Windows Live Writer Technical Preview – 1 Step Forward, 1 Step Back
I’ve been using Windows Live Writer (WLW) since early April 2008 (see post here). For the most part I’ve been delighted with it.
[June 26 2008 Update: I de-installed the technical preview and reverted back to the older WLW release. The "Open Blog Posts Much Slower" WordPress bug was driving me to distraction.]
A new (unnumbered?) WLW ‘technical preview” version came out recently (download here – see details here). I downloaded it and have been using it for a couple days. Unfortunately, this version has solved a few problems and introduced new one’s. I describe the benefits and problems below along with my wishlist for a few new functions.
New Technical Preview Benefits
Refresh Theme Option is Faster: This is not exactly something I need to do often but when I use the View/Refresh Theme function, it is faster than before and it doesn’t stop to ask me the annoying question (can it make a temporary post?) that it used to ask.
Structured HTML Formatting: When you look at the HTML source code WLW ads structures to it. This is terrific. It makes it much easier to find my way around and edit the underlying code. Note: There is also a handy new ‘Source’ access tab along the bottom.
Other: There are new image border styles, but so far I haven’t used them. There is a built in word counter (you need to turn it on in the options – more details are here).
Open Blog Posts Much Slower: The biggest new issue, is that when I try to open previous posts to update,make corrections etc. the “Retrieving posts from weblog…” screen takes much, much longer to discover my available posts. See picture below.
Previously it would take about 5 seconds before it returned my posts. Now it takes anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute. Yes, I realize I have it set to retrieve the last 500 posts. But I’ve always had it set this way (to deal with the lack of post tile search functionality – see below).
[June 21 Update: According to Joe Cheng in this thread on the WLW Forum, this is a known WordPress only bug that should be fixed on the next release.]
Tagging Reminder Broke: I use the tag reminder function to remind me when I forget to add tags, categories or a title to a post. But even when a post includes tags I still get the reminder screen.
For now I’m just shutting the reminder off.
Cropping: I asked for a cropping function in my original post and the tech preview version contains a new cropping feature. But how they implemented it isn’t useful to me (unless I’m missing something). The smallish pictures in this post are linked to larger versions that you can see when you click on them. The new cropping feature crops the small versions of the pictures. I want/need to crop the big version of the picture (which should be reflected in the smaller version too). So the new cropping feature isn’t useful for my purposes.
[June 21 Update: After further investigation I wrote a post on this topic here. The thumbnail and the larger image aer both cropped. But there is no way to resize the larger original photo (ie: compress it from a width of 2000 pixels to a more web-friendly 600 pixels for example) after cropping.]
Existing Unresolved Problems
Jumping to Top When Applying Header Formatting: Whenever I apply formatting using the pull-down menu (see picture below), the screen jumps to the top. For example, when I include headings in my posts I need to format them with the “Heading 3” formatting codes (see picture below):
The problem is, after apply the formatting, WLW jumps me to the top of the blog post. When I’m several screen pages down, I continually have to scroll back down to continue editing. Since I use a lot of headings, this happens over and over as I write my posts. It’s a major pain.
[June 21 Update: According to Joe Cheng in this thread on the WLW Forum, this is a known bug that they hope to fix in a future release.]
Stability Issues: There are ongoing stability problems when using WLW on both my Windows Vista 64 PC and my XP Laptop. If I use it for a few hours several different stability problems can occur. Sometimes WLW slows to a crawl. Sometimes it freezes. Sometimes it crashes. Often it will appear to crash, giving me a standard windows crash message, yet it didn’t actually crash. I just ignore the crash screen and keep going. The problem is worse on my slower XP laptop than on my Vista 64 PC. It usually clears up when I close the program and restart it. But since I usually have several blog posts and template pages open at a time, this becomes a chore to get back to where I was.
[June 21 Update: I sent my WLW log file to the development team for their analysis.]
View Post on Publishing Issue: There is an option to view a post on publishing. The problem is it doesn’t actually take you to the post you just published/edited. It takes you to the home page of your blog. If this is a new post, this is somewhat useful. But, if as I do, you use the “split post” function, you still need to click on the new post’s title to view the whole post. If you are editing and older post, this is completely useless because the older post won’t be at the top of your home page or even necessarily on the home page at all. This feature should take you to the post you just published/edited, no matter how old it is – not your blog’s homepage.
Windows Live Writer Wishlist
Search Published Post Titles: I mentioned this in my original post and I’ll mention it again because the lack of this functionality is my greatest frustration with WLW. When using the WordPress editor, the ‘Manage’ tab has a search function that allows you to search the titles of prior posts (or by keywords). Once you find the post you want you can select it to edit. This is useful when you want to go back and edit/update a prior post – something I do frequently.
WLW has no similar function. The only workaround I have found is to set the Open post screen default to 500 posts and then scan up and down a growing list of posts until I find the old post I want. I don’t know what’s going to happen once I have more than 500 posts. Presumably I won’t be able to access/edit some posts with WLW.
Cursor Movement Between Views: Ideally, as I switch between HTML and normal view, the cursor would appear wherever in the post I was in the other view. So, if I’m editing this particular paragraph in normal/edit view, I’d like the cursor to be positioned in this paragraph in the HTML code when I move to the HTML view. I do this in Dreamweaver all the time. As it is now when I jump to HTML view, I have to search for the point I want to edit. With the new structured HTML function, this is less a problem than it was.
Multiple Picture Settings/Styles: There is an option to “save settings as default” when working with pictures. The problem is, I have about 3 or 4 different common picture settings that I use. I’d like the ability to create picture “styles” that I could apply to pictures. So, for example one style would be:
(left, drop-shadow, 5 point right margin, link to source).
Another style would be:
(inline, no-drop shadow, no margins, no link to source).
And on and on. I find I have about 4 common picture styles and it is a bit of pain having to click around through all those options every time I add a picture. I’d rather select the picture than click on one of my picture styles to apply the appropriate formatting.
Closing an Open Post: I cant’ find a way to close a post I am finished drafting without closing the entire program. In the same way I can close a Word document, without closing Word, I should be able to close a post in WLW. This is particularly problematic given how long it takes to open the program.
Other: I’d still like to see the other improvements I discussed in more detail in my original post: format painting, more toolbar shortcuts, in-post search and replace and post template support.
Note: I have added this post on the Microsoft WLW Forums hoping someone on the WLW team will take note of these problems.