Yea! Microsoft's Windows Live Writer is now out of beta! Get the new version now...

Longtime readers will know that I have been a huge fan of Microsoft's Windows Live Writer offline blogging editor (see what I've written about it). In fact, I have to say that WLW is the ONLY application that I severely miss now that I've moved to MacOS X (sorry, neither ecto nor marsedit yet measure up to WLW for me) and I'm actually considering running Parallels just to be able to use it. To me, it is that good.

So I was delighted for all the Windows bloggers out there to see the tweet from Neville pointing to the Microsoft blog entry indicating that "Windows Live Writer 2008" is now available. You can download it now.

If you have never used an offline blog editor and you are on Windows, do check it out. I've been using offline blog editors for most of the seven years I've been blogging and once you start... you'll never want to go back.

To all you Windows users, enjoy! Me? I'm thinking of firing up Parallels to give the new release a try...

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MarsEdit is outstanding - but there is one reason why it doesn't (yet) work for me for offline blog editing

200710041023After I asked in my last post about offline blog editors for the Mac, several people responded publicly and privately suggesting I check out MarsEdit, including the developer, Daniel Jalkut, who left this great comment. Naturally, I downloaded and tried it out - and I can see why people are saying great things about it. It's a great offline editor.

200710041050Makes it very simple to edit posts. Easy to use. Lots of macros. Tons of capabilities. Doesn't do rich text editing like ecto or, on Windows, Windows Live Writer or Semagic, but it's a solid offline text editor. If you aren't using an offline editor and you're on the Mac, I'd definitely encourage you to check MarsEdit out!

Unfortunately, unless I'm seriously missing something, it doesn't work for me. For one simple reason:

Lack of support for pasting in images.

As readers know, I like to illustrate my posts with images. Specifically, and here's the challenge - screen captures. However, what I don't like to do is to save an image to a file, upload it, link to it, etc. That's too slow. What I want to do is this:

1. Capture a part of the screen, typically either a region, or a window. On Windows I was using TechSmith's awesome SnagIt program and on the Mac I'm using the built in capture utlity (Cmd+Shift+Ctrl+4 lets you capture a region or window and put it on your clipboard.
2. Click into the offline blog editor at the appropriate point and simply do a Paste.

Ta da... screen capture inside of blog entry. The blog editor automagically:
1) creates a thumbnail of the image at the location of your cursor;
2) creates a link to the larger image;
3) creates temporary files and filenames for both files; and
4) uploads all the files and creates the correct links when you hit "Publish".

It's magical. Drop in images, write your text, hit "Publish"... and you never have to worry about naming the files, uploading them, etc. The key for me also is... it's FAST. I can just capture and write away.

Now, Microsoft's Windows Live Writer still does this the best out of all the ones I've tried. Semagic also handles it well. And here on the Mac, ecto does it, albeit with the alignment issue that I mentioned in my previous post.

That's a key requirement that I need to be able to post quickly. If I'm missing something in MarsEdit, I'd love to be clued into that. It seems that I have to save the file first in order to include it.

200710041111Having said all this, I should say that MarsEdit does have a VERY cool "Media Manager" component that let's you easily link to your Flickr stream and also - and this is huge - a "catalog" of the images that you've used in your blog (since the time you started blogging with MarsEdit). The Flickr integration is awesome and for any blog entries where I want to use a Flickr photo, it's a great benefit to be able to just pull in the image.

Likewise, the catalog is incredibly beneficial! Right now, I have all these various different images that I've screen captured and inserted into my blog entries. But if I want to link to one of those images again, I have to go find my blog entry where I use the image, right-click it and get the link, and then link to it in my new post... or... and this is usually faster... I have to re-capture the image which then results in more disk space being wasted in my TypePad account because I already have a similar image there. So this image catalog is excellent.

I just wish there was a way to paste in a screen capture! Add that in and I'd probably switch entirely. (This post was written in ecto so that I could include the screen captures.)

Outside of that, I definitely agree that MarsEdit is a great tool. If you don't do screen captures, it's a great one for you to consider for offline blogging.

