Hari's Corner

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TextPattern review

Filed under: Software and Technology by Hari
Posted on Sun, Apr 22, 2007 at 09:12 IST (last updated: Thu, May 7, 2009 @ 21:06 IST)

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The background

In the last few days, I've been getting very blog-itchy. I've been slightly miffed with WordPress for a while now, mainly because of the nutty auto-save feature for writing posts which cannot be turned off from the admin panel. To be honest, I've been really irritated by it, because it keeps creating unnecessary draft pages whenever I start typing even a few sentences and I am somebody who is extremely finicky when composing articles. I have this tendency to keep rejecting a hundred drafts so this autosave feature forces me to have to delete unnecessary drafts every time.

So in my discontent with WordPress, I was seriously considering a change. I evaluated a few options including b2evolution, but unfortunately b2evolution doesn't seem to have a WordPress importer currently. And as I mentioned earlier in an earlier review, it also has too many features I don't need on my blog. Having said all that I decided on TextPattern as an excellent replacement for WordPress. Having read so many great reviews of TP, I wanted to really give it a try on my local host to see whether it fits my needs and whether I can smoothly and safely import my existing WP blog into TP. And even though I regretfully decided against the move after playing around with it for a couple of things, I still think TP is an excellent, customizable publishing tool that can be tweaked in an infinite number of ways without too much effort.

Before I go on with my review, I must mention a strange quirk I found in my TextPattern installation. I found some admin panel options missing in my setup, in particular the admin options related to comment settings. How those settings were missing I have no idea and I had the latest version installed. Everything else seemed to work absolutely perfectly. :? (Update: This FAQ entry is the key to the mystery)

Importing from WordPress

Initially I had problems with importing the WordPress content into TextPattern. When I first tried it, I imported without specifying the section and the imported articles showed up as 404 whenever I clicked on their permalinks. However, once I imported them into a section, it seemed to work well. However, the biggest problem was that commenting was disabled on all the imported articles. When I tried to look for the admin settings related to commenting, they were missing. When I went to edit individual articles for re-enabling comments, the comments settings showed up as "expired" and I couldn't change that. So altogether, I had to conclude that importing from WP is not yet perfect in TextPattern.

But apart from the import, I am pretty impressed with TextPattern in many aspects.

The positives

  1. It's really lightweight. The gzipped download package is only 257.5 KB!
  2. Textile, textile, textile. This markup is so much better than a WYSIWYG editor or XHTML code for formatting blog posts. It's clean and it's very easy to learn.
  3. The admin panel - it's pretty well organized and powerful. Unlike a lot of CMS systems, TP doesn't overwhelm the new user with a bewildering array of choices. Within a few minutes I was able to get it up and running. Pretty easy learning curve.
  4. The "tag-builder" for editing templates. This feature really makes it easy to customize each and every aspect of the website without having to learn all the code involved.
  5. The templating code format is really very simple and straightforward. No PHP knowledge necessary for editing templates.
  6. The ability to organize content into "sections." This is the feature that really sets it apart from the regular blogging tool. I can see infinite ways to use this feature to organize huge amounts of content in a meaningful manner.
  7. The image and file upload interface - this is a major plus over WordPress with its clunky upload facility.
  8. Last but not least, W3C standards compliance (XHTML 1.0 Transitional by default, which is good).

The negatives

Apart from the tacky import from WordPress, here are some of the quirks I noticed in TextPattern:
  1. Templates stored in the database. Personally I hate CMSes that store the display templates/themes in the database. I am forced to edit them using a web interface which is very inconvenient in my opinion. There's nothing quite like using my favourite editor (Quanta Plus) to modify XHTML and CSS files and uploading them right at the end, after I make sure that all the changes are correct and to my liking. That saves so much of copying and pasting around. Database templates suck!
  2. Inability to have multiple, unique themes. I know that it's possible to have multiple style sheets for the templates, but that's not quite the same as separate, unique themes which can be maintained separately and applied with a single click. Since I'm somebody who's constantly tweaking and creating new themes for my blog, I found this a major limitation
  3. Too many kinds of categories - article categories, image categories, link categories, file categories - they can get a little overwhelming to organize.
  4. Inability to have more than two categories per article is another big limiting factor. Particularly because I tend to use categories more as "tags" and have several categories applied to a single article.
  5. No date-based or calendar-based archives as far as I can see. Again, a major issue for a long-time blogger with lots of older posts.
  6. Some missing admin panel options. I don't know whether this is peculiar to my installation or that the online documentation is outdated (I am running the latest version - 4.0.4 as of this moment).
Overall I'm a big fan of TextPattern and I think the pros outweigh the cons to a large extent, but I think that I'll stick with WordPress for the moment until the developers sort out the issue with the import.

