I 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):
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.
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.
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.