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Version of Windows Live Writer now available for a U3 USB drive

image Courtesy of a tip from Neville Hobson, I learned that Scott Kingery at "TechLifeBlogged" has released a version of Windows Live Writer that works off of a USB drive.   As Scott writes:

This past February I posted a launcher for Windows Live Writer so that you can take it with your between computers and retain all your settings. Today I am releasing version 2.0 of the Launcher. Much has changed with Windows Live Writer and I have learned some new techniques for making it portable. This is a much cleaner implementation and it plays better with Windows Vista.

I don't personally have a real need to be able to do this, but I do think it's a cool idea.  I like the idea of being able to use WLW on any given machine.  Fun stuff!


My first launch of Windows Live Writer Beta 3 leaves a bad taste in my mouth... I have to re-add all my weblogs!

As I mentioned recently, it seemed like a new version of Windows Live Writer was imminent, and indeed, on Wednesday Microsoft released Windows Live Writer Beta 3 (I would have written about it then, but I was a wee bit distracted). You could download it from that announcement page for from the main Windows Live Writer page.  Reading Joe Cheng's blog post about the release, it sounded interesting so of course I downloaded and installed it.

The first annoyance was that it's now integrated into the full "Windows Live" installer and so when you go to install Windows Live Writer, the installer will also by default install a bunch of other Windows Live apps, ranging from Messenger to Mail to a search Toolbar and a "family safety" option.  Now, you can thankfully de-select all of these options and simply install WLW, but it's something you have to pay attention to.  I understand Microsoft's motivation.  They want to make it easy for people to install all  the Live apps, and they see it as a way to "upsell" people on the other apps (which are all free).  Get people hooked on their apps and search versus those of Google.  I do understand... and I can't really complain because MS is giving us the really incredibly useful Windows Live Writer tool for free.  Still, it was slightly annoying that I had to un-check all those boxes just to get WLW.  (But yes, a small price to pay for WLW.)

The major annoyance, though, was the screen that greeted me when I launched it (once I found it!  My old QuickLaunch icon no longer worked and I had to sort through my Programs menu until I finally found it under the "Windows Live" sub-menu...).  The screen prompted me to start using WLW by adding a weblog! Huh?  What happened to the six weblogs that I already had configured WLW to work with?

Gone.

All the configuration data seems to be gone.  All my weblogs were no longer configured in WLW.  Now, this probably had something to do with the changes to registry locations mentioned in a recent WriterZone blog post.  Still, it was a rather unexpected and definitely annoying outcome of doing what I thought of as an upgrade!  (And yes, I realize it is "Beta 3", but I'm sorry, I would have expected an upgrade to pull across config info.)

Now, the process of adding a weblog is relatively trivial.  Just go to Weblog -> Add Weblog... , fill out the blog URL, username and password, confirm the results and you're done.  Maybe a minute to do it.  Still... it was an unexpected step to have to take.

The good news is that all my drafts still seem intact (even all those drafts for weblogs which are no longer added to WLW), and the couple of plugins I use seem to still be there... so I seem to be set to go.  Now, maybe I can check out the new features...


Is a new version of Windows Live Writer set to appear this week?

 Hmmm.... first this note in the Writer Zone on August 29th:

In an upcoming release of Windows Live Writer, we are...

and then Mary Jo Foley writes in ZDNet yesterday "Microsoft to unveil Windows Live suite this week":

The Times is unclear whether Windows Live Writer is in there, too. But it looks like it might be.

pointing to a New York Times article out on Sunday that says this:

The release, though it includes the Windows Live Writer blogging application, carefully avoids cannibalizing two of Microsoft’s mainstays, the Word and Excel programs.

(which would seem to me to be NOT "unclear" about WLW!)

All in all, this would seem to point to an impending release. Perhaps even the "1.0" release??   We'll see....


Lee Hopkins on Windows Live Writer...

image My colleague Down Under, Lee Hopkins, has not been as pleased with Windows Live Writer as I have been.  Strange, really, because I've not had quite the same issues as he has with graphics.  For instance, the one to the right is in at the original size, i.e. "as is" and looks to me quite like the original.  Now I did not do anything to it like give it a drop shadow or a box around it, which would have resized the graphic and changed it a bit. 

