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WordPress versus Movable Type: The Smackdown Comparison

Note: Because of some of the conversations going on between Movable Type and WordPress lovers, we asked someone who has used both extensively to give us his thoughts and weigh in on this conversation.

By Kevin D. Hendricks

It’s the ultimate blog/CMS software smack-down. The open source WordPress versus the new media giant Movable Type. I’ve been blogging since 1998 and after coding my pages by hand for five years I tried Movable Type in 2003 and loved it. But after five years I grew tired of difficulties with Movable Type and switched to WordPress.

So here’s a look at the pros and cons of each content management system based on my in-the-trenches experience.

Before we start, a few caveats:

  • Everybody’s different. Your needs, your goals, your level of comfort, your budget are all different, so different folks choose different systems for different reasons. Learn what you can from my experience, but things might be different for you. That’s OK.
  • It’s not always the software’s fault. Sometimes issues come up that are related to your hosting company or the way you installed something or the fact that you never upgraded. While it’s still a problem and still annoying, it’s not the software’s fault. Case in point: The primary reason I switched was because at least once a month spam bots would bring my site to its knees with their attempts to post comment spam. My host blamed it on Movable Type, though it was never an issue Movable Type could fix or others on Movable Type ran into. It ruined my experience, but I don’t blame the software.
  • Go with what you like. You have to think through a lot when you’re considering a content management system. But you also have to use that system a lot. So go with something you enjoy, even if it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles (but make sure it has what you need, otherwise your enjoyment will plummet with each frustrating use).

All right, let’s get down to it:

Round 1: Cost

One of the primary considerations is always cost. And here WordPress wins, hands down. I mean, come on—it’s free. You can’t compete with that. Well, I guess Movable Type tries with their MT open source version. If you’re using Movable Type for personal use, it’s free. But for anything else—commercial, nonprofit, educational—you need to buy a license that ranges from $50-$1,000, depending on how many people will be using the software. That’s a hefty investment.

Winner: WordPress

Round 2: Installation

Getting started is always the hardest part. WordPress brags about its super-easy “five minute installation,” and if you get everything right it will only take five minutes. But that assumes you can create a MySQL database and can find your database name, username and password. Getting hung up on those can stretch the installation time, but it’s still fairly straightforward. (There’s also a super quick and easy way to install it Using cPanel and the Fantastico script, which is offered by most web hosts.) Movable Type doesn’t make the same five minute claim, but it’s still a fairly easy process, if everything goes smoothly. The biggest potential hang-ups for installing either system are not entering the correct info and not meeting the system requirements. So read those directions.

In my experience it’s always been easier on WordPress, but it’s not a drastic advantage.

Winner: WordPress, barely

Round 3: Ease of Use – Daily Blogging

Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. Actually using the thing. And here there are two categories to consider: daily blogging and site maintenance. For daily blogging, I think it’s a draw. Both systems offer basically the same features, with a few pros and cons here and there. I think Movable Type is better designed and easier to use. But some of WordPress’s features work better (scheduling posts works great in WordPress though I could never get it to work in Movable Type—not to say it doesn’t work, but it never worked with my set up). WordPress offers a superior WYSIWYG editor, but it can also be a little flaky at times.

Winner: Tie

Round 4: Ease of Use – Site Maintenance

For site maintenance—and by this I mean anything that’s not blog posts, so sidebars, extra pages, the basic design of the site, etc.—I think Movable Type has some clear advantages. Finding and editing templates is easier. The module functionality makes it pretty straightforward to put a chunk of code on every page of your site and update it in only one spot. Plus using HTML instead of PHP was a huge plus for me (but that’s going to depend on what you know—and if you don’t know either, then there’s no difference).

But for all the customization advantages Movable Type has when it comes to site maintenance, I think WordPress does a better job with out of the box, basic customization. WordPress has a much better system of themes (swapping themes never worked well for me on Movable Type) and the sidebar widget is pretty incredible (if it works—some themes aren’t always widget ready, even if they say they are). The page functionality on WordPress is also great, if only because it’s simpler. You can do the same thing on Movable Type, but it’s not as easy. If you’re doing some basic customization I think WordPress is the way to go. But if you’re going to do more complicated stuff I think Movable Type is better suited for the task.

WordPress has a much better system of themes (swapping themes never worked well for me on Movable Type) and the sidebar widget is pretty incredible (if it works—some themes aren’t always widget ready, even if they say they are).

Winner: Tie

Round 5: Multiple Blogs

This isn’t an issue everyone will deal with, but it is a major difference between Movable Type and WordPress. With the default packages, a single installation of Movable Type can control multiple blogs. With WordPress you need a new installation of the software for every blog you want to control. Which means anything with multiple blogs is much easier on Movable Type, whether it’s simple upgrades or sharing information between blogs. There is a multiple user version of WordPress, but it’s a bit more complicated (you can kiss your five minute installation goodbye).