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9 comment(s)

  1. Hari, I just tested some code that sets the autosave feature to 999,999 seconds which is just like turning it off. I can't post it comments because I'm sure it will get munged. I'll put on my site right now.

    Comment by RT Cunningham (visitor) on Sun, Apr 22, 2007 @ 18:41 IST #
  2. Thanks RT. I wonder why it isn't an admin panel option though. I think it's a feature that should be turned on or off at the user's convenience.Maybe the WP developers will change it in the next version? Hoping... :idea:

    Comment by hari (blog owner) on Sun, Apr 22, 2007 @ 19:35 IST #
  3. I didn't like the templates and CSS being stored in the database at first but after getting use to it, I actually kind of like it. I can see some positives for this type of setup.1. If you need to move to another server or host, you don't have to worry about copying the new files in place, it's going to get coverd in the database import.2. If someone is restricted to bandwidth usage, when editing and saving, the only bandwidth used is locally. Even though the templates and stylesheets are small, those that tweak it all the time can save bandwidth over a long period of time.And I think I realized why you were having problems with Comments getting disabled or expired, it could be caused by the fact that by default comments are disabled after 6 weeks in TP. There is an option to set to never expire.I actually like this auto feature, it prevents possible spammers to make comments on really old articles that have been around longer and recieved more exposure to the bots, etc.

    Comment by drew (visitor) on Mon, Apr 23, 2007 @ 20:48 IST #
  4. Drew, you're right about the comments expiring.The problem was I simply couldn't find those comment-related settings. They were missing on my admin panel for some strange, inexplicable reason. :?As for templates in the database, my gripe is that editing it becomes a problem with the default web interface and I find it difficult to upload the changed templates live when I edit it locally. Whereas with template files, I just re-upload them once. With the database, I cannot re-upload the database or the whole thing gets overwritten. The thing I have to do is copy and paste changes, which I find very irritating when designing a template. But the actual templating system is damn easy. I even re-created this current WordPress theme into TextPattern without much effort.I tweak a lot and I also enjoy having multiple separate themes for the blog and not just multiple CSS files.Other than these minor irritances, TP is actually better than WordPress in many ways. Maybe I'll try it again with a fresh installation locally. In the meantime I've been checking out b2evolution and I'll probably post a review for it too.

    Comment by hari (blog owner) on Mon, Apr 23, 2007 @ 21:24 IST #
  5. I'm also missing a piece of the Comments preferences in a new install. They're visible when I install locally, but not on the remote server.

    Comment by billg (visitor) on Wed, May 2, 2007 @ 05:11 IST #
  6. Ooopsie. It's in the FAQ.They really ought to move that entry into the readme file that's in the download archive.

    Comment by billg (visitor) on Wed, May 2, 2007 @ 05:32 IST #
  7. Billg, you're right. The problem is not obvious and the developers really ought to deal with it so that the end user knows about it straight away.Generally we just download the package and get started. The FAQ should not be the place for any crucial problems like this - rather it should be a general place of commonly asked questions.

    Comment by hari (blog owner) on Wed, May 2, 2007 @ 06:37 IST #

  8. Comment by ??????????? ??? textpattern « shaman.sir’s Weblog (visitor) on Sun, Aug 5, 2007 @ 03:46 IST #
  9. There is now a really good plugin for doing calendars or events called smd_calendar. http://stefdawson.com/sw/plugins/smd_calendar is the link to it from the author's site.

    Comment by Kritoke (visitor) on Mon, Jul 19, 2010 @ 22:18 IST #

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