Free Blogging Software.

In 1994, a friend of mine introduced me to Linux. He said that Linux was the only real way to surf the internet. That real hackers used Linux. So I tried and almost succeeded at installing the Linux 0.92 Kernel and XFree86.

The experience taught me two things.

  1. Free software has very poor documentation
  2. Free software is only as free as your time.

When I went to SGI in 1996 I avoided Linux like the plague until 1999 when I quite SGI to Network Appliance, where I once again started using Linux. In the intervening 5 years, I was actually impressed with the amount of progress that had been made in simplifying the installation and set up of Linux. So much so that I actually used the product for about 2 years, until I discovered the power of cut-and-paste in Windows.

But what does that have to do with blogging software? I wanted to do a full disclosure. I am not a free software advocate. I am an advocate of using tools that work and that are supported and that are well documented.

When Yahoo! announced that they supported a real-blogging tool, I was hooked. I could have a real blogging tool that was really supported by a real company.

Argh.

Yahoo! did an extraordinary job of making it easy to install and uninstall MoveableType and WordPress. And for that I commend them. And it was a good thing too. Because in a desperate attempt to configure my blog, I ended up destroying the configuration about half a dozen times.

Unfortunatley the ease of use of Yahoo!’s installater/uninstaller was not matched by the ease of use of WordPress and MoveableType.

WordPress and MoveableType are two separate blogging software packages that are supported in two distinct ways. WordPress is clearly a community supported system, involving hundred of volunteers who incrementally improve the product. MoveableType is backed by a real company that has real dollars that is trying to turn a profit.

And it shows.

The commercial company that supports MoveableType has a significantly more robust and easy to use management interface for managing your entire blogging infrastructure. Their target market is not a single blogger but a collection of blogs at a site. MoveableType’s documentation is superior and complete. Furthermore, MoveableType has a lot of features that make integration with plugins and extensions a lot simpler. Again an indication of a company that is trying to create an ecosystem around it’s product.

The community supported product WordPress, on the other hand, clearly feels like the kind of a tool a lone blogger at a web-site would use/maintain. It’s infrastructure is not designed to natively handle multiple blogs. However, because it’s targetted at the individual, the customization interfaces are a lot simpler to get at. Individuals want to make their blogs look unique. That’s why the install WordPress. If they wanted a generic blog they could just use any one of a thousand blog hosting sites.

WordPress unlike MoveableType has incomplete documentation, a difficult to use plugin/style system. Again designed around the assumption that the management of these things is done by one person and optimization of installation is not necessary since this is an infrequent event.

What’s interesting is that MoveableType has more plugins, but WordPress has more user-defined templates. In fact WordPress’ template scheme is substantially better designed/architected than the MoveableType. In WordPress each blog has a set of templates/stylesheets that can be individually modified. MoveableType replies on generated templates/stylesheets and providing true per-blog customization is significant chore.

Why did I choose WordPress? Because, in the end, I was not setting up 10 blogs but one blog, mine. As a result the robust set of interfaces of MoveableType were a lot less interesting as compared to the hundreds of blog templates I could study and steal to build my blog.

As for the documentation? WordPress is a community sponsored project. So that’s improving very quickly. In fact between the time I started this exercise and today, WordPress has added enough new doc’s to call it a draw.

And why the frustration? Because I tried to use MoveableType to customize my one blog, and only after fighting for 5 days, did I realize I was using the wrong tool. Once I moved to WordPress and learned the mechanics of php, cascading style sheets and html, it was a breeze to configure.

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