Nov 19, 2007

Review: Windows Live Writer

I am using Microsoft's cool new blog-editing tool named Windows Live Writer to post this entry.

Splash Screen

I downloaded Windows Live Writer a few moments ago and configured it to connect to all 4 of my Blogger.com accounts, including this one.

The user interface of Windows Live Writer is quite slick, and some screenshots of it that I saw online prompted me to try it out. Here's how the user interface of the tool looks like on my Windows XP Professional box:

Windows Live Writer Screenshot

This is my first post using this tool, and going by the kind of publicity Microsoft is giving to this tool, I was expecting it to be really bubbling with features.

As of now, I have already tried performing a few basic tasks with this tool, which are:

  • Setting up my blogs hosted at Blogger.com
  • Creating a new blog post
  • Inserting images in my new blog post

Let me discuss how well this tool has fared with respect to doing the above three tasks.

Setting up my blogs

Microsoft claims that besides supporting Windows Live Spaces and SharePoint weblog, which are Microsoft's own blogging services, Windows Live Writer is very well integrated with a number of other third-party blogging services providers, including (but not limited to) WordPress, Blogger, Atom, TypePad, LiveJournal and Movable Type.

The screenshot below shows the full list of providers supported by Windows Live Writer:

Supported Providers

However, going by my experience, the support for third-party blogging service providers is only half baked, and incomplete, to say the least.

The first time I realized this when I tried setting up my Blogger.com account inside Windows Live Writer.

Here's what happened:

The first dialog gives you a choice to setup either a Windows Live Spaces account, or a SharePoint weblog account, or a third-party account:

Choose Provider Dialog

I wanted to setup my Blogger.com account, so I chose the third radio button, named Another weblog service and clicked Next.

Then I was presented with this confusing screen:

Weblog Homepage Login

I was thoroughly confused with this screen, since I was expecting to see a drop-down of all supported blogging service providers.

However, since that list was not available, I typed in http://www.blogger.com/ in the URL field and also provided my username and password:

Blogger URL

And then I clicked Next:

Detecting Weblog Settings

Cool. I was expecting Windows Live Writer to connect to my Blogger.com account, and retrieve a listing of all the (multiple) blogs that host on their website, and then enable me to select the blogs that would like to manage using the software.

However, to my dismay, this is what followed:

Unable to Detect

Alright. No problem. Let me choose my weblog service provider. Perhaps this should have been the first dialog to be shown anyways. I selected Blogger in the drop-down, and saw that the text field below got populated automatically:

Select Provider

The <feed-id> field looked cryptic. I connected to the Blogger website and went over their help and FAQ to try and understand what I should set my feed-id to. When I found nothing, I decided to go ahead and try my luck anyways, and pressed Next. Sure enough, I was immediately presented with a dialog asking me to set <feed-id> to something.

Requires Customization

Alright, I clicked the Back button, and replaced <feed-id> with the ID of my blog: etechland (my blog can be accessed at http://etechland.blogspot.com/):

eTechLand

Then I pressed Next again. Then something nice happened:

Unlock Google Account

So I was actually getting onto something now. Hopes raised, I typed in the characters "tocon" into the text field and clicked OK. I was immediately rewarded with this:

Detecting Weblog Settings 2

This dialog looked quite similar to one of the early dialogs that I had presented with, before meeting with failure. This made me suspicious. However this time I started seeing further progress than I had made with my first attempt:

More Detection

More Detection 2

More Detection 3

And then finally this:

Select Weblog

Hurray. So finally Windows Live Writer was able to detect all my blogs hosted on Blogger. That's simply amazing. But why the hell does it want me to choose only one of these blogs? I would have liked to bring in all 4 blogs to be managed with Live Writer. Anyways, I selected the first one (e-Tech Land) and clicked Next again. Here's what I saw:

Success at Last

All right. At least I have one of my blogs inside of Windows Live Writer now. How about others? As I soon discovered, to my utter disappointment, there was no way I could re-use all the effort that I had already put in to import the remaining blogs that I own. For each of my remaining blogs, I was forced to repeat the entire damn process. What a waste of time...

Creating a new Blog Post

Anyways, I finally decided to try and post a new entry to my primary blog (e-Tech Land) to see how my editing experience with Windows Live Writer turned out.

This is what I did. I clicked on the button named Weblog on the toolbar, and chose e-Tech Land from the list of blogs shown:

image

I was immediately presented with a new blank document where I could start typing my fresh blog entry. Wait a minute. I want to check the previous blog entries that I had made on my blog using the Blogger.com website's lousy, buggy WYSIWYG editor. Also, I want to see if I am able to edit and/or publish any of my draft posts that are saved online. Alas! Windows Live Writer fails me. There is absolutely no way that Live Writer would let me manage my previous entries that have already been published, or are saved as drafts. Thus, in my very first moments working with Live Writer, I have discovered a very important functionality that is missing, that will force me to visit the Blogger.com website periodically instead of enjoying my Live Writer software. That's sad. Really sad.

Anyways, I start typing out into my new blog entry inside the ravishing Windows Live application. Since I chose to share my experiences with all my readers, I am obliged to start taking screenshots and embed them in my blog entry as and when required.

