Online Expression – Using Windows Live Writer 2009

I started blogging back in late 2004 when Microsoft launched its MSN Spaces online journal platform now Windows Live Spaces. I have stuck to the service ever since because of its simplicity, ease of use and continued improvements over the years. Back in the early days, most of my blogging was done through the MSN Spaces ‘Add Post Blog Form’, which is limited in what you could do and still is. Then around 2006 Microsoft introduced Windows Live Writer beta and it was like a breath of fresh air to my blogging exercise. Blogging for me became a much richer and enjoyable experience because of what I could now do; images with wrapped text and tags made it a definite asset for my blogging journey.


Setting up Windows Live Writer (click image to enlarge)

Setup:

One of the things I immediately find frustrating about Windows Live Writer is the process of setting it up and connecting to your site and re-downloading information, especially if you blog from more than one computer. I wish there was some way to backup and export your profile settings and just import them as a part of the setup process, in fact, it would be great if you could travel with your Windows Live Writer profile on a thumb drive. Alas, it’s still a straightforward five step process, of entering your email address and password, selecting your blogging platform and let Windows Live Writer Connect to your blog and downloads the necessary information. During the wizard, Live Writer downloads your blog style and layout so writing content can adhere to its natural look and feel in addition to seeing WYSIWYG previews before you publish to the web. After this is completed, you are prompted to confirm your blog name and you off to expressing yourself.

Windows Live Writer 2009

Supported blogging platforms:

  • Windows Live Space
  • SharePoint blog
  • Blogger
  • WordPress
  • TypePad and more…

Windows Live Writers interface if you have never used it before is word processor oriented. Still it lacks some of the traditional functionality and finesse of Microsoft Word or WordPerfect, but is perfect enough for what it does. Writer 2009 does include familiar tools like Word Count along with Auto Link glossary support. Interestingly enough, I am surprised the Windows Live Writer Team didn’t apply the Office Fluent UI which was introduced in Office 2007 to this update since Writer has been through a few versions of the traditional standard and formatting toolbar UI already and it would be a natural improvement to the application. Writer is not really major in changes and it still lacks some common functionality you get for free in Word Pad, options like keyboard commands for aligning text or images. The ‘Open’ dialog does not feature the bread crumb menu improvements and search facility of Windows Vista (interestingly its supported under Windows 7 BETA).

Photo Albums are cool for professional layouts and you can link to a full slideshow

More Multimedia Support

Writer handles multimedia much better, which makes it easier for users to publish videos and photos to their blogs. A new Photo Gallery feature displays your photos in casual thumbnail preview with links to a full size slideshow when inserted onto the blank canvas. You also have the ability to post photos from existing albums on your Windows Live Photos page. New photo options include, border effects, crop and tilting. Videos is especially improved, the new Insert Video dialog features options for publishing videos to both MSN Soapbox and YouTube while submitting a post to your blog at the same time. Options include insert an embedded URL, locally, or from your account on both services, very convenient!

Formatting

Writer 2009 could work better with Microsoft Word, I notice I lose formatting when I copy over content from Word documents with Bullet points and tables. I don’t like the limited capabilities of Tables either, you can’t centre them, the formatting options are lack lustre, there could definitely be more capabilities. I am limited by what I can do with pictures in Writer too, as you can see in this blog post, image captions are below the photo, centred. I would like the ability to have text wrapped images with captions to display a more professional look. Photo Albums are too rigid, I wish they could be more scalable with the ability to resize using anchor boxes. Also, the Photo Album dialog could feature more customization, such as the ability to rearrange pictures, my work around for that is to continuously click in the Album Style: list box on the chosen layout until the desired image in the album comes to the foreground.

There is some inconsistency between between the ‘Insert Picture’ dialogs for Writer 2009 on Vista (top) and Windows 7 (bottom) – hint, I prefer Writer on Windows 7.

Plug in Architecture

What makes Windows Live Writer especially powerful is its Plug in architecture which allows third party developers to further enhance the application. Live Writer 2009 includes SharePoint 2007 support, new APIs enabling custom extensions by weblog providers, automatic synchronization of local and online edits, integration with Windows Live Gallery, and support for "Blogger Labels" are some of the features new and existing users can look forward to. Here are links to some popular ones you can add to your web log post.

FLICKR UPLOAD (Download)
Uploads an image to your Flickr account and inserts an inline picture into your post.

DIGG THIS (Download)
Automatically adds a DiggThis badge to your blog post after you publish it from Writer.

TWITTER NOTIFY (Download)
Automatically generates a tiny URL and sends a Tweet about your blog post after you publish it from Writer.

Windows Live Writer supports the new ‘Jump List’ feature of Windows 7, although I notice, there are a lot of duplicate post in my ‘Recent’ items.

Publishing

Sending your content to the web could be more informative. The same Publishing to ‘Blog Name’ displayed on a dialog doesn’t give user much to chew on, a progress bar would be a nice addition. The reliability is improved too, past versions of Writer often generated unrecognizable errors during failed uploads. I still encounter them, one in particular is when I am publishing post with .PNG files. Speed on my GPRS connection is quite good, I use to encounter numerous failures with previous versions, although sometimes I will still get a few, I have worked around it by ‘Saving Weblog Post’ as a draft to my Live Space and publish at a later date from Live Space summary page.

Conclusion

Windows Live Writer continues to improve rapidly and the new features will make publishing to the various supported blogging services and social networks such as Twitter more fun and easier. What I would like to see one day is a web based version of Live Writer so I can have access through the web browser on any PC instead of having the software installed locally. It would be great especially for environments where you cannot just install stuff without the Admins permission. Live Writer makes sharing your words and media with your audience attractive, that’s been the core focus of the program since its debut and that theme continues with this update.

Resources:

A Look at Windows Live Mail 2009

Instant and Social Communication with Windows Live Messenger 9

Managing and Sharing Digital Memories using Windows Live Photo Gallery 2009

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