Desk: A nice (but expensive) distraction-free writing experience

Desk is a new publishing app for OS X.

With Desk, you can publish from your desktop to your WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, Squarespace, Movable Type (is that still around?), Typepad, and even Facebook Notes.

You are a storyteller, passionate about crafting narratives that capture, express, and delight in what it means to be human.

Desk is built with that intent and mission in mind: To reduce the clutter, the noise, the distractions and the obstructions that keep us from writing and sharing those stories.

Fall in love with writing, again.

As a blogger who loves using WordPress to share stories, pictures, and life with my friends and family – I was excited to hear about a new app that could potentially make this experience better and easier.  So, I bought the app for $30, and started typing this review.

First Impressions

From the first time you open up Desk, you can tell it’s a reaction to clutter.  I’m always a bit hesitant of reactionary software (Ghost?) because it aims less to solve a problem, and more to be different for the sake of difference.

However, the current experience of many editors is… cluttered.  Desk is here to give you a breather, to let you focus on writing.

My experience writing a post was good.  I like the typography of the writer, the pop-up visual editor is really nice, too.

You can make text Bold, Italicized, Underlined, you can make Headings, Blockquotes, links, ordered and unordered lists, and justify things left, right, or centered.

Desk does a really good job at “distraction free” writing, getting out of the way where needed.

Media

Embedding Pictures was really easy.  Desk gives you a nice visual image editor that lets you align an image, add a link, and resize them as well.

You can’t however, add a caption like this.

Audio and Video embedding didn’t work.  When dropping in a YouTube link, I’ve grown accustomed to (and become spoiled by) the WordPress editor showing me a nice preview of the embed, dropping a link into Desk doesn’t do anything fancy.

Same goes for Galleries – adding a couple of images together won’t create a gallery for you, just add them all one by one.

What about all my options?

Now, you might be wondering… how about Tags, and Categories, and Featured Images, and all those WordPress staples?  Well, you’re in luck!  Sort of.

Most the WordPress goodies you are used to are right there!  Well, minus the Post Formats, Excerpts, and most importantly, Publicize. While these features might not be needed for every post, sometimes they are nice.   For myself, being a heavy user of the Publicize feature (part of Jetpack or built-in to WordPress.com) this means that Desk will be limited to only saving posts to Draft, and then having to log on to my WordPress Dashboard to do the final touches before publishing.  Not that great.

Again, Desk is trying to get rid of the clutter for us, removing things that are deemed non-essential and letting us focus on the writing task.  The creator of Desk, John Saddington, has an interesting post on the Desk blog titled “Decisions, Not Options” in which he writes:

Consequently, I’ve leaned in deeply to the belief that well informed software development can help the end-user tremendously by removing frustrating options from the table and simply focusing on what the user needs chiefly.

Publishing your Post

Once you finish writing up your post and you’re ready to publish it, you need to connect it to your site! This part was confusing at first, but I eventually found where to add my blog.


I use WordPress.com for one of my blogs, so I didn’t need to add an “API URL”.  It would be nice if Desk could tell this was a WordPress.com blog and remove the field completely.  I can see many users being confused and contacting a Happiness Engineer wondering what their API URL is.  I entered in my login and password (hopefully I don’t have to worry about my password being stored in plaintext) and voila, I was connected and ready to publish.

What I didn’t like

It looks like a Markdown editor, but it doesn’t support Markdown.

That’s ok.  Not everyone knows or even cares about Markdown – but when I first opened it up, I naturally started using Markdown to write, only to find out it doesn’t support it.

It’s a little buggy right now.

Sometimes my cursor would pop up in random places (usually at the top of the post), and when I backspace a heading, it would often remove the entire heading plus the paragraph below.  Copy and Paste does not seem to work properly, either.

Updating is not intuitive.

I wrote a post, published it, made a few quick changes to the post I just published, and published it again.  Desk published 2 completely separate posts.  Turns out I would have had to close my local draft, opened the remote draft, and made my edits there, and then update it.  Weird.  I want my local draft to be tied to that post for future updates and pull in updates I make remotely.

Preview isn’t that great

While Desk does give you the option to preview your post, it doesn’t let you preview it the way it would actually look like on your site.  To me, this is not a preview.  I would just remove this feature until it gets better.

It’s not cheap

$30.  At that price, my guess is most people will stick with their old editors, and only hard-core offline writers who want to be able to locally store drafts and publish later will be purchasing this.  If it was cheaper, I’d recommend it to more people, but for this price tag, what you get (at the moment) isn’t quite worth it.

Get it off my menu-bar

I’m not sure why there’s an icon on my menu-bar.  That real-estate is priceless and Desk literally does nothing besides bring the window up when you click on the menu-bar icon.  I’d say just get rid of it.

Conclusion

I like distraction free writing.  Desk does a really good job of taking away distractions and letting you focus on writing.  It has some cool added features, notably the bottom info panel(seen below), the fact that you can write posts locally, and it’s clean and minimalist design.

You can see when you last saved it, the character and word count, and the amount of time you have spent writing.

Desk does a really good job of distraction-free writing, but is it better than plain old WordPress Distraction Free writing?  I can definitely see some people using Desk all the time, but for myself – I’m sticking with wp-admin for now.  Why?  Because while I agree that it’s current state is a bit cluttered, it’s easy to customize to my own preferences and make it not cluttered, I can preview my posts, have rich embedded media, add captions to images, and publicize my posts.  I also really like the built-in WordPress Distraction Free interface.

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 7.58.48 AM

Maybe the solution to WordPress being cluttered isn’t going away from WordPress, but contributing to something like Focus, a plugin being built to make distraction free even more distraction free.

2 Replies to “Desk: A nice (but expensive) distraction-free writing experience”

  1. Wow… That could be pretty useful. But since I use a PC, do you know of like this that is compatible with Windows 7/8?

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