Movable Type 4 Review

Movable Type 4 has been out for several weeks now and I’ve been waiting for my opportunity to get it installed and a blog moved over. Initially, as demonstrated by the video I posted demonstrating the installation of the software, I planned on moving my sports podcast, Suicide Fan over, but I quickly realized that that would be hard to do without a patch to MT’s core. PodPress is the plugin I use for podcasting and it stores all the relevant details, including the link to the MP3 file, in custom fields. While custom fields (or post meta, as it is called) is included in WXR, Movable Type 4 makes no effort to retain this data. Shame, shame.

So, instead, I’ve moved AaronBrazell.com, which was previously hosted on WordPress.com, over to Movable Type 4 instead.

I have quite a lot of feedback for the Movable Type 4 team based on this experience. I hope they hear my recommendations, take them seriously and address the issues as they make sense for the MT community. I will also include recommendations for the WordPress community as I feel that MT4 really does handle quite a lot very, very well.

Handle Post Meta Better

As I indicated above, I ran into tremendous frustration with porting my blog from WordPress to Movable Type when the blog relied on custom fields/post meta. I realize that Movable Type does not yet support any kind of post meta outside of “Keywords”, “Tags” (how are these different semantically?) and Categories. WordPress is the clear winner here recognizing that none of these are “metadata” really and are in fact staples of entries. With that in mind, MT4 supports no metadata. Which of course hinders the ability to reclaim WordPress users. Change this, SixApart.

Setup Fixes

I’m still disgruntled about Movable Type setup routine. It’s easier than it used to be but it is far from easy and frustrated me as a technologically competent guy. For instance, why can’t the setup wizard trim whitespace from around database login info. I don’t know how it is done in Perl, but in PHP it’s as simple as

1
trim($string);

.

Useful Error Messages

I ran into an issue when dealing with imports of WXR files generated by an older version of WordPress. It seems WordPress did not do a great job of ensuring their export files were truly UTF-8 encoded, a necessity for XML files. MT4 recognized this and killed the import with a cryptic Perl error. Not being a Perl guy, I had no idea what was going on. Fortunately, I realized that I could open the WXR file in Textmate and re-save it as UTF-8. This can be done with other text editors as well. After saving as UTF-8, the import ran smoothly.

Which reminds me, MT4 devs, don’t duplicate entries on import. If the import goes halfway through and fails, then when I re-import, don’t duplicate my entries, pleasethankyouverymuch!.

Instead of displaying Perl error messages (which in theory and a different context, could give away useful system info for hackers), point me to why the error occurred in the first place and maybe provide me with some useful pointers for fixing it. So I don’t waste my precious time. Pleasethankyouverymuch.

Registration and Comments

I don’t really know where to start with this but it certainly pissed me off. In order for the comment form to be visible to visitors, I had to specifically set Anonymous commenters. Why? Make me go out of my way to NOT have anonymous commenters.

Secondly, even if I have anonymous commenters, the moment I choose other authentication methods (Movable Type native, OpenID, Vox, LiveJournal or TypeKey), the comment form disappears and is replaced with a login link.

I repeat… this happens even if I have specifically checked “Anonymous Comments”. This should not be.

Permalink Obfuscation

Fortunately I only have a handful of entries on my blog, because none of the permalinks included in the WXR file (

1
 

) are respected by MT. Everything is mashed together killing any hope of retaining SEO benefits from the blog. This MUST be fixed. It is completely unacceptable!

Sucky Themes

The MT4 team has bragged about the number of themes included with MT4. While there are certainly a number of themes, there really are only 3 – “Cityscapes” which includes a dozen or so of an identical theme with different cartoony city skylines that mostly look the same, “Minimalist” which is an old MT standby theme that has been slapped a half dozen times with different color schemes – but the same layout! – and the Unity themes which are a handful of other boring similar structure themes.

Also, where is the community contributed themes? Why has no one in the MT community released MT4 themes? Was MT4 that much of a surprise? Was MT4 not available as a beta software weeks before it went final? Where is the community? Where are the designers?

Now of course, I have some recommendations for WordPress as MT4 is doing some killer things that WordPress is simply ignoring.

Admin Interface

Movable Type’s admin interface is just plain sexy. I’m telling you it kills WordPress up and down and into next week. We have waited far too long for decent changes to the WordPress admin. Yes, I am aware of Happy Cog recommendations and changes that are coming but the reality is that we should not have waited this long. WordPress’ admin interface is amateur, shoddy and hacked together code. Code is Poetry my foot. Too many inline styles, hacked together HTML and does not have developer guidelines for “where plugin pages should go”, for instance.

