Long-time readers of this blog are aware of my affinity for Microsoft’s Windows Live Writer (WLW) as the quintessential blogging tool. I use it in a Windows 7 virtual machine on my iMac and MacBook Pro. Imagine my delight upon discovering the beta for WLW as I set up a new installation of Win7 on the laptop! In fact, I was so excited, I determined to immediately put it through its paces in a new article for the Aerie.
The first thing you notice about the beta for Windows Live Writer (WLW) (part of the overall revamping of the entire Windows Live Essentials suite) is the Office-like ribbon bar. If you aren’t familiar with Microsoft Office 2007 or 2010, here’s what I’m talking about (click image to embiggen):
This feature, by itself, is enough to sell me on the new version of Live Writer. I’ve been a huge fan of the ribbon ever since it debuted in Office 2007 (and which has been somewhat improved in the recently released Office 2010). Essentially, you have the formatting power of Microsoft Word combined with the ease of use of WLW.
Pictures Made Easy
One of the biggest improvements to the program is graphics management. Of course, Windows 7 itself helps in this regard: The built-in Snipper Tool is what I used to grab the screenshot of the ribbon bar above. Then, I simply selected the Picture option, elected to grab a picture from my computer (other options include the Web, create online album, and add online album), a presto!
Picture tools also enable you to determine frame styles, including shadowed (above), frameless, Polaroid-style, rounded corners, and borders of various thicknesses. You can also quickly position the picture left, center, right, and inline, as well as set margins around your picture. For instance, the post thumbnail at the top of this article is left-inline, with a 5px top margin and a 15px right margin.
More Formatting Goodies
If you enlarge the ribbon graphic, you’ll note there are buttons to quickly set bold, italic, underline, and strikeout attributes, as well as super- and subscripts. On a Windows machine, the first three are pretty easy through keyboard shortcuts, but control-B on a Mac is a bit more difficult, since the only control key on many Mac keyboards (especially laptops) is to the left of the spacebar. And in the default WordPress rich text composer, super- and subscripts are a real pain to set up.
Similarly, working with fonts and colors—both text and highlighting—is extremely easy. Furthermore, the font list dropdown displays every font on your machine, which isn’t necessarily always the case (depending on the editor you’re using).
One last formatting detail: Quick access to heading styles, and the ability to see exactly what attributes they have, is a significant improvement over dropdowns that merely list the different styles. Being able to know in advance how a particular heading style is going to look is a lot better than the trial-and-error method of the past.
Previews and Posting
Speaking of knowing in advance how your post will look, WLW incorporates a preview feature that displays exactly how your article will look before you upload it.
Even better, it’s considerably more faithful than the previous WLW preview function. In the past, I would always post my WLW-created articles as drafts, use the WordPress preview function, and do some format tweaking. I did that with this post as well, but I was fairly confident it would be the last time I’d have to go through that extra step (rather than post to the live blog directly from WLW).
I was right: Once I adjusted the font size in WLW to match the blog, the Live Writer preview shows exactly what the built-in preview looks like. Thus, I can now post directly to the blog from Live Writer, without worrying that there will be some hinky formatting gaffes. I love that!
Summary and Compatibility
While I can’t (yet) speak to the other components of Live Essentials, Windows Live Writer (beta) gets an unequivocal “thumbs-up” for ease-of-use, features, and compatibility with many blogging platforms.
While my blog is a self-hosted WordPress installation, WLW is compatible with Windows Live Spaces, SharePoint, TypePad, and other self-hosted platforms. I don’t know if it can be used specifically on SquareSpace, but I’d be very interested in finding out.
The Windows Live Essentials beta requires Windows Vista Service Pack 2 with the Platform Update for Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 with Service Pack 2 and the Platform Update for Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2008 R2. It will run on either 32-bit or 64-bit installations.