Saturday, June 02, 2007

Windows Live Writer (beta) 2.0: Improved but Still Improvable

Ever since its first release, Windows Live Writer has been my blogging tool of choice.

The latest Beta 2.0 version release has really kicked things up notches.

TechBlog: Bloggers rejoice! New beta of Windows Live Writer is out!

The Good

The interface is now much more professional and polished. I really like the color gradients.

The splash-screen is cool and semi-transparent. Nice touch.

Also, it now knows how to get and offer me my Blogger labels, pre-post. Before I would make my post, then log into the Blogger dashboard to edit my post and add the labels. I'm so used to doing that, sometimes I forget to add the categories/labels in WLW!

I noticed that in the first version, if I selected to make a new post, WLW would open in a new window over the existing one. Now it will open in the same window. I like that better.

Now I have a horizontal scroll bar in the Web Layout view! Hurray! All too often I would be down at the bottom of a major length post and need to navigate up to make a change. My only alternative was to hit the up-arrow key and slowly scroll upward. Now I can just click the slider bar and zip on up. This is a real time-saver.

The Edit Hyperlink window box is nicer. Now you can set the link to open in a new window and set the link options for "tag" or "no follow."

The Font Color option now allows you to select and set the full range of custom colors. Not just the presets. Although I use only a handful of colors, it is nice to see that this option is now fully enabled. I think the color distinctions are clearer now as well. Before I had some trouble on my XP system's LCD displays differentiating some of the darker colors (on the Vista laptop I could easily pick out the color differences)...yet in this new version, I can now clearly see the differences where I couldn't previously.

The Not so Bad

Only one thing I thought would be Really cool but now, I'm not so sure...the in-line spell checker.

I know you can turn it off and I just might. It seems to cause a little stuttering in the program if I misspell a word. I don't know if that is a lookup issue or what. Maybe it is just me. Also, now that I have the in-line lookup, I tend to be (for now) a bit less fluid in my blog composing. I keep stopping on misspelt words and going back to fix them. Before I would just concentrate on the "stream of consciousness" flow and then do a spell-check before publishing. I always do in-line spell checking at work and it is natural there. Maybe this is just a new habit to get into. Or I might just turn it off in the options.

I haven't used the tables yet, so I can't say how the improved table editing features work just yet.

The Ugly

I don't seem to be the only one noticing that when I drag a link/bookmark from Firefox over into WLW and drop it, the screen flashes. It's kinda annoying. Not a deal breaker, but the previous version didn't do that.

Sometimes the fonts displayed get a bit "wonky" as well. Then they clear up as I begin typing again.

We need to be able to customize the toolbar icons like we can in other Microsoft Office products.

Why isn't the Font Color format icon/option on the toolbar? I use font colors for headers and it is a real drag to go up there into the file menu to get to it. While we are at it, why can't I right-click and have some of the formatting options show up in the context menu as well?

How come I don't have sub-script and super-script formatting options?

Something that would be really cool would be to add "insert special character" support: HTML Entities. I'm always adding some symbols like ™ and the like. To do that I have to drop into the HTML view mode and add it there.

While we are now on that, why doesn't the program remember where my cursor is at when I switch from web-view mode into HTML view mode? I hate having to go picking through the post code from the very beginning and try to find where I want to add my "custom" code.

Dragging and Dropping links still takes a bit of practice. Too often I find myself running my dragged link up and down the page for a time until I can finally get it settled down to the location where I want to drop it. This isn't a video-game, guys. A little control would be nice.

I would like just a bit more control over the formatting (spacing) for the bullet and number lists. Most of the time I want to add a space between each bullet/number item for visual clarity. However, the only way I am able to do so is to drop into HTML mode and add some paragraph spacing codes. Give me an option to set that separation, or just let me be able to add a return and then delete the bullet but keep the space.

Finally, my previous WLW wishes still hold as well including tabbed post composition pages, skin color "theme" setting, and an integrated "bookmarks" sidebar pen I could drag/drop and save links into for future blog posting.

