Review: Windows Live Writer

Being a Mac supporter, I’ve been accused a few times of not showing any “love” to Windows. And from where I stood, hey, when they “innovate”, I’ll “celebrate.” These days it seems as if something major is going on inside the House that Redmond built. With Bill Gates moving on to do incredibly noble philanthropic work, there have been a few management changes. Steve Ballmer is still CEO, but now that Ray Ozzie (creator of Lotus Notes) has taken over Gates’ former Chief Software Architect role as he transitions out, I’m starting to see signs of positive change. For one, they’re doing away with the MSN-labeled services and moving over to the “Windows Live” branding. And in what I consider to be completely unlike previous Microsoft releases, a lot of great, thought-driven products are starting to emerge.

Last month Microsoft released Private Folder — a tiny app that places an encrypted folder on your desktop and allows you to password protect items dragged inside. (This functionality was standard in XP, but my guess is that most didn’t make use of it.) Private Folder was small, unobtrusive and it just worked. (NOTE: I had some problems, but I think it might have been my fault. I installed Private Folder and it was working, but after I attempted to change the password, the system locked up and now every time I try to open it, or even reinstall it locks up. But I think it was something I did. Nobody else seems to be having problems.) Sadly, the IT community was outraged that Microsoft was allowing users to encrypt data on machines that they needed to support and Microsoft pulled the beta after only about two weeks in release. (If you’re crafty, you can still find it.) But then again, after the problems that I had, you may elect to use a different app that Leo Laporte recommends called TrueCrypt (although I can’t vouch for it yet — I haven’t had a chance to put it through it’s paces.) From the website alone, TrueCrypt looks significantly more complex. And that was the beauty of Private Folder — it was really simple.

Also, Windows Live Messenger looks great. I actually wish more folks would use it instead of AOL Instant Messenger. In some parts of the world, like the European Market, the former MSN Messenger actually is the more popular messaging app — not AOL IM. Windows Live Spaces looks significantly cleaner and more attractive than MySpace (but I think that’s a losing battle — the kids seem to like MySpace and now they’re doing tie ins with YouTube and SideKick phones.) To check out these and other Windows Live apps, head over to the Windows Live product page.

My favorite app in the bunch right now is an app that’s still in beta. It’s a handy tool that I’m actually using right now. Windows Live Writer is another in a line of small, unobtrusive and fit-for-use apps that just does one thing and does it well: It allows bloggers to create stories for a number of different blogging tools in a clean, WYSIWYG editor.

Initially, it might not sound like a big deal. “Hey – Just use Word and paste the stories after you’re done. Or the web based blogging editor.” It’s not quite that simple. I use WordPress to write my blog and their online editor leaves a lot to be desired. I’ve lost more stories typing directly in the editor. Occasionally entire sections of text will just vanish after I click the “Save” button. It had gotten so bad that I used to highlight the entire story about every 10 minutes or so and paste and then save each revision into Word. But I still seemed to lose data. And using Word isn’t really an alternative because even using the built in “save to HTML” option, the formatting doesn’t always translate well to my blogging software after pasting — especially when you’re trying to add pictures.

I’ve been using Windows Live Writer going on three posts and it works really well. The installation was pretty simple. After the install, it provides a setup section where you identify the blogging tool you’re using and the login information. (Windows Live Writer supports quite a few different blogging tools, including their own Windows Live Blog, WordPress, TypePad, Blogger and several others.) Simply put, it just works. Adding pictures is much easier. The local app is naturally much quicker than the web-based editor I was using. It’s truly a “WYSIWYG” editor. Pages I publish look exactly as they do when I’m typing them. It has a built-spell checker. So far it’s been incredibly stable running in XP. Tagging stories, adding links, saving drafts and publishing stories are all very simple in Windows Live Writer. It even has support for multiple blogs. (This has to be a killer feature for some of the folks I know who work in multiple blogging services.)

For those that are familiar to WordPress or Blogger, you can manage trackbacks within the editor. You can define whether to allow comments for a story. You can edit in HTML within the app (but why would you want to with an interface this nice?) There’s not a whole lot here that you’ll be missing from your web-based blogging editor (at least not if you’re using WordPress.)

I did have one minor issue, (but perhaps the problem was between the keyboard and the chair.) So far I haven’t figured out how to add a “break” within the story from the editor (so that my page can have just a snippet of the story listed on the homepage instead of an entire story.) But again, perhaps it’s hidden somewhere. Also, you probably won’t be completely free from your blogging software. Real obsessive-compulsive folks like myself will want to go to the page afterwards to make sure that everything published properly. That said, I haven’t had a problem with the software at all yet, but, you know….you can never be too sure. (I should also mention that there is a “Web Preview” view that allows you to see the homepage as it will look when the story is published.)

Overall, Windows Live Writer is a slick piece of software. And the price is right — it’s free. It’s really solved a major frustration for me, because I don’t want to edit in HTML and yet I want the “HTML-look.” You can read more about Windows Live Writer and pick up a copy of the software here.

Here’s hoping this is a sign of more great Windows Live branded apps and products to come.

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