inessential by Brent Simmons

Continuing development of MarsEdit

MarsEdit IconYou may have seen the report on The Unofficial Apple Weblog that we will continue MarsEdit development at NewsGator. (I’ve already heard from a bunch of folks who are quite happy about this! Me too.)

Here’s the story...

We announced the acquisition fairly soon after the papers were signed, and some things were left undecided, just due to timing issues. We talked about a number of possibilities for MarsEdit (you can probably imagine most of them).

What surprised us—me included! or even especially me—was the amount of feedback we got regarding MarsEdit. I knew that there are lots of people passionate about NetNewsWire, but I didn’t know that was true for MarsEdit. For whatever reasons, I have always gotten lots of email from folks saying how much they dig NetNewsWire, but I rarely heard that about MarsEdit.

And then the acquisition announcement was made, and we heard from lots of people who love MarsEdit.

So we listened—and decided to continue MarsEdit development at NewsGator.

What people like about MarsEdit

The two main weblog editing apps for OS X are ecto and MarsEdit. I’ve said before, on this weblog and elsewhere, that ecto is a cool app and Adriaan is an excellent developer.

Ecto and MarsEdit take very different approaches. Both approaches are valid, just different. Ecto has more features than MarsEdit, while MarsEdit has a simpler, as-minimal-as-possible user interface.

That interface was my goal for MarsEdit from the start: to take the complex-and-getting-worse task of weblog editing and make something that feels like writing email. (That email-like feeling is meant to put folks at ease while they’re writing, to encourage people to write more and write better.)

I can’t speak for Adriaan, of course, but if I had to guess I’d say his approach with ecto is to make sure that whatever cool things you want to do, you can do—and to think up new cool things you didn’t even know you wanted to do.

Both approaches are not just valid but good. They appeal to different tastes.

What I didn’t realize was that there were so many people who really like MarsEdit’s approach. They like the minimal user interface, they like the email-like feel. Sure, people want more features, but they don’t want new features in MarsEdit at the expense of the feel that they like.

(More about Adriaan: I worked with him on the external weblog editor interface that NetNewsWire, ecto, and MarsEdit support, the thing that makes the Post-to-Weblog button work with different weblog editors and different RSS readers. He’s a cool cat, and it was a pleasure to make our software work together.)

Going forward: how you can help

Here’s the issue, straight up: MarsEdit support costs are higher per copy than for NetNewsWire.

Partly it’s because writing apps are harder to support than reading apps—but even more it’s because configuring a weblog editor can be difficult, and because weblog editing is quite a bit more complicated than email. (Not to mention—okay, to mention briefly—the fact that some of the weblog systems have bugs in their external weblog editor interfaces.)

So we’re looking for ways to make supporting MarsEdit easier. Some of those ways are obvious and I won’t enumerate them (since they’re not all in place)—except to say that it’s a big help when MarsEdit users help support other MarsEdit users. The more that happens, the more time we can spend fixing bugs and adding features, and the better MarsEdit is. (The good news is that this already happens: we’re just working on ways to make it easier to do, to encourage more of it, and to make it easier to find the answers you need.)

Perhaps it was always true, but it feels more true than ever that software development is a partnership between developers and users.


I worked on MarsEdit a bit this past summer, and a new version is already in progress. We’re working on getting some help on finishing it so that I can also work on NetNewsWire. (Better to have both apps move forward in parallel.) It’s at the stage where mostly what it needs are bug fixes and polish. (Quite a few of them, though: it’s not beta quality yet.)

(Before you ask—we don’t have a timetable for shipping yet.)

Postscript: a personal note

I was talking to Wolf Friday night—and I’ve mentioned this to other folks before—that my background is in literature. I was not a computer science major. My first and most passionate aesthetic love is for words and books.

So it’s no wonder that my two main apps are for reading and writing: they might be the only kind of apps I could write, the apps I was born to write.

Which is just to say that being able to continue working on MarsEdit feels good. I am glad.