Is Windows Live Writer dead?

Windows Live Writer TombstoneI certainly don’t like the notion of a "dead pool" for Windows Live products and services, but this morning, LiveSide is reporting on the (very thin) rumor from a Microsoft insider that Windows Live Writer may be the next tool slated for the digital chopping block.

Now, let me start by saying that I personally don’t think it’s gonna happen, and I was hesitant to even author this post, because I don’t want to contribute to Glenn Beck-ian speculative headlines just to grab attention.

Writer is one of Microsoft’s most popular offerings and a well-respected WYSIWYG blog editor, even among non-softies. I was impressed enough with Writer to give it a write up after trying it for the first time last year. Writer’s untimely demise seems like a long shot, given the fact that it was recently rumored to be receiving an Windows 7/Office 2010-style ribbon interface.

Anyway, it got me thinking, would we really miss Writer? Here are a couple of points to consider (and discuss):

  1. Blogging isn’t what it used to be. Blogging is fast becoming yesterday’s news. A few years ago, it was hailed as the ultimate way to democratize the Web, because anyone with a lick of ability could contribute their own 2¢ via a blog. Coupled with the ability for friends and strangers alike to comment on your post, it suddenly made the web feel a lot more social. Nowadays, it just feels like too much trouble for most people. If all you want to do is post a status message or a quick link, there are far better ways to do that than writing a bloated blog post. Twitter and Facebook appeal to the "short and sweet" consumer mindset, and they make blogging feel antiquated and clumsy. Besides (and I’m playing serious devil’s advocate here, because I rather enjoy the blogging scene) unless you’re the world’s foremost authority on June bugs, most people couldn’t care less that you feel the need to blog about your fascination with them.

  2. Writer is a one-trick pony. Let’s face facts, it’s a niche product designed for one purpose: to post short, simple little articles to the blog of your choice. As much as some enthusiasts might like to paint it as everything from a general-purpose HTML editor to a rudimentary desktop-publishing tool, it’s just not. Yes, it simplifies adding images and videos to your posts, but it has a lot of shortcomings. Writer lacks the ability to edit complex layouts (tables, layers, styles) without delving into code view. It doesn’t have a find and replace tool. If you want a good, general-purpose HTML editor, there are better ones out there (including SharePoint Designer 2007), and they’re just as free. If you need a proper desktop-publishing tool, there are plenty of those out there, too.

  3. Couldn’t Windows Live do with a bit less clutter? The mantra of wave 4 (assuming it ever comes) is supposed to be "simplify." In a well-designed system, every piece plays a critical role, and there’s minimal redundancy. It’s like a sculptor who chips away bits of stone until the finished work is revealed. Windows Live took the opposite approach; it seems that every developer’s pet project got lumped in together under the same "Live" banner. Over the 3 years since Windows Live launched, there have been multiple services to share favorites, sync data between devices, aggregate RSS feeds, push data to your digital picture frame, and communicate with your pals in a thousand different ways. Just look at this matrix of past, present, and future Windows Live services on Wikipedia. There seems to be confusion about exactly which service does what in Windows Live, even among the softies.

The fact is that before Writer came along, I was pretty happy with the web-based blog editor provided by Windows Live Spaces (which, BTW, I’m using right now, because my main notebook is in the shop). It doesn’t require any downloads or installation, and it gets the job done right in your browser. As you can see, I can add images with dynamically expanding thumbnails, tags, and even social bookmarking tools, all without the need for a specialized desktop application (granted, it’s a heckuva lot easier in Writer, but my point is it’s quite doable). Also, Writer doesn’t support trackbacks, which means that if I want to create those lovely cross-post links, I have to edit my posts using the web-based editor after I’ve published them.

