January 24, 2004

Taking MT Editors Offline

Posted at 02:09 PM Notebook, Reviews

I've already talked about offline editing in a general way in the article Editing your blogs offline -- not ready for primetime.

At this writing, I manage a Movable Type installation (or try to) comprised of 3 full blogs and a pair of sideblogs. Four of these are (or will be) fairly active and in a single writing session I may post to all four. I'm writing this entry on my laptop which, as is often the case, is presently not connected to the internet.

I write a lot; I write in several blogs; so far, I'm the only author on my blogs; I write away from the web. This set of circumstances presents a number of feature requirements which the currently available MT editing tools generally fulfill poorly, if at all.

I'm going to talk about offline blogging with three popular and generally well-designed desktop editors for Movable Type blogs: Zempt 0.3, SharpMT 2.1 and w.Bloggar 3.03. First, I'll identify some basic requirements for editing mulitiple blogs offline, and how each of the editors fails or succeeds to meet those requirements. Then I'll discuss additional offlining pros and cons for each editor.

General Unmet Needs for Offline Blogging

Early Onset Blogheimers

An offline editor, particularly when it's offline, should remember a few things about the blog accounts it has been set up to edit:
  1. The blog accounts to which the user is subscribed
  2. The blog IDs for each of those accounts
  3. The list of categories for each blog ID
  4. A list of posted entries including the text, blog ID and categories for each entry

It's best if settings for automatically updating/downloading this data were available to the user, in addition to the ability to manually update/download as desired.

It should be obvious that the user should be able to set the current editing environment to any state while offline.

I often edit posted entries when online. Currently, this kind of activity is unsupported.

SharpMT2.1: Minimal compliance.

  1. Allows only one blog account
  2. Can change blog IDs offline, but attempts to connect generate errors
  3. Does not update category list when blog ID changes
  4. Entry list maintained offline, but can only open an entry for editing when online; Option: open entries for editing when online in multi-edit environment--edit offline later. But that's extremely awkward.

Zempt0.3: Partial compliance.

  1. Allows multiple acccounts -- I only have one account so I can't test what happens if I change accounts offline.
  2. I can select the blog ID
  3. When blog ID changed, shows current list of categories
  4. Online only: List of entries must be downloaded on demand.

w.Bloggar3.02 Minimal compliance.

  1. Allows multiple acccounts -- I only have one account so I can't test what happens if I change accounts offline.
  2. Can select blog ID, but generates a host connect error.
  3. Category list blanked when blog ID changed offline
  4. Online only: List of entries must be downloaded on demand.

Little Orphaned Entry

All my entries become orphans the moment I save them. If I save a draft, or an entry I've downloaded for editing, it won't remember what blog it should be posted to when I open it up later. If, during an offline session, I create five drafts for four different blogs, I have to set the blog (and category) individually before posting.

An entry's blog account, blog ID and category settings should be stored with the entry.

SharpMT2.1: Fails to comply.

Due to its multi-document editing environment, SharpMT2.1 can be particularly nightmarish in terms of remembering which entry goes where. Think of having 10 documents open waiting to be posted to 3 different blogs. Ouch! This shortcoming renders the otherwise useful Batch Posting nearly useless--or dangerous given the potential for inadvertently posting entries to the wrong blogs and categories en masse.

Zempt0.3: Fails to comply.

w.Bloggar3.02 Fails to comply.

I'm a Spoolin' Fool

When you create new emails offline and click Send the email is queued (spooled) in an outbox and automatically delivered by a background process the next time you go online. I think a good offline blogging editor should apply this model as well. A well thought out spooler would make offline editing relatively straight forward. As it stands, I'm required to manage the multiple draft entries I draft while online, while somehow keeping these separated from entries already posted to the blogs.

Implementing a spooler would almost certainly require the developer to solve the other unfulfilled feature requirements described in this review.

Additionally, other features of email clients and newsreaders would be useful as well. For example, a set of default folders for managing entries would be: Drafts for unposted draft entries; Outbox for queueing drafts and edited posts to be published; Published for storing the published entries. An option to synchronise the Published folder much like a newsgroup would be useful, and not just for multiple-author blogs but for single-author blogs as well--I use a variety of editors and methods for creating entries on my blogs.

SharpMT2.1: Fails to comply.

Zempt0.3: Fails to comply.

w.Bloggar3.02 Fails to comply.

