I make my living as a writer. I also travel a lot. Anything that makes it easier for me to write on the go is something I can get behind. Desk for Mac was released late last year and does just that. It’s also proved popular with other writers—Apple even included it in their prestigious Best Apps of 2014 roundup.
There are countless ways to blog. The most obvious is to just use the relevant web application—every major blogging platform is based around one—but they are seriously hampered by the need for you to be online all the time. There are also more complex solutions like MarsEdit 3 that are great if you need a huge array of features. Most people though, don’t need the ability to have a preview that uses their own CSS.
This is where Desk comes in. It’s a simple, light-weight blogging app. It has a couple of features that make it especially handy for use on small screens. If you’re a writer, especially one who travels a lot, Desk is worth checking out.
Desk was developed by John Saddignton—a long time Mac developer and blogger—to suit his needs. Since 2001 he’s been posting at least one blog a day. From the start, Desk was designed to get out of the way. You can either write using it as a WYSIWYG editor, or as I prefer, using it to write in Markdown, John Gruber’s text-to-HTML markup language. Desk supports all the major blogging platforms including Wordpress, Squarespace, Tumblr and Blogger.
Desk costs $29.99 from the Mac App Store. As an app store only app, there’s no free trial.
Setting Up A Blog
While Desk is a decent standalone Markdown editor it’s best used for posting directly to a blog.
Once you’ve got Desk installed, it’s easy to set up a new blog. Click on the Share button in the right sidebar and then click on the Plus icon to add a new blog. From the Publishing Platform dropdown, select the service the blog runs on.
Depending on what option you choose, you’ll need to enter some combination of email address, URL and log in details. Click the Connect button and Desk will link to your blog.
You can also set one blog up for Quick Publishing. It’s a handy way to quickly push content live.
From the list of connected blogs, select the one you want to set up for quick publishing. Click on the Star icon to select it for quick publishing. Now when you click on the quick publish button in the right sidebar, whatever post you are working on will be published.
Writing With Desk
While you can use it as WYSIWYG editor, Desk is designed to work with Markdown. Markdown is a simple way to write HTML, the language used by almost all blogging platforms, without having to resort to angle brackets.
I’ve written before about using Markdown on a Mac. Desk works exactly the same way as the other apps featured. When you publish a post from Desk all the Markdown will be converted to HTML.
If you want to save a copy of a blog post as a text document or PDF, go to File > Export and then select a format.
Images can make or break a good article. A solid, unbroken wall of text is completely unreadable. Fortunately, Desk makes it easy to add images. In fact, adding images with Desk is far simpler than with my blogging platform of choice, Wordpress. You don’t have to deal with any upload dialogue boxes.
To add an image, drag and drop it from Finder into Desk’s app window. This adds the full-size image into the post. To resize it, click on the control handles on the edge of the image and drag them until the image is the right size and proportions. When you post your blog, it will be uploaded and inserted as well.
To add or edit the post title, click on the app’s title bar. From the same dropdown you can also change the location where the draft is saved; whether it’s to iCloud or the Mac’s local drive.
When you’re traveling you’re not always guaranteed a good Internet connection. With Desk, this doesn’t stop you writing. You can blog away as normal without worrying about the Wordpress web app dropping the connection and then post the blog once you’re connected to the Internet again.
Small Screen, No Problem
Desk is made for writers on the go. If you’re using a huge screen then Desk’s minimalist setup will make poor use of it. If, on the other hand, you’re using a small MacBook it’s perfect. When you’re working on a small screen one of the hardest things to do is manage the balance between reference materials and your writing app. Most websites don’t work well when they’re displayed in a browser window that’s 720px wide — half of my MacBook Air’s 13” screen.
One solution is to have your reference materials in one Space, your writing app in another and to switch between them with trackpad gestures. Desk’s approach lets you keep them both on the same desktop.
With the keyboard shortcut Command-[ the Desk window becomes transparent. If you have a full-size web browser behind a half-size Desk window you get the best of both worlds. You can write as normal using the visible half of the browser for referencing. When you need to see more, turn the Desk window transparent with the keyboard shortcut and then just keep writing.
Publishing With Desk
Once you’re done writing, it’s time to push the post live. Click on the Share icon and then select the blog you want to publish to.
You can choose to publish the post straight away, or, with some platforms, to upload it as a pending or draft post. Click on More Options to add things like tags, categories and a featured image if your blogging platform supports them.
Click the Publish button and your post will be uploaded.
For bloggers who like to travel—whether that’s to the local coffee shop or half way around the world—Desk is great. It’s minimalist design and setup makes it perfect for use on small screens. The ability to save articles offline shouldn’t be a major feature but, compared to web apps, it is. If you’ve a 27” iMac chained to your desk with a permanent LAN connection you may not going to find Desk as useful.
While the alternative is to just save articles as text files and upload them to a blog later, Desk’s integration makes it far quicker and easier.