If you're a blogger, you know that Windows Live Writer is something special. Indeed, even if you're antagonistic to Microsoft, this is one tool you really need to check out. It works, and very well, with multiple blogging engines--I've tested it against Blogger, WordPress, Community Server, and Windows Live Spaces--and it provides WYSIWYG editing that matches the style of the underlying blog. In wave 4, Windows Live Writer is of course updated with the new ribbon UI, and that removes the need for the real estate-wasting sidebar from the previous version. But from a high level, Writer doesn't change that much in this release, because it doesn't really need to. What we get are just some evolutionary changes, a very important fix, and, sadly, one really annoying regression.
First, that fix. I've been using Writer since its early beta release years ago and while it's always been excellent, the release of Windows 7 last year introduced a curious bug: It was no longer possible to link to web-based pictures without resorting to hand-editing of HTML. Microsoft told me that this was due to a change in Windows 7's standard open and save dialogs, but it was annoying, and the one less than positive aspect of using Writer. In Writer 2011, this problem is gone. You can now insert pictures from the web, as you'd expect.
And if you are working with pictures, you'll enjoy the template integration with Photo Gallery and Photo E-mail (from both Hotmail and Windows Live Mail). This lets you create stunning posts linking to SkyDrive-based photo albums, posts that utilize the same high-quality templates Microsoft provides elsewhere.
There's also some integration with Bing Maps, though it's pretty basic: You can embed a map, and choose between various views, including, if available, Bird's Eye view. Also improved in this release is the integrated spell checking, and the ability to retain formatting in content pasted in from Word, the web, or other sources.
That last bit may be tied to my one major annoyance with Writer 2011: In the previous version of Writer, you could paste in rich text (from a Word document, web page, or whatever), using the CTRL + SHIFT + V shortcut (instead of the normal CTRL + V paste shortcut); doing so would strip away all the formatting and just paste plain text. In Windows Live Writer 2011, this feature has inexplicably disappeared: Now you must click the Paste button in the ribbon, then choose Paste Special, and then choose Plain Text and then OK from the window that appears. This is a bewildering series of steps to take just to paste text. Come on, Microsoft.
Overall, Windows Live Writer hasn't been updated all that much, but it didn't need much of an update. This is still a fine, fine tool, and one that all bloggers should investigate. If that darned copy and paste regression was fixed, it'd be darn near perfect.