Desk, an editorial desktop publishing app for OS X

Blog / First look / Technology

I used to blog a lot. Wind the clock back 10 years and I was in love with the idea, regularly spamming my Blogger site to write about anything and everything.

About six months later my enthusiasm had curiously waned. It wasn’t that I didn’t love writing, it was the experience, the toil of using Blogger’s back-end CMS to input content that really put me off.

In those days the options for using a desktop blogging client were basically nil. The first half-baked release of MarsEdit was still a year away and Ecto would be an even longer wait; you were stuck with populating your site within a painfully slow browser window.

Not coincidentally, I quit the whole blog thing soon after.

That was a decade ago, but things haven’t changed all that much. A handful of blogging clients are available for Windows and a few for OS X, but for me they’re too imposing or clunky and get in the way of the actual experience of writing, which should always be a thoroughly personal, all-consuming, one-pointed affair. I still have to use a dedicated writing app (iA Writer, for instance) to do the hard graft and only then export the text to Wordpress’s back-end in order to insert and align media, set styling, add tags, categories, preview and so on.

So with all that in mind, I was eager to get hold of the new Desk app, John Saddington’s long-awaited answer to desktop publishing for OS X.

The aim of Desk is to return the user to the simple act of writing by providing a stripped down environment in which to do exactly that. But more importantly, it aims to streamline the publishing process too, with out-of-the-box support for one-click posting to WordPress, Tumblr, Squarespace, Movable Type and Typepad blogs (and even Facebook notes). Naturally I dove right in…

 

After a hassle-free install through the App Store I fired up Desk and was presented with a New Document Finder window, immediately demonstrating the app’s integration with iCloud. I created my first document without further ado…

Up popped the minimalist editing window with some immediately familiar features reminiscent of iA’s Writer interface. Running along the bottom from left to right I recognised a last-autosave symbol (‘never’, in this case), character count (0), word count (0), and reading time (00:00:01).

The vertical strip along the right of the window offered more options – share, preview and help among them – so I clicked the first option from the top and was presented with this slot-loading sidebar inviting me to add a new blog by choosing a publishing platform – I chose WordPress from the dropdown list…

I entered my WP details (not having moved the xmlrpc.php file on my self-hosted site I was able to leave the API URL field blank) and clicked Connect…

I was then greeted with a ‘Connection Success!’ message and clicked on the dropdown to find my site URL and a list of all my existing published posts. Clicking on a post was like a secondary confirmation of the app’s full integration with WP, as my last MisFit Flash post appeared in the editing window. Impressive! So I clicked the + icon at the top of the posts list to create my first local post draft.

As you can see, I immediately got to writing my first post (i.e. the one you’re reading). As I typed, the sidebar options faded into the background and I noticed how the font size dynamically changed point size as I expanded the editing window for optimal reading. Below is the same editing window in Night mode view…

Moments later I was hyperlinking text, applying Markdown alongside WYSIWYG, styling fonts, and drag-and-dropping images to resize and align on the fly, all with tremendous ease thanks to Desk’s dynamic responsiveness to page elements and its contextual menus accessible with a simple right-click.

Once I was finished, I clicked on the Share button, selected my category, tags and Featured Image. I clicked Publish, and it only slowly dawned on me that I had just written, styled and released to the world a media-rich article from my desktop with unparalleled immediacy and previously unthinkable ease.

This is just a first taste of Desk, there’s so much more to this app that I haven’t had time to play with yet, such as YouTube/Vimeo video embedding, custom slugs/URLs, labels, HTML/RTF/DOCX/PDF export options, and a bunch more stuff. Needless to say I’m mightily impressed so far, so expect another post soon with a more extensive look at what Desk has to offer.

 


 

So this is me, 24 hours later, updating a Desk-published post from within Desk, on my desktop. This is thanks to the fact that you can set up any platform for one-click publishing, so you can tap out a post or update an existing one and publish instantly.

The preview mode works in real time and truly reflects how published WP posts will look (at least in my own case) and I’m already getting used to not having to switch between Visual and Text displays to deal with needless cruft from within the WordPress editing window.

A closer look at the ornamentation and formatting pop-up reveals an intelligent implementation of Header options…

 

So I can do this.

And this.

Simply by highlighting my text and clicking the contextual option.

 

The use of tags in the editing window doesn’t overlap or get confusing because you can see the style you’re imposing and the contextual menu highlights the tags containing the selected text…

 

The same goes for lists:

  1. like this
  2. and this
  3. for example

Something else I’ve discovered is that the name of a document saved in iCloud or on your hard disk faithfully reflects the WordPress post title and dynamically updates with the rest of your edited content when you choose to update a published post.

One of the other great things about Desk is how it deals with images. Dragging in an image from a Finder window allows you to choose from left, centre, or right alignment and even forge a link to another page thanks to the contextual menu, like so…

 

Grabbing an anchor point on an image displays an X-Y pixel count that dynamically updates as you resize, which is great for bloggers used to editing in WP’s Visual editor window or those who rely on the Media Library to resize uploaded images – and even those who use an image editing app to resize prior to upload.

At first I wasn’t sure how spacing issues between images and text would translate to the site and I needlessly overcompensated, but I’ve since gained a fuller appreciation of how overall content displays and I’ve been able to lay down my media without worry.

In fact I’ve only had two issues with Desk thus far, neither of which are deal-breakers by any stretch.

The first is the implementation of its ‘Insert Read More’ feature, which refers to the // <!–more—> // tag that tells WordPress to cut off the post on an Index page and incite the reader to click a [Read More] link that takes them to the full post. Currently I’m not sure if it’s due to my theme or some custom CSS I’ve imposed, but the tag isn’t being recognised for me as of Wordpress 4.0.

The second is the inadvertent double-tagging of already embedded videos when updating published posts. Again, not a biggie.

Speaking of which, here’s an automatically embedding Vimeo link:

 

 

…which simply appears in the editing window like this:

Overall, this is an extremely polished 1.0 and is testament to the developer remaining patient until they were satisfied with what they were releasing into the wild – despite legions of followers encouraging a quick release.

We finish with the beauty of Fullscreen mode…

You can get Desk here.

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