Integrated Theme Management

WordPress’ theme management is not “bad” – it’s just that MT4’s is so much better. Now as mentioned, MT4’s theme selection sucks, but why can’t WordPress implement a nice AJAX theme loader/viewer/column option selection routine for themes not necessarily present on the server. Granted I may not know what I’m talking about as all the themes currently available for MT4 are actually on the server, but it seems like this should be a nice feature – with proper security/sanitization in mind.

Shut Your Trap!

Too many WordPress kool-aid drinkers have come out slamming MT4 and defending WordPress. Yes, WordPress is a better platform. You know that and I know that. But MT4 is a significant improvement and if you’re not careful, your arrogance will drive people back to MT. MT certainly does things better than WordPress so you have nothing to shout about. What is good for the GPL/Open Source community is good for WordPress. I recommend you install Movable Type, keep an open mind about what they are doing and see if we can get some ideas (including code slurping!) from them.

Overall, I think WordPress is better. I think the software and community have some growing up to do. SixApart has quietly snuck up and drawn about even in the race for a better software and if WordPress is not careful, public opinion could swing the other way.

Published by

Aaron Brazell

Aaron Brazell is a Baltimore, MD-based WordPress developer, a co-founder at WP Engine, WordPress core contributor and author. He wrote the book WordPress Bible and has been publishing on the web since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter, on his personal blog and view his photography at The Aperture Filter.

15 thoughts on “Movable Type 4 Review”

  1. WOW! I was just starting to panic, I’ve just put up 2 sites and today I have had my new free ebook download thrash my bandwidth within an inch of its life, so, to think that I might have to change blogging systems to avoid dinosaur status was not a pleasant thought! Thanks heaps for a thoughtful post

  2. I just started blogging this year and both my blogs are hosted on the free blogger platform. I was now considering moving it to a domain of own but was confused as to which blogging platform I should chose. (I am not too much of a techie) Thanx for the review anyway, I guess I will go with WordPress for now after reading this because I don’t want to go with something that costs me and then is difficult to implement and is worse compared to it’s competitor…!!

  3. I recommend you install Movable Type, keep an open mind about what they are doing and see if we can get some ideas (including code slurping!) from them.

    As soon as they license it as GPL, I’ll be doing just that. I don’t want to dive into the code unless I know that the code in question is going to be present in the GPL version.

    Interesting consequence of their dual-licensing: they won’t be able to take any code from WordPress without killing their ability to have a copyrighted version. So code can flow from MT to WP all day long, but they won’t take any WP code. This also means that at some point in the future 6A could say “MT is no longer licensed under the GPL” (and then it’d be orphaned until someone forked it).

  4. Aaron, i was installing MT platform for the first time and i “documented” the stuff, as a result i have blog post with handy explanations how to install and screenshots, i guess this info will help somebody and save time!
    to me, so i can say i like MT 4, will keep on testing and improving it (more reports to come!) :)

  5. A lot of the issues related to importing from WP to MT have already been rectified. I migrated a reasonably large site from WP to MT last week after the MT team patched some of the import stuff.

    I did a short writeup on the process here:
    http://www.movabletype4.eu/wordpress/migrating-a-largish-site-from-wordpress-to-movabletype-4.html

    As for the themes and other stuff, I get the impression that a lot of people are badgering away in the background. Don’t forget there was a significant change between MT3 and MT4, so a lot of the old themes are currently “broken” in MT4. Hopefully people will find the time to fix them

    Michele

  6. Aaron, a great article. I totally agree with you on the WordPress admin interface. Authors spend a lot of time with it, and it is simply not an interface at the enterprise level.

  7. I’m thinking of switching to MT from WP, but I’m still on the fence. I really like the way MT publishes essentially static HTML files — on a shared host that can really speed up the page loads — but the theme system is the most obfuscated and confusing thing I have ever seen.

  8. Ted – a lot of the MT developers have been working on documentation and examples of the templates. Hopefully we’ll also see some of the themes from MT3 upgraded / ported to MT4

    Michele

  9. “Interesting consequence of their dual-licensing: they won’t be able to take any code from WordPress without killing their ability to have a copyrighted version. So code can flow from MT to WP all day long, but they won’t take any WP code.”

    And just how much Perl _were_ you considering adding to WordPress?

    Unless you’re talking about the PHP-based dynamic option that no-one uses, but I don’t think that that’s any great shakes.

  10. Hey nice job on this. I have two questions? One how did you get this great comment box I love it an want one this nice too. Very clean look to it. Second I was wondering how you got the rating system you have with the stars.

    Thanks much,

    Michael Matera

  11. Same as Michael Matera – I was wondering how you got the rating system with the stars? And does that work with MT4?

    Regards,

    Andrea

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