Movable Type has never been Free Software, as defined by the Free Software Foundation. It has never been open source software, as defined by the Open Source Initiative. Six Apart survived and thrived in the blogging community because Movable Type was
Movable Type came with source code, so hack-minded individuals could add features like threaded comments or IP throttling. You weren’t free to redistribute complete versions of your hacked copy of Movable Type, but you could release patches, and that was free enough. It had a well-designed plug-in architecture, so it could be customized with a dizzying array of third-party plug-ins. You weren’t free to redistribute Movable Type with those plug-ins pre-installed, but you could install the plug-ins separately, and that was free enough.
It hit a certain sweet spot which is difficult to define but easy to recognize when it works. Also, it was light years ahead of its competition.
However, Movable Type stagnated while Six Apart grew and focused on other priorities, like TypePad. The limitations of Movable Type 2.6 were increasingly irritating, and I evaluated all of the available open source alternatives. I came away severely unimpressed. I decided to wait patiently for Movable Type 3.0.
When the time finally came, I snuck my way into the beta program for Movable Type 3.0, only to be sorely disappointed. Downloads were corrupted and required debugging to get working at all. Its two major features were TypeKey and comment moderation. TypeKey felt like a kludge and didn’t seem to solve any of the problems it purported to solve. (As far as I can tell, the main benefit of TypeKey is that is keeps out the sort of people who object to TypeKey on principle. This does not include spammers; I received several TypeKey-registered spam comments in the short time I was testing it.) Comment moderation was great, but it still didn’t properly rebuild my home page upon approval. Upgrading my templates was hellish, partly because the new template tags were undocumented, and partly because they generated invalid markup. Invalid markup!
And yesterday I learned, as most of you have probably also learned, that Movable Type 3.0 comes with a new licensing plan. 1 author and 3 sites is free. Up to 3 authors and 5 sites: $100. Up to 6 authors and 8 sites: $150. Up to 9 authors and 10 sites: $190.
I have 11 Movable Type sites. To upgrade to Movable Type 3.0 would cost me $700.
But wait! If I act now, I can take advantage of the special introductory price of $600. Also, all the voluntary donations I’ve made over the years also count towards my purchase. That was $20, and later $45. That brings the price down to $535.
$535 for comment moderation.
And what about Movable Type 4? How much will that cost?
Many people misunderstand Free Software and the GNU General Public License. Many people equate the GPL to the boogeyman, because it’s "viral", and that sounds like a bad thing. Here’s what viral licensing means: GPL software has the restrictions that it has, and that’s it. The GPL is quite restrictive on developers, not at all on end users. (More on that in a minute.) Regardless, GPL software has the restrictions that it has, but it can never become more restrictive. An upgrade can’t take away freedoms that I enjoyed with an older version.
A side effect of this is that, if I write a GPL program and then lose interest, and someone else picks it up and continues development, they are forced to release their version under the GPL. A new developer can’t take away freedoms that I enjoyed with the old version either.
I mention this because it’s exactly what happened with WordPress. It started life as b2, which was abandoned. But a year ago, a new community coalesced around a fork of the original b2, and it became WordPress. The new community included some of the original developers, and many new developers. Because the original software was GPL-licensed, WordPress was also GPL-licensed.
No one is allowed to fork Movable Type, because it’s not open source.
The WordPress development team is now working on releasing version 1.2. Version 1.2 will be GPL-licensed. Version 1.3, if it exists, will be GPL-licensed. Version 2.0, if it exists, will be GPL-licensed. I will never be surprised by the licensing of new versions of WordPress.
Freedom 0 is the freedom to run the program, for any purpose. WordPress gives me that freedom; Movable Type does not. It never really did, but it was "free enough" so we all looked the other way, myself included. But Movable Type 3.0 changes the rules, and prices me right out of the market. I do not have the freedom to run the program for any purpose; I only have the limited set of freedoms that Six Apart chooses to bestow upon me, and every new version seems to bestow fewer and fewer freedoms. With Movable Type 2.6, I was allowed to run 11 sites. In 3.0, that right will cost me $535.
WordPress is Free Software. Its rules will never change. In the event that the WordPress community disbands and development stops, a new community can form around the orphaned code. It’s happened once already. In the extremely unlikely event that every single contributor (including every contributor to the original b2) agrees to relicense the code 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.
Movable Type is a dead end. In the long run, the utility of all non-Free software approaches zero. All non-Free software is a dead end.
This site now runs WordPress. Thanks to the wonderful people on the #wordpress IRC channel, I was able to migrate almost all of my complex Movable Type configuration, including custom URLs (so permalinks shouldn’t break, and you won’t need to resubscribe to my syndicated feeds).
It’s not about who has a right to make a living (everyone does); it’s not about how nice Ben and Mena are (I’ve met them, they are very nice); and it’s certainly not about eating. I’ve taken the $535 that Movable Type would have cost me, and I’ve donated it to the WordPress developers.
It’s not about money; it’s about freedom.
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