Head-to-head smackdown: Live Writer versus Ecto
There are two fantastic options for offline blogging (that is, managing a blog without using the web-based browser interface the blogging service provides). The first is Windows Live Writer Beta, which, as the name would suggest is a Windows app, but one that's so useful it might compel Mac users to invest in Parallels Desktop just to run it. The second is Ecto, a Mac-native blog composition tool that many bloggers swear by. (Ecto also runs on Windows.)
We've tried them both recently, so we were able to pit them head to head like the Indians and the Yankees to see which one is better. As was the case with many shocked Yankees fans, the conclusion of our little challenge was surprising. So which is superior--Live Writer for Windows (pictured above) or Ecto for the Mac? You be the judge after the jump.
Ecto was suggested to us as a "good alternative to Live Writer", and that designation is certainly accurate. Rather than go over the overlap in features, let's see how these two programs differ. For one, Ecto looks like a Mac app, while Live Writer, being a product of the Microsoft itself, looks like a Windows app. Fair enough. Both apps have a post browser to let you opening a post to edit (from your blog's server), but the e-mail-like layout of Ecto makes finding the right post easier than Live Writer.
Another spot where Ecto outshines Live Writer is in its support for iPhoto and iTunes. One click lets you embed the name and artist of your current iTunes track, nifty if you're into social blogging and like to share your music preferences.
The iPhoto browser is probably the most handy feature of Ecto--it lets you browse your iPhoto picture galleries or albums and it will even import your photos' text tags. Once a photo is in the editor, you can resize it (though not by dragging) in a properties window. You are able to specify whether or not the underlying image file will be scaled or not--which we frankly found a bit confusing. There also seemed to be no way to differentiate between the size of an image thumbnail and the actual image. But generally, the iPhoto stuff is an amazing time saver. If you're like most Mac users, you do all your photo organizing in iPhoto.
Ecto also provides support for embedding Amazon Associates program links, so you can publish individual posts that link through to a particular Amazon promotion that's dependent upon your Amazon Associate program, if you participate in one.
Live Writer, on the other hand, has a few tricks up its sleeve. For embedded photo uploads, it allows you to specify an FTP path and matching URL root for uploaded files, which is a huge advantage over Ecto, as many blog services don't support the media extensions necessary to upload and manage photos outside of their own browser-based administrative pages. Microsoft's product also gives you instant insertion of Live Search maps and aerial photos. Handy, if not oft-required.
Live Writer is heavier on image manipulation features than Ecto. It not only takes care of simple tasks like rotating and scaling, but it will also provide borders and drop-shadows on the fly and add a watermark or caption in the font and style of your choosing (show in the grab below).
Neither of these tools supports browsing the list of published posts by author--which would be clutch in multi-user blogs where lots of people are posting, or in situations where there's a copy-editing process that involves more than one person. Both support all major blog APIs, and both offer support for tags, categories, and automatic character encoding cleanup. Both let you navigate between multiple blogs, too.
But the verdict favors the Microsoft offering. The image tools and FTP uploading are hugely beneficial and will save many bloggers a lot of time. And that's important, because lack of time is probably the main reason more people don't blog a lot. Live Writer also supports video objects via Microsoft's SoapBox video service, something Ecto doesn't address without using traditional embed codes, a la YouTube. Of course, if you want to embed a YouTube video in either tool, you can paste the code, too.
We were a bit surprised at our conclusion. Live Writer is more useful than Ecto. It's just a shame we've got to jump into Parallels to run the tool we prefer.
The versions compared were Windows Live Writer 2008 Beta 3 and Ecto 2.4.2.