Looking ahead

The Provider Customization API looks to provide programmers and blog service providers some neat ways to customize WLW for their fans and customers. Scott Hanselman has already started playing with this feature and shows it off in his post: Windows Live Writer Beta 2 - DasBlog and the Customization API.

Windows Live Writer-Addons

More Microsoft Camp posts.

Blogging with Windows Live Writer: with feedback from Charles Teague, principal development lead on Windows Live Writer Team.

Windows Live Writer Beta 2 Now Available: Windows Live Writer Team's blog post.

Windows Live Writer is becoming a wonderfully polished product from Microsoft. Overall I am thrilled with it and it's seamless integration into my Blogger platform. I highly recommend it to all bloggers whose platform it supports.

The final release version is sure to be spectacular.

--Claus

4 comments:

Dwight Silverman said...

Claus,

I'm not seeing the flashing you're talking about; that may be a video card/driver/OS issue. I'm using an ATI Radeon X1900 card, latest drivers (May 31). I'm also using Vista. No flashing.

You CAN store URLs for use later. In the Insert Link dialog, check the Add to Link Glossary box. Then, when you want to use the same link later, you can click on the Link dropdown in that dialog, then choose Link Glossary. It will allow you to pick from a list that inserts both the URL *and* its associated text. Very cool.

The insert point running away from you when you try to drag a link seems to happen only in certain locations... near the top or bottom of the window. If you can center the location before you drag, you won't see that happen.

Try out the Insert Text Template plugin that's available to create pre-crafted HTML you can quickly insert. I use this to do my linkposts, generating 10 bullets with just the right spacing with a couple of click. In fact, explore all the plugins. Some of them may fix some of your other issues.

Dwight.

Jim said...

Does it still generate crappy HTML? I haven't tried the new version yet, but the old one had an awful habit of sticking non-breaking spaces into the oddest places, for no apparent reason. It really screwed up the wrapping sometimes.

Claus said...

Hi guys!

Thanks for the great tips.

I haven't had a chance yet to try WLW out on the XP laptop or the Vista laptop around here. I'm eager to see how the performance compares.

I didn't consider the flashing being possibly related to the graphics card. That might be the case. I'll see if I can tweak the settings. I didn't have that issue under the previous WLW version...but maybe this version's theming is causing more push on the my graphics card.

Good identification on the "Link Glossary" Dwight! Silly me was blasting along thinking that was a place to store...well...traditional glossary items...not so much as a common link store. Very cool indeed!

You are correct about the placement of the drag/drop running. Unfortunately I seem to almost always be trying to add the link at the bottom of the post where I am typing my content. Maybe I need to add a bunch of returns at the very bottom while composing to give me more "landing room" for the links while "drafting."

I've been playing with the template plugin you suggested as well as one that inserts symbols. It doesn't have all the ones I'd like, but I should be able to add the few more I regularly use via the insert text plugin. Pretty clever indeed. It's growing on me very fast!

Jim...I think so. In making that post I got stuck with a really weird line of line-breakage. I had a sentence that broke 3/4 of the way across the page and it just refused to join up no matter how much backspacing I did. I eventually just inserted before the last word on that line and inserted my copied sentence fragment from below...then cleaned it up again. It doesn't happen often however and I suspect it is worse when I copy/paste blocks of text from Firefox without first making sure I copied them as plain text. Or I copy them within WLW and then forget to right-click and "Paste Special..." them back in without formatting. Both methods make sure I shed any hidden HTML code before adding it into the post.

All in all this is a very nice upgrade. I can't wait to see how it continues to develop.

Dwight Silverman said...

Claus -

Now that my attention's been called to it, I AM seeing the flashing you're talking about. When I tested last night, it was on a blank post. But this morning, working on the TechBlog linkpost, I noticed it more when I had more links & text in the compose window. It doesn't do it much, if at all, when there's nothing in the window. Fill it up, and it does. It's a minor annoyance, though.

The Link Glossary is a stupid name. It really is a repository. MS should have used a more intuitive name.