This is the celebrated journal of Mr. Simon Collison A.K.A Colly

What’s right with Movable Type?

2nd March 2005

I’m risking furious responses here, particularly as I have never used Movable Type and thus don’t really know what I’m on about.

Besides, I feel bad as the Six Apart people have clearly, at some point in the great blogging narrative, been inspirational, important and giving. Thing is, all the posts I read about Movable Type seem dismissive - complaints, moans, the need for plug-ins to irradicate a particular annoyance, comment security breaches and so on - and then I read this on John Gruber’s site:

Kill-nav-commenters-gif.pl is a plug-in for Movable Type 3.1 which patches two of MT’s internal subroutines so that MT no longer creates a file named ‘nav-commenters.gif’ at the root level of each of your weblogs.

What? Read the rest of Gruber’s article and this makes even less sense. Why is the MT system forcing pointless images to be placed at the root of your MT weblogs? Apparently, it’s a TypeKey commenter indicator thingummy, which appears even if you don’t allow comments. No wonder that was so annoying.

What’s this “rebuilding weblogs” business about?

This got me thinking. MT users apparently need to keep “rebuilding their weblogs”. What does that mean? Sounds very serious. Sounds bloody annoying. Doesn’t the MT system automatically handle the content you submit and place it in the right places? Can someone tell me what this “rebuilding” business is about?

And then there was the furore about pricing, which got everyone in a right tizzy-fit. Oh, and as for the comments security flaw, that sounded awful.

I’ll get to my point

I think my question is this. If Movable Type is so shot-through with holes, annoyances and flaws, why are so many of you sticking with it when so many great alternatives are available? A lot of people keep moaning about it, but don’t change their blog engine.

Look, I don’t know anything about Movable Type, I just pick up on what I read. If you absolutely love MT, please tell me why it’s so good, and list some advantages of it, because I may have been misled into thinking it is pants. Has MT reached it’s peak, and is it time for younger blogging engines to claim the crown?

Responses

# Chris Curtis responded on 2nd March 2005 with...

It’s been quite some time since I ran an MT site and I could easily be said to have a biased opinion here, but I’ll give this a go as far as explaining the “rebuilding” bit goes.  Note than my experience was back even before they offered the MySQL-based version.  It was version 2.something.  So:

Movable Type runs on Perl rather than PHP, which is what most other blog type applications use.  Also, unlike other applications, MT creates completely static HTML pages that get served instead of dynamically generated PHP pages (or some pseudo-dynamic, pseudo-static pages like ExpressionEngine can produce).  Static pages, of course, have some nice benefits as far as performance goes.

However, since they’re static, that means that whenever you make a change to something (say, a sidebar) then MT has to “rebuild” all of those individual static pages to reflect the change.  If you have a lot of entries then that can mean a lot of page get rebuilt.  If you don’t change the site often, then that’s not too big a deal.

However, even just posting a new entry requires “rebuilding” some pages.  For instance, the individual archive page for the entry must be built, the main page listing the new entry must be built, the monthly archive listing the entry must be rebuilt, etc., etc.

The necessity of rebuilding the pages whenever anything was done to the site was definitely a huge annoyance back when I did run MT.  I think newer versions may be a bit better/smarter in only rebuilding necessary pages, but the underlying need is still there.

# Simon Collison responded on 2nd March 2005 with...

Thanks Chris - a very balanced answer from an EE man. I didn’t even know MT was built using Perl. It does sound like an annoying process, although as you say, your experience is with an older version.

I notice that I’m now advertising MT in my Google Ads. Oh dear.

# Jonathan Snook responded on 2nd March 2005 with...

Version 3 is no different. Static mode still requires constant rebuilding. I moved from 2.x to 3.x because it was an easy upgrade. I haven’t moved to anything else because I fear the effort involved in porting over everything to the new system. I’ve got filenaming issues, feed generation, setting up templates. It’s a lot of work.