As someone who frequently moves between multiple computers, I’m a big fan of web-based apps in general, but I know that most people prefer feature-rich, dedicated desktop tools whenever possible. However, if Microsoft is going to produce a downloadable, desktop-based editor like Writer, then shouldn’t it be a true "writer," with the ability to edit lots of different kinds of documents, including memos, agendas, newsletters, web pages, and blog posts? If the goal of Windows Live Essentials (of which Writer is a cornerstone) is to "trim the fat" from Windows 7 by removing the fluff from accessory programs, then why isn’t WordPad being culled into a downloadable tool that would offer this kind of general document editing? Now, that’s a Writer I could get behind. Maybe the OWA version of Word (now in technical preview, sort of) will ultimately realize this vision.

– Greg

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22 thoughts on “Is Windows Live Writer dead?

  1. Nice post greg. I think if they did get rid of writer, it would be nice if they then introduced a plug in or update for Word for writing blogs. I know theres already a blog writing feature in word already, but if it was as fully featured as Writer it would be just right.

  2. True that Word 2007 can be used as a pretty decent editor for a host of blogging services. It’s editing tools are far superior to Writer, because it’s a premium (expensive) desktop publisher. However, Word’s support for Windows Live Spaces blogs seems minimial at best. For instance, Word can’t publish images to WL Photos and seamlessly include them in your post like Writer does. Word uses the rather awkward e-mail publishing interface to post content to your WL Spaces blog, like you’re blogging from a mobile phone or something. Sadly, it’s no better with Word 2010 (at least in the tech preview that I’ve tried), which seems to work exactly the same way. You’d think that Microsoft would provide the best level of integration for their own products and services, right?

  3. I’ve felt for a while now Greg, that perhaps Spaces itself, was a near cert for the deadpool, the ONLY thing that made me think otherwise, is Live Writer, conceived at a time that, if Spaces was a gonna, would have been a pointless waste of time and effort. Although Writer can be used fro other blog sites, it’s really as you put it, a very simple and easy to handle little app, which is perhaps what most wouldbe Spaces blogger wants. I also used and liked the online edit, and really didn’t see the point of writer, when it first appeared (and still don’t to some extent, why didn’t they just update the online edit, it IS only a click away!) But I think we’re more likely to see the demise of our Space, than Live writer. (though not necessarily our ability to blog.)

  4. The poll on LiveSide.net seems to indicate that among Writer, Spaces, Admin Center, and my.live.com, most people (47% at the time of this reply) think my.live.com will get the axe. I’m all for consolidation of tools and services in a way that makes sense, but it would be a shame for Microsoft to just unilaterally cut out any one component of WL.

  5. This highlights one of my main quibbles I have about people and software. If you have live writer, and you use it, then it isn’t dead! What you mean is that it might not be updated any more, which is a totally different thing. You can only do so much to a basic text editor, and if it’s as good as everyone says, then maybe it just isn’t worth doing anything else with it

  6. Hmm. That’s true for certain programs, Dave. But a tool like Writer is only useful if it can publish to blogging platforms. And those platforms will continue to evolve. If Writer isn’t continually maintained and updated, then it’s as good as dead. Like I said, I don’t think Writer is in any real danger, but I wanted to seize the opportunity to talk about how/whether Writer – and by proxy, blogging and even WL Spaces – still fits into the Windows Live paradigm.

  7. I can’t see your picture either, and I’m on this side… Maybe they’ll migrate the blog data to SkyDrive, and the online apps can edit it there. Then it would be "in place" editing not requiring the email posting. Then you could post (perhaps) slide shows or spreadsheets as well as more richly formatted verbiage and pictures. Anyway, just a thought.

