Writer is Microsoft's first Live killer app

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.
Written by Phil Wainewright, Contributor

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:

  • 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.

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