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MovableType 4.0 Launched – Interview with Anil Dash

 Mt4 I Mt4-LogoAs this post goes live MovableType 4.0 is being launched by it’s creators – SixApart. This new release has been a long time coming for those of us with MT blogs (I have a couple that I can’t wait to get upgraded) and so I thought it might be fun to ask Anil Dash from Six Apart a few questions on the launch and what the new MT version is all about. I hope you enjoy this interview with Anil.

You seem really excited about the launch of MT 4.0 – what 3 things are exciting you the most?

1. I think number one, this is a great moment for the whole MT community. Movable Type was first beta tested by a few people (I got to be one of the lucky few!) six years ago, and if you look at the remarkable evolution since then, it’s a testament to how creative and inspiring the community of users are. So the excitement and participation of tens of thousands of people in the MT4 beta, and the hundreds of thousands more around the world who’ve looked at the demos or downloads of the work in progress are truly inspirational. Things like the new MT site and the new plugins site are a testament to that passion.

2. From a purely technical standpoint, the rearchitecture is amazing. There’s the really obvious surface-level changes like the smart dynamic charts showing activity on your blog, or the all-new user interface and navigation. But at a fundamental level, there’s been a redesign that lets you do things like set up pages to publish in a queue, so you get the reliability and performance of static pages without having to wait for them to publish. And at an even lower level, the completely new underpinnings for the system’s infrastructure let you take advantage of the same open source infrastructure that we use to run our other blogging platforms like LiveJournal, Vox, and TypePad. Those infrastructure pieces also help run most of Web 2.0, so it’s a great way of bringing the technology full-circle, especially with the upcoming release of MT’s open source version.

3. Finally, I think there’s just a delight in using a lot of the new features. Things that formerly required plugins or workarounds are just built right in. You can manage all your blogs in one place easier than ever. Tags and Pages and all that stuff aren’t plugins, they’re integrated. And I don’t know how I got by without the asset management system, which tracks all my files and automatically lets me make podcasts with them, or put them in a Recent Photos widget on my sidebar. Once you get used to having it all integrated, you can never go back.

What will MT users upgrading to 4.0 notice the most about the new version?

Right off the top, the new user interface puts things like statistics on your comment and posting activity front and center. So you’ve got the ability to judge your blog’s success immediately, and then you can filter those views or get an XML feed of what’s going on with your block with just a click. Of course, things like editing and revising entries are a lot easier, too, with an all-new rich text editor and asset management and niceties like automatic saving of drafts and automatic conversion of curly quotes from MS Word.

Screenshot of the new Dashboard below:

Movabletype

What are your top 10 features of the new version?

My personal Top 10? Man, that’s hard. I think my list looks something like this:

  1. The new documentation. I think it’s the best docs anyone’s ever done for any social media app, and the Business Blogging Guide alone is over 75 printed pages worth of information that’s all about the “why”, not just the “how” of blogging.
  2. There’s *lesson almost every screen. The new UI means that there’s no clutter with stuff being on the screen to confuse me, and at the same time there’s handy links on the side of almost every page leading me to my next task.
  3. Admin feeds. Every single listing screen in MT4 can be viewed as an XML feed, which i can get to on Google Reader or on my mobile phone. So I know every time someone comments or creates a draft entry, and I can act on them to publish or delete or whatever without having to learn every screen in the application. It just feels like a ton of power to have in your hand, especially when I see my friends with iPhones managing their blogs on a phone with a few taps.
  4. Built-in file and asset management. Like I said, I don’t know how I got by before this — it’s a piece of cake to reuse files. We use this already on the movabletype.org site, where I can reuse a picture one of the other authors has uploaded, just by clicking on the link.
  5. OpenID. I know it’s geeky, but the idea of using your own web address as your identity is *important*. Instead of giving away an email address that can be spammed, or relying on an identity from a site I don’t control, my own web address represents me. So good, it seems obvious in retrospect.
  6. Complete Backup and Restore. Maybe I’m the paranoid type, but a single file that backs up every single entry, page, template, setting, and file on my blog seems like the best thing in the world. And it’s handy for deploying test blogs, since I can just restore them on another MT4 install to make them live.
  7. The new plugins and plugin directory. *Manour community is amazing. It’s not just the fancy new directory for plugins, but the fact that there are so many cool new MT4-specific plugins out there, and that’s on top of almost all the most popular plugins from MT3 being built right in to MT4.
  8. Replying to comments right in the administration screen. It’s just a time-saver. The kind of thoughtful little touch that makes managing a blog fun instead of a chore.
  9. Cross-blog aggregation. We use a ton of blogs inside our company (obviously), and it’s a piece of cake to include posts from one, some, or all of the blogs on a single page. I can even clone a single blog as many times as I want, making it really easy to make a new blog for each project.
  10. The new template tools. Okay, I’m a geek for this one, but MT4 highlights my template tags when I add them in to my templates, and even tells me if I have a typo when I add tags to my templates. That’s just cool.