  8. This is a typical ‘Geeky’ post from someone who hasn’t got a clue as to what the ordinary everyday computer user wants or is doing! Blogging is ‘old hat?’ Blogging is dead? Seeing as the very post that you quote i.e LiveSide is actually a professional blog seems to have escaped your notice Greg! Sure we have twitter but that’s a different means to an end! Go through your twitter updates and how many of them are just annoouncements pointing to someones blog post? And we can’t see your picture if you don’t have it set as public viewing! Believe you me, blogging is still the catalyst for twitter et al, as it acts just as a news headline for other stuff. Twitter is useful to tell others about sites or news you have read, its more akin to a newsreel site than anything, but blogging enables you to truly ‘say you piece’! Could you have said all this via twitter? Or Facebook? And in true Geeky professional user fashion Greg you forget one important thing regarding using Word to write blogs instead. Writer is free to use for everyone, Word is not. Word doesn’t show just how your post will look once published, Writer does! Writer is not just used by users on here either, its also used and admired by WordPress users, blogger users etc etc. Of ALL the Live Essentials programs, Writer has done more to foster admiration for anything Live. Its the best there is, and Mac users envy the fact that its not available on their platform!I would take tales of its demise with a proverbial pinch of salt that it deserves. Long live Writer!

  9. TG, Greg didn’t start this story, only blogged on what some one else commented, re the Liveside article, on ATL. But to be honest I’m not totally sure he’s not, in some sense right, blogging just isn’t so popular anymore, especially with the under30s group. (In 50 people in my network only 2 are under 30, and I think both of them, rarely blog, now) They seem to want the quick status update etc, (and there are about 3 times the FB user to LiveSpace user, even though Live Spaces has been going for a few years longer.) It may take a few years but Blogging will probably take a back seat to the FB style sites, and I think MSN realise this too, else why the shift to that style, with the new home page?

  10. Alright folks, I think I’ve fixed the image glitch. Here’s the skinny…in the days before WL Writer, I created a public photo album (now a SkyDrive folder) called "Blog Pics," and I used it to upload any images that I wanted to include in my blog posts. The reason is that the web-based blog editor wants to put thumbnails of the images at the bottom of your blog post, and I never liked that layout. Anyway, when WL Writer came along, it did something very similar, except that it called the album "Blog Images." Rather than a public folder, Blog Images has some funky special permissions that are designed to work with Writer. As I mentioned in my post, I composed it using the aforementioned web-based editor, and manually uploaded the tombstone picture to my Blog Images folder, since that’s where Writer typically stores my images. Apparently, there’s some secret sauce with the URL that Writer normally inserts in the code, and it (obviously) didn’t work properly. I solved the issue by moving the images over to my original (public) Blog Pics folder. Let me know if you can see the images now. Thanks!@ TG – I could cite a thousand articles that confirm traditional blogging has a foot in the grave. Did Bing launch a special service just yesterday to provide real time search results on blogs? Oh no wait, that was Twitter. You’re right that Twitter is indeed a form of blogging (called "micro-blogging"), which was formed on the premise of answering one simple question: "what are you doing right now?" Twitter was supposed to be just like a blog, only less verbose. However, users have in effect bastardized that service by turning it into a crass form of advertising (RTs) and instant messaging (@users), which coincidentally, also happened previously with traditional blogs. The medium doesn’t make a difference, people find a way to capitalize on it. I’d posit that a lot of Twitter traffic these days is indistinguishable from what we’d call "blog spam." And what’s with this attitude that software has to be free in order to be accessible to the common user? Talk about an entitlement attitude! Back in my day, people found extra value in software worth paying for (or pirating). You young whipper-snappers, with your fancy coffee drinks, your loud disco music, and your free software…

  11. Someone speculated the other day that Live Spaces might also be a Dead Application Running. That in combination with the subject of this discussion does not spell good news for blogging inside Windows Live. I personally hope it is not the case and that we are all wrong.