Daft Drafts

My drafts can't remember if they've been posted or not. Frankly, I can't either. Which drafts in this folder should I open for posting? Have I posted the changes made to this file yet?

A properly implemented spooler would correct this deficiency.

SharpMT2.1: Full compliance, sorta.

On the edit tab of every open document is a graphic describing the current state: draft; posted draft; downloaded post. It would be even better if the graphic displayed whether the document had changed since opened/posted. Also, don't edit a draft that has been posted already because posting it will create a new post rather than replacing the originally posted entry with the edited contents.

SharpMT's multi-document editing provides some additional relief, if drafts created offline are left open. However, in SharpMT an entry downloaded for editing can't be saved to disk (!!), which makes editing offline risky and prone to data-loss. The longer you're offline, the more likely a software or system crash will destroy your edits.

Zempt0.3: Fails to comply.

w.Bloggar3.02 Fails to comply.

Comments on the editors.

SharpMT 2.1


This editor is oh-so-close to being a very useful offline editor for multiple blogging. It is feature rich, has professional look and feel, is fairly well laid out, and the powerful multi-document editing UI is unique among desktop editors for Movable Type. It's recently been outfitted with a nifty new spellchecker too. The URL insertion feature is the most brilliant I've seen in any piece of software. SharpMT maintains a list of entries in a nifty list you can pin up on the window. Very nice.


Aside from the feature shortcomings listed above, SharpMT frustratingly lacks some basic editing features. Font and paragraph editing tools supported by the other editors are missing altogether. Also, a few of its UI elements could be more ergonomically friendly.

  • Undo only undoes the most recent action,
  • Search is gibbled--it finds the text but doesn't reorient the edit window to display it,
  • Search and Replace is not implemented.
  • the user should be able to both view and change the current blog without having to open a dialog window--in SharpMT, the current blog is displayed on the right side of the status bar, out of sight and unmodifiable
  • The Edit/Preview/Post Options tabs appear in the lower left hand corner of the window, quite distant from all other tool and navigation buttons.

Finally, I have experienced intermittent and inexplicable problems when posting. For example, when entries include potential trackback urls to ping, the ping is often not sent.

Zempt 0.3


Zempt is my backup offline choice to SharpMT. (I'm editing this in Zempt.) I can select the blog and categories I want when offline, so if I'm going to create just one draft, Zempt is the way to go. As with the other editors, I can configure what fields to display for editing. However, Zempt remembers how I've configured the fields for each blog. For example, I only use the Keywords field for my Media Things sideblog. So if I select the Media Things blog, there it is.


Zempt only downloads blog headers on demand, which makes editing my blog entries somewhat of a pain, even when online, and also makes linking to other blog entries when offline something of a memory game. (What was the ID of that entry, anyway?)

w.Bloggar 3.03

I don't often use w.Bloggar. It's lack of full MT entry field support is an app killer. But, to be honest, I don't like it's look and feel in ways which I'm not able to describe. It just doesn't look or feel right. So my opinions and observations will lack not only objectivity but experience.


I think most people will find its layout quite usable and ergonomic. In addition to image upload, there is also a file upload button. The FTP settings can be unique for each blog. And its support of character styles, fonts and paragraph formatting tools is superior to the other editors.


w.Bloggar is designed as an editor for multiple blogging platforms. It does not support the the MT fields EntryMore, EntryExcerpt or EntryKeywords.

w.Bloggar, like Zempt, only downloads blog headers on demand, you can't view them when offline. The Import Text File feature is poorly named, as it in fact also opens a draft post. On the other hand, by default, draft posts are saved to a predefined file--which flirts with the possibility of accidental data overwriting.


So true offline blogging is a ways off yet. Substantial feature improvements are required to allow bloggers to work offline with the relative ease of posting email, or interacting with newsgroups. These three editors are useful offline tools, though awkward and limited, particularly when applied to multiple blogs. You can do it, but it ain't any fun.

However, implementing the spooler functionality mentioned above in any of these clients would force it to deal with most of the issues hindering offline blogging. Here's hoping.

Now I'm heading off to research posting blog entries via email

Posted by Patrick at January 24, 2004 02:09 PM
All Offling Blog Tools Suck
Excerpt: After singing the praises of w.bloggar only a couple days ago (apparently to the astonishment of Teemu), I've now realized that all offling blogging tools suck. Okay, so "suck" is technically too strong a word, as many of them are...
Weblog: NorthSpace
Tracked: September 22, 2004 10:53 PM