Windows Live Writer: let’s kick the tires

Although I’ve been (semi) regularly blogging with Live Spaces for the past 2 years, this is my first post using Windows Live Writer, Microsoft’s desktop blogging client. Being a streamlined type of guy, I never really bought into the need to use a desktop client when Live Spaces provides a nifty browser-based editing tool. But I’m also a self-described “power user” – the kind of geek who uses OneNote for his grocery list – and, let’s face it, editing anything more than a casual entry via the browser can be a bit frustrating. If you don’t believe me, try adding an inline image from another service. Creating multiple tags is no picnic, either.

So, the other day, I pulled down the new Windows Live Essentials cadre of desktop applications, which includes Windows Live Writer. I decided to give it a try for two reasons: I can’t resist new technology, and apparently I need it to create posts for the new Windows Live Clubhouse community.

Configuration was a breeze. Writer asks you for a couple of bits of information about the blog services you use. That’s right, it works with services other than Windows Live Spaces. With your permission, it polls your chosen services about what theme you use, so that the editing experience is seamless. It even adds a nice little icon on the Start menu to launch the program.

My first impressions are how clean and simple the interface is – very un-Microsoft. The Spartan interface (below) is adorned with:

  • A Word-like menu (pre-Office 2007 that is, they really need to decide whether menus are “in” or “out” of vogue these days)

  • A minimal command bar with tools to publish and manage the current post

  • A simple formatting toolbar with all of your basic editing tools

  • A right-side task pane with context-sensitive tools to help you manage the current selection

  • View tabs, just in case you’re the HTML-tinkering type

  • More tools to categorize and control when the post is published

image 

The Windows Live Writer window

With commands like Save Draft instead of just Save, Writer feels a bit like a cross between and e-mail editor and a really lean word processor. Obviously, the tools are geared toward creating a specific type of document, namely a blog post, but they’re surprisingly well-designed and intuitive. After writing just a few lines, the interface immediately feels comfortable and familiar. All of the tools are there: keyboard shortcuts, inline spell-checking, logical right-click menus. In short, everything is exactly where it should be. I think to myself, “this is what Word 2007 should have been.”

The most striking features are the relatively few formatting tools, but allow me to explain why that’s not a bad thing. A functional blog post (one that can be syndicated neatly via RSS or ATOM) must effectively separate style from content and let the blog’s theme do most of the heavy lifting in the formatting department. Fewer formatting options are actually kind of liberating – I feel like I’m free to focus on my ideas, rather than worrying about line-spacing and font sizes. Overall, it’ll help authors create cleaner posts.

If I had to pick my top 3 features, I suppose I’m most excited about the following:

  1. Easier management of images and tables. Editing HTML tables without a visual tool can actually drive you insane (I’ve seen it happen to a few friends, and it’s not pretty).

  2. Multiple categories via tags. Technically, you can’t select multiple “categories,” but you can add tags from a wide variety of tag providers, including del.ic.io.us and Technorati. I’m not sure why WL Spaces can’t just enable this for all posts, regardless of how they’re published.

  3. The Preview tab. Now I can see a mock-up of my post without publishing interim versions of it a dozen times.

So, what’s not to love about WL Writer? Well, I haven’t delved as deeply as is probably necessary to really answer that question. That said, here are my quick and dirty observations:

  • Microsoft really needs to decide on a new UI standard for all of their client apps: pro-menu, anti-menu, ribbon or command bar, toolbar or floating toolbar. If I can hide the menu in other WL apps, then I should be able to hide it here, too.

  • A split window option (a la Visual Studio), so that I can quickly see and edit source code without flipping between views, might also be a nice touch.

  • There’s a Find feature, but no corresponding Replace option. Even Notepad has the ability to Replace text.

  • Simplify tags vs. categories, because users shouldn’t need to understand something as sophisticated as custom tag providers to categorize their blogs. And why isn’t Windows Live a default tag provider?

  • The jury’s still out on inline images. There’s an option to upload images to an FTP server or post them in your blog. Depending on the latter, I may have an additional gripe or two. Stay tuned.

Update: posting images in your blog routes them to a “Blog Images” album on Windows Live Photos. This is pretty similar to the workaround I’ve been using for the past 2 years, but it’s much simpler from an authoring perspective. I just wish WL Writer would allow me to decide where to upload the images, since I already had a “Blog Pics” album for just that purpose. And BTW, where’s the button to add a little frustrated emote? Angry

– Greg 

Windows Live Tags: Clubhouse, How-To, Windows Live, Spaces, Writer

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5 thoughts on “Windows Live Writer: let’s kick the tires

  1. Thanks for the feedback. As you can see, I dropped in a caption the old fashioned way, but I think it would be a nice touch. As I understand it, the latest release is a "release candidate," but who knows? They may have time to add a few more features before it’s finally final. BTW, I like the group ad in your signature. Spread the word!

  2. Greg I am so glad that you have taken the plunge and begun trying to use Windows Live Writer to compose your blogs. I wouldn’t be without it! It is my all time favourite Live application by a long chalk! The writer bods do listen to your wishes as well. I asked them why when I wanted to include a video into my blog, did I have to faff around with a video publishing site such as Soapbox or You Tube, they very kindly explained that it wasn’t as simple as inbedding a picture file from you computer, but now in this new build I can inbed a video from my comp without actually leaving Writer! I love it. try everything out, try changing your pictures , Writer has a very good photo manipulation tools built in, you can tilt them, put different effects, look for my posts about writer and what you can do in the Clubhouse!

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