MT seems a lot more community oriented these days? Is this an intentional change in your thinking and approach?

I don’t think it’s a change, I think it’s making visible how we’ve always worked. If you look at the history of MT from the beginning, our community has defined what we do, and has given us the best ideas, the strongest praise, and the harshest critiques. We just hadn’t really done a good job of giving a face to that, and so we made sure to do justice to all teh work and passion that the community’s had for almost 6 years now.

How easy is upgrading to 4.0? What issues do those upgrading need to be aware of?

It’s pretty straightforward. This is by far the easiest install process MT has ever had, and we have special pages for people who want to upgrade. In fact, we had our first upgrade-a-thons last week, where everyone joined in at the same time online and on the phone to work to help each other upgrade, and that us help document exactly what it takes to make the leap. You can see those results here.

How about moving from other platforms to MT?

Yep, we’ve got importers for popular platforms, especially since almost every common tool supports the import/export format that MT invented. Honestly, our goal isn’t to get people to waste time messing with tools if what they have is working for them. But if people think MT can be more reliable and let them do things they couldn’t do before, we welcome them into the community. The most important thing is that people know, when they’re telling their boss the company needs to start using blogs, or when their friends ask “what tool should i use?”, they know MT4 is a great choice.

Do you have any questions or comments for Anil? If so – feel free to leave them in comments below as he says he’ll be watching and willing to interact. Thanks to Anil for his time!

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Comments

  1. Jake says:

    Anil,
    Why would someone switch to MT from WordPress? What do you see as some things that make MT stand out?

  2. Ben says:

    Does MT4 have a 5 minute install? I remember trying to install MT3.x and I had to open up a config file and input server paths, etc.

    I found WordPress shortly after that and haven’t touched MT since then.

  3. Felipe Cerda says:

    The link http://www.movabletype.com/mt4/ is broken… and i haven’t found the page to download MT4. Is it the final version or a beta for testers?

  4. Anil says:

    Jake, I think anybody who’s already blogging successfully is probably fine, but if you’re interested in some of the things MT does uniquely well, I think the best place to start is the presentation of your blog’s comment and entry activity. Having a visual representation of what’s been going on with your blog can be a great way of focusing on how your blog is succeeding, along with a great motivator for making things that inspire your audience.

    There’s also really strong support for multiple blogs — managing them all in one place, aggregating their content on one page, and easily cloning or duplicating blogs you’ve already created. The media management and file management stuff, including integration with podcasting and built-in widgets is really unique.

    And of course there’s professional support from us at Six Apart and from our community, as well as an upgrade path to the Enterprise and Community packs, if you want to take the tool with you to work.

    And Ben, the install process is *much* easier. I’m certainly not a super-technical guy, and just by following the steps it was really easy — no need to edit a config file or any of that stuff.

  5. garrett says:

    agreed with jake above on the wordpress point. i’ve been contemplating the move to wp. what puts MT ahead of WP?

  6. Gromit says:

    This release… WOW! WOW! WOW! I will switch my blogs from WP to MT ASAP because WordPress security is sucks. Thank you 6A team!

  7. When I first began reading your answers, Anil, I thought “oh, they finally caught up with WordPress!” But there are some admin features you mentioned that are very intriguing to us power bloggers (some of which are only available for WordPress as plugins). So I will wipe the smirk off my face and take a serious look at MT4.

    And security does seem to be an issue with WordPress, although I’m not knowledgeable enough about it to say so definitively. I’ve read some things here and there that make me wonder. Anil, are there specific areas in which MT4 has superior security over WordPress?

  8. Anil says:

    To be honest, I don’t know other platforms’ track records as well as our own, and even if I did, I wouldn’t be comfortable speaking about them. But here’s the story from our side.

    With MT, the policy is that we completely disclose security issues as soon as they arise and we’ve created a patch, and the disclosure happens right on the Movable Type homepage. One thing we work very hard to ensure is that you don’t have to dig around in obscure mailing lists or developer sites or on somebody’s personal blog to know there’s a new version our update available. We also do professional internal code reviews of all of our releases before they go out the door, along with periodic more detailed security reviews. The last significant security update was created as a result of our own internal review, for example.

    We also proactively mail users who are on the email update list, and all Enterprise customers get directly contacted by their account representative.

