MT shite hits the fan

Movable Type has changed its licensing and pricing structure and it looks like the shite has really hit the fan. I’ll admit to a small feeling of smugness at having run my own custom-built system for three years now.

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  1. I think the best take on all this I’ve read so far is Jay Allen’s The Collective Deep Breath. This is just the start of the process of rolling out a thoroughly rewritten version of MT, and since the software itself is not ‘crippleware’ it will be very easy for Six Apart to adjust licensing terms if they’re persuaded that it’d be worth their while.

    That said, there’s no doubt that Six Apart have shot themselves in the foot by restricting the numbers of users and weblogs in the free edition so harshly. The best suggestion I’ve seen – IIRC it’s somewhere in the MetaFilter thread you linked to – is that instead of limiting the free version of MT 3.0 to a single user and 3 weblogs, they should have allowed up to 10 users/weblogs, and left it to the user to decide whether to ‘spend’ that allowance on 8 weblogs + 2 users, 3 weblogs + 7 users or whatever. At the moment I don’t think that I’d upgrade to MT 3.0, but that’s more because I don’t feel any great need for the new features announced to date. If they throw in some nifty new features when MT 3.1 appears then I’d seriously consider spending money on an upgrade to one of the pieces of software I use every single day.

    The final point is of course that existing MT 2.* installations will continue to work just fine after MT 3.0 comes out, and if you wish to move to another CMS instead of following the upgrade path which Six Apart have laid out MT will happily export your entries and comments in a documented, plain-text format. Nobody is being locked in to MT unless they choose to be, and the amount of vitriol aimed at Six Apart for somehow ‘abandoning’ the user base that got them where they are today is absurd. MT is not and never was open source software, and if you donated or paid for a copy then you’ve spent the time since using what you paid for. It was no secret that MT 3.0 was coming, nor was it ever implied that a donation bought you a lifetime’s-worth of upgrades to MT.

    Of course, none of this in any way negates your right to feel smug that you wrote GoddessBlog and thus bypassed this whole mess.

  2. Interesting. From a software company standpoint, I completely agree with 6A’s stance. Any price they set was going to be criticized by somebody. That said, I don’t understand why the announcement was handled so clumsily and made so unnecessarily complex. There were a number of issues that immediately raised red flags with a lot of the MT user base: “What counts as a blog?”; “I have way more authors than that!”; “Why the random CPU restriction?”; “TypeKey was supposed to be optional; why do I have to register to download?” etc. I just find it astounding that nobody there anticipated these things. (Six Apart have already issued a clarification, though they don’t mention the TypeKey issue.) And I read a great quote on somebody else’s blog: “If you have to have a ‘Licensing Wizard’ for people to figure out how much to pay, your License is too complicated.”

    I just think this whole MT incident is interesting because it really illustrates *why* open-source software is important. I wasn’t a zealot and I’d never really thought much about it before, but I’ve been converted a bit. I can see where the anger is coming from. Weblogs are very *personal* things, and it’s suddenly become apparent to some folks that 6A do have a certain measure of control over your blog (whereas before it was a no-limits free-for-all). I just wouldn’t be comfortable with it. I’m fine trusting commercial software to edit photographs or organize my mp3s, but when it comes to the 14,000 posts and comments that have been published here over the past three years, I’d rather not rely on any entity besides myself. (I’d even prefer to host it myself, but the Snook has so far nixed that idea.)

    So I agree that some of the anger is misplaced, but I can see where it comes from. Nothing MT does is very complicated in programming terms, and a lot of their success has come from having a critical mass of users (like TrackBack and plugins and such). Of course people are going to feel abandoned.

    I’ll also add that a lot of that feeling comes from “The Cult of Ben and Mena”, as I read it. I’m sure they’re very nice, but it’s very annoying every time I read another A-list blogger rising to their defense just because they’re all in the same clique. I bet a lot of folks are upset because they felt they had a special relationship with two fellow geeks (and blogging celebrities), and now the relationship has changed. I think the reaction to MT 3.0 showed that it doesn’t take a lot to piss the proletariat enough to knock you off your pedestal.

  3. Oooh, and Mark Pilgrim has an excellent post about Movable Type and open source that sums everything up much better than I can.

  4. I read the 6A update a bit later on yesterday after posting my comment. Although it isn’t a feature I use myself, I find their confirmation that the use of sub-weblogs to control different parts of a single site will not count against the maximum number of weblogs allowed under a license reassuring. I’m not planning on starting a ‘remaindered links’ section – after all, that’s pretty much all my weblog is anyway! – but it’s good to know that the option of managing sidebar content that way is still open to me. I’d say that if the original announcement had incorporated the clarifications and concessions that 6A have now announced then a lot of steam would have been taken out of the issue; the complicated licensing arrangements and the sheer degree of ‘sticker shock’ on seeing some of those prices would still have caused some comment, but at least you wouldn’t have what seemed like every other MeFi poster arguing that they were going to have to kill five of their friends and delete all evidence they’d ever authored posts on their shared weblog just to save US$50.

