Windows Live Writer

I’ve just downloaded the shiny new Windows Live Writer Beta 3, which I found on Download Squad.

Windows Live Writer Screenshot

I had originally shied away from Live Writer (considering Microsoft’s track record with web publishing, especially FrontPage), but since Download Squad gave them a fairly magnanimous review, I decided to give it a try.

So far, it seems really good. You’ll find a full review in the extended entry.

Set Up

Installation was a standard install wizard. It does try to get you to install Windows Live Messenger and set the Windows Live Search as your browser’s default search engine; be sure that you uncheck those boxes.

Connecting to my blog was easy: I just had to give it my blog’s URL and the location of my xmlrpc file, a file that lets third-party applications interact with blogs. I imagine that it would be even easier to set up blogs hosted on sites like WordPress.com or Live.com.

Windows Live Writer - Default ViewInterface

When you first open Windows Live Writer, it puts you in "Web Layout" view, which is based on your blog’s theme. From here, you can immediately start writing new posts.

Personally, I prefer the "Normal" view, which you can get to by selecting the View drop-down and clicking "Normal."

The interface is familiar to anyone who is used to Windows. On the sidebar are links to insert different bits of media (pictures, videos, tables, maps, etc.) This sidebar changes depending on context (for example, image editing options appear here).

Across the top you’ll find is a standard menu toolbar (File, Edit, View, etc.), an administration toolbar (New Post, Publish, Save Draft, etc.), and a formatting toolbar (Bold, Italic, Lists, Block Quotes, Tables, etc.)

At the bottom of the post window, you’ll find a category box and an option to set the date that a post will be published. If you click the up arrow next to the Set Publish Date box, you can turn off comments, choose a different author, or set a password for viewing the post, among other options.

Overall, I found the interface to be fairly intuitive. It’s a lot less complicated than Microsoft Word or the other Office suite applications. Microsoft has done a good job of emphasizing the important parts of the interface and hiding the less used elements.

Images

Inserting images is really easy: Just drag the image onto the post. Windows Live Writer will automatically resize the photo for you and link it to a larger view of that image. (Note: by default it links to a 640×480 version of the image; I imagine that this is to save space on the web server for hosted accounts where space is limited. However, it’s easy to tweak it so that it will link to the full-sized image instead.)

This greatly reduces the number of steps it takes for me to get an image onto my blog. In the past, I would have to manually create a thumbnail (because WordPress’s automatic thumbnail size isn’t quite what I want), upload both the thumbnail and the full-sized image, and then manually edit the links to get what I wanted. Now it’s just a matter of dragging the image into Live Writer.

My only complaint is that I don’t really like how it aligns the image, code wise. I wish that I could tell it to wrap all of my images in my own code, rather than having to choose between Inline, Align Right, and Align Left, but perhaps that’s a feature that will be added later.

Web Preview Mode

FULL-S_20071010_113357_4_1024x768 One of the more interesting features of Windows Live Writer is its ability to view posts in your blog’s theme before you hit the Publish command. To do this, just hit F12, or go to View and click on Web Preview. Although you can’t edit the post in this mode, it gives you a very good idea of how your post will look when it gets published to your blog.

It’s not perfect on my blog, since my theme has a special style for "Asides," the category of quick posts that aren’t as emphasized as much as my longer posts. Since Asides is the default category, Live Writer’s preview shows everything in that style. This probably won’t be a problem for most of you though.

Plugins

Mmmmm...??Possibly the most promising feature of Live Writer is the availability of third-party plugins. For example, I found this plugin that lets you insert images from Flickr, which works beautifully, as you can see.

To add a plugin, click the Add a Plugin link on the sidebar, and you’ll go to Windows Live web site, where you can choose from dozens of useful new features.

As I’ve seen with Firefox, a strong community of plugin authors can guarantee that a program will do whatever I need it to do. I haven’t checked, but there might even be a plugin that will let me wrap images in my own code so I can center-align images easily.

Conclusion

This is the first desktop-based blog writing software that I might use in the long term. For a while I was using w.bloggar, but its excessively complex interface and slow release schedule quickly turned me off. Flock‘s blog editor is more usable than w.bloggar, but I don’t want to have to change browsers in order to use a blog editor, and it is less feature-rich than Microsoft’s offering.

The way Windows Live Writer automatically handles images, the Web Preview mode, the simple interface, and the availability of plugins all convince me to recommend Windows Live Writer to anyone who’s in the market for a desktop blogging application.

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