Inserting images in my new blog post

To capture the screenshot in the Windows clipboard, I select my Windows Live Writer application main window and press Alt+Print Screen keys. Now I click on the Insert Picture link on the toolbox shown in the right hand side of the application:

Insert Picture Link

And this is the dialog that I am presented with:

Insert Picture Dialog  

Hmm... so either I can choose an image that is already saved on the dsik, or I can insert a URL of an image that is already hosted online:

Insert Picture from Web

That's all right dude, but how about the clipboard? What do I need to do to insert an image that exists in the Windows clipboard? A screenshot that I captured just a moment back using Alt+Print Screen?

Nothing. Another major disappointment. I know while writing this port, I will be taking hundreds of screenshots and embedding them in my blog, however it looks like each time I have to embed a screenshot in my post, I would need to first use MS Paint to save the screenshot to disk, and then import it into Live Writer. What a shame!

Anyways, if that is the case, then so be it. I am prepared to give this cool-looking application a chance.

So I launch MS Paint, paste the contents of my clipboard in it, save the result as a PNG file to My Pictures, switch back to Live Writer, click on the Insert Picture link again, choose the same image that I just saved to My Pictures, and get it in my blog entry:

Image Options

There are several nice things that I immediately notice about this feature. The first is the presence of image resizing handles on the image preview. These handles let me resize the image exactly the way I want it to, maintaining the aspect ratio.

Then if you notice the toolbax, it has now started showing image properties, letting me choose how I want to wrap text around the image, apply margins or borders (like a drop shadow) to the image. There is even a drop-down that lets me specify if my image preview icon should link to the original image, a custom URL, or nothing. Nice. One thumbs up.

Next, I switch tabs in the Image toolbox and switch to the Effects tab.

Here I am shown a list of special effects that I can apply to the image, and see it being transformed in real time. Effects include Black and White, Sepia, Gaussian Blur and several more.

Image Effects List

Nice. I immediately try out the Black and White transformation, followed by the Gaussian Blur effect and here's what I get:

Image Effects

Cool. Next, I try removing some effects selectively but leaving in some others. I try removing the Black and White effect. The Gaussian Blur now appears on the colored image. Great! Another thumbs up.

Only Gaussian Blur

Hey, it has been quite a while since I have been typing, so I should save my work. I see a button labeled Save Draft on the toolbar.

Save Draft Button

Clicking on the button saves my draft post locally on my system. Hmm... I would have wanted to save my draft online, so that I could have continued working on it from my office machine tomorrow. Is there a way? As it turns out, there is. Clicking on the small down arrow next to the Save Draft button reveals my choices:

Post Draft to Weblog

Besides the Post Draft to Weblog, I also see a third choice, labeled Post Draft and Edit Online. Since it is disabled, I am guessing that it only works for Windows Live Spaces, but not for third-party (i.e. non-Microsoft) weblog service providers.

Anyways, whatever I have seen of Windows Live Writer still makes me feel that this is a tool that is nice to have. My overall experience of creating this blog posting, editing it locally on my laptop in offline mode, and then publishing it online after making a lot of formatting corrections and other changes using Windows Live Writer was much better than just typing this blog entry online using Blogger.com's online WYSIWYDG (what-you-see-is-what-you-don't-get) editor.

Hats off to Microsoft for making this tool available freely (you can download it from http://get.live.com/) and I am looking forward to drastic improvements in the next few versions of this tool. Meanwhile, let me click the Publish button to enable all of you to start reading this entry online:

Publish Post

7 comments:

Joe Cheng [MSFT] said...

Hi there, I'm one of the developers of Windows Live Writer and I think I can help clear up some of the issues you've had with the software.

1) During setup, the Homepage URL is the homepage URL of your actual blog. So where you typed "http://www.blogger.com" you want "http://etechland.blogspot.com". We won't ask you what blog platform you're on if we can figure it out ourselves (and in this case, the blogspot.com is a dead giveaway).

2) To open existing posts from your blog, hit the Open button on the toolbar and select your blog from the left.

3) Inserting image from clipboard: Just hit Ctrl+V while in the editor (or Edit | Paste). Just like pasting any other clipboard data into any other application!

4) Saving drafts online to Blogger is currently disabled because of a bug we just discovered in the latest version of Writer--it would cause the post to actually be published instead of kept as a draft. It worked in older versions and will work in future ones.

Hope that helps!

Anonymous said...

Great review. Im particularly impressed that someone from Microsoft actually reads the blogs and replies to the problems. Is that standard for Microsoft? Nice.

Shannon said...

Just wanted to leave a little thank you note for posting such and extensive and visual review. It was really helpful!

Batty said...

@Shannon, I am glad that you liked it. I have now subscribed to your two blogs myself :-)

elise said...

help! i follwed yours to a tee...but i use blogger and the url that was pre-filled in didnt have the feed-id part. it merely said http://www.blogger.com/feeds/default/blogs


where do i put in my blog web address. i use blogger, but have my own url (hungryhungryhippie.com)

help!

Batty said...

@Elise, just typing your personal blog URL (http://hungryhungryhippie.com/) in Live Writer should work.

Anonymous said...

Dude,
for the screenshots you capture to windows clipboard, always use Paste(CTRL+V) for that, it should work with any word editor(be it live writer or msoffice) except the notepad and its likes ;0

Regards,
Abhishek Jha(abhishekjha.net)