Winner: Movable Type

Round 6: Comment Filtering

If you’ve had any experience blogging then you know comments can be the greatest thing ever and the most frustrating thing ever. Getting feedback is awesome, but wasting your time dealing with comment spam is a nightmare. Out of the box WordPress comes with the Akisimet spam filter plug-in. It’s the greatest thing since sliced bread, assuming you activate it. Movable Type has had a revolving door of similar plug-ins and functionalities. While I haven’t tried the latest and greatest version, I’ve yet to see one work perfectly. I did add a simple plug-in to my Movable Type that required commenters to type a word to prove they weren’t spammers which eliminated the problem, but it’s still an extra step.

Winner: WordPress

Round 7: Support

What to do when something goes wrong is always a big question. In this case you get what you pay for. Movable Type has a robust, ticketed support system and as long as you still have a support contract you’ll get excellent help. Since WordPress is an open source project there’s no support staff to answer your questions at all hours, although there is a very active and searchable support forum. There is an enormous community willing to answer your questions, but it’s not quite the same.

Winner: Movable Type

Round 8: Plug-Ins

You can probably find a plug-in for either Movable Type or WordPress that will enable the system to do what you want to do. But it’s probably easier to find that plug-in for WordPress. It’s open source architecture is more attractive to plug-in programmers. But for either system you’re likely to find loads of out-dated, use-at-your-own-risk plug-ins.

Winner: WordPress, barely

Smackdown Winner: WordPress

In the end I think WordPress wins the smackdown, but it’s awfully close. Both systems offer a powerful set of features and will continue to be upgraded and (hopefully) improved. At some point you just need to pick one and run with it.

Now, what do you think?


  1. I’ve never used Movable Type so I cannot compare it to WordPress. I came to the WordPress platform after being a long time user of Expression Engine, a true content management system with a blogging feature (as opposed to a blogging platform with CMS capabilities). The reason for the switch is that WordPress is free and, for most sites, is a fine solution.

    On an unrelated note, it’s interesting to see you blog about something other than church marketing. Thanks for the writing the comparison!

  2. Well, I guess Movable Type tries with their MT open source version. But for anything else—commercial, nonprofit, educational—you need to buy a license that ranges from $50-$1,000,

    Not true. What you are describing applies to the commercial distribution available at movabletype.com
    The MTOS licensing(GPL2) is entirely separate, and free for any and all use. The primary difference is that MTOS does not have the various addons available to it(ProPack, Enterprise and Community Solutions), though it’s trivial to crossgrade to the commercial distribution if you need them later.

  3. Great article – wish it had been around a few months ago when I was doing this comparison! Although from a development standpoint, I considered MT to be marked up in its proprietary MTML or whatever it is, as opposed to PHP. This would be if you needed to write your own plugin. Since WordPress uses PHP, you know you could find someone who could write or modify a plugin reasonably easily, as opposed to something crafted in a proprietary language.

  4. I work with the Movable Type team, so I have a couple of corrections or clarifications I want to amplify here. First, as Su points out, Movable Type is free and open source, for any use, just like WordPress.

    In regard to comment spam filtering, TypePad AntiSpam is free, open source, and bundled with current betas of Movable Type as well as being available for recent versions of both MT and WordPress. And big blogs like TechCrunch have said it works *better*, out of the box, than Akismet.

    Finally, in regard to site maintenance, you simply ignore the repeated, significant security holes in WordPress that simply don’t exist in Movable Type. While the installation procedures in both platforms may be of comparable difficulty, the hassle of constantly having to update the software or risk being hacked just doesn’t happen with Movable Type. Take a look at Technorati’s own staff analyzing the situation, and you can see why WordPress blogs are gettiing pulled from search engines after they get hacked.

    i think that’s perhaps one of the most significant areas of site maintenance to consider, since nobody wants to see their site hacked, and no blogger wants to lose their search engine ranking.

  5. Anil, thanks for this … obviously, most of this is one person’s opinion and experience.

    WordPress in my experience is quick to clear up security issues with updates, and, knock on wood, with all the blogs/websites, including clients sites, I have running on WordPress I have yet to personally have a “security” issue … so I think that’s unfair to pull the extreme on that case.

    But I would actually enjoy the opportunity to try out MT and see what it has to offer. Just haven’t had the time and am consumed with WordPress.

    There are raving fans on both sides and from my observation, both have tons to offer people, and are great pieces of software.

  6. Anil,

    I think the security issues in WordPress have been adequately and promptly addressed each time a new one is discovered.

    However, knowing for a fact that most users are intimidated at the updating process, it is the responsibility of the WP team to make the upgrade process easier. I know several people who are running 2.1 builds of WordPress, simply because they don’t have the time, patience, or understanding to upgrade.

    This is a serious security risk.

    FWIW, I prefer WordPress for a couple different reasons …

    1. The template engine, and available free templates, for WordPress is far superior to the MT library. In fact, I just did a google search for “movable type templates” and did not see a single result on the first page that gave me a clear path to download a new template.

    2. The installation process for MT is very difficult. I was going to give MT a try about a month ago, but gave up when I realized I couldn’t install i locally on a XAMPP server, because I didn’t have cgi or something. Not cool.

    3. Caching should not be the default. Sure, MT sites run faster, but the tradeoff is the build process that you have to go through if you modify your template. If you have a lot of posts, this isn’t very reasonable.

