CS and the City Sean Lynch

Review: Windows Live Writer Beta

AKA The only reason I will be installing Crossover Office on any future Intel Macs.  I’m not kidding, it’s that good.  Don’t bother reading this, go get yourself a copy at the Writer Homepage.

Using Windows Live Writer feels like how it must have felt to use that very first version of Microsoft Word.  All that ease of use pouring over you after years of being stuck with edit. How everything is fast and intuitive and not hidden in awkward commands or layers of documentation.  Windows Live Writer is possibly the best example of “Do one thing and do it well.”

I cannot remember being this passionate about a Microsoft product since I used Encarta to breeze through my fourth grade report on Jellyfish.

But let’s start from the beginning. The beginning being my blogs, all three of them.  One is a personal blog on a webserver running on WordPress, the second is a friend’s development blog I contribute to on Blogger (De-coded under links), and the third is CS & the City.  None of my blogs are official Microsoft Live Spaces blogs and all of them were picked up without any hassle by Writer. All I had to provide is the URL, username, and password.

With this information in hand, Writer sets out to my blog, making a connection using one of a number of supported API (According to the website, Writer supports RSD (Really Simple Discoverability), the Metaweblog API, and the Movable Type API.)  Once it has successfully connected to the blog, it writes a quick-test post and then downloads all the applicable styling information and related images so that when you write your post, you can write it in exactly the same style as it will appear in your web browser.  Of course, you can switch to a normal word processor style view, or even HTML view to fine tune the markup.  As Writer works now, however, it creates some of the cleanest markup I’ve seen from a Microsoft product (Frontpage anyone?).

I also love the fact that it picks up my categories I have set up on my WordPress blogs (although it doesn’t appear to let me add additional ones from Writer).  It also lets me change properties of a post – enabling/disabling comments and trackbacks, adding trackbacks to ping, etc.

I do have a few pinch points I need to point out though.

The sidebar has links to a number of recently written posts as well as a link to create a new post.  Unfortunately, clicking them will open up your new or existing post in a brand new window.  Word learned this lesson years ago, and Firefox has more recently taught IE a thing or two.  Tabs for posts would be a welcome addition and I can only assume it’s coming in a future version.

Spell checking is available, but it isn’t in-line like Word or Outlook.  Now that I can get this functionality in the WordPress or Blogger console with Firefox 2.0, I don’t want to give it up.  In the same vein, though Writer will automatically save draft versions of my post, it will not propagate them to my blog automatically. It gives me a button to do that (under the Publish drop down menu).

All in all, an incredibly solid product considering it’s in beta and it’s free.  I’m really looking forward to where the MS developers take it and what third-parties do with the powerful SDK.  I’ve already got myself a Flickr plug-in.

Last complaint?  It’s not available on my Mac, yet.  Come on, there was Windows Media Player for Mac! Why not a Windows Live Writer too? Especially if the developers add support for .Mac blogs.  That would be a kick in Apple’s iPants.