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Recently I wrote about the decisions I made, and the experiences I had, when choosing and installing some Blog software. In the end, I narrowed down my personal list of CMS (Content management System) Blog packages to just five that seemed to offer the particular features I required. These are WordPress and b2evolution (these two packages have been independently developed from a common ‘ancestor’ called b2), LifeType (formerly called pLog), Pivot and TextPattern.

As I said previously, there is no one Blog package which is likely to satisfy all users. Each has its own strengths, weaknesses and idiosyncrasies. However, the five packages which I selected are all well respected and command a dedicated following of users. If you are interested in trying them (and others) for yourself, you should visit the excellent Open Source CMS site, which hosts ‘live’ demo installations.

Rather than go through an exhaustive list of the features provide by these packages, I thought it would be interesting to find out some of the vital information which is often overlooked in feature lists. How ‘mature’ are they and how many people are currently developing them? Advanced age is, of course, no guarantee of quality; nor is a large team of developers necessarily better than a small team. However, when you compare these packages, taking into account their relative complexity and robustness in use, some knowledge of the development history and the size of the development teams may colour your opinion of each package’s qualities and its future prospects.

One other thing that is important to me (though not, it would seem, to some CMS developers) is data exchange. Having entrusted your Blog, diary or novel to their software, how easy will it be to extract all your entries and import them into some other software, should you wish (or need) to do so at a later date?

And finally, just to let the developers have the last word, I wanted to know what they thought made their CMS/Blog different and special?

These are the Blogs I installed and the sites from which you can download them:

LifeType (pLog) http://www.lifetype.net/
b2evolution http://www.b2evolution.net/
TextPattern http://www.textpattern.com/
Pivot http://www.pivotlog.net/
WordPress http://wordpress.org/

These are the questions I asked:

  • 1. When was the first version of this CMS released?
  • 2. How many people are actively involved in core development?
  • 3. Can you easily import data from other Blogs/CMS? If so, what data formats are supported?
  • 4. Can you easily export data to facilitate import into other Blogs/CMS? If so, what data formats are supported?
  • 5. In brief, what is the main advantage which this CMS has over its competitors?

The answers to my questions were supplied by members of the development team for each of the five CMS/Blogs. They are LifeType/pLog: Oscar Renalias, Lead developer and founding developer; b2evolution: Francis Planque, Project Manager and Main Developer; TextPattern: Sencer Yurdagül, member of the development team; Pivot: Bob den Otter, main developer; WordPress: Mike Little, co-founding developer.

When was the first version of this CMS released?

TextPattern: Private (alpha) releases were made as early as 2002. The first public release was "TextPattern beta 1" which was released on February 17, 2003 after which there was a cycle of beta, gamma and rc releases. August 14, 2005 marks the date when we released the first (officially) stable version of TextPattern which was named 4.0 and also marks the adoption of a more user-friendly release-scheme.

LifeType: pLog 0.1 was released on the 2nd of September 2003.

WordPress: WordPress grew as the official successor to Michel Valdrighi's b2/cafelog blogging software.  The b2 project was started around July 2001 by Michel. In late 2002, Michel found he could not continue to develop b2 because of personal commitments. On the 23 May 2003 Michel Valdrighi announced: "Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little are leading the new WordPress branch of b2, that is going to become the new official branch once they get a release out." The first non-beta release of WordPress was 0.7 in May 2003. Release 0.71 followed in June January 2004 saw the leap to version 1.0 May 2004 saw the next major release of WordPress, version 1.2 February 2005 gave us the release of version 1.5  Since then there have been a couple of bug/security fix releases, with 1.5.2 the current version.  Version 1.5.x has been downloaded more than 700,000 times!

Pivot: Somewhere late 2001, although that version looked nothing like it does now.

b2evolution: b2evolution was first released early 2003. However it is built upon b2 which was first released in 2001.


How many people are actively involved in core development?

TextPattern: There are currently 4 people that have commit access to the repository and all 4 are actively contributing.

LifeType: Currently we have myself working in the core code itself, with some help from lead co-developer Mark Wu and regular contributors Benjamin Krause and Jon Daley.

WordPress: Matt Mullenweg and Ryan Boren drive all the development. Patches and bug fixes are contributed be a core of about 4 - 6 other developers.  It's worth mentioning there is a core of half a dozen very active Documentation developers too. Additionally, there are 10 or more support volunteers on the forums.

Pivot: Three coders (with access to the 'main code', 2 people who contribute bits  and pieces of code, 2 people who run the forum and take care of support,  and quite a few regulars who help out on the forums.

b2evolution: Six.


Can you easily import data from other Blogs/CMS? If so, what data formats are supported?

