Windows Completely Breaks My Blogging Workflow

Writing for this site is a hobby I’ve had for close to a decade at this point, and in that time, the workflow for getting content from my head to the site has gone through a million variations and has changed a ton. As technology has improved and App Stores have have allowed more interesting services, these changes have almost always been for the better; removing steps and friction along the way.

My switch to Windows these past few weeks has not only blown up those workflows, which was expected, but it doesn’t seem to have any suitable replacements that feel like they’re any better than blogging on the Mac/iPad was 10 years ago.

After a few weeks trying different solutions, this is what I’ve settled on as the best workspace for writing for BirchTree:

If you’re thinking “that looks like Word!” then you would be right. This is Open Live Writer, which is an open source version of an app Microsoft used to maintain, and it is basically a stripped down Word app with publishing tools. If you think writing blogs in Word is fun, then this if for you. If you want to write in a WYSIWYG editor then this might work for you, but I dramatically prefer Markdown. I know how my site renders the multitude of types of data a blog post can contain, and writing in Markdown (and switching to HTML if needed) is essential for me. Having an app convert my work to whatever HTML it thinks is right fills me with apprehension. I actually posted 3 drafts to the site from Open Live Writer before this post because I was trying to figure out how it would render things.

Beyond the WYSIWYG editor, this is also less useful for me in numerous other ways:

First, there is no way to quickly get information into the app for something like a link post. On the Mac there are extensions for apps like MarsEdit, and iOS has options that use Ulysses or Drafts to automatically pull multiple data points from a website and compile them into a new post with just a tap. With this it’s now bouncing back and forth between the site and app as I copy the post name, link, quote text, and post title one at a time.

Second, the publishing tools in the app are less robust than I’m used to with Ulysses. I can set a time, tags, and categories, but I lose the ability to do featured images, excerpts, custom URLs, and the option to post as Markdown instead of HTML.

Third, there is no way to make larger multi-part documents, which is something I rely on heavily for my longer pieces. My watchOS 5 review currently has 7 documents total and I’ve been able to move things around quite easily as the flow of the whole piece takes form as I write. No app I can find on Windows even has this concept in place at all. I would need to have one massive document with everything in it, which is a tough way to work.

And finally, this is a personal preference thing, but I really don’t find the interface to be pleasant at all. Like I said earlier, it feels very much like Microsoft Word, which is not an experience I cherish. Also, it just feels old. Check out the animation that plays when it’s publishing an article:

That takes me back to the Windows XP days.

I will strive to make this work for as long as I can, but it’s a markedly more painful way to work than what I had on all other platforms. Since I do this work a lot it’s going to be hard to not run screaming back to the iPad in a few days, but I’ll do my best. The watchOS 5 review is happening all on the iPad though, I literally don’t know how I’d make it work on Windows.

They told me the benefit of using Windows in a tablet was that it was the “no compromises” operating system. While there are a few small things I can do on Windows that aren’t possible on iOS, the vast majority of things I can do are basically defined by compromise. I’m compromising on app quality in almost everything I do.

The Surface Go Performance (or lack thereof) (podcast #118)

The biggest question surrounding the Surface Go since its launch a few weeks ago is how well it performs. I didn’t want to weigh in too early on this one, but I feel like I know what this device is and I need to talk about this.

OneDrive Now Syncs Your Desktop and Documents Folders

OneDrive just rolled out a feature called “Known Folder Move” which might be the worst possible name for the best possible service. This feature has OneDrive backup 3 of your most important folders: Desktop, Documents, and Pictures.

If that sounds familiar, it is of course exactly in line with what Apple added to iCloud Drive a couple years ago, and while Apple did indeed have this first, I think it’s fantastic that Windows users have access to something like this as well.

The Desktop especially, is where a lot of stuff ends up living for a bunch of users, and being able to have all of that backed up and synced across devices is a big deal. There are a few restrictions on what OneDrive will back up, but it’s not the end of the world.

I do have to go back to that feature name, though: Known Folder Move. What the hell is that? 😂

Lofree’s Digit Calculator is Here

Lofree is back with their smallest product yet: the Digit Calculator.

This calculator looks great, and I actually think their non-traditional (or too traditional?) key shape actually works great here, even though I never found the full computer keybord easy enough to get used to.

I personally have zero need for a physical calculator, but at $29 this is a pretty nifty gadget you might be able to justify getting on a whim.

Oh, Hello

I’m just a normal guy with an iPhone 8 Plus, not an X, so I’m not used to having a device that unlocks just by looking at my smug mug. But Windows has a feature called “Windows Hello” that does exactly that. Of course I turned it on as soon as I got my Surface Go.

What I Like

Windows Hello works…fine. It’s not a life-changing way of unlocking my tablet, but it’s convenient enough that I’m keeping it active on the Go and have intention of switching back to a regular old passcode.

I like that I can just turn on the screen, wait a few seconds, and then be into the device. It’s minimal effort and feels relatively effortless.

When it doesn’t recognize you, it will show a notification that says something to the effect of “we didn’t recognize you, please let us scan your face again to get more data.” Ideally it would automatically do this when I entered my PIN, but I still like that it’s trying to get better.

I also like that, like Touch ID, Hello can be utilized by third party apps, so 1Password will let me access my passwords via my face and not with my long, secure password. Note that all entries shown in the GIF below are bogus.

Finally, this works in the dark. I turned off all the lights in my office at night and held the screen in front of me: it worked. The screen was on, so it provided a little light, but for all intents and purposes there was not light. Love this.

What I Don’t Like

The experience is inconsistent enough that I can’t get totally on board.

First, and this may be the slower device I’m using, but the recognition takes too long sometimes. A few times it’s quick, but often it takes 3-5 seconds to recognize me. After 3 seconds, the seconds start to feel like days, and you start to wonder if it’s going to work at all.

It’s also not wildly reliable. I’d say about one in ten tries doesn’t recognize me at all. It’s not a ton, but combined with the sometimes slow response, makes me think it’s not going to work, even if it usually does. Knowing that it will fail a couple times per day plants the seed of doubt.

While it’s mostly reliable indoors and works well in pitch black, it’s less reliable outdoors. I’ve had more failures outside than anywhere else. If the success rate is 90% indoors, I’d say it’s closer to 40-550% outside.

Inconsistent behavior is the final hurdle for me. On the lock screen, sometimes the device unlocks and takes me to my desktop without me needing to do anything besides look at the thing. Other times, it tells me it recognizes me, but needs me to swipe up on the screen to unlock the device. I’d prefer it did one or the other every time. This carries over to third party apps, where apps like 1Password will recognize me for authentication, but then require me to click a button to continue. Why not continue as soon as you see me?

Takeaway

I like Windows Hello a fair bit. It’s not a complete gamer changer that makes me want to throw my iPad Pro out the window, but it’s a nice feature that makes me enjoy the Surface Go a little bit more.

I sincerely wish I had an iPhone X to compare this to, because I’m really curious how this stacks up, but it seems slower and less reliable overall. I’d be very curious to see if that’s the case.