A Look at Movable Type 4

Filed as Editorial, Features on August 20, 2007 12:46 pm

mt_logo.gif Among the blogging community, WordPress seems to get almost all of the attention. However, among enterprise customers and loyal followers, Movable Type, the blogging platform owned by Six Apart, remains a powerful and popular contender.

Recently, Six Apart announced the release of Movable Type 4. With over 50 new features and a completely redesigned administration area, it aims to convert bloggers and change the way blogs are administrated.

All of this comes just before a release of Movable Type that will be open sourced, which will provide a free version to the community that will be both unlimited and community-maintained.

But while Movable Type 4 has been generating a lot of buzz, the question is whether or not the new features are worth the attention. As with everything else though, the beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

New Features

mt4-ss1.pngWhen first logging in to the MT4 administration area, the first thing you notice is that the interface has been cleaned up a great deal. Almost all administration functions are located in drop-down menus at the top and very little extraneous information is displayed.

Furthering that simplicity, the home page displays an interactive graph that can be used to display comments or entries over time as well as a tag cloud. You can also use the sliders to select a date range and then pull up a list of all related items from the period you selecting. That makes it very easy hone in on periods with higher commenting or posting activity, enabling you to better control the comment/post flow.

Other pages in the administration area receive a similar treatment. The post editing page, for example, is very minimalistic by default. It displays only the editing box itself with other features available via the options panel to the right. Movable Type, by in large, keeps the work space as clear and as usable as possible.

Another interesting feature of MT4 is the way it handles styles and themes. in addition to coming prepackaged with 30 styles by default, MT4 makes it easy to install new themes. Rather than downloading a theme, uploading it to your server and selecting it, MT4 lets you add repositories in your administration area and then, once selected, MT will download and set up the new style for you. The system works very similarly to apt-get in Linux and is extremely easy to use.

However, perhaps best of all, is that the entire system was designed to be practical and safe. Not only does editing anything involving code, such as when editing styles, widgets or plugins, receive the benefit of syntax highlighting but MT4 will alert you when you are in danger of doing something that might cause your site not to work.

All in all, MT4 is a powerful, easy-to-use system that will, undoubtedly, serve many bloggers well. However, these features do come at a cost.

Potential Drawbacks

Though the MT4 interface itself is easy to use, as has been pointed out on other sites, the install of MT4 is not as simple or as fast as the install of WordPress. This is due, in large part, to MT4s wider support of databases and configurations, but may be an obstacle to a blogger that just wants to get their site up and running.

Second, while MT4 does have a variety of plugins, a solid API available and a large number of legacy plugins that still work, WordPress users will likely rely on and use plugins for which no alternatives exist in MT4. This may become less of an issue as the plugin community for MT catches up and some WP plugins are converted over, but at the moment it remains a potential problem.

Finally, depending on the way you use your blog and how many people write for it, you might have to obtain a paid license to use MT4. Though you could, at least theoretically, wait for the open source version and miss out on some features, a commercial license today will cost you between $50 and $800 depending upon who you are and how you use the product.

If these drawbacks are worthwhile, however, MT4 may still be a viable option for a blog platform, if not, most likely WordPress or another platform may be a better application, at least for the time being.

Conclusions

Though I have been critical of Six Apart in other areas, I have always respected their blogging software. I, personally, find the new features in MT4 to be very interesting and exciting. I love the interface and I enjoyed playing around with the demo.

However, I can not see myself, at this time, converting any of my WordPress blogs over to MT4. The hassle of importing content, modifying themes and finding/installing needed plugins is simply too much for me to justify.

That being said though, any new blog or site that I build, I will have to seriously consider MT4 as an option for running it. Though I may decide that the features and setup are not right for that particular site, I can see situations where I would favor MT4, especially in conditions where very high traffic volumes might be expected.

The decision is up to the Webmaster but what is clear is that it is not possible, any longer, to simply ignore MT. Six Apart has made a major push and, along with it, has made some significant progress.

It is, at the very least, worth a look and serious consideration. It might not be for everyone, but it might be right for you.

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  1. By Trench Reynolds posted on August 20, 2007 at 1:12 pm
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    Can you import to MT from WordPress?

    And how come s9y gets no love? :)

    Reply

  2. By Chris Ernest Hall posted on August 20, 2007 at 1:29 pm
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    MT4 has a WordPress importer.

    Disclaimer: I am a Six Apart employee but since this a purely informational response, hopefully that is okay.

    Reply

  3. By Deelip posted on August 20, 2007 at 1:46 pm
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    I never knew about it before. Thank you for this wonderful post, now I know something about movable type.

    Reply

  4. By Jonathan Bailey posted on August 20, 2007 at 1:51 pm
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    Trench,

    Yes, but you first have to export from WP, which kind of makes sense if you think about it.

    Chris,

    Welcome to the conversation, please let me know if I got anything wrong!

    Deelip,

    MT has been around a long time, I was using 2.6 on an old site of mine. I loved it but swtiched to WP for all new sites. However, I have to say that there is a lot to love about the new MT. Give it a look when you get a chance!

