Editor: Productivity blogger Jared Goralnick says that Windows Live Writer saves him a whole lot of time when it comes to publishing his site. Read on to hear Goralnick's best blogging tips and tricks with Live Writer and its new Technical Preview (beta) release.
Last week Microsoft unveiled a number of updates to their popular visual blogging editor, Windows Live Writer. Since Windows Live Writer has proven popular with Lifehacker readers in the past, I'd like to share my favourite Windows Live Writer tips, tweaks, plug-ins, and some of its very-welcome new features.
Windows Live Writer
Windows Live Writer (WLW) is a visual blog editor for Windows. It integrates with most blogging platforms (WordPress, TypePad, Movable Type, Blogger, and others), allowing you to see how your posts will appear in your blog's theme, even when you're offline.
WLW isn't just another text editor. As a former Notepad coder, I was drawn to WLW as I began to use more photos and embedded content in my WordPress blog. The accuracy of its visual representation and, as you'll see below, the way it handles media is what's made it so popular.
The Technical Preview Has Many New Features
On June 2, Microsoft released a "Technical Preview" to Windows Live Writer. It's somewhat of a beta release, but you can download it from Microsoft here. Note: this can likely be downloaded from anywhere, but this version is only available in US English. I can't speak of its stability with your environment, but it's been fine for me with Windows Vista and a WordPress 2.5 blog.
There were two types of updates in this release: those for traditional users of the product and those for developers who create WLW plug-ins. The following are the updates for traditional users; if you'd like to read about the features for developers, see the official information or Windows Live MVP Scott Lovegrove's synopsis.
The following list is in order by what I see as having the most time-saving benefits of Windows Live Writer:
- Image Cropping—This was the feature WLW arguably needed most as cropping images is part of many people's blogging workflow. Since the new release I've had much less use for processing images outside of WLW. (Note: this only works for images inserted from Insert > Picture. This is not available for photos pasted directly—but perhaps that will be changed before the final release.)
- Word Count —It's easy to ramble when you're blogging; I no longer need to copy and paste between WLW and Microsoft Word to see how unbearably long an article has grown since the word count can be calculated real time, as pictured below in the status bar.
- Border Options—Little aesthetic touches like the rounded corners pictured below can help with the professionalism and consistency of a blog. Having more options for the borders of images should be helpful for a lot of WLW users.
- Auto Linking - if you regularly link to articles when you type certain phrases then you can configure WLW to automatically perform this task. In the example below, whenever I type "working remotely," it will automatically hyperlink to the URL listed.
Some other updates worth noting include:
- Image tilting
- Better support for the GIF format (let's just say working with GIFs was a little messy before)
- Automatic program update checking, as well as a Check for Updates option on the Help menu
- Ability to upload videos directly to MSN Soapbox (Microsoft's video sharing community) from your hard disk and immediately embed them
- Automatic insertion of curly quotes, em-dashes, and other rich typographic characters (similar to Microsoft Word)
- A quick search box for assigning categories
- Tabs to switch between the source code, visual editor, and preview view
- Alignment commands now work on images (before they only worked with text)
Tweaks for Windows Live Writer
If you're new to Windows Live Writer or never bothered to poke around within the options, here are a few tweaks to the settings that I've found helpful.
For all versions of Windows Live Writer:
- Tools > Options: Automatically save drafts... - this has gotten me out of trouble more than once (it saves your post automatically at a specified interval)
- Tools > Options: Open a new window for each post - this will save you time if you copy and paste between posts (though the Text Template plug-in described below is also helpful for this)
- Tools > Options: Remind me to add categories before publishing - if you use categories, then sometimes you'll forget to set them. This warns you if no categories are set when you go to publish. There's a similar checkbox for article tags, too
- [editing a picture]> Advanced > Default Picture Sizes - when you insert or paste an image, wouldn't it be great if it automatically were the same width or height as the images in your other posts? For instance, maybe your full size images should all be 493 pixels wide and caption images 195 pixels? To set these options, click any image, select the Advanced tab within the task pane, and then click the icon of the ruler and drafting triangle.
Applicable to users who have installed the Technical Preview:
- Tools > Options: Show real-time word count in status bar - while Word Count is always available from the Tools menu, it's very helpful to have the word count at a glance in the status bar
- Tools > Options: Use typographic characters and Use smart quotes - whether or not you decide to use this feature, it's helpful to be consistent for all your blog posts
Some Plug-Ins Worthy of a Peek
While I haven't explored much of the plug-in engine that sits behind WLW, I really enjoy these two:
- Code Snippet - as you might expect, this plug-in makes it easy to insert code with syntax-highlighting into your posts
- Text Template - like Texter or AutoText, this lets you quickly insert text or code that you use frequently in your blog posts
You can access Microsoft's library of WLW plug-ins here. With the new release, there will likely be many more plug-ins coming (since there are now more WLW commands available to developers).
A Few Tips to Try
- Ctrl+K to Insert Hyperlinks—Throughout Microsoft applications, this shortcut allows you to insert a hyperlink. If you're a WLW, Word, or Microsoft Outlook user, you'll probably use this dozen s of times per day.
- Ctrl+Shift+V to Paste Special—When copying and pasting into WLW from a word processor or web browser, the formatting doesn't always look great. Instead of pressing Ctrl+V to paste, try Ctrl+Shift+V, which will give you options for pasting a much cleaner version:
- Don't Paste Images, Insert Them—If you insert an image you have control over the file name. If you just paste an image then someday you'll find yourself sorting through a bunch of photos on your web server named imageX.jpg (that's not a good thing). Additionally, if you gave the file a descriptive name then you won't need to spend much time tweaking the Alternate Text (in the Advanced image editing menu)
- Try the Effects Tab in the Images Task Pane—While these effects are no replacement for an image editing application, they're a very quick way to set a sepia tone, apply a watermark, sharpen an image, etc
Do you have any tips to share about Windows Live Writer? Have you had any luck with the new Technical Preview? Tell us your WLW tricks—or blogging tool of choice—in the comments.