The other day, I downloaded Windows Live Writer, Microsoft's new blog-authoring tool. It's tremendously useful, and my first impressions were very positive. After a few days of working with it, I like it even more.
It's still a beta release, so of course it's not perfect. The biggest drawback? If you want to integrate it with a browser so that you can highlight a snippet of text or click an image and instantly turn that selection into a blog post, you'll need to use Internet Explorer. (Of course, someone could write a Firefox extension that does the same thing. It would be easy and so not-evil. Are you listening, Microsoft?) But I already use IE7, so that was not a major stumbling block. Windows Live Writer has almost completely supplanted my former fave, BlogJet.
Now, to enable browser integration, I had to install the Windows Live Toolbar. It didn't make a great first impression. It seemed cluttered and a little too insistent on pushing me to Windows Live services. But after working with it for a day or so, I discovered that it was pretty easy to trim it down to size. Right now, I have the toolbar pared down to a search box, a Blog It button, and the Windows Live Favorites button. It's roughly 460 pixels wide.
And here's the biggest irony of all: Microsoft's toolbar is way more open than the Google Toolbar.
I still prefer Google's search engine, so I was pleased to discover that it was relatively easy to customize the Windows Live Toolbar search box to use Google. The Web Search section of the Windows Live Toolbar Options dialog box offers an Other search service option. I filled in http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=$w as the search target, and now any search term I type in the Windows Live Toolbar gets sent to Google for processing.
Google's toolbar lets you search anywhere you want, as long as it's Google.
The Windows Live Toolbar's Blog It button sends the highlighted text or image to Windows Live Writer, which works out of the box with most major blogging services (Wordpress.com, TypePad, and Google's Blogger, in addition to Microsoft's Windows Live Spaces) as well as the leading independent platforms
Google's Blog This! button works only with Google's Blogger service.
The Microsoft blogging tool is extensible and already has plug-ins for Flickr and Technorati. (Did I mention that a Firefox extension would be a nice addition? Seriously, Microsoft, surprise me!) Google's web-based tool, on the other hand, works only with Blogger. In fact, some of Blogger's APIs are proprietary, meaning that no third-party authoring tool can post images to Blogger's storage spaces.
When I looked at Google's toolbar options, I found a few places where you could choose non-Google options: the AutoLink service and the RSS feed reader both include some Google competitors. But search and e-mail are strictly limited to Google domains. Likewise, Microsoft only offers Map results from its own service (although presumably a plug-in could pull results from Mapquest or Google).
Still, it's noteworthy that evil Microsoft is the one with the most options, even in the competitive search space, whereas not-evil Google has its space mostly locked down.
Ironic, isn't it?