TextPattern: Importing is possible from MovableType (file and DB), Blogger, WordPress and b2. The import is available from the administration interface.

LifeType: At the moment we have no such  feature. I know Mark Wu had some plans for a universal importer and exporter, and he has already written some code. It has not been released yet and we don't know when it is going to be released.

WordPress: Yes. Currently you can import from b2, Blogger, Greymatter, Livejournal, Moveable Type, TextPattern, and RSS. More are planned for the next release.

Pivot: There are import routines for Moveable Type’s generic import format, Nucleus, phpweblog and Greymatter. Blogger can be imported via MT's import  format, and I’m working on an import tool for WordPress. Once Atom 1.0 is finalised, we'll provide both import and export for that format.

b2evolution: b2evo can import data from other blogs: b2, Movable Type, Geeklog and Manywhere miniblog. (WordPress import is also planned).


Can you easily export data to facilitate import into other Blogs/CMS? If so, what data formats are supported?

TextPattern: Currently it is only possible to output a MT-compatible (file) format, which can be done by creating a special template for it. There are currently no automated one-click exports available. However there is already code in the development version (of the next major release) that will offer an xml-based export-/import format.

LifeType: Same answer as above. It should not be too difficult to write some custom code to export all the data in the database to let's say, RSS 2.0, but so far nobody has been willing to implement that functionality and the core development team does not see it as a critical feature.

WordPress: There is a 3rd party plugin which exports to MovableType (MTimport) and SQL.

Pivot: Export in generic MT format will be made sometime in the near future, together with the Atom 1.0 export.

b2evolution: It is not really designed for this but you could use RSS or ATOM for this.


In brief, what is the main advantage which this CMS has over its competitors?

TextPattern: Depending on the requirements there are different advantages. Designers appreciate that they have almost complete control over the output, which is why you will seldom see two TextPattern sites that look alike. Authoring texts is made easy with Textile ("A humane web text generator"). Users that are coming from Drupal or Mambo often make positive comments about how fast it is possible to get going with TextPattern. Users coming from applications that are traditionally more weblog-oriented frequently praise the great flexibility and the possibility to mix and manage dynamic and "static" content. The way plugins can be seamlessly incorporated to customize front-end and backend allows everyone to extend TextPattern to their needs - most of the time without modifying core-code, this means avoiding (maintenance of) private forks and easily taking advantage of updates as they get released. Emphasis on the stable branches (currently 4.0.x) is put on backwards-compatibility, and since TextPattern keeps all user data in the database, updating is very easy. (And yes, that was the brief version of the answer ;) )

LifeType: LifeType provides a seamless multi-user and multi-blogging experience for communities. Installing LifeType is usually a snap, and the set of features users get in a default installation of LifeType is unmatched: built from the ground-up to support multiple users and blogs, support for 100% customizable URLs, out of the box support for sub-domains like blogger.com, generation of clean XHTML content, integrated media   management and podcasting, etc. Sure other solutions provide users with some of these features, but LifeType is the only one that delivers all the above and more in one single package. Additionally, LifeType is not just a blogging package but a blogging platform: we provide developers and site owners with lots of templates, lots of plugins, a powerful plugin framework and clean and easy to understand code so that they can customize LifeType and build exciting communities on top of it. This if of course hardly an advantage for end users, but we believe that not all communities are the same: they all have different requirements and goals and it is very important for us to make it easy for the owners of communities to fulfil their needs.

WordPress: Full standards compliance - XHTML styled with CSS out of the box. Supports PingBack and trackback, RSS/Atom/RDF for feeds, XFN and nofollow for links. No rebuilds - fully dynamic. Search engine friendly. Integrated blog roll/link manager, with import from other systems. Mature theme system with over 400 themes available. Sophisticated plugin system with over 500  plugins available. Anti spam measures out of the box. Password protected posts. Private posts. Non-blog Pages, (e.g. a static ‘About’ page). XML RPC for use with desktop blogging tools. Supports multiple-author community blogging  Much, much more!

Pivot: It does not require a database backend but runs on flat files, which  means that it'll run on servers where there's no MySQL available. Other than that it's aimed at people who do not want to deal with the technical  nitty-gritty, so we feel that no technical expertise should be required  to use Pivot. Most functionality works 'out of the box'. For those who do like to tinker, there's full access to the templates and tons of other options to configure the software to your needs.

b2evolution: It has a true multi-user multiblog multilanguage engine built into the core. Others blog tools can sometimes offer these features as hacks or add-ons but they aren't really efficient. It is designed to be used in all sorts of complex and twisted set ups, far beyond the basic "personal weblog" paradigm.

Huw Collingbourne

December 2005


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