    In all, we’ve had *very* few security issues over the years. Some of the design choices we’ve made have helped inform that, and I think you’ll also see security benefits from the fact that we’re sharing code with our other platforms like LiveJournal and Vox and TypePad, which also have their own security review processes.

    The truth is, any platform will have security issues. Judging by the common public security tracking mailing lists, I’d guess that we have fewer security issues than most applications of equal popularity. But the real focus is how they’re dealt with and how frequent they are, and I’m quite pleased with our record in that regard.

  9. I like the idea of graphs and statistics but isn’t that all just bloat where many of us use google analytics. I would rather keep the file size down then fill it with un-necessary features.

  10. Looks like MT is catching up, and even surpassing WP a little! Just a little…. kudos to the team! They did a wonderful job!

  11. Gromit says:

    2.1.3: http://codex.wordpress.org/Changelog/2.1.3
    2.1.2: http://codex.wordpress.org/Changelog/2.1.2
    2.1.1, WordPress.org site was hacked
    2.0.9: http://codex.wordpress.org/Changelog/2.0.9 “Vulnerability in nonce AYS”
    1.5.2: http://wordpress.org/development/2005/08/one-five-two/ fixed an unspecified “all security fixes in the last few days”
    1.5.1.3: http://wordpress.org/development/2005/06/wordpress-1513/ unspecified security issue
    1.5.1.2: http://wordpress.org/development/2005/05/security-update/ security issue in default template
    1.2.2: http://codex.wordpress.org/Changelog/1.2#Version_1.2.2

    Check the last WordPress release notes please! ;) And don’t forget Matt’s site was hacked too. I can’t believe WordPress anymore

    So thanks 6A team amd community for your work

  12. John says:

    im going to check this out, deffo after reading this, i gave up on Mt yeas ago, might give them another try now…

  13. Rob says:

    Too bad it’s made in Perl – this means you need to install mod_perl, etc, just for a blog.

  14. Anil says:

    Rob, while you certainly have the option of using mod_perl, MT works just fine with the CGI, or especially fastcgi support that comes with almost any standard hosting account. It also means the static pages that MT generates by default can be PHP script, ASP, JSP, or anything else — perfect if you’re using it at work and you’re a Windows shop or someone doesn’t want to install PHP.

    Of course, MT also supports dynamic PHP output, too, if you just want to publish and go. :)

  15. Those infrastructure pieces also help run most of Web 2.0

    Anil, this is why no one respects SixApart. This comment is the pinnacle of arrogance.

  16. Anil says:

    Aaron, memcached and the other parts of this open source infrastructure help run a list of sites that includes Digg, Wikipedia, Craigslist, Slashdot, Twitter, LiveJournal, Delicious, Vox, and dozens more sites. It’s a key part of the open source work that Facebook’s contributed to as well, and uses as an underpinning of their site. Cal Henderson, who helped scale Flickr and *wrote the book* on scaling large scale websites recommends its use. It’s also recommended for use in large-scale productions by David Heinemeier Hansson, the creator of Ruby on Rails, and Adrian Holovaty, the creator of Django. As a result, it’s not just deployed on their own projects ranging from Basecamp to Backpack to the Washington Post, it’s a core part of nearly every widely-deployed Rails or Django app.

    And of course memcached works great with MT4. I don’t think I’m the one who’s being arrogant here.

  17. Andy Merrett says:

    It sounds interesting, but unfortunately for MT I’m having some very bad experiences with it. To be fair, it’s probably not entirely MT’s fault, but as it’s the visible platform that everyone is using, it’s the system getting all the flack.

    I’ve never had the same problems with WordPress. I’m interested to see that it’s possible to run MT “dynamically” though – as rebuilding a large site to form static pages is a real pain.

    I’m sure there are performance hits both ways (ie the hit on the server building static pages, versus the continual hit of creating dynamic pages each and every time), but then there are possible solutions like Lightpress.

    Unfortunately, my Movable Type (and Typepad) experiences have tainted my judgment for now and it would take a lot to convince me to use MT by choice for my own sites.

  18. D says:

    Who cares?
    There is hell of the free blog services and better than movable type.

  19. Danny Foo says:

    The first ever blogging platform I started with was MT from the start – never even heard of Blogger that time. However, my move from MT to WP at some point was due to the uncontrollable spam and the inefficiency of plugin support from the community. And I dare say this, the WP plugin community is very much larger and always coming up with new or improved revisions to constantly help the WP users.

    On the other hand, because I’ve left my existing MT blog with it’s old articles in my server – I’ll give MT4 a try and see the difference. Maybe it’s changed a whole lot since 3.2. :)

    Danny
    http://www.dannyfoo.com/blog/

  20. David de Gernier says:

    Hello Anil, congratulations on launch. Re your comment “the install process is *much* easier. I’m certainly not a super-technical guy, and just by following the steps it was really easy — no need to edit a config file or any of that stuff.”

