The good folks at SixApart are deservedly patting themselves on the back today, having released version 3.2 of their flagship program, Movable Type.
Cast your mind back a year and remember the controversy that surrounded SixApart’s release of Movable Type 3.0. Although it boasted a flashy new interface, users felt that it didn’t have enough new features to justify the change in version number. A number of the new features were related to TypeKey comment authentication which, along with the program’s new license structure, made some users wonder if this was more about enforcing higher license fees than it was about taking the product forward. With Movable Type getting slammed with comment spam, a number of users turned to alternate programs, including WordPress.
The folks at SixApart spent the next year dealing with the fallout from that controversy. It dealt with it consistently and without rest. As 3.0 turned into 3.1, 3.12, 3.14 and then 3.16, more features were added and the code was made more stable. They listened to users’ concerns about license fees and restrictions and they lowered prices and increased functionality. Gradually users’ feelings were mollified. And now SixApart hit us with version 3.2, and I think we will say “all is forgiven”.
Movable Type 3.2 would have been revolutionary had it been released a year ago. Even now, it is a remarkable upgrade to an already good product. I’ve had the privilege of seeing this program through its beta process. Six Apart released an unheard of five separate betas in order to be sure that their release was the best it could be. That attention to detail and dedication to quality shows through in all aspects of the new program. The interface is even flashier, the system is more stable, the spam protection is significantly improved and built-in, and the installation and upgrade process is a dream.
The installation process is SixApart’s greatest achievement, in my opinion. Users who upgrade to 3.2 for the first time will have to do a little more work than usual, combining their mt.cfg and mt-db-pass.cgi files into the new, encrypted mt-config.cgi. It’s probably a good idea to back up your database, and then erase your old MT installation (or, at least, the top-level directory where the program resides) and replace with a full install. Instead of FTP’ing to multiple locations on your server, you now only have to upload onto two: someplace for your mt-static directory, and the usual place for the rest of your installation. Upgrading your installation is as simple as clicking to mt.cgi and entering your UserID and password. The system recognizes that an upgrade has been installed, makes all the necessary changes to your database, and then lets you into the main menu.
That’s all. Further upgrades are even simpler: simply load the files over your old installation, just as I’ve described, log into your MT, and the system does the rest. This is a major improvement over what had been the hairiest aspect of Movable Type. Installations still require some skill, but far less than before.
The interface has also been significantly improved, with a System Overview feature that allows you to view all of your weblogs at once, all of your weblogs’ comments, all of your authors, in one easy screen. Installed plugins in MT no longer hide. A number of new features gives you many more options in handling and authenticating comments. Users now have the ability to get readers to rate submitted comments. You can restore default templates with just a few clicks, and you can save your own default templates as well. And, at long last, it is possible to moderate trackbacks.
MovableType’s spam handling features have also been improved, primarily through Brad Choate’s SpamLookup plugin, which is bundled with the program. SpamLookup has proven to be so effective in stopping comment and trackback spam that Jay Allen, the maker of the groundbreaking MTBlacklist, appears to be calling it a day for his award-winning spam-blocker, though that may change if the spambots get even more intelligent. Suspicious comments and trackbacks get moderated. Other more blatant spams get tossed into the Junk folder, to be deleted if they aren’t removed within a time period you specify.
Best of all, in a final nod to those who were concerned about the high cost of MT licenses and the restrictions involved, the free Personal Edition now allows you to install an unlimited number of weblogs. The number of available authors remains limited, however (though I still don’t know how — or if — they police this). For a limited time, the good folks at Six Apart are lowering the cost of the Personal Edition to $39.95.
The good folks at SixApart have substantially improved the look and feel of MovableType. It is easier to use and easier to customize, it stands up to comment spam and it offers even greater opportunities for plugin developers to further enhance things. Is this enough to win back WordPress users? Maybe; maybe not. There are reasons for WordPress’s loyal base that SixApart can’t touch, but in the growing blogosphere there is room for a number of different blogging programs. MovableType 3.2 will ensure that SixApart is a part of that mix for years to come.