Saturday, February 09, 2008

Software Review - ScribeFire

Well … I was going to give you an indepth look at ScribeFire, which is a browser plug-in blogging client for FireFox. I know a lot of you are using FireFox for your browser, and it starts becoming everything a blogger, researcher and general ‘Net junkie needs when you extend it with the add-ons available to it. (Get them here.)

ScribeFire turns your browser window into a split-screen blogging client. This is really great and it’s very easy to set up. It allows you to control what’s visible in a left-hand sidebar and shows you publishing options for your blog of choice in the right-hand sidebar. When you’ve selected your publishing options (like Technorati tags and TrackBack URLs), the options can be closed, restoring the right sidebar to the default tabbed layout. This allows addition of blog accounts, displays the tags for each blog account, the posts that ScribeFire finds for it (not exhaustive), the pages for the blog if any, and has a Notes tab.

A word of caution here: The Notes feature isn’t what it would appear to be! I found out the hard and painful way, selecting a note will populate your editor window with the note’s contents, replacing whatever you’ve typed into the editor. I lost a loooooooong, well-researched and fully image-enhanced post before the one you’re reading now (it was my original review of SF) by trying out the notes feature on the fly. You can, however, save your editor screen data as a note (it will allow formatted or plain text), but I don’t know about images. And I’m not willing to experiment again, sorry. Once bitten …

Anyway, ScribeFire does a lot of neat things. It’s a pretty well-featured editor, and adding blogs is pretty straight-forward too. That’s nice. Since it’s browser-based, it’s truly cross-platform (at least, it appears to be; there is no “Windows” or “Mac” or “Linux” segregation in the installation from FireFox’s add-on site). As you can see from the link in the sentence prior, it makes links easily enough. It may look a bit odd, sitting in your browser screen taking up about half of it (a bit more in my case), but you can have it consume either the top- or bottom half, to suit your preference.

Its image-handling capabilities leave a lot to be desired. I can insert images fine, but there are no settings to control where on the page it sits, the white space around it, whether the text wraps it or not, etc. My beloved WLW still sets the unattainable standard for this feature, in my estimation, despite the claims by several other blog clients that they are as good. For blogging in text, ScribeFire seems to be strong enough. Just type and go.

I didn’t notice a performance hit by installing it. Since it’s a browser plug-in and not a full-blown installation of software, it only requires a restart of FireFox to get it going. The screen is straight-forward and easy to use. But SF really shines when it comes to blogging about an interesting site or article online. A right-click on the page of interest and a context menu will pop-up allowing your to import the text into SF. You then edit to get to your point, and publish. This is especially intriguing to people like LOML, who loves to surf the ‘Net and is occasionally interested in talking about what she’s found in her blog. News hounds will probably love it too; you can blog right there on the site without having to navigate away, either to a separate blogging client or to your blog service’s editor. That’s a boon for a lot of folks.

But, losing all my work because I selected a note in the Notes tab gave me pause. It also ticked me off no end; I’d invested probably an hour or more in writing my initial review, and had mostly good things to say. That incident showed a major weakness in the software (it’s not really a notepad as the name implies if it’s not usable apart from the editor), and gives me something negative (very negative) to point out. I’m sorry to do that, ScribeFire, but if you’re going to provide a place for notes they should be separate and distinct from the main entry. Provide a cut/paste feature to move information from notes to posts. That’d make the feature usable and, in my opinion, better. And for Pete’s sake, please put some sort of warning about the text in the editing window being replaced by the note BEFORE it happens to another unsuspecting blogger.

Overall, I like the speed and portability of ScribeFire. I think being able to blog on the fly about a site while you’re on it is a great feature. I think the flexibility of having it built into your browser is a nice idea, even if it’s not my cup of tea. It’s never going to be as cool and feature-rich as Windows Live Writer, but what is? (WLW is one that Microsoft got RIGHT.) If you can’t use WLW, or you want to be right on the web page you’re blogging about, or your system is sluggish and doesn’t handle big GUI-based programs too well, ScribeFire might be a very viable alternative for you. It’s plenty strong and capable.

Something from my perspective; my wife had a different one. Check both and decide for yourself.


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