Windows Live Wave 4: Live Writer, A [Critical] Review

There has been much talk, and many screenshots of what to expect from the Wave 4 edition of Live Writer, and also what we’ve actually got, so for regular readers, none of this should come as a shock, although I’ll do my best to do just that. So what’s really new in Live Writer Wave 4? To be honest, I’m almost tempted to say nothing. Zip. Nadda. Yes, it’s got the ribbon look, which does make it more consistent across the board with the rest of the Wave 4 suite and various other Microsoft products; yes, it has a couple of little additions, like the new Wave 4 style emoticons and maybe a couple of other little things, but really, when all is said and done, is that really all we get for a wait of over 18 months? A ribbon and some updates? Where are all the new features that are just going to pull all the new punters in? Where are all the enhancements to the developer API so that more types of plug-ins can be written? And where are the bloody drafts and recent posts?! Ok, I do know where the drafts and recent posts have ended up, in the File > Open dialog. But there’s no quick access to them, and that’s the point. Everything seems to be either minimalistic, or worse, backwards. Let me give you some examples. The rest of the review is after the jump.

Drafts/Recent Posts

This section that used to live on the right side of Writer is now gone. Some people are saying it’s hidden. If only. If it was hidden, that would suggest you can find it. It’s not hidden, it’s removed. This means the quick access to your recent posts and drafts is gone and all we’re left with is the Open dialog window that resides in File > Open. Yes, I know, you could do Ctrl+O to quickly bring that window up, and gives you quick access to the drafts, but the quick access to the recent posts is gone. You now have to go to the blog in question, wait for Writer to pull back a list of recent posts on your blog, then open it. That is not quick. And for me is a crazy move. What would have been a more logical move (if they really needed to get rid of the quick links on the right) would have been to have an item in the File menu that just says Posts, which then expands out to give what we had before.

Plug-ins

I actually have two gripes about plug-ins with this new version of Writer, but one of them I’ll deal with in a separate section later. My first gripe comes from the arrangement of the ribbon. Before, if you wanted to insert something from a plug-in, all you had to do was click the relevant plug-in on the right. Like the Drafts/Recent Posts section, this has now gone, and we have a tab in the Ribbon called “Insert” where you can access the same (and one new) default plug-ins that come with Writer. Next to that, we have this tiny little space for your other plug-ins
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This area only has room for three plug-ins and looks to have organised them in alphabetical order. But what if the plug-in I use most regularly doesn’t begin with ‘a’? Well then I have to do more clicks to access the rest of the plug-ins. So in this version, we’ve gone from one click to insert something to two clicks. Which doesn’t really sound that much, but wasn’t the ribbon meant to simplify? And why can’t I specify in what order those plug-ins are shown? Again, with the amount of clicks, I know that I could use my scroll wheel on my mouse to scroll between the tabs on the ribbon, alleviating one of the clicks, but hands up, how many people actually know you can do that? I know this is a little thing really, but it’s another step backwards.

Post Properties

The post properties bar, where you can set publish dates, categories, etc, used to reside at the bottom of the window, with Wave 4, this moves to the top. Now, for those who have been using Live Writer for years, this will come as a slight irritation, getting used to yet another [seemingly] unnecessary change. Now, I have been told that this was changed because they used to get lots of questions as to why they didn’t support the things that were in the bar, so users weren’t seeing [or realising] that that’s what the bar was for. I’m not convinced personally. I see every tweet on twitter that mentions Live Writer, and I’ve never seen any query as to why Live Writer doesn’t support option x in this instance. It just sounds like those focus groups we heard so much about with Windows 7, but no-one knows someone who attended one. But I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt.

Publish as draft to blog

This is another one of those “where the hell has this gone” moment. Rather than have a drop down on the publish button and offer both (like before), which would still be in keeping with the whole Ribbon UX, they have inexplicably hidden this option in the Save As menu option. Obvious. So again, more clicks (once you’ve found it) to do something that used to be so simple.

