eHub Analyzes Movable Type 4

Posted by Bryan Collick on Wednesday, September 5th, 2007. Filed under: eHub Features

Six Apart takes its long-anticipated Movable Type version 4 out of beta and into the spotlight. Let’s take a look at the revamped blogging system and take it for a spin.

While not exactly the Friendster of blogging tools, the MT platform took a serious blow when it decided to move from its free and immensely popular open-development roots and towards a purchasable product that aligned itself with commercial and enterprise-level needs. Scores of users and developers jumped ship to WordPress, which was already nipping at the blogging pioneer’s heels. Diversification through the acquisition of LiveJournal and the Blogger-competing paid service Typepad helped to keep the Six Apart ship in friendly waters, but with an understandable diminishing of new development.

MT4’s clean sleek look coincides with a brand new look for the Movable Type website as well. Both have a very polished look and feel–the online equivalent of a new car smell. But let’s not just kick the tires; let’s look under the hood.

Installation

If you’re a veteran MT installer, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with how streamlined the installation process has become. Dividing your static and CGI files, a browser-based setup system walks you through the process, clearly explaining each step. No more direct editing or renaming of files; it’s all inside. If you are a WordPress user (or Drupal, or Expression Engine, or Joomla, etc.), the installation process still seems a bit superfluous. Nothing here will wow you in the areas of speed or simplicity.

One item I found unusual is that no link to Movable Type’s documentation was provided when the installation process encountered an error. The explanations seemed simple enough, but for a some items–say, missing perl modules–a little direction for the novice user would be prudent. Then again, this quirk might be a purposed move; Movable Type’s documentation has a notorious reputation for being useless in an unusually comprehensive way (To their credit, MT4’s documentation takes a step forward with tagging, related articles, and even responses to comment questions by the developers. Looks great sofar!).

Up and Running

MT4’s sporty new interface takes a little getting used to if MT3 was something you could do blindfolded. But the relatively small adjustment curve is worth its weight in usability and ultimate convenience. It really takes a step a giant leap for Six Apart-kind, catching up the the administrative sections of other content publishing platforms.

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The front page is cool, full of AJAX-y goodness, and quite customizable. The Six Apart team did a good job taking it in a new and bold direction without losing any of the functionality it previously maintained. items are intuitively laid out, compartmentalized by their associations but working well together as a whole.

For those who may be replacing an existing blog, the import function has found its way to a more prominent positioning. The process is largely the same is the previous iteration, but it’s nice to have that level of visibility when pulling in older content.

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As an entry to the “aren’t-we-fancy?” category, the dashboard has a really neat dynamic graph to quickly show a few of your sites production stats. If there was a little more of this kind of coolness tucked away in other areas of the platform, we’d probably review it with more than passing novelty.

New and Improved

Although there’s a lot of flashy eye-catchers right out of the box, MT4 keeps the momentum going even down to the less glamorous details. Basic post entry has been dramatically improved by the inclusion of a more competent WYSIWYG editor that does a pretty good job of formatting your content and keeping it that way. Just in case you need more confirmation, the revamped preview function now shows you not just what you wrote but a complete live preview of the page you are creating

—all styles and layout features right there on display.

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A plugin that I couldn’t believe took so long to make the cut to platform feature is the ability to reply to entry comments from within the platform. I can’t tell you how convenient that is. A less convoluted method to create permanent standalone pages is also long needed and welcomed to all faithful MT fans who watched their WordPress friends frolic in these platform goodies.

To complement the new community features of MT4, Six Apart has included support for the openID user identification system as well as its proprietary TypeKey authentication process. With an open source version of the platform in the wings, the company has really reached out to a valuable user demographic that may have been unintentionally spurned back at the releasing of MT3.

Conclusion
All said, MT4 is a fantastic departure from the previous version and a needed dose of correction to a platform that was increasingly losing relevance. It’s nice to see so many features that users begged for being granted, and so many things that were once third-party plugins now being incorporated. Movable Type still isn’t pioneering any brave new frontiers, but it’s better poised to do so than it has been in a long, long time. WordPress and crew, beware; there’s an old type that’s on the move.

Comment(s)

  1. Sridhar Katakam on September 07, 2007 at 06:35 AM:
    How does this compare w/ WordPress?
  2. Bryan Collick on September 07, 2007 at 11:27 AM:
    In the article, I note that installation is not quite as quick as WordPress. I also note that some of the features that are new in MT4 are things that have been around a while in other platforms, WordPress included.

    For personal usage, Movable Type has caught up with the pack. But let’s not forget that what Six Apart does with MT on the corporate level is not matched by any other blogging system–putting them in the realm of CMS heavy-hitters like Drupal and Joomla.

    MT’s import feature allows for direct importing of a WordPress export file, so it’s pretty easy to give it a spin and see for your self.