    (One of the concessions mentioned in the latest 6A post is telling. If the single CPU restriction wasn’t supposed to be in the license, why the hell was it in there? I’d been sceptical of the “they were panicked into rushing MT 3.0 out by the Blogger revamp” theory, but this sort of elementary mistake makes me wonder whether it really is just a case of 6A allowing themselves to be panicked into making an announcement before they’d thought it through. Or is it just a sign that 6A are a two-person concern undergoing embarrassingly public growing pains?)

    For what it’s worth, I don’t see this brouhaha as illustrating the importance of Open Source software. If anything, I’d say that it illustrates the importance of the use of openly-documented data structures, so that I can rescue my data from the clutches of whatever tool I happen to be using at any given time. If you’re happy to entrust your MP3s to a commercial program I’m guessing that at least in part that’s because it simply manages your MP3 collection, as opposed to destructively converting the original MP3 files into some weird proprietary format. If you’re using Photoshop or some other commercial image editing software, you’ll probably have little trouble moving to another package which can read .PSD files, or TIFF, or JPEG or PNG or GIF or whichever other format you’ve chosen to use. In each case, a move to a different tool would be a pain insofar as you’d have to relearn how to accomplish certain tasks which you barely needed to think about in your current favourite, and there might be the odd mismatch features-wise, but you’d soon get past that if you had to. My copy of MT will keep working tomorrow regardless of what 6A do about the MT 3.0 license, and if I decide that I have to move to WordPress or b2evolution or whatever then it’ll take me some time to get my head round a new template system and what have you but my posts and their associated comments will be safe.

    As far as Mark Pilgrim’s argument goes, I’m not convinced. First of all, his conclusion that “It’s not about money; it’s about freedom.” would sound a lot more convincing had he not been using MT 2 (which also had a restrictive license, just not one which happened to have impeded his use of the software) prior to the fuss over MT 3.0’s licensing. He argues that “In the long run, the utility of all non-Free software approaches zero.” Let me respond by quoting John Maynard Keynes: “In the long run, we are all dead.” In the meantime, non-Free software that lets us get the job done and doesn’t trap our data has considerable utility.

    Arguing that if your favourite open source package is abandoned then someone else can pick it up and continue development is all well and good, but what if the new developers choose to implement a feature you really didn’t want, or revamp an existing feature in such a way that you no longer find it very useful? True, they can’t revoke your license to carry on using the older version: but then, 6A haven’t revoked my license for MT 2.661 either. Pilgrim’s ultimate solution to this dilemma is beguilingly simple: “[In the event that everyone involved in the development of WordPress suddenly agreed to place WordPress under a more restrictive license] I can still fork the current GPL-licensed code and start a new community around it. There is always a path forward. There are no dead ends.” As long as you’re a software developer with the time and skills required, that’s true. I don’t think that it’s quite that simple for the rest of us.

    I agree that conceptually MT is a fairly simple piece of software, but there’s a huge leap from my understanding what it does in high-level terms to my being able to replicate its functionality. If MT has reached critical mass and gained whatever ability it has to influence the development of weblog-related services and plugin functionality, isn’t that largely because so many people were able to install it and use it without much bother, rather than because of A-list endorsements or how cute Ben & Mena are?

  5. I don’t want to get into too much of an argument over this, given that I’ve never even touched Movable Type, but I still think you’re underestimating the bandwagon factor. I found this comment on Graham’s site very telling:

    “Why did I even bother with MT? I switched to MT like a lot of people, because it was free, famous, and popular. It didn’t actually offer any more features (that I use) than the PHP-based software I developed myself. Now, paying hundreds of dollars for software that’s no more useful to me than something I could put together myself in a week just doesn’t make sense, and most people who aren’t running very fancy CMS sites will feel the same way. Case study in how to misunderstand your market.”

    Graham also makes some more points in the “open source” argument (but I think you’ve already got your hands full taking on Pilgrim on your own site). He also points out that those of us in countries with weak currencies would be paying even more exorbitant fees than those in the US.

    Like I said, I don’t really have a hardline position on this one way or the other. I’m just glad I don’t have to deal with it.

  6. I’ve been a bit busy, so I’ve only now got round to posting a response to Mark Pilgrim’s comment. No doubt the forthcoming forensic dissection of my argument will be most entertaining for onlookers. 🙂

    I agree that a lot of webloggers are well capable of duplicating whatever fraction of MT’s feature set they need. Even so, I rather think that they may be slightly over-represented in the various discussion threads about the MT3 announcement/pricing fiasco. I’m pretty sure that the average MT user is more like me: knows enough to copy some files to a web server and tweak the odd template, but wouldn’t dream of writing our own CMS.

    (The high profile of the ‘defectors’ is going to be costly for the image of MT in the short and even medium term. In the long run – particularly once 6A start adding features again when MT3.1 appears – I’m not sure how much of a dent MT’s popularity will suffer. I think this might end up paralleling that whole ‘iPod battery’ crisis of a few months ago: a lot of noise in the short term, but relatively little long-term effect.)

  7. “Case study in how to misunderstand your market”
    What many people fail to understand is weblogs are no longer the market of 6A and MT. No one has ever made money from a CMS for personal weblogs.
    Their market is much more focused on commercial and large-scale implementations. Frankly, the free version is merely a PR vehicle.

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