No new SDK updates

There is nothing new for developers. Nothing. Not even anyway to maybe hook into the ribbon, or a new plug-in type, or, well, anything. When I first started writing this, I didn’t think we had had any SDK updates since Wave 2, turns out, that it was in fact Wave 3 (ok, ok, the Writer CTP that came out just over 2 years to the day ago), it’s just that it’s been so long you kinda forget when the new plug-in types came in. Obviously this is one area that I’m really disappointed with as the chance to create some brand new plug-in appeals to me and if we could have tapped into the ribbon as well, that would have been good (although off the top of my head, I can’t think of any plug-in, but that’s where the general public comes in 6874.wlemoticonsmile_10a56256 News ), I mean just look how much space there is across the top:
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The Ribbon

Other than making it look more like a dumbed down Word (or a more consistent feel across the board, depends on your outlook), I’m not sure what purpose the Ribbon serves for Writer. Most of what the user has in the Ribbon was already easily accessible in the old interface. The way the Ribbon has been implemented means that options are more mouse clicks away than they used to be. Several useful things have been sacrificed to satisfy the Ribbon Gods (the draftsrecent posts quick links). And why haven’t they taken a leaf out of Office 2010’s book? All the Office 2010 applications have a little button near the top right of the ribbon that allows it to appear in a collapsed state, freeing up more of your screen. Why hasn’t this been implemented? Granted, that applies to all the Wave 4 apps with ribbon.

The Positives

It’s taken me a while, but I’ve found some. If you have a URL in your clipboard, when you go to add a hyperlink, it autopopulates from the clipboard, nice little touch. Users of netbooks will [sort of] be happier as they can now change the options for images and actually set them as default, this couldn’t be achieved before as the set as default link was off screen and inaccessible. Screen real estate is an argument against the Ribbon, although when comparing Wave 3 with Wave 4, there isn’t actually that much difference at all (by my approximation, about 15 pixels):
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What would I have liked to have seen?

This is an interesting question, because sometimes, what you want, you don’t realise until you get it. However, some of the things I would have liked to have seen happen:

  • The18 month period since the last release possibly could have given them opportunity to do something that a lot of people have been clamouring/begging/pleading for: A Mac version. Releasing a Mac version of Live Writer would be probably the best thing Microsoft could ever do to gain some love from the Mac fraternity, but alas, they will have to make do with VMWare Fusion.

    I got asked what would be in it for Microsoft in making a Mac version of Writer, and having spoken to a few Mac/Windows users, quite a few of them have said they would be prepared to pay for it if it was as good as the Windows version. So, Microsoft, how’s that?

  • The ability to open a post based purely on the url (assuming it’s for a blog that’s configured in Live Writer). What I mean by this is you give Live Writer an old url and it opens the post as a .wpost file. Or if not have this feature, allow the developer community to build something like this, give us access to building wpost files.
  • 3 words: Find and replace. Come on, guys, this is a no-brainer, surely? Even notepad has find and replace.

Conclusions

It’s been 18 months+ since Wave 3 came out, and in those 18 months, it looks like the only major change to Live Writer was putting the Ribbon interface into it. Yeah, there are a few nice little tweaks, as mentioned, but to be honest, the overall feeling for this new version is one of bitter disappointment. Don’t get me wrong, I love Live Writer, and would never recommend not using it, but I (like many others I suspect) was expecting so much more from this new update, the much hyped Wave 4. Granted, that hype probably hasn’t helped expectations here, but again, it’s been over 18 months, it would have been nice to see something a bit better than this.

What do you think? Has the Wave 4 Live Writer met your expectations? What would you have liked to see?

SL

Scott is a Windows Live Platform MVP, long time post writer for Liveside and a big contributor to the Windows Live Writer support forums. He has also authored over 20 plug-ins for Live Writer and written several “how to” guides based around Live Writer.