A Closer Look at Movable Type 4 beta

After being a little mean in my quick link (and being called out for it), I decided to take a closer look at the newly released Movable Type 4 beta to see if this is a monumental shift that could rattle those WordPressians or ExpressionEnginites into switching over.

Installation

The first thing I noticed in downloading the beta was file size. It weighed in at a hefty 4MB compared to under 1MB for WordPress and just over 1MB for ExpressionEngine. Even scarier was realizing that there were over 1600 files contained within that compressed file. Suffice it to say, it took awhile to upload to my web server (I should've downloaded it directly to the web server!).

Loading up the install, I was mightily impressed by the new look and feel. Mind you, I was pretty happy with what they had there before. I've always felt it was better than WordPress. The setup process is a little more complicated than WordPress in that you'll need to have a little technical knowledge to complete the installation process (like, choosing between sendmail and SMTP). All-in-all, the installation went smoothly.

The Interface

Interestingly, I noticed they're using Candara, which comes off looking pretty sharp. The interface is a huge departure, for the most part, from what was in version 3. Right off the bat, you'll notice the Flash graph that highlights the number of comments, entries, and tags (courtesy of Measure Map).

Hopping into creating an article, I was also very impressed with the look and feel of the default WYSIWYG editor. For those who want choice, you can also do Markdown, Markdown with SmartyPants and Textile 2.

The file and image upload features were probably my least favourite part of the editing process. Right off the bat, I discovered I couldn't close the image dialog unless I refreshed the page or uploaded an image. The dialog is also extremely slow to load (it's Ajax!!!). All files and images that get uploaded are stored in an 'organizer' that you can go into separate from the entry editing process. The upload process is also much nicer making it easier to understand where files were getting put in the site structure.

I also didn't much like the drop down menus. I find them distracting very quickly and can sometimes be a pain to get at what I want (like wanting to click on the home icon and having the blog menu drop down over top of it).

New Features

Some of the other big things that the MT folks are pushing is the registration system, allowing users to log in using a number of different systems like Vox and OpenID.

Editing pages also felt more intuitive, even though I sense that not much has really changed in this regard since version 3. Sometimes an interface change is all that's needed to make a feature more worthwhile (I'd put the recent Google Analytics redesign in the same category).

Same ol', same ol

Unfortunately, I didn't really feel like much get added besides a new interface and better registration. Many of the more interesting features, like being able to clone a blog, are being handled by plugins, many of which were already available for MT3.

Spam protection seems unchanged. I fear how much spam wouldn't be caught by it in comparison to what I have now.

It's also still Perl at its core. This is one area that I think turns off developers. Not that PHP is a dream to program in but more people know PHP than Perl.

Buggy

Worst of all — and yes, I understand it's still beta — things still seem pretty buggy. From JavaScript errors, to build issues, to not even being able to access the comments page or delete a comment. This is definitely rough around the corners and I'd recommend that this not be used on a production site.

Verdict

While the interface is very nice and there are some nice new features, I think they still have a long way to go before it'd convince anybody from switching back.

Published June 05, 2007
Categorized as CMS
Short URL: http://snook.ca/s/813

Conversation

19 Comments · RSS feed
Su said on June 05, 2007

One thing to keep in mind is that this is actually a beta, and not what tends to be called one nowadays, eg., "We don't want to commit to a formal release, and putting 'beta' on it means you can't complain." Those black sections in the interface, for example, are almost certainly missing background images(rummage around in the mt-static dir). Anyone silly enough to use this on a production site is looking for an adventure(where you'll find your modal dialog problem, BTW).

Many of the more interesting features, like being able to clone a blog, are being handled by plugins, many of which were already available for MT3.
You're glossing something very important here. Features being handled by plugins(or components, which are sort of more powerful, lower-level plugins) is in large part the point of MT4. Even blogging, what is probably considered the core of MT at the moment, will be a component which can be disabled or removed altogether.
At this point, minus the enhancements to the templating language—just themselves providing huge improvements to functionality—the beta(and remember it's the first one) is largely a straight upgrade of the existing functions. The really neat stuff will come about from plugins taking advantage of the system improvements, like content customization, new archiving types, built-in system-wide ratings, etc.

