Help for all you bloggers

If you have a blog -- and most people these days seem to, even if they only update them when prodded to by friends or life partners -- you'll have probably noticed something: Browsers aren't particularly good places to write a post.
Especially if you're offline, or you don't get a chance to finish the post before bedtime. Or you want to include a photo in the post, but can't remember quite how you did it last time. Or you want to find an old post you half-finished, or one you already posted and update it.
All these things are possible, although they're not particularly easy.
But there is an answer -- at least if you're a Windows user. It's called Windows Live Writer and it's basically software that sits on your computer that makes all this easier than it presently is.
Try not to be put off by the silly name -- or the hassle installing it, which could be easier. The name is a nod to Microsoft's effort to move all its programs online, a sort of panicked reaction to Google and others offering free online tools that let you do all the things you used to do offline via big bloated programs like Microsoft Office.
Don't get me wrong. It's good that all this stuff is going online, because it means it's cheaper and more easily accessible. And simpler. But sometimes blogging just doesn't work online, just as writing all your emails in an Internet cafe isn't always better than being able to tap them out on a laptop from the top of Mount Merbabu.
Hence Live Writer. There's actually nothing live about it, because it's doing all its heavy work on your computer and not on the web, but everyone is conveniently ignoring that because it's free and, for Microsoft, surprisingly good software.
Here's basically what it can do for you. Once you've loaded the details of your blog -- wherever you host it, since nearly all services are supported -- you can now create new posts, edit old ones and add stuff to them -- from within an editor that looks a lot like the online editor you'd use in your browser, but is easier to handle, and, of course, will still work when you're not connected to the Internet.
So you can start lots of posts or download old ones and mess around with them to your heart's content, unfazed by the fact that you're no longer online. But that's not all.
It will also take its best shot at figuring out what the post will look like when it's published: including all the design, fonts, layout etc. of your blog.
It can also be configured to work with lots of different blogs, so if you have more than one you can easily switch between them. And yes, it will also remember your categories and other blog-specific bits and bobs that make your blog what it is. This is all done without a lot of drama.
Microsoft have also added an easy way to insert maps -- from its own Microsoft Maps service, but it's still pretty good -- into your blog posts. I teach a class in online media and even the beginners figured out how to do it pretty quickly.
Indeed, Live Writer makes adding photos much easier than doing it in a browser. Basically you just right click an image, copy it and paste it into Live Writer. The software resizes it, adds those clever little drop shadows and offers you lots of different ways to format it. Do this in your browser blog editor and you'd still be doing it while I've left for the pub.
That's not all. Live Writer has a lively group of volunteer programmers adding what are called plug-ins -- basically bits of code that expand the functionality of the software. A simple one is a little button that sits in your Firefox browser toolbar that lets you blog about a webpage or post you're currently visiting, including download the links, and whatever text and images you've selected.
I'm not saying Live Writer is perfect. It won't work on Macs, and it wouldn't be Microsoft if they didn't try to sneak a few things in there -- adding a blog that isn't a Microsoft-hosted one isn't the first obvious choice in the options, which is a tad lame -- but on the whole they've done a great job at making the lives of bloggers (and anyone who uses WordPress et al for content management could make use of it) easier.
Download it at and let me know how you get on. It might even persuade a certain life partner of mine to increase their blogging frequency from the current one per Elven year.
By Jeremy Wagstaff

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