It’s time for another look at Windows Live Writer. On a lark, I decided to download it again and give it another go. Well, after only having it installed for a few moments, I can say without a doubt that it’s undergone some serious improvements. So serious, I’d wager it rivals many, if not most other desktop blogging clients — free and commercial.
When you consider the number of desktop blogging clients I’ve downloaded and tested in search of that elusive "perfect" one, you know that I do not make that statement lightly.
When I initially downloaded and tested the software just over a year ago, I was less than impressed with it, considering it didn’t even have an HTML editor and lacked some advanced features. That’s all changed.
(This image was added using the SnagIt plugin for Windows Live Writer and the photo style is one of the default picture style options.)
Unfortunately, it still does not fully load my blog design (I assume because of the CSS background image structure), but it’s not really a concern; the most important part is taken care of — my fonts and styles for the content layout area.
Now that the initial shock has worn off, let me look at it objectively so I can give it a proper review. And, of course, the best reviews are those done while using the software. So, as you can guess, this entry is being written using the Windows Live Writer software.
- The WYSIWYG editor is amazingly intuitive and simple to use.
- Advanced text formatting features, such as headings and tables, are included in the WYSIWYG editor.
- Extensible via plugins  (it reminds me of WordPress in that regard)
- Auto Save (this feature needs no explanation)
- Choice between HTML/XHTML  on a per blog basis. This is good if you’re a stickler for clean and well formed code.
- Supports FTP upload. One thing that bothered me in the previous version was that images and files could only be uploaded via the blog’s XMLRPC file (not good if you plan to store your files in a folder outside of the blog). This time around, they got it right — even better that right because the FTP set up was smooth and extremely intuitive.
- Supports date modification, which means you can set a post to publish in the future (or the past if you so choose).
- Tag support with a variety of providers, including custom providers.
- Advanced image insertion  that supports thumbnails and lets you add some basic styles, such as drop shadow and photo style borders, to your images. You can even apply some more advanced image styling such as black & white conversion, sepia tone, as well as others.
- Video insertion which will come in handy if you’re a vlogger.
- Customizable ping list with trackback support
- In line spell checking
- Multiple writing views including layouts that mimic your blog and a full in software preview of the entry as it would appear on the blog.
- Quick switching between views by using their shortcut keys.
WYSIWYG editor is lacking. Although it’s very intuitive and has some advanced features, there are other elements which seem lacking such as font size and color or emoticon support.
- No word count. Although this feature may not be important to everyone, it does come in handy when you’re restricted to a certain word count or want to keep track of how much and how often you blog.
- No way to strip paragraph tags  in favor of line breaks which would be helpful for WordPress bloggers.
- Toolbar is not customizable. Not much of a problem now, but if it were to grow, I’m certain there would be features and buttons some bloggers would love to hide in favor of screen real estate.
Still in Beta . Although it seems stable enough, anything with a Beta label basically means that a bug could be hiding somewhere and jump out at you at the most inopportune time.
- No HTML code blocks. Instead of a pop up window that would allow you to input code, you would need to switch to code view, find your place in the document, then add the code block manually. 
- No custom HTML quick tag support. This is one small feature from w.bloggar that I continue to miss with every new desktop blogging client I try. It’s nice to specify a special bit of HTML code that is used often with a variable that can be replaced with the highlighted text in the entry.  
- Strange cursor/page jump. This is hard to describe, but if you have a bit of highlighted text or if you click too far off to the side of the text you want, the cursor will automatically jump to the very top of the entry instead of the closest possible point. Can get aggravating for long entries such as this one.
It should go without saying that the wish list items would be in addition to improvements on the "Quick Cons" section. To me, the items on the wish list aren’t deal breakers, but would be extremely nice to have.
- A thesaurus would be nice. Microsoft Word has spoiled me and I’ve become used to highlighting a word, right clicking and seeing a list of alternatives.
- Code color highlighting in HTML view. A small, but nice feature to have (helps in reading/differentiating code).
- HTML code with auto-completion. Dreamweaver has spoiled me and I’ve grown used to typing a few letters of the opening tag, then having it fill in the rest for me and automatically closing it for me, too.
- Persistent cursor position memory. It would be nice if the cursor position was remembered when switching between the different views instead of starting at the top of the page. It’s a nuisance when switching from Layout to HTML code and back to Layout mode — every time, the cursor is back at the top of the entry.
I like it. If you asked me a year ago what I thought about this software, I would have told you to scrap it and stick with whatever you were already using, but my mind has been changed.
I’m sure some people think I change desktop blogging clients as often as I change my clothes. And that may very well be the case until one of them is honed to perfection. But for the time being, I’m going to stick with Windows Live Writer as my primary client.
Even though it doesn’t have everything on my wish list, it does come pretty darn close. Plus, the fact that developers can create plugins to add functionality that’s not included by default only instills more confidence. In fact, I’m tempted to hire a programmer to build an "ultimate Windows Live Writer plugin" that would add all the functionality on my wish list and call it a day.
Windows Live Writer most reminds me of BlogJet, even though it doesn’t have all of BlogJet’s features and BlogJet is lacking some of the Windows Live Writer features. It’s basically the feel — they both have a polished interface, intuitive and easy to use, and lots of potential for growth and expansion. The main difference, however, is the price tag — BlogJet requires a commercial license ($39.95) and Windows Live Writer is free.
With the growing base of programmers willing to develop plugins, I can definitely see it going places. Microsoft has a winner on its hands with this product, but they can’t allow themselves to get too lazy.
My best advice is to download the software, play around with it for a few weeks and decide whether it has all the features you need to help your productivity.
1: Some of the features that I appreciate in a blog editor, such as code snippets, were missing by default, but it was quickly resolved by downloading and installing a plugin or two.
2: It outputs clean mark up — one of the best of all the blog editors I’ve tested. I’m surprised and delighted.
3: The advanced image handling is nice, but there’s no way to quickly add a class or title to the image without switching to code view.
4: In all fairness, there is a plugin which you can use if you really want emoticon support.
5: Even though you can’t strip paragraph tags for publication, it doesn’t bork previously published WordPress entries because it adds paragraph tags and formatting when it pulls it down from your blog. (Yay!)
6: Right now, I’d get rid of a couple redundant items between the two available toolbars. For example: View, Tools, and Weblog contain the exact same information.
7: The beauty, however, is that development on the project seems to be quite active. Even though it took a year to get to Beta 3, I’m certain that an official stable release should be arriving soon enough.
8: I suspect that some of the more desirable HTML features are lacking because the software is geared towards the WYSIWYG bloggers as opposed to the coders, but that shouldn’t detract too much from the software. At least they make the HTML code option available; it just requires a few extra steps and certainly isn’t a huge inconvenience.
9: I’m currently using a plugin called "Insert Template" and it’s definitely helpful, but by no means perfect; it doesn’t support variables so you can’t wrap the highlighted text in a specific tag, no keyboard shortcut support, and it has a couple small bugs.
10: I can definitely see a business model for plugin developers who can create exquisite plugins that add the most sought after features in Windows Live Writer.
11: There’s a great plugin called DynamicTemplate which definitely adds HTML snippets and code block functionality.
[tags]desktop blogging application, desktop blog client, blog editor, windows live writer review[/tags]