Yesterday Sherwin and Geof responded in the comments on the Socialite Life launch entry asking what I thought about WordPress vs. Movable Type. My response would have been too long for a comment so I thought I’d turn it into an entry
I’ve been a Movable Type user since May 2003, and was also one of the very first beta testers invited to checkout Typepad (my username is just “mike”) before it launched, so suffice to say I’ve been working with it for a pretty long time. I still prefer Movable Type to WordPress, but the gap is shrinking a bit. Here are my favorite features that MT offers:
- A professional user interface. MT is a commercial product, so it’s no surprise that the software’s administrative user interface is clean and polished. As a designer and blogger who spends a good amount of time staring at a Movable Type backend UI, I absolutely appreciate the time and effort put into the look and feel of it. The icons were all custom-designed, form elements are laid out in a usable manner, and it’s just a very solid-feeling piece of software.
- A great template tag system. Movable Type’s tag language is extremely easy to learn if you already know XHTML, just because all the tags basically look like XHTML. Outputting data is easy: ex:
<MTEntryTitle$>gives you the entry’s title. Movable Type tags are setup such that tags that start and end with dollar signs ($) spit out an actual data value, whereas tags that do not have dollar signs are container tags, that loop through data: ex:
<MTEntries>loops through your weblog entries,
<MTCategories>loops through your categories, etc. It’s very natural and intuitive once you start working your own templates.
Okay, now what I don’t like about MT:
- Old technology. This is the kicker. Movable Type is a bit like Windows XP in the sense that its underpinnings aren’t up-to-date — MT still has a large Perl backend, and Windows XP still runs on NT kernel — it’s like putting lipstick on a pig. Back when MT was developed (late 90s I believe) I’m sure that the reasoning behind using Perl was two-fold: Ben Trott was a killer Perl programmer, and PHP wasn’t installed on as many web servers (nor was it as popular) as it is now. Unfortunately, the Perl backend has been showing its age and the results of that are slow rebuild and publishing times. The latest version of MT had a major code rewrite, however when that came out WordPress was gaining some major steam so it might have been too little too late.
- Static publishing. Up until the latest release, all your pages needed to be generated before they could be viewed through the usage of a parsing engine that rendered HTML and stored it statically on the server. Pages were not generated on the fly, and once again, MT’s core was written back when weblogs were first coming out, so it would have been difficult to imagine a weblog with 10,000 entries back then. After people were using MT for a few years and built up a large cache of entries under their belts, they started griping that rebuild and publishing times were extremely slow. Six Apart took the steps necessary to rebuild the core of MT for the 3.2 release, however by that time WordPress was really popular and solved all the problems that hardcore MT users had. MT v3.2 might have been too late.
Update: Just so everyone is clear here, I’m not saying that dynamic publishing is the silver bullet for all your slow loading woes, in fact, it could put even more of a strain on your server depending on load and how your DBMS is configured. The real key is having the most popularly-loaded pages kept as static (no SQL queries to bog things down) and possibly other pages still dynamic since loading times won’t be as much of an issue.
Although I’m more versed with Movable Type, I’m very plugged into the active WordPress community through 9rules. Some of the most well-known WordPress themes were designed by 9rules members and friends of mine, I hangout with Matt whenever we’re at the same conference, and the 9rules Network actually runs on a unbelievably customized WordPress install. 9rules is basically the mecca of all WP development on this planet, so naturally I’m working with or talking about WP a lot. I like a lot of things about WordPress, here are a few:
- Dynamic publishing and general speediness. WordPress has dynamic publishing on by default, meaning that all pages are accessed and generated on-the-fly via an SQL query. This may not be the best idea for sites with extraordinarily high volumes (aka Google, Yahoo, etc.), however for just about every blogger out there it’s absolutely perfect. WP is very fast, publishes quickly, and is a very stable piece of software. Unlike MT, WP is built completely with PHP so it is future-proofed so to speak.
- Strong and active community. There are few open source projects in the world that have as strong a following as WordPress does. Every single user is an advocate, every designer an enthusiast, and you can hardly walk around the blogosphere without tripping over a WP plugin that does something interesting or useful.
- Blog themes. Although some people now think that weblog themes (I like to call them “website designs” but maybe I’m crazy) should all be free based on the abundance of WP blog themes, it’s still a big positive to see how many themes are available. Unfortunately, the most popular WP themes are pretty plain, which lends to their popularity because they can be used for any purpose and customized fairly easily. Personally, I’m not sure I would design a WP theme and give it away for free, for the simple facts that I’m really busy and also wouldn’t spend time on a (non-charity) project without getting paid, but I can see the allure for younger designers trying to gain a foothold or get some recognition. I’ve spoken to many of my designer friends, and some also think that way, where others are parlaying their newfound WP theme popularity into paying gigs. I’m still waiting for when more well-known designers (Doug Bowman, Shaun Inman, Jason Santa Maria, Didier Hilhorst, Dan Cederholm, Jeffrey Zeldman, Andy Budd, D. Keith Robinson, etc., etc.) put out a WP theme, but somehow I doubt that will happen, for the reasons I stated above.
- Page templates. These are really useful for blogs, especially when “About Us” and “Contact” pages are used so frequently. Yes, you could achieve the same effect with MT and include files, but WP Pages are built-in and easy to use.
And now, WordPress negatives:
- Unprofessional or “unfinished” look. Before the current 2.0 release, the WordPress admin user interface lacked polish and looked clunky, ill-conceived. The padding around the navigation shelves on the top of the page was so squished together that I’d constantly miss the “Theme Editor” link because it blended in. The current release is a lot better in terms of usability and design, however Movable Type’s admin user interface is light years past WP. You can install your own admin themes but out of all those available from the WP site, Steve’s Smith’s Tiger theme is the only one that 1) looks any different from the default admin theme, or 2) is usable and cool. So many people work on WP blog themes but few tackle the real feat of making the user interface look good.
- Template tags are PHP code. Many new bloggers choose WordPress because it’s easy to install and they can choose a theme pretty easily. But how many of those bloggers go into the theme and mess with it (beyond CSS or header images) aka changing the code around, switching how things output data, etc.? I would guess not many, just because you have to know your way around PHP a bit in order to manage changes like that. Movable Type has a strong, built-in template tag system (which is easier to implement in a pre-parsing system like MT, versus a live-parsing system like WordPress) that is very easy to use, whereas WordPress opts for quick PHP snippets to do the trick. Don’t get me wrong, I know PHP really well and none of the WP coding phases me, but from the standpoint of your typical blogger, HTML-like tags might be easier to figure out rather than WP’s PHP syntax. Of course that could just be the opinion of somebody used to how MT does things, so take with a grain of salt.
It seems to me that unless Six Apart really gets its act together and revitalizes the entire Movable Type application, codebase, and community, new bloggers will no longer use MT but will use WordPress instead, a change that’s already happening. WP’s active development and range of free blog themes to choose from are extremely inviting to new bloggers. I know that a very nice WP admin theme is currently brewing so we’ll have to see if it can live up to the standard that MT has set.