Lee, I'll suggest that you click on the graphic and then on the Image tab under "Borders" set it to "None".  That combined with ensuring that the image size is set to "Original" on the Advanced tab should give you "as is" size you are seeking.  At least, it does for me.

As to posting in the future, I'll try that out with this post.  I would wonder if it is a function of the blogging platform you are using.  Lee is hosting his own Wordpress - I am using hosted TypePad.  We'll see.  I'll set this with a date and time of today at 6:46pm, about 1.5 hours from now.  Let's see if it uses TypePad's queueing to hold the post or if it posts immediately.  (Hmmm... I wonder what Timezone TypePad operates on.)

Here goes the experiment...


UPDATE: Nope, it didn't work. Lee's right in that forward-dating a blog post does not appear to work in the current Windows Live Writer Build.

I'll note that I, too, used to have this capability in Semagic, but Semagic queued it locally and then posted it to the blogging service (assuming Semagic was running at the time the item was to be posted - otherwise it posted it when it was next started).


Windows Live Writer 1.0B2 Tips - Linking to Previous Posts

Right at the end of May, Microsoft released a Beta 2 of Windows Live Writer and ever since then it's been in my queue to write about, given that it is now the offline editor I use for almost all my blogging. However, I think I'll give up on writing the massive comprehensive review I was intending to do and instead write a series of smaller posts about various aspects of the program.

image So first up, I thought I'd mention the new capability to easily link to previous posts.  When you choose "Insert-> Hyperlink..." (or simply "Ctrl+K", which brings back old WordStar memories) you get the dialog box shown on the left (click for larger image) that allows you to enter the URL to link to and potentially edit the link text.  The cool part, though, is the "Link to" dropdown button which has as one of the two choices "Previous Posts".  If you choose that, you then see the dialog box shown on the right (click for larger image).

image In this window you see the recent posts you have made across all the blogs for which you use Windows Live Writer.  You can simply click on one of them and the link is automagically inserted for you.  Alternatively you can click on a blog title to see the posts to that specific blog. (The posts are retrieved from the blog itself so it does not matter whether they were written using WLW or through your blog web interface.)  If you want to go back in time, you don't have an option to go back to a specific date (which my previous editor, Semagic, did) but you can see the last n posts, where n is 10, 15, 20, 25, 50, 100 or 500 and so you can scroll back that way.

All in all it's pretty slick and has saved me already a great amount of time in linking to previous entries.  Given that I blog across multiple weblogs, the ability to link to entries in other blogs is definitely a great timesaver.  (Note that you need to have setup all the weblogs within WLW, which I have done for mine.)

If you haven't checked it out (and are on Windows), do go to the Windows Live Writer Zone and download a copy. I think you might be impressed as to how well it can help you blog faster.


What do you use to add screen captures / logos to your blog entries?

Question for you all - what do you use to incorporate screen captures into your blog entries?

For a variety of reason, I like to incorporate images into my posts.  Sometimes it is just the logo of the company/product/service that I am discussing[1].  Sometimes it is a part of a web page or program screen (here's an example).  In any event, my highly unsophisticated process of getting those graphics right now on my Windows XP PC is to do the following:

  1. Press Ctrl+Alt+PrntScrn to copy the current open window to the Clipboard.
  2. Switch to Windows Paint and paste the image into the window.
  3. Click on one of the other tools (like the eraser) so that I de-select the entire area and then click on the selection box again.
  4. Select the region I want to copy and then do the standard copy to Clipboard.
  5. Switch to Windows Live Writer (my current blogging editor of choice) and paste the graphic into my blog entry.

Like I said... not very sophisticated, but it works well.  However, I'd like to simplify it a bit - ideally drop it down to simply my steps #4 and #5, i.e. select a region of the screen and then paste it into WLW. 

Unfortunately, there doesn't yet seem to be a WLW plugin that does what I want, although this plugin seems quite close if I feel like dropping $39 for TechSmith's SnagIt program (and perhaps I will).  It sounds like Vista has a built-in utility for doing this, but I don't have Vista and don't foresee getting it for some time.

What do you all use?  How do you bring in screen captures?  logos?  etc.?  [2]

Thanks in advance.

