For months now, I have been hearing good things about the offline blogging tool Windows Live Writer (download). Two weeks ago I was listening to Leo Laporte and Paul Thurrott‘s most recent Windows Weekly podcast (No. 53) were they once again were singing its praises. Since ‘The Daleisphere‘ just set sail, I decided to give it a whirl with my new blog.
After two weeks, I’m sold! Compared to the WordPress editor, this is one fantastic piece of kit.
In this post I describe some of the key benefits that convinced me to switch, include links to online demos, describe the WLW add-ins I’ve found useful so far and list some areas that need improvement.
Untethered Blogging: WLW has untethered me from the net. Previously I had used the WordPress editor and/or the WYSI plugin-editor exclusively. This meant I needed to be online to write posts. Now I can write my from anywhere, on any computer, at any time, whether online or off. So far I’ve written most of my Daleisphere posts on a lazy-boy recliner in front of the TV!
Fully Integrated & Sophisticated Editor: WLW provides a feature rich, seamless, WYSWYG drag and drop editor that lets me easily add and manage pictures, maps, tables and videos.
It uses Microsoft Word editing conventions and keyboard shortcuts throughout. As a daily user of Word for some dozen years, this is useful.
Superior Image Handling: This alone merits the move to WLW. No more do I need to perfectly craft an image, save it locally, upload it to WordPress and then link it a post. Now, I all I need do is paste (or even a drag and drop) an image into WLW and let it do the heavy lifting. It automatically sizes the images (or lets you size them by dragging the corners), generates thumbnails, adds a link to the original/larger version, and uploads the images to your blog when the post is published. You can rotate the image, adjust contrast ratios and add effects. What a time saving godsend!
Superior Tagging: As much as the coder in me want to have pristine underlying HTML code, in reality this doesn’t happen when using the WordPress editor. WLW handles this for you. It automatically adds all the tag (eg: image alt= and size tags). This increases the odds of pickup by Google, especially by the Google and MSN image bots.
Multi-Post, Multi-Windowed, Multi-Blog Editing: I manage three blogs at the moment. I can be working on any one or all of them simultaneously with WLV. I can work on multiple posts in multiple windows, and indeed on multiple PCs, simultaneously. Previously I would open multiple instances of the WordPress editor in multiple Firefox tabs to accomplish this. While doable, it was a bit unwieldy. When I viewed one draft post in a Firefox tab, the other draft post was necessarily hidden. It is much easier having an unlimited number of WLW windows open and visible at a time.
"Post Draft to Weblog" Option: By default drafts are saved to the local drive. But you can choose to post drafts to your weblog. This is a critical feature for multi-computer bloggers like me. Typically I have 5 or more drafts going at any time. When I’m done working on a draft post for the time being, I save the draft to my WordPress blog. Later, I open the draft and resume editing from any computer. While WLW is an ‘off-line’ editor, I can still choose to save and edit my drafts from any PC – or even revert back to the WordPress editor to finish the draft.
Instant Preview: On installation, WLW downloads your blog’s current WordPress theme. If you change the theme, click on the "Update Weblog Style" option in the ‘View’ pull-down menu to update it. The net result – pressing F12 yields an instant preview of exactly how the post will look in your blog. Pressing F11 returns you to the editor. While the WordPress editor also provides a preview function, Internet latencies slow it down so much so that, at least in my case, I rarely use it. I use the WLW’s preview frequently.
Performance Boost: Working offline with WLW yields superior performance over writing posts online. When using the WordPress editor to save drafts, open posts, close posts, navigate around the admin panel, review post previews and such, you work at Internet speed. Everything is sluggish. By contrast, working with WLW is like working with Word. Everything works at the speed of your computer.
Default Image Settings Option. By default WLW adds a drop-shadow effect, does not place a margin around and image and places them inline – meaning, text does not flow around the image. In my case, I usually do not want the added effect, I want a 5 pixel margin to the left and below the picture and I want text to flow around the image.
Happily you can change the default image settings. It took me awhile to discover this. The option to change default picture settings appears at the bottom right of the editor but only when an image is selected.
HTML Code Edit/View: WLW allows you to view and edit the underlying HTML code. Something I needed to do frequently in the WordPress editor to ensure my posts looked and behaved just so. But so far, I haven’t needed to use the HDML editor in WLW once. It just gets it right every time.
Here are some Windows Live Writer demos / tutorials I’ve found on YouTube:
So far I’ve only used the ‘Blog This for Firefox‘ plugin – a convenient tool for grabbing content from other sites. The plugin places a "Blog This" icon in the top right of your Firefox browser. When you see something you want to comment on, highlight the content (text/graphics/images) and click the "Blog This" button.
If, as I do, you manage multiple blogs, WLW prompts you to select the applicable blog. After clicking on the applicable blog, a new (or optionally an existing) blog post is opened and the content you selected (images, text, whatever) is copied into the WLW editor and a link back to the source is inserted into the draft post.
There are several other plugins I intend to try soon. LifeHacker recommends the Dynamic Template plugin. I could really use this. Polaroid Share (see image to the left) formats images in fun ways. The copyright implications of the "Google Image Selector" plugin are scary, but it looks cool.
Room for Improvement:
While a terrific step up from the WordPress editor, there are some improvements I’d like to see in future WLW updates:
No Templates: When I post to my video game and imedia law blogs, each post is formatted in a very specific way. As I write my video game and movie reviews on The Daleisphere I will use a standardized review format. In WordPress, I have created templates that I open in one Firefox tab and then cut and paste into the the new blank post in another tab. Given Word and even Outlook 2007‘s terrific support for templates I was hoping WLW would include built-in template support. It doesn’t.
[June 19, 2008 Update: In lieu of actual templates I use ‘private’ WordPress pages that I do not link into my blog as stand-in templates. It’s a decent enough workaround.]
No way to Search Published Posts: When using the WordPress editor, the ‘Manage’ tab has a search function that allows you to search all prior posts. This is useful when you want to go back and edit a post, have it open to refer to when writing anther post, etc. WLW has no similar function. Instead I need to search my blogs outside of WLW using their search functions. Since I will be using WLW to write all my posts going forward, it would be handy, especially when offline, if a published post search function was built into WLW.
No In-Post Search and Replace: While WLW has an in-post search function (Ctrl-F), there is no search and replace function.
No Image Cropping Functionality: The image insertion tool is terrific (far superior to image insertion within WordPress’ native editor). You can resize, set contrast ratios and add several image effects but you cannot crop images within WLW – something I need to do regularly. [June 19, 2008 Update: This function was added into the tech preview version. See info here.]
Missing Toolbar Shortcuts: While the WLW editor is superior to the WordPress editor , its editor toolbar lacks shortcuts found in most modern editors. Specifically, the toolbar does not include font, font colour or alignment shortcuts. These functions are, however, available under the ‘Format’ menu. As far as I could tell, there is no option to add these functions onto the toolbar. As you can see below these shortcuts are all included in the WordPress 2.5 editor’s tool bar.
No Format Painting: I use Word’s format painter many times a day – when drafting contracts or even Outlook emails. As I am creating posts, it would be enormously handy to have format painter available in WLM.