    Just my .02

  7. Granata, thanks for the kind words. If you’d like to see more of my non-church marketing writing, I usually do plenty of that at my personal blog.

    Su & Anil, thanks for the corrections. I wasn’t very up on Movable Type’s open source version, and now that I’m looking into I can’t tell the difference between the free open source version and the paid-for licenses that do range from $50-1,000. Is it simply support vs. no support? If Movable Type has a five-year customer like myself confused, I feel sorry for new folks.

    As for TypePad Anti-Spam, I haven’t tried it, but it’s good to hear it’s out there. Sounds like Movable Type folks should give it a try.

  8. now that I’m looking into I can’t tell the difference between the free open source version and the paid-for licenses.

    That’s because you’re still looking at the wrong thing, and you’ll remain confused until you stop doing it. The issue isn’t a difference between the software you download. It’s the license that changes. Support/no support is a result of that difference, not the difference itself.

  9. I must say I tried Movable Type and got stuck in the installation process. So, the hosting support did it for me. Then, I thought, I’ll change theme,
    ‘cos I hate basic ones. That didn’t go well. I had major problems with enabling 2 .css files which I needed to make the theme work. Couldn’t figure it out. Went 2 support forum. Still didn’t understand how to. I got tired of this and uninstalled. However my WordPress blog which I installed from Fantastico is very well, and very up, and I had no problems with themes or add-ons so far. WordPress is easier and more intuitive, I guess. That’s my personal experience.

  10. I’ve been using WordPress for over two years for my blogs/web sites. And overall I have been happy. I wish WP devs would look at this post and take some valuable information away from it. Here is a roadmap to make WordPress even better.

    The MT Dashboard is beautiful. And the early versions of WP 2.5 admin I have seen was a huge step backwards. Inefficient to the point that I am looking into switching all my sites over to MT or Drupal.

  11. Personal experience here too: I’m more of an admin/devel interested in various CMS’s / blogging tools than an actual hardcore blogger, I’m not a CSS junkie, nor am I a PHP pro (but I know my way around both well enough that I can figure out what I need to do)

    I’ve used WP for a variety of personal sites through the years, and their progress really is amazing, it’s pretty simple to set up and use as a web site management tool. I’ve recently been exposed to MT 4.2 through my school.. and I’m ready to hurt someone.. it *has* to be the most kludgy way I’ve ever seen to implement any kind of design or style. I’m sure it works great for day to day blogging / spam / etc, but it’s seriously non-intuitive to play around with different looks and design for a site.

    Just my .02.. maybe I’m just having a rough time adjusting, but maybe I’m just spoiled by having the config for WP being obvious to me.

  12. As a web designer that specializes with Joomla, I’ve also included design for Movable Type and WordPress. Now with that being said, this is a good article, however, it really depends on the website concept that will determine which is best suited because whether you use Joomla, WordPress, or Movable Type, each has it’s pro’s and con’s.

    But comparing the WP and MT as it was done here, is commendable but to really understand both platforms and to really dig deeper than just simply installing and writing blog posts, you need to be involved in the installing, setup, design, development, management, and creative processes of each one to give a better comparison. But to also have done this a few times with different website concepts.

    In my view, WP offers a fantastic blog script for personal use and for small individual business bloggers that don’t worry too much on visual impact. Movable Type on the other hand is designed more for the business and corporate world…I mean just looking at their client list of users should tell you that. MT is not for the beginner who just wants to blog, its meant for serious business. And yes, it is free, unless you want support, then sure its a cost but for business its quite reasonable, but well worth it. The only ones that will complain are your individuals and newbie bloggers who didn’t do their homework. WP does offer a forum for support but are you sure you will get the right answer and even quick response? As a business, you need FAST and accurate support, as a personal or individual business blogger, WP forums may suffice.

    Overall, WP is a great simple basic and easy blogging platform for individuals and personal use. However, for serious business that needs to run more than just a simple blog but to run it more like a full cms, Movable Type wins here. Although, if you throw Joomla into the pack, Joomla beats both platforms down and leaves them in the dust!

  13. I’ve used MT for work and WP for my personal site, I didn’t have to install MT so I can’t comment on that installation, however I did have some trouble installing WP but this was due to my hosting service, after that issue was solved it was pretty simple.

    I found both systems where easy to customize and design for, MT’s tags where pretty easy to use,but still require some time to learn and would still be foreign to anyone with no coding experience, WP’s use of PHP is great for anyone (like myself) who already knows the very popular scripting language.

    Through my personal experience I’ve found that there are more themes and plugins available for WP, I’ve also found WP easier to update and upgrade.

    Overall I think both are good systems but I prefer WP.

  14. I would like to point out the resources available for MT and WP. I worked a lot for both of the systems. For newbies WP is easier to use, templates plugins are very easy to configure and use. Templates can be found everywhere to suit your needs, so no problem at all. The only thing WP is lacking is security. It is highly vulnerable to hackers. If this issue be solved WP is clear winner not only over MT but also over joomlas and drupals and so on.



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