Review: Windows Live Writer Desktop Blogging Tool

September 11, 2006

How do you write you blog posts? Most bloggers start off using the built-in, web-based editor that comes with blog software such as WordPress, Blogger, or TypePad. This is works for a while, but it leaves you yearning for more functionality. Maybe you then try writing posts in a word processor and then manually posting them when complete. This method provides the advantage of storing the draft posts and having good spell checking capabilities, but using an application that isn’t connected to the blog is too limiting though and every blogger finds this out soon. There are so many features that a good blogging solution needs that a Microsoft Word or OpenOffice just doesn’t have including:

  • integration with blogging applications
  • easy insertion of links, keywords, categories, and images
  • setting trackbacks
  • specifying the date/time for blog post publishing
  • publishing directly to the blog in either draft or live form

Enter the first crop of desktop blogging solutions: ecto (PC and Mac), w.Bloggar (PC), BlogJet (PC), MacJournal (Mac), Qumana (PC and Mac), Zoundry (PC), and MarsEdit (Mac). And these are just the most popular ones. Then came the browser based blogging tools including Flock and Performancing. Although these browser tools excel in terms of sheer convenience, they lack the features of the desktop clients. Frankly, if I’m in my browser, I might as well have another tab open to my WordPress admin page as opposed to a browser plugin or extension. I’m sure some will disagree, but this is simply my preference. Each of these applications attempts to solve the never ending issue of easily posting to your blog. Each blogger has their own preferences, so I doubt there will ever be just one of these to prevail. But for my usage, none of these was smooth enough to use regularly. I was constantly compromising on some feature or method I had become accustomed to while blogging.

I’ve personally tested all of the above PC based blogging tools as well as the browser based ones. Although each had numerous features and appeared “on paper” to be the solution I was seeking, none just felt easy to use. There was always one little feature or quirk that made me keep going back to either my built-in WordPress web-based WYSIWYG editor or simply a long document in Word. Then I saw Microsoft launched a beta of its Windows Live Writer primarily for Live Spaces blogs and I reluctantly installed it anyway. I figured Live Writer to be one more disappointment for my blogging needs in a long line of them. I was wrong, very wrong.

Windows Live Writer is one of the best desktop blogging tool I’ve tried. The initial setup and connection to my WordPress blog was a breeze. All the main features I listed above for blogging are there. Those features not included are being added via plugins created by using the Windows Live Writer SDK. The way the features are all laid out and tied together as one application is what I really find enjoyable. All the basic features are where I need them and there are simple enhancements that are real time savers. For example, when inserting a link, there’s an auto-suggest feature of all the previous links you’ve entered. Also, the seemingly relatively easy step of adding an image to a post has been a chore with all the other blogging tools I’ve tried. Live Writer make this incredibly easy with all the necessary options readily available after you upload the image (specifying the text wrapping, setting borders including drop shadows, and setting margins).

The only aspect of Live Writer I’m finding annoying is a new window is opened for each new post or to open a draft post. Compared to how smooth everything else works in this blogging tool, it’s an inconvenience I’ll endure until it’s fixed.

I shouldn’t be that surprised that Live Writer has a great user interface and overall feel – J.J. Allaire is leading the team to develop the software. Allaire was the co-founder of the Allaire Corporation, later sold to Macromedia, that produced the ColdFusion programming language and tools. In the old days, I used ColdFusion quite a bit and absolutely loved the ColdFusion Studio IDE. 

There are quite a few other reviews out there now that Live Writer has been released. Eric Cherng has a detailed post on getting started with Windows Live Writer, while Seattle Post-Intelligencer has a nice review with a quote from Six Apart‘s Anil Dash. CyberNet also has a list of five plugins for Live Writer. For a contrary review, check out Paul Kedrosky.

UPDATE (9/27/06): Microsoft has released an update to Windows Live Writer. The download link and full information can be found here. There is also a site called Windows Live Gallery that has a section for Live Writer plugins.

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