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May 16, 2004

Brouhaha

MT 3.0 was released this week, and the announcement was greeted with an unprecedented furor. No longer would MT be free for (unlimited) personal, noncommercial use. Instead, the license fee would depend on the number of blogs and authors. In response to the outpouring of complaints, Six Apart “clarified” (read changed) their licensing terms to read as follows.

Pricing for MovableType (Personal Use)
Free VersionPersonal EditionPersonal Edition
10
Personal Edition
13
Personal Edition
add-on
“Active” Weblogs3510131
“Active” Authors1510131
Pricefree$99.95$149.95$189.95$9.95
Introductory Pricefree$69.95$119.95$149.95$9.95

There’s a certain schadenfreude in contemplating the feverish late-night discussion which led to a revised pricing scheme in which it is cheaper to buy the 5-author license and 8 add-on packs ($179.55) than to buy a 13-author license ($189.95). [OK, at the introductory price, it’s only $0.40 cheaper to go à la carte, but still …]

Even more significant than the increased weblog/author limits, was a liberalization in what those terms meant, for the purpose of the license. The number of weblogs is no longer defined by the number in the user-interface (many people use several “sub-blogs” to assemble their weblog), but rather the number of distinct URL’s. And we only count “active” authors and weblogs (those with new posts in the previous 90 days) towards the total count. This helps a lot. With the two blogs I host here on golem, I can comfortably get by with the $70 license.

There are three obvious options for most MT users

  1. Switch to an open-source alternative, like WordPress.
  2. Stick with MT 2.661, and its more liberal licensing scheme.
  3. Ungrade to MT 3.0.

MT 2.661 did not suddenly cease to work when 3.0 was released. So there’s no reason not to keep using it, if it’s working for you. On the other hand, like any piece of abandon-ware, you cannot expect Six Apart to release fixes for any of the numerous bugs which have been uncovered in 2.661, nor for any that will surely be discovered in the future. Luckily, you have the source and, if you are comfortable patching it, you can keep it working forever.

I’m not averse to paying for software that I like. Like Mark Pilgrim, I’m a MacOSX user. Instead of running Linux (or Darwin) I’m willing to pay for the privilege of running software with features not available in its open-source alternatives. But, unlike Apple, which I expect to be around for some time to come, and which I expect will release major revisions to its OS at regular intervals for a price of $129 (and considerably cheaper at UT’s site-license), I’ve no idea whether Six Apart will be around for the long haul, nor what their licensing terms for MT 4.0 will be.

That uncertainty is very troubling to me. I’ve spent a lot of effort developing the software for people to be able to post mathematical content on their blogs. I chose MT as a platform, not only because it was the most capable weblog software for the purpose, but also because I expected that it would remain free for personal, noncommercial use. Now I’m not so sure …

MT 3.0 sports significant extensions to the API, which ought to drastically simplify life for plugin authors like me. Perhaps (I haven’t really looked closely enough) my modifications to MT could be achieved without extensively patching the source code. A set of plugins and some modified templates, without any nasty patching of source-code, would make it infinitely easier for others to replicate what I’ve done here at Musings. But, with the new, restrictive licensing, fewer people would want to avail themselves of the easier installation.

For the vast majority of MT users, the obvious answer is to switch platforms. WordPress, in its current state of development, is adequate to their needs. And they can be assured that it will always be free.

I’m not in that position. If WordPress had the features needed to do what we do here at Musings, or if I could feasibly add those features, I would switch in a minute. But it doesn’t, and I can’t. I say that, not out of malice, but out of wistfulness. Matt’s a friend, and he and his colleagues are doing a great job with WordPress. It’s just not a feasible alternative for me … yet.

For the present, I’m sticking with MT. I’ll probably even pony up for the upgrade to 3.0. But if a suitable open-source alternative comes along …

Update (5/18/2004): In response to a comment by Anil Dash of Six Apart, I wrote the following on Phil Ringnalda’s blog. I think I ought to reprint it here:

But, after all, this *is* a developer release, and somebody like you can do things that you couldn’t do before (not just technically– you can sell services around MT now, like installation or plugins, and you can become a hosting partner for MT) so hopefully that makes up for things a little bit.

And, since I’m not involved in running or judging the plugin contest, I can say that I hope you enter and get yourself your share of the goodies. :)

Oh Joy! Now I can make money developing plugins for MT.

Thanks. I’ll keep my day job.

I can’t speak for Phil, but I didn’t get into developing for MT because I thought I could somehow make money off it.