  12. Me too, Lebo. I personally like blogging, and my fascination with all things Microsoft makes WL Spaces the perfect place to do it. I think that the lack of any real updates to the service in the past few years is a real detriment. I mean, can you imagine if no substantial features were added to Facebook for a couple of years? It’d be a ghost town! I’ve previously said that blogging needs to be de-coupled from Spaces and moved somewhere else in the WL paradigm (such as SkyDrive or somewhere under the Profile), but it needs to remain capable of integration with Spaces, much like what happened with WL Photos. I think it would be a nice touch if Microsoft refocused development efforts on Spaces and provided additional features, such as the ability to create custom multi-page, wiki-style sites, much like Google Sites.Isn’t it fun to speculate?

  13. I have speculated on several occasions, mostly because of the lack of updates to "Our Spaces" that it will go the way of other things Live. BUT I think it will be the actual space page itself, we have a separate blog page, which most of us go straight to from our news feeds, no one sees the space any more. just the blog. And we are now all used to doing that, (I can’t remember the last time I actually looked at my own space, or chnged anything there) it would be easy for Live to lose it.

  14. Gulp! Yup, I can see it too, now. (Sob). That’s one sad picture, Greg. Whaddaya trying to do? Give us all depression?:-DActually, what, with me being so busy with a ton of reading at the moment, and with all the work going on around here, along with the fact that Live just isn’t able to handle too much traffic rolling through it because of the tinkering, (any changes yet?) I just haven’t done a blog for a while. Still here to haunt y’all, tho. Reckon I’ll be back here writing when things settle down a bit so let’s keep Writer, please, Microsoft:-)

  15. @ Mandy – I think we’re kind of on the same page. Spaces is a great concept, but its role in the overall scheme of things has never been clear to me (I’m talking about the space’s main page, mind you, not the blog). Is it supposed to be a home page for you or a public landing page for your friends? It can’t really be both, as you’d likely want to see something altogether different than you’d want to show your friends. I think that, given time and an honest development effort, the combination of Home/Profile could fill those functions nicely. Home is your private page, which you can customize will all the feeds and stuff you want to see everyday. It could replace my.live.com and add-in some of its flexibility. Profile is your public page, with links to things you want to share with your network and/or the public at large. It’s a doorway to the public parts of your blog, photos, SkyDrive files, favorite things, network, notes, web activities, and all kinds of other stuff. Maybe even a modernized version of Spaces-like modules. In that scenario, there wouldn’t be a need for a conventional Spaces main page, because Profile would serve in that function. If Spaces does indeed hang around, I’d like to see it evolve into a true multi-page personal website that could present any number of content pages, including blogs, discussion forums, photo/video galleries, lists, file cabinets, and more, very much like Google Sites does now.That’s ultimately what I’d like to see.

  16. Your Spaces page is and always has been a method for those who can’t afford to pay a site or anyone to make us a Webpage. Its YOUR own webpage to create and do with what you will. As for Spaces dying, well that’s not really suprising is it when during the Wave 3 updates it was hidden away from view. Newbies coming here now don’t know anything about it nor are they aware that they can Blog on here either. We all have to get our point across that it is Spaces and being able to blog on here that sets this site apart from its rivals such as Facebook et al. Its what we all love about Windows Live! Or are you all saying that we come on here now just to see our What’s new with your Network updates?

  17. Well, I shall continue to blog. Goodness I still receive paper mail newsletters from teacher groups. Blogging (as someone commented succinctly below) serves a purpose/market/niche and twittering another. WL is really great as is for me. I like how my posts look and would be reluctant to return to the old-fashioned way.

  18. Tg, That’s what it was TG, Our Space was the place we started off, it gave us a place to express ourselves, and unlike Greg I did see the point of it, it was our own little place on the net, (for those of us who couldn’t manage or envisage having a proper web site) it isn’t anymore, It’s the poor cousin or the room out back now, to the main page, which has become our news feeds. You have admitted, yourself, to just getting all your updates downloaded via RSS or Flock, to you PC desk top, how often do you actually visit anothers space, not their bog page, but their space, without first seeing that they’ve written something you find interesting, and then you only go to the blog page. And we’re not suggesting that the blog part will go, it is why writer was conceived, just our Space page.

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