Blogging Heaven: Live Writer - Wave 4 - Beta
Buckle your chin-straps. Windows Live Writer 4 is here
Most members of the blawgosphere are more than familiar with the wonders of Windows Live Writer. I've been dedicated Live Writer user since autumn 2007 and as far as I'm concerned, it made managing a blog a whole lot easier. Wrestling with the online blogger posting tools proved troublesome as it often garbled the post's formatting with little obvious rhyme or reason. While I appreciate that there are a lot of passionate fanatics of the downloadable Wordpress software, there’s no denying that WLW is a fantastic freebie.
With the release of the beta of Windows Live Essentials Wave 4, comes the latest version. The quality is top-notch and it certainly doesn’t feel like a half-baked beta that's not ready for prime time. Save for a rather wacky (and needless) UI change, this release is the real deal.
The big news, of course, is that Live Writer now sports the ribbon interface, first debuted in Office 2007 and then ported over to in-built apps in Windows 7. While there'll always be a few sceptics as to the ribbon UI, they remain firmly in the minority. The Writer version of ribbon works well and should be welcomed across the board. Thankfully, the ribbon UI within WLW retains its ability to be auto-hidden, though I’m not sure how advantageous it is to have greater screen real estate available while composing a blog post.
What I really don't get is why the labels dropdown menu was moved to the top, just under the ribbon. It's a frankly ridiculous decision; it feels unnatural in use and seems like change for change's sake. For me (and I suspect most users) assigning labels and, less frequently, the posting date are often the last things you'll do before publishing the post. Convention dictates that you work from top to bottom, so logic says it should be in the lower portion of the window. Often before posting, I'll hit the preview tab (which was and still is at the bottom) to make sure it fits well with my template before posting. The fact that these tabs (edit, preview and source) have remained at the bottom whilst the labels and posting date menus have been bumped up to the top makes it all the more strange.
Still, focussing on more positive news, this latest version feels the snappiest ever. I've often bemoaned the sluggish performance of Live Writer (even on high end machines) and resulted in me typing up posts in MS Word - something I still find myself doing today.
When opening previous posts, there are now far more options in choosing how many load at once under the 'Open' menu. This is great for going back and making tweaks to the labels, content or formatting of previous posts - particularly those dating from way back. What I'd really like to see, however, is a way to set the default number of posts which load. (Feature for Wave 5 maybe?)
Another addition are big, cheesy emoticons. I guess you either like emoticons or you don't. If you do, bigger and brighter is better. And if you don't, tough luck.
Other things which caught my eye
There are a couple of needless functions such as the ability to insert a map directly from Live Writer. I can't see this one getting a whole lot of use to be honest.
Word count (including the ability for real-time word count to be displayed) is a neat feature and is another reason for me to consider writing up posts within Live Writer itself rather than doing my copy and paste trick from Word of which I'm so fond.
Bug fix? In previous versions of Live Writer, there was an issue with the ability to highlight text, particularly after inserting pictures. Infuriatingly, the text would not remain highlighted as soon as you let go of the mouse button. This highlighting bug was one of my few bugbears about WLW and although definitely got better over several releases (in the sense that it happened less often) it was never rectified completely. With the beta, it's been a case of so-far, so-good, but I'll reserve final judgement until I've used it a bit longer.
I’m also hoping that the ecosystem for WLW add-ons improves considerably going forward. There are a couple of nice ones which I’ve used for a while now but my experiences with the add-ons generally have been disappointing. For the few that there are available, they tend to be horribly buggy and often fail to work as advertised. Oh well.
No matter how you slice it, though, this is a decent upgrade and certainly the most significant since WLW first went public nearly 3 years ago. Somewhat controversially, as with the rest of Windows Live Essentials Wave 4, it’ll only work on Windows Vista and 7 so XP users need not apply. My only reservation in respect of the application itself the re-positioning of the label and posting date menu and am hoping it'll be moved back down to the bottom (where it rightfully belongs) before the final version is released later this year.
And yes, although this is only a beta, it’s as good as done to be honest, and most bloggers will want to upgrade sooner rather than later. Go on… you know you want to!