Desk: A painless writing and blogging tool for Mac

Desk text editing and blogging tool for Mac

For writers and bloggers, the choice of a text editor can make a huge difference in productivity. The best tools simply fade out of the way and let you write, then magically transform your work into published format with a click. That's the case with developer John Saddington's new app, simply named Desk (US$29.99). After using it for a few days, it has become my default text editor, replacing a half dozen other apps that were clogging my Applications folder. My apologies to all of those other developers...

When you're typing, user interface items simply disappear from Desk - you're actually typing on a blank page. Move your pointer with mouse or trackpad, and you begin to see some of the elements. At the bottom of the page you'll see exactly when the current document was last saved, a character count, a word count, and reading time. That last statistic gives you an idea of how long it will take an average reader to fully digest your post.

In the right sidebar is the typical scroll bar as well as a vertical toolbar that provides useful functions - a tool for creating new local posts and seeing your local drafts, a way to publish your work to a number of different blogging systems including the ever-popular WordPress with one click, a preview mode so you can see how your document converts over to published formats, and a help button.

Many bloggers are probably asking themselves right now "So what about Markdown support?" What's fascinating about Desk is that it doesn't force you to use Markdown for text formatting (sorry, John Gruber) although you can if you are familiar with Markdown syntax and wish to use it. Double-clicking any word or phrase in a document brings up a WYSIWYG text ornamentation pop-up with such common items as bold, italic, underlined, headings 1-6, block quote, links, numeric or bulleted lists, and justification.

You can have numerous documents open at any time, each in its own resizable window, or just toggle the current window between your drafts. Desk supports full-screen mode, a transparency mode (not sure why, as the window floating against my Yosemite wallpaper was unreadable), a day/night mode if you want to toggle between black text on a white background or vice-versa, and a "float window" mode that keeps a window foremost on the screen even when you're not actively typing in it.

Adding images to a WordPress post was too simple - all I needed to do was grab the local image and drop it onto the post, then use the alignment popup to get it where I wanted it. When publishing to WordPress, it uploaded the image and placed it in the correct location. Resizing an image is as simple as dragging the corner of the image, and Desk gives you the pixel dimensions of the image as you resize.

I did run into an issue when I tried to connect Desk to some WordPress blogs that I have. Desk somehow calls the xmlrpc.php file in WordPress to authenticate itself, and my hosting provider initially saw that as a denial of service attack and locked me out of my sites. A quick email to the developer pointed me to a help page and video on how to capture some UserAgent info in Terminal, which was passed along to both the developer and the hosting provider. I can't guarantee that every Desk user will receive the same amazing support I did (after all, I am a tech blogger!) but I was quite impressed. It also helped immensely that John Saddington knew the WordPress expert at my hosting provider...

Using Desk for blogging, you can actually set up one site for "quick publish" so that you just have to click the quick publish button on the toolbar and your post is published in seconds. Selecting a specific blog rather than using quick publish, you can add a category and tags to a post from within the app. Need to make changes after you've published? No problem - there's an "update post" menu item.

Desk plays nice with iCloud, too. I've chosen to save my drafts and documents in iCloud, something you can select from the title bar of the document. I should point out that at present, Desk doesn't work with iCloud Drive, but that's one of many things on the developer's to-do list.

Desk has worked flawlessly for me with WordPress; not so with our proprietary CMS here at TUAW. I've actually had to resort to exporting my Desk document as HTML, then opening it in another text editor to copy and paste into our CMS. Awkward...

The app isn't perfect, but it's darned close and considering that this is a first release, I'm impressed. There are no unnecessary "features", and it's obvious that Saddington practices what he preaches by blogging - with Desk, of course - about his development process.

The Mac App Store is currently featuring Desk as a Best New App, so it's apparent that the App Store editors feel the same way about Desk as I do. I look forward to seeing how Desk evolves in the future, and hope that Saddington can stay away from the "creeping featuritis" that seems to hit so many Mac and iOS text editors.