P for Perfect; P for PMachine

In light of Joanie‘s plight with her corrupted Berkeley database and the near brush with death of her blog a few days ago, I decided to check out some alternative blogging tools.

B2 was already available to me through Global Internet, the web host managing my web design site. So I installed it, visited the B2 forum and browsed the B2 webring. It looked complicated to me. The urge to dig in didn’t strike at all. Also, it doesn’t appear to be friendly to MT. There is a script to import Blogger entries and Grey Matter entries (Grey Matter seems very similar to Movable Type as they both are written in Perl). But nothing for the MT crowd — at least not yet. So for now, there will be no dabbling in B2.

On the other hand, there was a visitor to my comment box a week or so ago, and now I can’t even remember who it was, but when I visited his blog (one clue at least) I noticed he was using PMachine. I remember being taken with the appearance of the blog and went to the PMachine site and downloaded the free version of PMachine to play with later.

Well later has become now. If you have installed MT on your server, and know how to use an FTP program and CHMOD (file permissions), then you will have no problem whatsoever installing PMachine. The first step is to unpack the zipped file, make some edits in a config file, upload it all to your server, change a few permissions, point your browser to your install.php file and you’re off to the races.

The install walks you painlessly through configuring your MySQL database (just need to know your host name — probably localhost — your database name and your database login and password). Then you are home free.

And if you are sweating over importing six months or a year or more of Movable Type entries, just simmah dahn nah! (Simmer down now, for all you non-SNL lovers out there!)

There is some preparation involved; so don’t just rush headlong into the import process. First, go to the PMachine website and download the appropriate MT import script depending on your versions of PMachine and MT. Unzip the files and upload them to a specified directory on your server.

Next, be sure that you have set up the categories in PMachine just like they are in MT. If PMachine comes across a category in MT that it doesn’t have, it will not assign a category to that entry. Also, your PMachine username must match your MT author name so you may need to edit your author name in MT prior to importing. Finally, if you have multiple authors set up on MT, you must create them in PMachine or else delete their entries before importing them from MT.

Once everything is configured correctly, and all categories and authors match, then you export your blog entries from your MT console. Then upload them to the import directory in your PMachine install. Finally, invoke the import script from your browser’s window. In the blink of an eye all my entries and comments were imported into PMachine. Hint: Once I had exported the *.txt file from MT, I opened it in my HTML editing program (in UNIX mode of course), and ran a spell check on it! Caught a few nits. I then saved the corrected *.txt document and uploaded that. This way, at least I can START with a correctly-spelled blog!

The only thing so far that I see lacking in PMachine is trackback. Any trackback entries imported into PMachine from MT appear as weird comments in the same entries they tracked in MT. But Ben and Mena have created a standalone version of Trackback that, with a little guidance from the forum members in PMachine, can be up and running on your PMachine blog in no time.

I’m also not fond of the little “Admin Panel” at the top of the blog. I think it gets in the way of a blog’s design, like a pesky gnat (and a’ la Blogspot ads). Perhaps there’s a way to move or remove it. I haven’t explored that yet.

One plus is the fact that it tracks the pageviews of your comments and your blog itself and posts the number of entries and comments right on the blog. So if you are popular and you have a lot of visitors to your site, you’ll probably love those stats.

Another interesting feature of PMachine is the ability to create collaborative blogs. Users can register to your blog and post their own entries (if you set such permissions), and then everyone can post their comments. You can restrict commenting to only those who have registered at your site or keep it a “free for all” as with MT/YAACS/Haloscan/Greymatter comments. It’s up to you.

In fact, quite a bit is up to you. The admin panel is very powerful and you can pretty much set the console up to fit your own work habits and likings.

PMachine ships with a fairly bland interface. The comment boxes don’t pop up the way they do in MT, but I haven’t delved far enough into it to discover whether there is a script for that or not. The forum seems fairly active.

PMachine uses something similar to a module, but it’s called a PBlock. Since PMachine runs completely on PHP, however, it’s probably favorable to use the PHP include instead.

Anyway, there you have it.

UPDATE!! I was able to create an exact mirror of this blog using the import plugin, but because of space constraints, I’ve taken it down since I first wrote this article. However, I’ve started a separate pMachine blog here.

I installed PMachine lite (free). But if you go ahead and spring the $45 for the Full Version, you’ll get a customizable event calendar (this is separate and apart from the mini-calendar used to navigate entries a’la MT) where you can post events, birthdays, etc. I’m sure anyone who’s maintaining a blog-like web site for a band or club would love this feature! The gig dates or club’s activities can go right on the calendar.

The full version of PMachine also lets you create multiple blogs; you can’t do this with the lite version.

I’m still sitting on the fence. I’ve come to love Movable Type and it is very widely supported with lots of new toys and plugins available. But if you’re willing to take that other, less traveled path, you might find PMachine to your liking. Here’s a link to the complete list of features.

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