog" and "Zempt" are not in the dictionary.
  4. Media-Player and Winamp integration - the media player plugins that w.bloggar uses are now supported in Zempt.
  5. Developed using wxWindows so theoretically multi-platform. I've not seen it or used it on anything but Windows, but we'll see.

While testing the spell checker I noticed that it was finding the words "fdfs" and "fdgdfg" in my entry - they're definitely not there. Also, I added a number of items to the dictionary (such as Zempt and blog) and at the end of the spell check was asked: "Would you like to save any of your changes to your personal dictionary?" (yes/no). I said yes, and then the next time I spell checked these items were not in the dictionary any more. Bit of a shame, but it's only an early version - give it time.

What would be a great feature would be built-in support for the common text-filters - something that would show you how your Textile written entry will show up. Even better, when using textile mode things like Bullets and Numbered list modes would insert the textile codes rather than HTML.

So to summarise, SharpMT and Zempt look like the two contenders for the MT offline publisher crown. SharpMT has a better, cleaner UI at the moment. Feature-count wise they are similar, but I think Zempt is winning on features for the Spell checker. Zempt doesn't require people to download the .NET framework and might be available on multiple platforms. What am I posting this with? SharpMT. Will that change? Probably. Daily. Of course, if you're not using Movable Type then check out w.bloggar - it's really quite good, I'm just fussy.

Posted by Simon at July 11, 2003 02:59 PM