Movable Type's Movable Feast

You're reading this post on a Web page created and managed by the Movable Type blogging system from Six Apart. Even though I'm on vacation, I noticed yesterday that Six Apart created a firestorm by releasing their 3.0 version with practically no new features and introducing mandatory pricing for a number of licensing categories that were previously free. Donations were welcome in the past for personal use, and commercial use required a non-enforced fee.I'll be happy to pay. I use tons of free and open-source software, and try to contribute to that process by reporting bugs, since I'm not a programmer. But I gladly pay for software that no open-source product has replicated, which typically includes software that requires a user interface (this is less and less true every day, though), my backup software (Dantz Retrospect), and my blogging software. The folks at Movable Type didn't test price sensitivity enough before announcing the move and generated thousands of blog entries, many of them on MT systems, about the pricing. They've since fixed the pricing model quite a bit, and I expect even more alignment to how people are using Movable Type informally instead of within the specific free guidelines they initially issued. An important element of this mistake that you shouldn't miss is that on posts like the one above on pricing revision or this one on Mena Trott's blog -- she's one of the founders -- the critique is right there on the same page through their Trackback system which allows blogs to ping each other when posts reference other posts. (It's not Ted Nelson's Xanadu, and it's not Technorati's outside-in link analysis, but it's useful nonetheless.) So while the Trotts and Six Apart are being hacked to death, they're not a company that insulates themselves from these attacks and critiques; rather, the criticism is co-incident in Web space with the statements being referenced. This is an extraordinary development in business history. On the more pedestrian side, the move from 2.x to 3.0 doesn't carry with it enough features that if it were commercial software, people would feel good about paying an upgrade fee. I tried out the alpha, and didn't devote much time to it, frankly, because it seemed to work so identically to 2.x that I was unable to figure out what I was supposed to be testing except for a few gross problems which I reported and which were fixed. But I agree with many colleagues who note that Six Apart never claimed this was free or open-source software. Rather, it was freely available software in the current version, and they had a commitment to maintaining some free personal use. It was never free for commercial use, even if you didn't pay -- if you didn't pay as a commercial user, you were violating the terms of service, and they politely didn't attack you for it. As far as I can tell, the license fees are still on the honor system. Now, I paid my commercial fee because Wi-Fi Networking News is a commercial operation. Six Apart says fees paid as donations (I think my fees count) for previous versions will be applied toward 3.0 licensing fees at 100 percent. So I may owe little or nothing to upgrade my license. The big changes in 3.0 are the addition of a registration system called TypeKey that blog operators can optionally tie into (you have to pay your honor system fees to use that system, which is one of the big payment incentives); actual direct tech support, which was previously ad hoc and community forum based, although it worked quite well; and a rewritten back-end which should dramatically improve its speed. Other features didn't make it in, like photoblogging, and there's a lot of anger from bloggers who stayed committed to Movable Type expecting substantial new features and are finding instead a pricing statement and a behind-the-scenes update. The flip side of this, of course, is that most nascent software companies wind up rewriting their early core engine to be more robust and modular, and that makes it substantially easier to add more sophisticated features more quickly. Adobe eventually abandoned PageMaker's code base because it was so old and ugly, despite rewrites, that they couldn't build a modern desktop publishing architecture on top of it. Within a couple of years of releasing InDesign, however, they have the best-in-class desktop publishing package, oceans ahead of Quark's feeble improvements, and lightyears beyond PageMaker. I'm happy to give Six Apart my money and time. I know they'll get there.