Montoya said on June 06, 2007

I think your quick link was totally warranted and on-point. You shouldn't have caved to all the naysayers ;)

Matt said on June 06, 2007

I agree with Montoya. My initial reaction was identical to yours. They really shot themselves in the foot with the whole licensing debacle a few years back and WordPress, et. al. were more than capable of providing alternatives. I have a lot of respect for the people at SixApart, but it's too little, too late at this point.

M. Jackson Wilkinson said on June 06, 2007

I think you may be a bit quick to dismiss its perl legacy as being a negative. Sure, PHP is more widely-used on the web these days, but I'd actually guess that more people know perl than PHP, given how ubiquitous it is in *NIX.

Perl is more flexible and much faster (though mod_perl in Apache is arguably slower, depending on config) than PHP. That said, it's a bit more cryptic, and not using mod_perl means that things are usually less dynamic, but thousands of sysadmins and more low-level technologists already have perl as a staple in their toolbox.

I know a significant number of people who rely on MT for exactly this reason, and it's one of the few (only?) remaining heavyweights in the field that covers that perl market. I'd think it'd be a mistake for them to switch.

Jonathan Snook said on June 06, 2007

@Su: the problem is that plugins (or components) isn't revolutionary or even evolutionary. Plugins have been a feature of MT for some time. While I can appreciate that a framework has been established for some cool stuff, it would seem that is at least 6 months away. More importantly, are those features going to be available with the open source version?

@Jackson: Oh, I know there are plenty of Perl folk out there that probably enjoy MT. And it's not that I see MT as disappearing from the landscape. There will certainly be plenty of people who will continue to use it (and even some new people jumping on board) but I can't see it regaining its popularity; certainly not as it stands now.

Tom said on June 06, 2007

After backing up, I upgraded to MT 4.0b1 from 3.3 and consequently found comment management broken to a certain extent. My site isn't exactly what I'd consider "mission critical", so it's not a huge deal, but I've noticed a lot of the interface enhancements seem to be broken (when upgrading at least). I can see a secondary blog from some menus, but not others.

I'm curious to know more about the "pages" feature. And it's great that you can manage and place assets from within the CMS, but I've got a set directory structure that I don't want to deviate from and I wish they'd provided the ability to point to that as opposed to (most likely) burying it in one of their MT directories.

Altogether, it is pretty bulky and the slow loading is palpable on my home cable connection. Dialup would surely be infuriating. The important thing to note that was already mentioned above — this IS a real beta. Don't upgrade unless you're willing to deal with some serious glitches, MT users...

Melissa said on June 06, 2007

Thanks for taking the time and posting this. I was going to give the Beta a whirl, just to see the "improvements" but I think I'll pass for now. I agree with Matt about it being far too little, far too late.

Su said on June 06, 2007

Jonathan: Plugins, yes, but the component concept is new. Have a look at the "General routines" section of Arvind's post for an idea of the difference involved. That example actually argues against the 6month point; it directly enables faster development of much more involved modifications to the app. It approaches the magically generated admin panels of things like Django.
The Community Pack recently offered to MTEnterprise customers is going to be one of the first such applications. MTEnterprise as a separate distribution is also going to disappear and become a Pack applied to MT4. Another one has already been named that I can never recall. Those should be available either at release or shortly after. There are several plugins extant that are perfect for this integration, and I wouldn't be surprised if at least a couple of those devs have them ready for the release date.

As for the open version, my understanding from a conference call yesterday was that the precise details of MTOS(as referred to) haven't been decided, and that determining them will itself be part of the community project. That necessarily requires MT4(the commercial product) settle down some more. Just about anything you may have read anyplace other than the MT site contains rather large amounts of speculation if not fabrication, which is why I'm limiting my comments on it. It's interesting and important to note that the actual MT dev community, as opposed to the various bloggery pundits and random users, have been relatively mum on MTOS. There's a reason for that: we just don't know much yet. The call in question should be available soon via Odeo, incidentally.

My impression so far is that MTOS as a framework shouldn't be crippled in any way and would hence have a direct upgrade path into MT4, though it might not ship with everything available to the commercial(cf. Expression Engine Core). During the call, a question was actually raised regarding someone independently replicating the functionality of say, the Enterprise Pack. The response was basically, "Go for it." On the other side of the limited functionality point, I foresee the possibility of MTOS offering experimental stuff ahead of the commercial version.