 

[1] And sometimes a logo can be brought in by simply right-clicking it in Firefox, choosing "Copy Image" and pasting it into my blog editor.  But sometimes the colors don't work and sometimes a site doesn't make a logo easy to get this way - the logo is part of a much larger image or embedded in Flash... so you need to capture that part of the screen to get the logo.

[2] And Mac users, please don't bother telling me that this is: a) trivial and built-in on the Mac; or b) I should get a Mac and run Parallels to use Windows and again would be able to do it.  I get it, okay... I understand the belief that Macs are superior for graphics.  But that doesn't help change the fact that my corporate laptop is a Windows XP box!

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Watermarking your images... using Windows Live Writer??? Huh?

Over at Saunderslog, I have been curious about how Alec Saunders was getting a watermark of his URL across the bottom of his blog images, as shown on the right in the quick screenshot I took of the twitter window. I thought he might be using some new feature in Flickr or in some other editing program. In any event, it turns out to be a feature of Microsoft's Windows Live Writer beta which he is using.  The funny thing is that I'm using WLW as well, but had not yet discovered this interesting little feature. (Nor is it clearly mentioned on the WLW information page.)


Using this watermarking capability is remarkably simple. First you insert your image into WLW, which might just be a simple "Paste" from another program.  As shown in the screenshot on the left, when you click on the image to select it, you get a sidebar for the "Image Properties".  I use the first and second tabs all the time, but had never played with the third "Effects" tab.

Ta da... click on the green "+" sign to get a drop-down menu, choose "Overlays" and then "Watermark".  Enter the URL and change the font and sizing and you're done!

What's nice is that WLW is changing the image itself versus using CSS or something like that... which is what I would want it to do, so it's great to see. 

Since I was exploring this third tab, I also now noticed that under the "+" sign there is a "Transformations" menu with a number of image effects, such as "Black&White", "Sepia", "Sharpen", "Blur", etc.  Now I typically do such manipulation in some other program (like Google's Picasa), but it's nice to know these are here if I just want a quick change to an image.

So thanks, Alec, for pointing me to something I already had and just hadn't fully explored.

As to Windows Live Writer, what I don't get is why the WLW blog hasn't been updated since November.  Has Microsoft stopped development on it? Or paused their work?   There does seem to be activity in their forum... it's just curious that there have been no blog posts in, now, almost four months.  Puzzling...


Exploring Microsoft Windows Live Writer, part 1: Initial impressions

As I have started the transition from a single blog to a mini-network of blogs, I have had to find a new offline editor.  The editor I've been using for most of the past three years of blogging, Semagic, is a fantastic offline editor for LiveJournal and is one of the reasons for my often prolific posting there, it makes it just darn simple and fast to post.  It's also really one of the main reasons I stayed over at LJ. Just made it too easy to blog fast! However, as I explored using it with TypePad, I found it had an issue with multiple accounts using the same user name.  I use the same user name (but different passwords) with both LJ and TypePad, but because of this, I couldn't switch quickly between LJ and TypePad. So I decided to keep using Semagic for LJ posting and find another editor for working in multiple weblogs here at TypePad. I checked out ecto, and was quite pleased with it.  I set up templates and was getting all ready to buy it, but then I discovered that it would not handle my Blue Box postings very well, and in fact when I tried to switch to HTML view on a Blue Box posting, it would lock up ecto and jack my CPU. Probably something related to the Libsyn Flash player or some other object.  And while I could (and should) report the issue to the ecto developer and see if it could be fixed, I want to get blogging... now!  So in the meantime I decided I should give Microsoft Windows Live Writer a try, even though I'd heard decidedly mixed reviews from other bloggers.

So I have to say after using WLW for several days: I am impressed!

Here are some initial impressions - I intend to blog about this in probably a series of posts as I use it more and kick the tires a bit more.

POSITIVE POINTS

1. Easy switch from WYSIWIG to HTML - I'm an old-school HTML guy.  I started creating web pages back in 1992/1993 when all you did was hand-code them all in vi. And as much as I enjoy and use WYSIWIG editors, I want to be able to quickly switch between a WYSIWIG and HTML view. Sometimes I want to just tweak the HTML... or insert some HTML that isn't fully supported by the editor.. or I want to resolve a problem that the editor won't let me fix. WLW makes this trivial: "Shift+F11" flips you to HTML, "Ctrl+F11" flips you back to WYSIWIG. Hit plain old "F11" and you're in "web layout" mode. Hit F12 and you see one of the best preview screens I've seen in any offline editor, period.  This switching is truly a thing of beauty.