    This has been my experience.

    Over the years I have used various blogging platforms, and never found one I was completely happy with, even ones I designed myself. I always felt ‘something was missing.” It was as if I was being forced to use a Windows based platform when I knew there was something better out there — my Mac. :)

    Having used MT3 on a visit to a colleagues office, I was immediately smitten.Maybe this is THE blogging platform I have been looking for.

    I had a major no-commercial project in the pipeline which would involve a need for numerous blogs on our own servers so I decided to wait until MT4 was available before I switched over to it.

    I read all the reviews, followed all the pre launch beta testing comments and marketing hype with anticipation, and finally took the plunge and downloaded MT4 this week.

    I am no whiz at the technical side of server management, but I would consider myself a bit more technically savvy than the average man/woman who would wish to use MT4.

    Here are the results to date of my attempts to get up and running with MT4 out of the box.

    Ran MT system check on server. Server returned as having all the necessary requirements and being OK for running an installation of MT4.

    Set up a MySQL database (DBD::mysql & DBI.pm perl modules ) for MT use.

    I uploaded Movable type via FTP to the server using my Mac ftp client. (Fetch)

    MT4 setup wizard said that as server will not allow it to run from cgi_bin. directory it had to go in other directory. I moved it.

    I then had to change all the necessary permissions on .cgi files to 755 so they executed.

    This got the MT installer wizard to start. The wizard then told me that one of the MT Folders ( mt-static) had to be put outside the main MT folder so it could be on accessible webpath to run.

    However, no matter where I put it, the wizard could not find it, even though the web path address to it is correct. ( I can find it by putting webpath url in browser and get “mt-static OK” message )

    I then tried editing the mt-config.cgi file. This did not work either.

    I have a much better than the average server hosting account with one of the top providers in Europe. ( Unlimited number of domains/unlimited domain size/unlimited data transfer with full access and control)

    The current thought — according to a Server support engineer — as to why MT4 will not install properly was that.

    “MT was trying to connect to server through Port 80 which is dis-allowed”.

    End result? I still do not have MT4 to use. But I am not — yet — fully disheartened. I have now ordered a “paid for” installation from MT4.

    This will make it an expensive “free” solution, but if my expectations are realised it will be worth it. Watch this space :)

  21. Brian Turner says:

    I’m sorry, Anil, the only time MT is going to have a chance against WP is if you treat your customers right.

    I know a few years ago you didn’t – MT installed with comments and trackbacks open by default, and when Six Apart changed this they made the implicit statement that it was to reduce load on the Six Apart servers – no consideration for user experience.

    I used to use MT, but it couldn’t hold a candle to WP. WP is just so much more flexible as a platform and easier to admin. There’s nothing in the MT 4 notes that suggests Six Apart has even gotten near looking at such issues.

    In the meantime, I guess I remain an ex-customer of Six Apart who’s been given no reason to change his disgruntled view of the MT platform.

  22. Anil says:

    Brian, I’m not sure I follow what you’re saying — we have done a lot to improve the comment/trackback experience for MT users, and since MT is hosted on your own server, it was *purely* for the benefit of our customers and users, since MT doesn’t generate any load on Six Apart servers.

    Maybe a better example of how we’re trying to reach out to the community, and how that’s being responded to by bloggers is to look at Aaron’s MT4 video and his more recent post. Even since the comments he and I both posted above in this thread, we’ve been able to reach out and have a productive dialog. I’ll get in touch and hopefully you can see we’re trying to do the same for all of the members of the blogging community.

  23. Edward says:

    I’ve been running Movable Type 3.2 on Yahoo for while….I love it!! Movable Type 4.0 is now released, however Yahoo has not upgraded from version 3.2. My understanding is that Yahoo has not yet tested or approved 4.0 on it’s servers for “Automatic” updates.

    Does anyone know when Yahoo is going to upgrade the Movable Type version they provide in their Web Hosting from version 3.2 to 4.0?

    Thanks
    Ed
    Peningo Systems

  24. mark says:

    Stay in WordPress! I am trying installing it under windows 2003 server on a hosting where MT is welcomed but the automatic installation keeps on giving me the same problem days after days and nights spent on the net to find the solution. The installation of WP was perfect, this compared is a real disaster!

    ERROR:
    Can’t locate object method “configure” via package “MT::ObjectDriverFactory” (perhaps you forgot to load “MT::ObjectDriverFactory”?) at \\nas-002\winspace\10-eyes4u.net\www\mt\lib/MT.pm line 877.