Writer is Microsoft's first Live killer app

Writer is Microsoft's first Live killer app

Summary: Cold Fusion and OnFolio architect JJ Allaire has designed Live Editor to become the default text layout editor for all forms of online content, including but certainly not limited to blogs.

TOPICS: Windows

Recent murmurs of discontent were beginning to suggest the Windows Live project had stalled in a state of paralysis. Today's release of Windows Live Writer shows it is still very much alive.

Despite a deceptively simple appearance,Everything is there to make Live Writer the default editor of choice for people who write blogs Writer has been several years in development, and it has a great pedigree. Its architect is JJ Allaire, best known as the co-creator (with brother Jeremy) of the Cold Fusion platform acquired by Macromedia in 2001. He went on to found OnFolio, which Microsoft acquired in February this year. Live Writer was formerly OnFolio Writer, a publishing complement to OnFolio's core information aggregator product — which in March became Windows Live Toolbar.

Live Writer's most powerful features are hidden under the surface — and some of its most compelling are those that its creators neither expect nor intend, as I'll explain in a moment. But first of all let me explain why I'm convinced Live Writer is the first true killer app to come out of the Windows Live stable.

Back in March, I wrote a web posting under the title Word processing is not an application. I had a simple request:

"What's really required is a simple utility that you can use as a familiar environment for composing your words for any application that requires free-from or semi-structured text as an input — email, blogs, wikis, document processors, and the rest."

Live Writer is the answer to my prayers — and it's exactly what I specified, because Allaire has confirmed in an interview today on the LiveSide website that Writer won't stop at weblogs:

"It's targeted right now at weblogs, but there's an awful lot of other environments where users are authoring content for the web .... we want to do a really killer job with weblogs right up front but there's lots of sorts of scenarios for content publishing that we also want to support."

So Writer is designed to fill that wide open market gap for a text editing utility that works with all your online content. Now take a look at what Allaire's team have done under the surface to make Live Writer a surefire candidate for rapid mass adoption, in the first instance by bloggers:

Screenshot of Windows Live Editor 

  • It works with just about every blog publisher. "Our goal is to try to be compatible with everything that's out there that people use," Allaire told LiveSide, and it supports an impressive list of blog platforms out of the gate (but not Atom, as far as I can see). In fact, it could be an enormous catalyst for consolidation of blog publishing APIs, because anyone who brings a new blog tool to market will want it to work with Live Writer now.
  • It's easy to get started. You just write in your blog URL, your username and password when you start up the application, and it logs right in. In less than two minutes you can be posting a blog entry — or editing an existing one. This is awesome usability.
  • It's WYSIWYG — to the extent of downloading the stylesheet for your blog so that you see the content exactly as it will appear online (well, sort of. There are glitches with some types of layout).
  • It has a clean interface with all the basics. There's a proper set of buttons for blockquote, bullet points, numbered lists, spellcheck (see screenshot above), as well as web preview and HTML editing. Just what you'd expect from the man who told Marc Orchant "he took it as a mission to create an entire UI in 200 pixels so he sweated every one of those pixels."
  • It makes it easy to post images. This is a major added benefit, eliminating huge hassles for blog owners everywhere. It handles thumbnailing, resizing, borders, drop shadows and other effects.
  • It's extensible. As a demonstration of its plug-in capability, Live Editor launches with the ability to insert a map from Windows Live Local, which in itself is cool. But this is just the beginning. I'll come back to that in a moment.
  • It supports offline editing. Well, duh, of course it does, it's a Windows app. But this is a vital attribute for a text editor, even for online text. When I'm writing a blog posting, I really don't want the Web interfering with my thought processes mid-sentence. And with the support for draft posting, I can save it to the Web anyway if I need to stop before I'm done. I've tried using Google's online word processor Writely to edit blog posts. It doesn't work for me.

The one really key thing that's missing right now is the ability to add tags to a post. But that's right there on the first list of things that can be done to extend Live Writer using its API, so it's not going to be missing for long. Everything else is there to make Live Writer the default editor of choice for people who write blogs.

The API is a masterstroke. Look down the list above, and you can see that Live Writer already has a lot to tempt the average blogger. It's destined for huge success — you can measure that already by checking out the buzz in the blogosphere. Joe (and Jane) Blogger loves it. But you ain't seen nothing yet. What developer is going to resist writing to an API that instantly delivers a user base in the tens of thousands?

Some of the most compelling uses of that API are going to be the unintended, unexpected ideas that no one has yet thought of.

