On Matters Apple and Movable Type

Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs held another media event today and me, being an unabashed Apple fan, actually gave a darn.

I admit it, I am an Apple geek. I love my MacBook, I’m eagerly looking forward to the updates of iLife, and I love, love, love my iPhone 4. So, you probably should take what I say about Apple with a grain of salt, as I appear to be caught up in Steve’s famous Reality Distortion Effect.

Case in point, I’m actually excited to hear that Apple is moving ahead on its next version of OsX (10.7 “Lion”), an upgrade which, according to the previews, includes such features as a new means of installing applications to your hard drive, and a new way of figuring out what programs are running.

Now, I do find the iTunes model of purchasing mp3s and the iPhone App Store model of purchasing apps to be very convenient, so I am looking forward to applying this to the software on my laptop, but still… that’s a big feature in a new operating system? But, hey: look at me all excited.

(As an aside, I am pleased to hear that Steve Jobs says that the App Store is one of the ways that people can install applications onto their Apple laptops — meaning that the traditional means of obtaining software and installing it aren’t going to go away. Still, I will keep an eye open for any move which tries to shut that option down and route all third-party applications through the App Store. I don’t want to have to “jailbreak” my Macbook, but I will…)

The truth is, I have always been a tinkerer when it comes to computers and applications. I don’t seem to be wholly satisfied with the status quo for very long. If a program gets upgraded, I feel a burning desire to install the upgrade, because I’d hate the thought of getting left behind. My mother’s Powerbook is still using Panther (10.3.9) and it functions perfectly well in fitting her needs, but I just had to make the jump to Snow Leopard when it came along. Back when I had to do a clean install of Windows every six months or so in order to keep my computer functional (note: in the five years since switching to Apple, I have never had to do this), I actually looked forward to the process, because it was a nice little challenge, and it offered the promise of a faster computer at the end of it — at least, for a short while.

The one piece of software where this attitude has given me any trouble has Movable Type, which is the content management system that backs this website, the others operating through Clarksbury and Transit Toronto. You can imagine the frustration of, after having installed the new version of the back-end system that controls your public websites, a mysterious glitch locks you out of it. And while most of the other programs I’ve used have progressed in a linear fashion, with the entire user base generally encouraged to move up to the next version and me happy to tag along, with Movable Type, the platform appears to have reached a crossroads.

Movable Type has long been losing ground to Wordpress (I’ve thought about switching, but I’m used to Movable Type, and don’t want to go through the rigamarole of learning a new system, and converting my database and websites to match), and the company that managed Movable Type slowed down in its updates. The program made the jump from 4.3 to 5.0 and then… sort of stopped. Six Apart has since been bought out by a larger company, and although that company promises to support the Movable Type platform in the future, users are worried.

The shift from 4.3 to 5.0 was startling, incorporating an entirely new way of viewing Movable Type websites, that made transferring to the new system a bit of a pain. Such was the shock of learning an entirely new system, that I, for once, balked at my instantaneous upgrade. While my personal site and the sites under Clarksbury got transferred over to 5.0, the fact that Transit Toronto is a larger installation used by more people made me keep that installation at 4.3, and there it has stayed.

Now the waters are muddied further, as Movable Type has released an open sourced version of 4.0, which is being transformed by a dedicated community into a new platform called Melody. Since it’s clear that version 4.0 won’t be supported for much longer, do I upgrade Transit Toronto to 5.0? Or do I shift to the open-sourced brand?

The fact that I’ve already switched to MT 5.0 for this website and the sites on Clarksbury basically commits me to the new branch — and I have to admit that I like its new approach of building whole websites rather than individual blogs. Transit Toronto, however, functions just fine on 4.0, and to maintain support, as well as the comfort of the other people who use the back-end, I think it makes sense to move over to Melody, here.

This is the first time that a program that I followed has essentially branched, and it’s somewhat disconcerting to have to follow both legs at the same time.

This is hardly a problem for Apple’s products, as the line remains strong, and everything is pretty much under the control of Jobs and his team. Tinkerers and those who are addicted to the new can move forward with each version as things come out, and don’t have to make too many choices. The dark side of being on the bleeding edge, of course, is that when things don’t go to plan, you can be on your own in terms of figuring out how to deal with the hiccups.

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