Sunday, August 30, 2009

Publishing to Blogger from Word 2007 with pictures – a resounding defeat :(

Well, I sat down on Saturday afternoon with what I thought would be a relatively simple task- find a way to publish my blog post from Word 2007 to blogger (which I normally do) and include images in the process. To date, I have just been publishing the posts, then later logging in to blogger to add the images separately. Not to terrible a process, but it just _seems_ like this should be one-click-to-publish easy. Well, at ten in the evening on Saturday night, I finally threw in the towel and admitted defeat.

I did quite a lot of research, coming through the Microsoft support sites and developer blogs, and gathered a ton of great information from the blogosphere in general. I found that I was not alone in this desire to post directly from Word 2007 to blogger and include images.

To start with, we have this very unhelpful bit of information from Microsoft Help and Support, "You cannot upload a picture from a hard disk to the Blogger server in Word 2007." Of course, I quickly discovered this isn't _quite_ true (at least not anymore, although it might have been when that Help & Support article was originally authored), because another Microsoft product that supports blogging, Windows Live Writer 2009, provides integrated, simple, direct support for posting to blogger, including images. In fact, Writer goes a step further even- if you're worried about running out of limited image spaces on you blogger account, it's provided integration with Flickr. With Writer, you can configure it to store your images on flicker, and Writer automatically generates the appropriate code to hotlink out to the image from your blogger post; so some of the teams as MS have sorted this out. I wish they would just wrap this code/feature set back in to Word 2007, but I'm not holding my breath. From all I can tell reading various MSDN blogs, it looks like new features aren't going to be added to Word 2007 anymore, with all new development efforts instead focusing on the next MS Office Suite, Microsoft Office 2010/Office 14. I understand the need to stop development on an old product to move to the next one, but with the Blog Post format/feature seeming like such an unloved, unsupported afterthought in Word 2007, I wish it could get just a little touch up before end of life for Office 2007.

You might be thinking right now "you big whiner, just use Windows Live Writer 2009 instead!" And that's valid- I tried it out and it works pretty well. But, it lacks, so far, many of the features that I've come to like in Word 2007. I get the argument that the various developer camps make- one is a tool built for the needs of "serious bloggers" and the other meets the needs of "serious document authors." I really like the grammar checking features in Word 2007, something that Writer currently lacks. Plus, Word is already built to integrate so nicely with all my other Office applications. And finally, I just like the layout of Word 2007 a bit more than Writer 2009.

So, I started looking for other workarounds. I figured I'd just find a way to use the option to upload to my own server via FTP for picture support. First I looked for free hosts. The problem here is you need to find three things that seem mutually exclusive

  1. A stable host (I found a few free hosts that should work, based on their TOS, but all of them were either down from too much load, or no longer existent) that
  2. Allows ftp upload via a URL (either anonymous FTP, or FTP that allows you to pass your username/password in the URL, like you can with Photobucket Pro accounts)
  3. Finally, and this was a really sticking point, didn't expressly forbid the practice of image hotlinking (hosting images/media on their server, but actually using it from another site, like blogger). This last one might not bother some people who'd just use the account to host their media, figuring their TOS violations would never be noticed. But I was doing this research with the intention (originally) of posting a solution to this problem, and I didn't want to suggest something to anyone that might one day stop working (meaning you'd need to go back and replace all the images in all your previous blog posts)

Thoroughly stymied, I next turned to finding a normal, paid for web host that would let me do everything listed above. First I looked for simple image hosts. Flickr doesn't let you post via FTP, so that didn't work. Then I looked at Photobucket. Their new pro accounts support ftp upload that works just as Word 2007 required. I quickly grabbed a pro account, configured Word 2007 to use that as my image server, and tried to post… and failure. Upon further digging, I found that Word 2007 was actually successfully uploading the images in my posts to Photobucket (annoying always converting my images to PNG format, but I could have lived with that). But Word reported that it couldn't publish the post in each of these cases (and the blogger post wasn't published at all). A bit of digging revealed that Photobucket only allows certain image file types to be uploaded. PNG is one of the supported types, so my guess here is that Word 2007 is posting both a PNG, as well as some sort of housekeeping file as well (MS just loves to create all those tiny, little, normally hidden system files to document various file related activities) and when they get the 553 error returned for this housekeeping file (prohibited file name) the publishes process just errors out and gives up.

Next I turned to looking for just straight up, no restrictions web hosting services (that would hopefully allow me to post almost _any_ file type via ftp). The problem I ran in to here was almost every host I could find expressly forbids hotlinking. I also have a sneaking suspicion that many of them programmatically block access to their images from referrers other than the domain you've contracted with hem to run your site on- you've likely seen this before in other blog posts, where instead of the image you expect to see/post, you see an image that says something like "hotlinking is bandwidth leeching and we don't allow it! Please view this image on the original site it was posted to…" or something to that effect. I do have one glimmer of hope. I'm having an email exchange right now with the hosting service . Their TOS doesn't expressly forbid hotlinking, and I asked them specifically if I could use them to host materials I was going to link to from my blogger account. They said that is allowed. However, I neglected to ask if they support FTP uploads via a simple URL (either anonymous or by passing the username/password along with the URL) and am waiting on a response to that question. Of course this solution, even if it works, means you'd be running a $4/month bill to support easy image integration with Word 2007 blog posts to blogger. This seems an untenable solution for most blogger users because they likely use blogger because, among other excellent reasons, it's free!

For now, I only see three potential solutions to this down the road. If we are lucky, Microsoft will roll the advanced blog/image hosts support from Writer into Word 2007 (that seems unlikely). If not, then perhaps some good samaritan out there (I wish I had the time to do this myself) will write an add-in for MS Word 2007 that will provide better support for publishing to blogs(given that Office 2007 is so near EOL, that also seems pretty unlikely). Finally, and most likely, those of us who post to blogger from MS word will be pleasantly surprised that when we upgrade to Microsoft Office 2010/Office 14 the support for blogging will have been vastly improved.

I'd love to hear from anyone who has found a fix for this problem that I've overlooked, particularly if it can leverage free services/hosts to do so.