In the meantime, the obvious ideas are interesting enough. They include capturing photos from picture upload sites, embedded video players and other media. There's even support for microformatted data from Live Clipboard, making it easy to cut-and-paste events, contacts or reviews complete with embedded markup. The API also includes 'blog this' functionality, making it possible to add a 'blog this' tool to any application you like.

The possibilities are endless — which is exactly what you want from a killer app. I think Microsoft has let the genie out of the bottle with this one.

Topic: Windows

Phil Wainewright

About Phil Wainewright

Since 1998, Phil Wainewright has been a thought leader in cloud computing as a blogger, analyst and consultant.

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  • Nice Application

    The product seems very nice. I hope blogging services build their management services around it by supplying their own extensions to the product. Most bloggers really shouldn?t have to be contending with HTML. Blog management and publishing should for the most be a WYSIWYG operation. A very great and notable RIA from MS.
    P. Douglas
  • Not paralysed

    Windows Live Writer certainly shows that Microsoft's services
    vision is not paralysed. Microsoft have done what Microsoft do
    and brought out a product which could rapidly make blogging
    and web publishing even more accessible to the masses.

    JJ and co. have produced a great little tool taking elements of
    Word's approachable interface and made it easy for the average
    joe to contribute to the web. Bravo.

    Yes there are other tools out there, but how many of them are
    this easy and likely to be this extensible. Microsoft win through
    their development community and the API to allow new features
    will surely make Live Writer a powerful tool.
  • SDK or API?

    I'm confused here. According to the blurbs it's an SDK not an API which, to me, whould imply something very different. Which is it?
    • It's both - some confused messaging going on

      In his interview, JJ Allaire clearly uses the term 'API' throughout. But what has been made available is an SDK for VB.Net. I think the confusion is coming from the fact that this application is built on .Net. Therefore there is an API, but it's addressable via .NET, which means all but the hardiest of developers will access it using the toolkit. Make sense?

      By the way, some developers have already published extensions, according to LiveSide:

      ... including one for tagging.
      phil wainewright
      • API vs. SDK

        I believe the API are the classes for the product you can use to make extensions, and the SDK is the tool you can use to make those extensions.
        P. Douglas
  • hmmm

    Does it handle odf files?
  • Multiple User Documents

    I like the way Windows Live Writer is going but if MS upgraded it to be a web word processor which lets you share and collaborate your work online it will be cool.
    • Better still, an interface to online collaboration....

      > I like the way Windows Live Writer is going but if
      > MS upgraded it to be a web word processor which
      > lets you share and collaborate your work online it > will be cool.

      Don't think of it as a single application, think in mashup terms. Live Writer has been designed so that it can be used as the editing interface to a wiki or other online collaboration platform. Writer does the editing, the online service takes care of all the collaborative processes.

      That's one of the reasons I think Writer is so cool -- its simplicity and adaptability means you can use it as the editing interface to a whole range of different online applications.
      phil wainewright
  • Generic Notetaker/Editor

    Blogging is NOT a separate activity from anything else: it's just writing content, that ends up published in a particular form. A large part of blogging is reading, notetakeing, and Microsoft already has a pretty good (albeit expensive) overall notetaker, OneNote. I wonder why Microsoft didn't just blog-enable OneNote and release it free?

    In any case I think we agree in the future direction: we don't need task-specific editors and the burden of copying data between them (OneNote, Notepad, Wordpad, Word, just from MSFT)

    Here's where this should be heading: 90% of Word users don't need the sophisticated features, so let them have a decent, relatively simple editor/notetaker (Writer/Wordpad/OneNote combined) for free, while anyone else who needs fancy editing can buy Word.
    Zoli Erdos
  • Not so sure...

    Maybe its just me, but I've been in IT since 1995, and I have to be honest, I think the whole weblog thing is a waste of time.

    I've probably read about a half dozen in my life, and by and large, I'd rather read something written by a reporter that does it for a living.

    Yes theres a question of editorial independence, and one may question whether or not a professional writer isnt under influence from above. But one might argue a similar slant against true independants - many of them have an axe to grind, and possibly, are unable to separate their emotions from their comments.

    I would be the first to agree that my own comments here are a generalisation, but hopefully the point I'm trying to make has been understood.
    • When Was The Last Time.....

      you took a look at some weblogs? a very LARGE number of them are done every bit as professionally--if not more so--than most mainstream media publications. Additionally, many well respected journalism professionals "who do it for a living" have weblogs and use them on a daily basis.
      Weblogs are hugely popular and growing in sophistication and number by the minute. Writer will be an invaluable tool for all who must edit text online.