Goodbye Melody, Hello WordPress

Leeds Station

It is with something of a heavy heart that I’ve decided to abandon Melody and move the blog to WordPress.

Long time readers will find this as a surprise – in the past, I’ve defended Movable Type when I’ve felt it under attack from WordPress ‘zealots’. Back then, WordPress was the new kid on the block, whilst Movable Type was much more established. Today, however, the situation has changed, and this is why I’ve made the change.

Movable Type

I left Movable Type earlier this year for a few reasons. Firstly, after trying Movable Type 5, I found it was aimed at large, professional blogs and not personal blogs like mine. The 4.3x line is still being maintained with security updates – MT 4.36 came out last week – but not with new features.

Melody

I hoped that Melody would provide a good continuation of MT 4.3x. Unfortunately I’m not that impressed – whilst it has improved some aspects of Movable Type, it hasn’t been the major step forward that I’d hoped it be. Furthermore, a number of plug-ins that I found really useful in MT didn’t work properly (or at all) in Melody, and as some of them were several years old and seemingly abandoned by their authors there was a slim chance of this happening.

It’s well known that the past few years has seen Movable Type stagnate. When I first started using it in 2002, there was a very active community developing plug-ins and themes for the platform. But this community has all but died out, and despite the best intentions of the Open Melody group it hasn’t re-ignited. The MT community is, basically, dead.

WordPress is where the community is. Whilst blogging in general is past its prime, WordPress still has a large number of themes and plug-ins which work with the latest version, plus active support forums. The documentation has even improved.

I’ve also changed. I don’t revel in spending all night adding new features and installing plug-ins. I want a blogging system that just works.

WordPress

What made me choose WordPress is taking over administration for the web site for one of the student groups that some friends are involved in. This previously used WordPress, and rather than try to shoe-horn it into Melody, I decided to stick with it. The system proved to much easier, more manageable and more slick than MT or Melody ever was. Upgrades, in particular, were very easy. So having used it for a while, a few hours ago I decided to migrate this blog too.

Getting the blog up and running in WordPress has been pretty easy. The import process from Melody was quite straightforward, and worked fine. I’ve then spent no more than a couple of hours trying some themes and getting the configuration in place. Despite being a completely different system, migrating from Melody to WordPress has taken about the same time as Movable Type to Melody.

The current theme is somewhat temporary – I haven’t yet decided on a final one. In the meantime I’d welcome any comments you may have.

Why I’m not switching to WordPress

Now that I’ve announced the book, I’ve had a couple of emails on the lines of “So I’m guessing you’re not switching to WordPress now, huh?”, and indeed I’m not. The book, however, is not the only thing that’s keeping me with MT and I’d like to use this (rather long) entry as a list of reasons why I’m not likely to switch any time soon.

Firstly, MT is what I’m used to. As of the middle of next month, I’ll have been using it for 2 years – whereas I’ve been using WordPress for less than 3 months. It’s the same reason why I use Windows as opposed to Linux – sure, Linux may be more secure and less likely to crash, but I know how Windows works and I feel comfortable in that environment.

Secondly, there’s the templating system, which I’m afraid to say, sucks. Again, maybe I’m just used to how MT works, but altering the way comments display in WordPress requires a lot more time and knowledge than it does in MT. In MT, the templates are totally separate from the MT source code – in WordPress, that separation isn’t so finely defined. Indeed, when you edit wp-comments.php (in 1.2) you’re faced with a 20 lines of PHP that you can’t edit before being able to dig in. And even then, you get comments like “if you delete this the sky will fall on your head” – hardly reassuring for a newbie.

Want to alter how the RSS feeds display? Then you have to edit a page with lots of PHP code which can’t be removed for fear of the sky falling on your head, and with a warning about this being an integral part of WordPress. You also need to know what the file is called since it’s not linked in the WordPress interface. Adding new pages, especially new types of feeds, seems to require a good understanding of PHP – adding a new template in MT is far, far easier.

WordPress isn’t all bad though, and it’s a whole load easier to install than MT is. In fact, a newbie to blogging* would be better off installing WordPress than MT, and includes nice blog-centric features like a links manager. But if you want to control how your site displays and don’t know much PHP then MT is the way to go, in my opinion.

(* = a newbie to blogging would really be better off on a service like Blogger or Typepad, but if they wanted something they could run themselves, WP would be easier than MT)

WordPress also wins on the comments front, despite what I said above, since it has much better comment management features built-in (although in 1.2 they are rather hidden away). That said, MT is brilliant once you have MT-Blacklist installed, since it deals with all the duplicate comments and spam perfectly, but that isn’t included out of the box (though it will be available with MT 3.1).

Rebuilds seem to be a bone of contention with some – if your web server isn’t so fast, they can take forever. I’ve never really had that problem as my host’s servers seem to run well (and I have optimised MT a bit to make it faster) but some people do find that rebuilds take forever for them. With that in mind, I suggest you wait for MT3.1 which adds support for dynamic pages. This will give you the best of both worlds – pages that get requested often like your indexes and feeds can be static, whereas other pages can be generated on the fly as needed. Sure, you can install a caching plug-in for WordPress but it’s not something that’s there out of the box (in 1.2, at least). The result is that rebuilds will be much quicker since only 2 or 3 files are being regenerated each time, plus, unlike in WordPress, you won’t have the PHP preprocessor kicking in and doing an SQL query every single time someone requests your RSS feed.

Rebuilds are also quicker in MT3.x due to its more efficient use of SQL queries and background tasks. Since upgrading to MT3, this site has been a whole lot faster, though I am working a new search script to replace mt-search which is a little slow.

Both packages have plug-ins and while WordPress kicks MT2.x’s arse in that respect, MT3.x does have much better plug-in support and many more hooks to allow developers to integrate their plug-ins with the MT interface without needing to modify the MT source code (detect a theme here?). For example, with MT-Blacklist installed, the comments mass editor has a ‘despam’ link added for running comments through the blacklist and removing the bad ones. As more plug-ins designed for MT3.x are released I’m sure we’ll see some truly great plug-ins that integrate tightly with MT.

MT’s help is better. There are some very extensive help documents provided with MT, whereas WP has a few links back to its rather sparse documentation pages on its web site. There’s also the wiki but like many wikis it suffers from a lack of structure, and some areas are quite patchy, in my opinion. Trying to have information only display on an individual entry page meant having to use a seemingly undocumented PHP function, for example. Apparently the #wordpress chat room is a good source of help but I’m not comfortable with asking for help in chat rooms and it assumes that you have an IRC client and that you’re on a connection that doesn’t block IRC like my university does.

This is getting quite long but as you can see, I have my reasons for not switching. What this isn’t is a “WordPress sucks and I can’t believe you all use it” rant, it is merely pointing out that WP is not for me. I’m sure that when WP reaches maturity it’ll be much better and I may give it another look when it hits 2.1 or something, but I’ve yet to be totally impressed. MT is at 3.01 now and feels much more mature than WordPress does. That said, my test install isn’t about to disappear any time soon, though a test install is what what it will remain.

I’ll leave comments open on here – I know this may seem controversial to some of you so please play nice.