To the contrary, the thing that worries me the most is that people, unhappy with the licensing restrictions, will flee the platform and my work will have been wasted.

If not with MT 3.0, then with MT 4.0 or …

Already, the idea of using MT 3.0 as courseware seems to have been rendered prohibitive by the new licensing terms.

I want 6A to succeed as a company. But I also want to know that I am not wasting my time.

Update (6/17/2004): 6A’s new pricing seems much more reasonable, both for individual and Educational users. And, much to my delight, they’ve upgraded me to an “Unlimited” Personal Edition.

Posted by distler at May 16, 2004 3:11 AM

TrackBack URL for this Entry:   http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/cgi-bin/MT-3.0/dxy-tb.fcgi/362

9 Comments & 0 Trackbacks

Re: Brouhaha

I’d pay for MT 3.0 in a cotton-picking minute if it had MTValidate-like functionality built in. Between my webhost’s restricted environment, and my total lack of knowledge about all things Perl, I can’t install the modules that MTValidate requires. Sigh.

Posted by: Evan on May 16, 2004 1:14 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

MTValidate

Installing the Perl modules is the easy part. Get your webhost to execute the command

perl -MCPAN -e "install Bundle::W3C::Validator"

The slightly harder requirement is the SGML parser onsgmls from the OpenSP package of SGML/XML processing tools.

If you have shell access, you may be able to compile that yourself, and configure the MTValidate plugin to point to the binary.

Posted by: Jacques Distler on May 16, 2004 5:44 PM | Permalink | PGP Sig | Reply to this

Re: MTValidate

I do have shell access, but you have to be root to execute that Perl command. I will try begging them to do it for me, we’ll see how that goes.

Posted by: Evan on May 17, 2004 1:33 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

CPAN

you have to be root to execute that Perl command.

Umh, not exactly. I believe you can use CPAN to install modules in a local directory (e.g. your MovableType extlib directory).

From the CPAN manpage:

5) I am not root, how can I install a module in a personal directory?
You will most probably like something like this:
o conf makepl_arg "LIB=~/myperl/lib \
INSTALLMAN1DIR=~/myperl/man/man1 \
INSTALLMAN3DIR=~/myperl/man/man3"
install Sybase::Sybperl
You can make this setting permanent like all “o conf” settings with “o conf commit”.

Try doing “man CPAN” for more details.

Posted by: Jacques Distler on May 17, 2004 1:56 AM | Permalink | PGP Sig | Reply to this

Re: Brouhaha

This is completely OT, but that pricing table that you posted up there sure is an excellent example of an ideal use for tables in the modern semantic web. Nicely done.

Posted by: Scott Johnson on May 16, 2004 1:56 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Brouhaha

Getting back on topic…

For the present, I’m sticking with MT. I’ll probably even pony up for the upgrade to 3.0. But if a suitable open-source alternative comes along …

I think I’m probably going to go the same route. The majority of the plugins that I use for MT 2.6x will work in 3.0. There will be discount pricing for MT3 beta testers announced next week, so I’m sure I’ll be able to afford the upgrade.

I don’t mind paying for software that I use. And I use MT quite a bit. It is a very valuable tool to me. Paying full price is still quite the bargain in my eyes.

Posted by: Scott Johnson on May 16, 2004 2:00 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Brouhaha

I’m curious how this is going to affect TypeKey. I think at one point TypeKey was poised to become an inevitability: if you wanted to participate in blogs then you had to register.

I think the exodus has started and will continue, in spite of the backtracking. The bigger damage is not the actual licensing terms, but the uncertainty 6A has created. That’s going to be very hard to fix, and I’m not sure if they can.

If that’s the case, then I suspect they won’t achieve the critical mass required to make TypeKey successful. That would be the first sign of their loss of the prime market mover position.

It seems to me that’s a very valuable thing that deserves careful cultivation. I don’t know why companies would throw it away, but they do. Just ask Red Hat.

Posted by: chip on May 18, 2004 2:55 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

TypeKey is as TypeKey does

Amusingly, even to download the free version of MT 3.0, you have to register for TypeKey.

That’ll ensure something of a client base.

Posted by: Jacques Distler on May 18, 2004 3:04 PM | Permalink | PGP Sig | Reply to this

Re: TypeKey is as TypeKey does

I haven’t signed up for another TypeKey account since they put the CAPTCHA in at the end of the beta; wonder if you can still sign up with a dodgeit.com “email address”?

Posted by: Phil Ringnalda on May 18, 2004 10:40 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

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