October 21, 2007

Upgrading Movable Type Is Like Getting Hit By A Bus While Watching An Airplane Crash

You think I'm kidding?

You may have noticed that for the past week, there haven't been any new posts and new comments weren't being accepted. That's because the site was up while the blog engine-- Movable Type-- had detonated itself. 

The problem is that upgrading Movable Type requires a level of technical sophistication that seems ridiculous to expect of anyone.  Movable Type comes with these handy instructions:

  1. Make a backup of your database - Whenever you are making a change to your system such as this, it is always considered wise to make a backup of your data just in case you need to undo anything you might have done.

  2. Download Movable Type 4.0 - Once you have backed up your system, download Movable Type to your web server.

  3. Unzip Movable Type - Using your preferred unzipping software, unpack the Movable Type archive onto your file system.

  4. Copy Movable Type's Files Over Your Old Installation - Copy all of Movable Type 4.0's files over your old installation of Movable Type.

  5. Consult "Important Changes You May Need to Make" - In this guide you will find a section devoted to a list of things that everyone upgrading should be aware of. Read this section carefully and make any changes applicable to you.

  6. Login to Movable Type.

While these instructions are typed and have correct punctuation, they do not actually prepare the average user to perform an upgrade.  Do you know what the server name for MySQL database is?  Exactly. Turns out it isn't "localhost," which is weird because that's what Movable Type defaults into the entry box.

The answer, as it happens, is "mysql" which seems shamefully obvious in retrospect. The 'obvious' part is in retrospect; the 'shamefully' part is every time you interact with support people.   

Can anyone tell me why I can install Windows Microsoft Office with one or two obvious mouse clicks, but upgrading Movable Type requires me to ftp then chmod the following 14 files:


oh, wait, you don't know what chmod is, either.

Before the slashdot crowd hurl Diet Cokes at me, let me point out that this software is supposed to be for bloggers. That includes the 14 year old who writes the blog I Like Rainy Days, a delightful pink blog with bunnies I just made up.  What, she doesn't deserve to use Movable Type?  She has to stay on MySpace?  This is the wold's biggest problem with software designers: they understand functionality, but not usability.  Programmers are particularly proud of-- insistent on-- clean, well written code.  That's awesome, really, except I can't see the code.  What I see is an error message, which I'll admit is clean and well written.  There's a reason the iPod is doing so well relative to the Zune, even though the Zune is arguably a superior product. And it isn't just because it's white. Well, not completely because it's white.

Movable Type is a product, right?  You want customers, right?  Or are all Movable Type blogs supposed to be about Movable Type?

I once felt an aesthetic and intellectual responsibility to install Linux on my new computer. The result was that my computer committed suicide. Seriously. Right there, in front of me.  It plugged itself in and jumped into a bathtub full of water and pulled in a hair dryer as well, for good measure.  Do you know how much better Linux is than Windows?  Well, neither do I.

Software complexity of this type necessitates some kind of user support system. Too bad.  Movable Type support prefers to communicate using form letters. 

Yahoo!, my web hosting service, was actually worse. It was so much worse that it's comical, bathtub-computer-dryer comical. Ultimately I had to contact Yahoo! on the phone.  Think about this.

The second guy I spoke with-- immediately after I hung up with the first guy-- told me there was no solution to my problem, that I could not upgrade, I could not restore my backup-- because, even though I made a backup which I was at that moment looking at, that backup wasn't actually made, it was only scheduled to be made-- and that all my data-- old blog posts, comments, etc-- was lost.  Got that?  Me: "but I can see it, I'm in the directory, I can download a file, I can read a post, the stuff is there." No, he assured me, it wasn't.  "But I can read--"  No.  I guess if I knew Perl, I'd understand.

The reason I called the second guy in the first place was that the first guy I called referred to "Movable Type" as "Wordpress" which I'm pretty sure is not correct.