Hamish M said on June 06, 2007

I was intrigued when I heard about the MT Open Source Release. I think it's a good move on their part. But it's late. Much too late. And it's going to take a lot more than this to pull me over from WordPress.

Jermayn Parker said on June 06, 2007

I use WordPress because its free with cpanel and I love it and for me to change it would have to be pretty damn good....

Peter Check said on June 07, 2007

Wordpress beats Movable Type

Fitzwilliam Hearst said on June 07, 2007

Just to counter the tide of WordPress fanboyism, I am considering moving to MTOS from it. (License allowing, etc.) It's more out of dissatisfaction with WordPress than from any great delight in MovableType, but still.

As for it being "too little, too late", I'm not sure. Now people like me might actually bother with a feature comparison instead of rejecting it sight unseen on ideological grounds. Pity about the line noise^W^WPerl, though. (My kingdom for a Python!)

billg said on June 07, 2007

Why should anyone care if MT4 does or does not convince users of WP or any other piece of code to switch? Why is this such a big deal? Why the juvenile need to irrationally cheer one product and bash another?

People use WP, et al, because they don't have to pay for them. I'm guessing that SixApart, or Expression Engine, or anyone else, could release a product that was orders of magnitude more attactive than WP, and WP users would still not switch if they had to pay for it.

Jonathan Snook said on June 07, 2007

@billg: it's hard to say whether you're addressing the article or the comments but I'll assume you meant the article. In which case, I'd say that I'm not cheering on one or the other. I tried to look at the features that MT4 beta offers and how it improved over version 3.

The fact is that EE, WP and MT all have free versions and are targeted at very similar audiences, making the price argument pretty much irrelevant. The fact is that there are many people who make a living either directly or indirectly through their web sites (myself included). Having a tool to effectively and reliably manage a site is important.

Who cares if people switch? Anybody who wants a platform where there is a community of people to discuss problems or rely on themes or plugins or whatever perks come out of a larger community.

Lastly, the people here are discussing blogging tools on a blog focused on web development issues. What else do you expect to find here?

billg said on June 07, 2007

Jonathan: I was primarily addressing the comments. It seems as if every time someone updates a blogging tool that isn't WP, we see a lot of people ask "Why bother when there's Wordpress?" MT seems particularly targeted, perhaps owing to the flap over its licensing decision a few years ago. (Something I missed, but don't really understand.)

The constant framing of the software business as a winner-take-all battle between MT and WP, or MS and Apple, or whatever, gets pretty tiresome. I've built sites with MT. I wish SixApart all the best. I hope they sell bunches of MT4, primarily because a blogging universe dominated by WP or any other single product is undesirable. But, I don't think they, or anyone else, will sell much of anything into the community of WP users, because it is not a market.

j. brotherlove said on June 07, 2007

I agree with billg. I've seen quite a bit of discussion by Wordpress users on why they won't be switching. I don't believe the success of MT4 rests in how many Wordpress users switch to use it.

All the platforms have active communities contributing to future development. Personally, I found Wordpress to be a pain in the butt (and those upgrade releases? - yow). But I understand why many people love it. For static publishing, I think MT does a great job. If I'm going dynamic, I prefer to go with ExpressionEngine for more control.

As for the "too little, too late" comments, what kind of business model is that? You see a competitor taking market share, you roll up your sleeves and respond. You don't take your ball and go home.

Saumendra Swain said on June 12, 2007

Thanks for the analysis done with a great effort. I can now wait for MT 5 / MT 4 stable release to get some great essential features.

Mihai Bocsaru said on June 13, 2007

For those of you that would like to evaluate Movable Type without any effort, go and access it here: http://www.movabletype4.org/. Enjoy!

Brendan Falkowski said on July 06, 2007

If you had no pre-existing knowledge of WP, MT, EE, or other publishing tools, which would be the best pick. Assume a well-tuned knowledge of CSS and the expectation to not install a theme. Where do they shine and falter?

Sorry, comments are closed for this post. If you have any further questions or comments, feel free to send them to me directly.