2. Embedding images - If you want to accompany a post with a graphic, like I did above with the screenshot, the process can be cumbersome: a) take screenshot; b) save it to a file; c) upload it to your server; d) link to it in your blog post. Offline clients should make this easy.  Semagic certainly did... you were prompted to save the files, but otherwise it handled all the upload and everything else for you.  WLW takes this a couple steps further: you aren't asked to save it as a file, and the images are auto-thumbnailed. Clicking on the link gives you the larger image.  It's a nice implementation.

3. Easy creation of links on text - Semagic has this one magic keystroke "Ctrl+Alt+L" that is a almost irreplaceable keystroke for the time-challenged blogger.  Simply highlight a URL in your browser, copy it, switch to Semagic, highlight the text and press Ctrl+Alt+L... ta da... you text is wrapped in the appropriate <a> tag linking to the URL you just copied.  Simple, easy, and allows for very rapid blogging.  This one feature alone has stopped me from using other offline editors (and was one issue I had with ecto).  WLW almost delivers this... and the way to do it is something I can live with.  You highlight the text and press "Ctrl+K" to get the link dialog box where the Link URL box is highlighted.  Press "Ctrl+V" to paste and press Enter.  So you can do it fast with "Ctrl+K Ctrl+V Enter". (As a bonus "^K^V" can take those of us WordStar users on a trip down memory lane.)

4. Easy switching between weblogs - So far, this has been very simple to do once each weblog account is set up in WLW.

5. Plugin gallery and architecture - It's quite interesting to see that WLW has its own Plugin Gallery with all sorts of ways to extend the functionality (similar to what Firefox and Thunderbird allow).  For instance, the "Text Template" plugin so far seems to be the way to automate inclusion of HTML snippets into posts. (Such as images that are associated with certain kinds of postings, etc.)

NEGATIVE POINTS

1. Lack of keyboard macros? - One of the things Semagic let me do was associate any keystroke combination with a "macro", which is essentially an HTML snippet.  So, for instance, if I wanted to start a post about Blue Box, I simply went into Semagic, typed "Ctrl+Shift+B" and, ta da, the BlueBox log was there all wrapped in appropriate <a> and <img> tags.  These macros allowed again for very fast creation of a post.  In WLW, the previously mentioned "Text Template" plugin gets me close.  I just have to click on "Insert Text Template..." on the sidebar and then double-click on the template to insert.  It has some nice categorization capabilities that I could see being useful if I had lots of templates.  But I had to click on a link.  I don't want my hands to have to leave the keyboard.  I want to pop open a window and start typing with keyboard shortcuts letting me drop in text, images, whatever.  Now, maybe I just have found this in WLW yet - or maybe it's another plugin.

2. No option to keep the window open but clear the text after posting - This was a curious thing to get used to.  When you click on the Publish button in WLW, the post gets published, and then it is still there in your window.  Semagic's behavior was that once you hit "Post", the post was published and then your window was clear so that you could begin your next post. If you wanted to get back to the old post, there is a menu option to edit your last entry.  WLW leaves you instead with the now-posted entry still there in the WLW window.  Now, I've already found that this can be positive because when I realized that I had an error in the just-posted post, I could quickly change it and re-post.  However, most times, I just want the post to be published and I want to start a new post.  I can of course hit the "New" button, but this then gives me a new window - and I've already got too many windows floating around!  There is an option in Tools->Preferences to "Close window after publishing", but that then closes out your window... and if you close all WLW windows, you have to relaunch WLW from the Start menu or QuickLaunch bar to be able to blog again.  What I would like is the option to simply erase all the text after the blog entry has been posted.  (And maybe I've missed the option...)

 

So those are my initial impressions... if any of you have used it and have comments, I'd certainly be interested in hearing that as well.  Stay tuned for more posts as I push it through my normal blogging.