Apr 11, 2008

Windows Live Writer: Now Even Better

image Today I was pleasantly surprised to get an updated version of Windows Live Writer through the Microsoft Update on my Windows XP based notebook.

I am an avid user and fan of Windows Live Writer, and I must confess that my blogging activity has really gone up by a order of magnitude ever since I started using Windows Live Writer to author my blog postings.

Even though Windows Live Writer integrates nicely with so many online blogging services such as Windows Live Spaces, as well as SharePoint, Blogger, LiveJournal, TypePad, WordPress, and Community Server besides several others, there are a few minor edges here and there that show up sometimes.

Since I do almost all my blogging on Blogger.com (I tried WordPress some time back but was horrified to discover that they do not support AdSense-backed ads, so I dumped it pretty soon), I was most concerned with a unique annoyance that I used to face every time I used to embed an image in my blog posting.

image When you insert an image in you blog posting, you typically do not want to insert the entire picture (since it can be big). What people typically do is to insert a small thumbnail of the picture, which the user can click in order to view the full-size (i.e. hi-res) image. Even though Live Writer supports this idiom, the problem happened that when someone clicked on the image thumbnail on you blog posting, then instead of opening the image in the browser (which is the preferred behavior), you got a browser dialog (shown alongside) that prompted them to save the image or open it with an external application.

With the recent patch, this problem seems to have been addressed, even though a new bug seems to have replaced it. Try clicking the image of the dialog on the left and you'll notice that it no longer prompts you with another identical dialog. Instead it opens a hi-res (oops a low-res) version of this image in the same browser window. I am hoping that after reading this posting, someone from Microsoft will patch it pretty soon.

To compare with the effect that you would've got before this was patched in Live Writer, visit this older blog post of mine.

Besides this annoyance, a few other problems (mostly related to Blogger.com) have also been addressed with this patch, such as the problem of being unable to add images to your blog postings after you've reached the magical figure of 500 images in all your previous postings combined. Sooner or later everybody would've faced this problem:

File Upload Failed: The remote server returned an error: (500) Internal Server Error.

But what caused this error in the first place? Well as it happens, all the images that you add to your blog on Blogger.com (whether you use Live Writer or not does not matter) end up being uploaded to the Picasa's online image hosting service inside an unlisted album (which is visible to you, but not to others). As it happens, Google has placed a limit of allowing only up to 500 images per album in Picasa. Because of this limit, Live Writer used to return a failure when it tried to upload the 501st image to the unlisted album using the Picasa APIs.

This problem now seems to have been addressed by the Live Writer development team, and in my case, I am fortunate enough to have got the fix before the problem hit me.

There are a few other fixes in this update that you can get details in the Microsoft support knowledge base article. However there are still a number of things on my wishlist that I am hoping Microsoft will soon address in the next major update of Live Writer. Some of these shortcomings are:

  • Lack of full WYSIWYG HTML editing support. If you do not know HTML, you'll not be able to do a number of things such as specifying horizontal alignment of tables with respect to the surrounding content, specifying superscripts or subscripts (such as 501st), specifying background colors in tables rows, columns, cells, or paragraphs, specifying HTML 4.0.1 / CSS based layout and so on. If you are familiar with HTML, you can press Shift+F11 and type the required HTML tags manually.
  • The ability to embed arbitrary objects (like Java Applets or Flash animations) in your blog posts also requires that you manually edit the HTML source of your posting (by pressing Shift+F11).
  • There is no built-in spell checker.

imageFortunately, Windows Live Writer has excellent support for plug-ins that can be used to extend the functionality of the application. You can check out some of the freely downloadable plug-ins for Windows Live Writer at Windows Live Gallery. For example, there is a plug-in that provides better support for specifying table-related properties when inserting a new table in the blog posting.

After you apply this update, you should be able to verify the build number of Windows Live Writer to be 12.0.1370.325.

Update: After feedback from Microsoft Windows Live Writer developer Charles, an update to this posting is now available here. Thanks for your feedback, Charles.

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Apr 9, 2008

How to secure your home wireless network

image If you are even one bit tech savvy, you must have one or more desktop or laptop computers at home. And if you have one more more computers at home, you might have realized the immense joy of being online without being bound by wires.

But did you know that your home wireless network is suspect to a number of security threats -- from neighbors playing peeping toms and using your wireless network to spy on the data that you download from the Internet, to piggy-banking on your airwaves and surfing net for free -- at your cost actually.

There are some very easy and straight-forward steps that you can follow to ensure that your network remains secure, and private -- for your use only. In the examples below I will use some illustrations from my Cisco Linksys WAG200G wireless router's web-based admin console, but the same options are applicable to routers manufactured by other vendors such as D-Link and NetGear.

Change the Default Name (or Network SSID)

The first and foremost step to safeguard your home wireless network is to change the default name (i.e. network SSID) of your network to something else. Each wireless router manufacturer hardcodes the default network SSID to something particular (for example, Linksys hardcode their network SSID name to linksys), making it easy for intruders to discover the esistence of your network. Choose a name that you think might be least likely to conflict with other wireless networks in your neighborhood, but make sure that the network SSID does not contain confidential information like your SSN or PAN number.


Change the Default Admin Password for Your Router

Most routers come with a factory setting for the default administration password. For example, a very typical administrative password used by several router vendors is admin or password. Anybody who has access to your wireless network and the administration password has the ability to remotely connect to your router and modify any settings on it, including, but not limited to, locking you out completely. Therefore, your network is only as secure as the strength of your administration password.


Enable MAC Address-Based Filtering

Most wireless routers manufactured by reputed vendors provide you the ability to configure their device to allow only a fixed, pre-determined list of devices to connect to the wireless network. This ability is provided on the basis of a unique series of numbers and letters assigned to each network enabled device, known as MAC (Media Address Control) address. When you enable MAC address-based filtering in your wireless router, you can supply a list of MAC addresses corresponding to each computer in your home that you would like to be allowed to connect to the wireless network. Keep in mind that this technique is not foolproof, since special software can be downloaded from the Internet and installed on a computer to fool it to assume any MAC address of the hacker's choice.


Clicking the Edit MAC Address Access List button on my Linksys WAG200G wireless router brings up another screen that lets you configure upto 20 unique MAC address that will be allowed to connect to your wireless network.


Enable Data Encyprion

Encryption protects data transmitted over a wireless network. Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA/WPA2) and Wired Equivalency Privacy (WEP) offer different levels of security for wireless communication.

A network encrypted with WPA2/WPA is more secure than a network encrypted with WEP, because WPA2/WPA uses dynamic key encryption. To protect the information as it passes over the airwaves, you should enable the highest level of encryption supported by your network equipment.

WEP is an older encryption standard and may be the only option available on some older devices that do not support WPA.


Besides what has already been told, here are a few more best practices that will help you keep your network secure.

  • Keep wireless routers, access points, or gateways away
    from exterior walls and windows.
  • Turn wireless routers, access points, or gateways
    off when they are not being used (at night, during
  • Use strong passphrases that are at least eight characters
    in length. Combine letters and numbers to avoid using
    standard words that can be found in the dictionary.

Enjoy the freedom from wires!