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Windows Live Writer 11 (free) fills a product niche I didn't know existed: Offline blog post production tool. The program is, in essence, a light word processor and design app you can use to write the contents of blog posts and make them pretty. Live Writer 11 comes bundled with the free Windows Live Essentials suite (though you can install Live Writer 11 by itself, skipping the seven other bundled apps and browser toolbar, if this is the only thing you want).
If you don't have a blog account with one of the popular free or paid blogging services, such as Wordpress, Blogger, TypePad, or Microsoft's SharePoint, the program leads you to Wordpress.com to create an account. Once the body of the post is written, you can add some spit and polish: Embed photos or other images, lay-in videos, do some light styling of text, add hyperlinks, design and lay-in tables, preview the post, and correct any squiggle-underlined spelling mistakes before you submit your draft to the posting mechanism of whatever blog service you use.
The fact that Microsoft has partnered with Wordpress.com means the tool provides full functionality with that blogging platform, but tests showed it was quite capable of producing and uploading post drafts to other blogging services, such as TypePad. Every common feature or formatting option is available from the menu bar, and a post I first wrote and published into Wordpress was very easily migrated into TypePad. I just had to change the destination blog (yes, it supports multiple blog accounts) from a dropdown menu. The only feature that didn't appear to be available with the test TypePad account I used was the ability to publish the post from within Live Writer. In this case, I just uploaded the post draft to the service, then had to go to the administrative Web page for my blog on TypePad, and click a Publish button there. Other than that, Live Writer managed to do everything else on its own.
The tool also generates nice-looking photo gallery pages, and will even take care of the task of uploading the photos from your PC to your Windows Live account, if you have one. If you don't, and you plan to use the program, it may benefit you to create an account just for the simplicity it brings to the process. Other popular, free add-ons add various other features to the tool: One add-on sets up Live Writer 11 to post Tweets with shortlinks simultaneously as you publish the blog post, for example. There are dozens to choose from, all available from a Web page you reach by clicking a menu item in Live Writer 11.
If you still use Windows XP, Live Writer 11 is not available for you to use. The program is really designed around Windows 7, but can run under Windows Vista as long as the Vista Service Pack 2 update has been applied--not a trivial update by any stretch of the imagination. Vista users also need to jump through another hurdle: In order to use Live Writer 11, you'll need to install a set of four patches called the Windows Platform Update, which backfills some key functionality introduced in Windows 7 to Vista systems. XP users will be directed to use an older version of Live Writer, bundled with a previous version of the Live Essentials package.
In the end, the tool is more than capable as a blogging platform utility, but a nagging question lingered in the back of my mind throughout my evaluation process: Why would anyone ever need to use it? I use Wordpress on a daily basis, and it has a powerful, user-friendly Web-based WYSIWYG interface that lets you write, style, customize, and publish a new post from a single screen. Live Writer 11 seems like a really nicely built, effective solution to a fairly narrow problem: How to, as quickly as possible, pull together text, images, and other content into blog posts. Great for quick graphic design, good for offline writing, and possibly unnecessary for a word-heavy blogger, Live Writer 11 gets the job done, as long as you have installed the requisite patches and updates.