UPDATE: I have written a more current, relevant post comparing Ecto and MarsEdit, March 30, 2008.
Always in the pursuit of more toys, um, I mean tools, I have been trying out two desktop blogging applications. What's that mean, you ask? This is software that you install on your computer that will let you write and publish posts to your online blog. That means that I am currently writing this post from my laptop and I don't have an internet connection. When I'm done and I get back to an internet connection all I have to do is publish it. The reason I am looking at this type of tool is because I am a train commuter and I do a lot of work on the train. Normally I am coding away but I'd like to have a convenient way to write posts for my websites as I think of them. Sure, I can write something up in a word processor but then I have to copy and paste all of it when I log in to my site and if I am using pictures I have to upload the pictures and add them in too. What a pain. I am also checking this out for potentially recommending it to clients who have similar needs (or just don't like composing on a web page).
So in this corner we have Ecto for Windows at $17.95 and in the other corner we have Windows Live Writer for *gasp* free. Let me just start out by saying that I have a beef with Microsoft but for once they are on the free side of a comparison and they have a useful product to boot so hang tight here. Now, these are both for Windows because my laptop runs XP. I can't use either one on my home desktop (Ubuntu Linux) and Ecto started out on Mac so at least you have 2 out of 3 there. So, yeah, um Live Writer only works on Windows and that will be a limit for some people. I am really looking for something for the laptop so I'm not pressed about Linux versions but if I eventually get that MacBook Pro I keep dreaming about, I might need to reconsider my choices. Also, there are more apps out there other than these two, but seriously these are the ones at the top right now and I have limited time for monkeying around. I used two sites to post to, one is this site (and this post is written in Live Writer) which runs on WordPress. The other site is my personal site which runs on Drupal.
The main things I was looking for beyond the basic writing tools were the ability to add pictures and select categories and tags from my existing list on the site. The install for both is easy and they both have little wizards to walk you through adding your sites. Live Writer wins hands-down here. It took care of everything for me and was pretty straight-forward. Not that Ecto is horrible but it requires more work from you and the error messages are totally cryptic. I had accidentally forgotten to add the .com to one of my sites on setup and it just kept spitting an error about an object. Huh? At least Live Writer says "hey check your address". Live Writer also prompts you for the info with a fill-in-the-blank format indicating what it wants, like: http:///. And by the way, I don't use MovableType but the MovableType API is the standard out there that many blogging sites use (like WordPress and Drupal) so it is confusing if you don't know this and it wants you to select MT and you're thinking "but I don't use that". A little explanation to users in both programs would be nice. On to the stuff I really needed....
Both Ecto and Live Writer let me add pictures, although Live Writer wins for having an "Insert Picture" link whereas in Ecto you have to go to Insert > Files.... At first I didn't think Ecto did pictures because I didn't want to add a "file" I wanted to add a "picture". Semantics perhaps, but everything else I use that does pictures identifies them as such and so Ecto was not intuitive. Another nice feature of Live Writer is italso has an "Insert Map" link. Ecto has an "Insert Amazon Item" link but well, I'm not sure where I'd use that a whole lot really. The big deal for me was how these things handled my categories. I am a big tagger vs a categorizer and I was curious to see what they did with tags. On my WordPress site I use a few categories and then the Ultimate Tag Warrior (UTW) plugin for all the rest. The Drupal site is set up only for free-tagging. Neither one picks up my WordPress tags but Live Writer doesn't see anything at all on my Drupal site while Ecto pulls them all up as categories. Now I can't add a new "category" tag to a post that doesn't already exist but it is really nice to be able to pick from ones I already have at least. Ecto also makes it easy to add Technorati tags to your post. If you do a few mods you can use them to add tags to UTW on WordPress. Live Writer has something called keywords that don't add tags by default but there are some plugins out there that will do some tagging with them and you can similarly hack a bit to get Live Writer working with UTW. There is a different tagging plugin for WordPress that will let you add tags using both Live Writer and Ecto but I already use UTW and really don't want to change so a few mods are worth my time.
As for Drupal, apparently Live Writer will pull the categories if you are using 4.7.2 but changes to the xmlrpc.php file going from 4.7.2 to 4.7.3 changed enough to break it. Not only are the categories not working but it also won't pull up the current posts on the site if I want to go back and edit them. Maybe Drupal 5 will play better. I'll keep checking for smoother tagging integration. Well, this has been a bit of a long post. So far I have to say that Live Writer is really very nice, especially for free, but if I want to use it with Drupal right now I'm going to have to pay the eighteen bucks to get Ecto. I'm going to keep Live Writer handy though and continue to evaluate them both.