    Reply

  5. By Chris Baskind posted on August 20, 2007 at 2:02 pm
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    I’m really quite surprised by the quality of MT4.

    The installation was really not any harder than WordPress. Folders go in different places, and MT is really quite serious about having your CGI file permissions set at 755. It’s more different than difficult.

    Something you’ve not touched on is MT’s scalability. This platform is simply designed for larger installations. You can even set it to automatically create new blogs as users register. Very impressive.

    The sell is the architecture. Without pouring on the hype, it looks as if MT4 might represent a new generation of site software: part blogging engine, part CMS. Now that MT is going Open Source, I think you’ll see a real revival of the platform.

    I started on MT 2.x back in 2003, and never imagined I’d use it again. Now I’m considering standardizing it across all my projects. It seems to do everything well.

    Surprise, surprise.

    Reply

  6. By Jonathan Bailey posted on August 20, 2007 at 2:42 pm
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    Chris,

    You’re right, I didn’t mention the scalability. Of course, I didn’t have much of a means to test it being a lowly blogger and what not :)

    That is a great feature worth noting though.

    It is nice to see that MT has grown up a bit though, like you, I never saw myself coming to it. I can’t see myself switching what I have over to it, but for my next project, whatever it may be, I’ll definitely be weighing it in!

    Reply

  7. By Byrne Reese posted on August 20, 2007 at 5:18 pm
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    Jonathan – I want to thank you for the best and most well balanced review I have read of Movable Type 4.0 to date.

    A Loyal Blog Herald Reader,
    Byrne Reese
    Product Manager, MT

    Reply

  8. By Darrell Shandrow posted on August 20, 2007 at 7:53 pm
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    In my ongoing attempts to participate in various Movable Type based blogs, it seems that Six Apart continues to fail to act on making their CAPTCHA accessible to everyone, including blind and visually impaired users. Many Movable Type blogs continue to lock us out by means of visual only CAPTCHA. The CAPTCHA is required in order to sign up for an account, which is often required in order to post comments. Come on, Six Apart! Now that numerous solutions exist, get us at least an audio CAPTCHA already! Tear down the “No Blind People Allowed” sign! I hope this is addressed in 4.0, or very soon after…

    Reply

  9. By Dave posted on August 20, 2007 at 10:35 pm
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    I’ve never seen any charts that show the number of blogs on each platform. It would be interesting to see them blotted right beside each other.

    Reply

  10. By Anil posted on August 20, 2007 at 10:59 pm
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    Darrell, one of the great things the MT team did during the creation of MT4 was make the CAPTCHA framework pluggable. That means that you can substitute in whatever Turing test you’d like. I suspect that very soon there will be CAPTCHA plugins that meet whatever standard of accessibility you’re looking for.

    One of the most popular plugins for MT 3.x was Comment Challenge, which was purely text-based, and our LiveJournal team pioneered one of the first widely-deployed alternative audio CAPTCHAs on the web, so I would check back in shortly to find an accessible CAPTCHA plugin for MT4. Until then, one great way to limit comment spam and remain accessible is using MT4’s built-in OpenID support.

    Reply

  11. By Anil posted on August 20, 2007 at 11:35 pm
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    Ah, Dave — here’s what that chart would look like: There would be two bars, one a little bit higher than the other. A bunch of nerds would swarm into the comments and say “but that’s not fair! that doesn’t count X, Y, and Z!”

    And then a bunch more nerds would say “Well, what about A, B and C, huh? The taller bar should be even more tall!”

    Then the thread would degenerate into even more stupid stuff. Various folks who’d been wronged by either platform would come in to tell their tales of woe. If you’re really unlucky, senior executives of the respective companies would come in and act petty, and things would peter out after a day or two. Maybe it’d get linked on Digg, and then the idiocy would last one or two days more.

    And none of that would help any new people start blogging, or help people evaluate which platform worked better for them, or do any of the other stuff that’s helped blogging change the world.

    But you would have a chart with two bars on it. If you’re in to that sort of thing. :)

    Reply

  12. By Jonathan Bailey posted on August 21, 2007 at 7:19 am
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    Byrne,

    You’re very welcome, glad that you found it to be balanced and fair. However, I’m sure plenty of others will disagree with me on this review…

    C’est La Vie…

    Darrell,

    Out of curiosity, do you have any thoughts on reCAPTCHA? It has an audio CAPTCHA available and has a plugin available for MT. I use it on Plagiarism Today and love it.

    Is that one accessible enough or is more needed? Please let me know when you can, I’ll be very eager to hear.

    I don’t wish to exclude anyone from my site.

    Dave,

    I don’t think it’s possible to get such a chart and make it really accurate. I have to agree with Anil. What happens if I start out on Blogger, move to MT, and then switch to WP or S9Y? I could have three sites up, one of each type.

    There’s little way to get accurage information and most of the material here is self-reported, which isn’t very useful.

    As a researcher, this project is second only to the “How much spam blogging is out there” project in terms of statistical nightmare.

    Anil,

    Welcome to the conversation! Thanks for the follow up!

    Reply

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