If someone wants to do it for me, I’ll gladly switch. :)

(hmmm, and why are form labels not associated with their form controls?)

# Pete responded on 2nd March 2005 with...

The worst part about MT, is the fact that as soon as you get upwards of around 300 facets of information to rebuild, be they individual archives, or other extentions of the program, rebuilds tend to hang, and they can cause serious chaos with server load times. There’s individual pages, categorical pages, weekly/daily/monthly archive pages, the index pages, etc. Even with MT’s SQL option, you still have pages upon pages of PHP generated.

I think the whole fiasco with the licensing six months ago woke a lot of people up, and forced people to find a much easier client to use with their sites. I know quite a few that moved from MT to EE, or like myself, moved to Textpattern, and it seems to be growing daily. MT isn’t a bad client, but, I think it’s taught people how to make and use, a smart, simple CMS/blogging client, without the cruft.

# paul haine responded on 2nd March 2005 with...

I used MT for a month or two and found it to be a monumental pain in the arse. Constant rebuilding, an obtuse template language, templates all over the place - convincing it to use my design for its search and comment preview pages was a challenge in itself. It was software that had to be fought to get it to do what I wanted. Gave up in the end and switched to Wordpress, which I’ve not regretted.

You can see a symptom of the constant rebuilding over at http://www.456bereastreet.com/ - the quicklink section on the right has comment counts that aren’t always up to date, because Roger has chosen not to rebuild the entire website just for that. It’s a small thing, but the small things add up.

I notice that Keith Robinson has just written an article on a related topic - fighting complicated software - and yet uses MT himself. Perhaps he could comment on its positive side?

# Cameron responded on 2nd March 2005 with...

Slight tangent, but here’s something I’ve been meaning to write about the fall of Movable Type…

Back during MT 2.x days, people were really starting to do great things with MT.  I still rememeber Jay Allen coming up with a way to add “edit this” links, and Doug Bowman showing how he built a portfolio using MT fields and a bit of php.  There were a slew of plugins making it so that MT was almost a CMS, without needing to know a line of code, and retaining the designers ability to control every piece of output.

Rather than release a new MT which allowed for custom content types and better user permissioning, MT3 was put on hold for ages.  SixApart clearly made a decision to focus on TypePad, and the competition caught up.  When EE came out around a year ago, it was everything and more that MT3 had been long promised to be.  Meanwhile, a slew of free and opensource alternatives competed for the basic weblog offering.

What will be interesting to see is whether team pMachine gets complacent.  Does wordpress catch up?  Does something like Drupal get enough commercial support that it puts resources towards UI and documentation and it creeps down?

# Tim responded on 2nd March 2005 with...

I started with Blogger, then moved to MT (v2.5 IIRC) in early 2003. When v3 came out I upgraded, but the licensing (I wanted more than one author), the rebuild issues (it could be rather slow) and the comment spam led me to move to Textpattern. I’ve now moved to Wordpress, as 1.5’s features were pretty compelling. I like the fact that Wordpress is GPL, whereas TxP is “sort of” free. I can’t afford to buy a MT licence, but even if I could I’d still stick with Wordpress.

# allgood2 responded on 3rd March 2005 with...

I think MT created a movement, so in that regards it taught a lot of people about what to expect from a blogging CMS. My biggest issue with MT has always been that it builds static pages, and that its written in perl. Some people love that its in perl, but I’ve never been able to comprehend anything more than basic perl code. I like PHP, because it took me 2 days to move into basic program. And while, I still don’t consider myself a PHP guru, I’m always learning or perfecting how to do something new in it. 

Like you, I use EE. It allows me to take control over projects that need massive management, or just install, tweak and go, on smaller projects. It still requires plugin or custom code for some things, but even this is fairly easy to do.

I like PHP/MySQL CMS systems, because, I truly prefer content to be stored in a database, so it can be extracted and manipulated however I want.

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