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What is MyBB?
Of all tools that you might use on your website, nothing is more purely of the internet than a bulletin board or forum. This is because the content is, in theory, entirely dependent upon users for its operation. A blog may generate a lot of discussion from users, but they aren't able to start whole conversations themselves. As a result, a bulletin board can be a great addition to any website. And that is especially true if your users have questions about your products and services.
MyBB is one of the most popular forums around. It was originally created back in 2002 as a free but privately maintained project. This changed in 2009, when it officially became open source.
It is also released under the LGPL, which means that developers can (if they wish) build upon MyBB and keep their own additions proprietary. From a website owner's perspective, this only matters in that it might encourage companies to create their own MyBB flavors and add-ons.
A Little History
Development on MyBB has been brisk. Since the first official (V 1.0) release at the end of 2005, it has gone through over 60 versions. At this point, it is a stable, secure, and full-featured forum solution. It's most recent version is 1.8.5. But the primary development group is working on the version 2.0.0 version that is a complete rewrite of the code.
It is difficult to talk about the features of a forum in the same way that it is difficult to talk about the features of blog: there are so many elements. Here are the basic features that all forum software should have, and how MyBB expands them.
MyBB users can start new topics and comment on existing topics as normal in a forum. But MyBB offers extensive user control over the look and feel of the interface. It also allows users to include videos from a large number of video hosting services directly in pages and to post comments inline -- without reloading the page.
MyBB allows administrators to moderate posts inline, do bulk tasks, and create macros functions to automate tasks. There are also plugins that add other moderating tools.
Themes and Templates
MyBB provides extensive control over the look of the user and administrator interfaces. This includes the overall look of the forum as well as individual components.
MyBB supports the most common database systems: MySQL, PostgreSQL, and SQLite. But it also supports a very powerful feature: database fall-over. This allow the MyBB forum to use multiple database so if one goes down, the system can use one of the backups. MyBB also has extensive support for event calendars, user reputations, private messaging, and newsletters.
Other Forum Options
There are many other options for forum software -- a couple dozen. Each will have its advantages. Some are well established with a large user base like Simple Machines Forum (SMF) and phpBB (see below).
Less popular systems can have interesting advantages. Snitz Forums 2000 is written in ASP and works with IIS and Microsoft SQL Server. Syndie is a kind of peer-to-peer bulletin board. UBB.classic doesn't use a relational database at all. Vanilla Forums offers a limited but lightweight system.
Some upstarts like Discourse are changing a lot of the traditions of forum software -- exciting but also potentially dangerous. There is always a risk that a smaller platform will be abandoned by its development team.
For example, PunBB does not seem to be in development anymore. This is not just a problem of getting stuck with an old piece of software. Most forums are written with PHP. Over time, PHP changes, and if software built on it is not updated, that software can just stop working.
What About phpBB?
MyBB and phpBB are alike in many ways. They are both top-shelf forum software solutions. Ultimately, the use of one or the other is a matter of taste. MyBB has a better reputation for security, but that may be unfair to phpBB, due to early problems that have long been fixed.
MyBB also has a widely praised plugin and "Mod" system -- currently with almost a thousand offerings. On the other hand, phpBB has a bigger base of users and currently has more plugins.
What About Commercial Forum Software?
There are a number of commercial forum solutions available -- the biggest is vBulletin. They aren't necessarily better than free systems like MyBB.
They provide two advantages, however. One is that you can generally assume that the company is going to be around. vBulletin, for example, has a revenue stream of about $100 million per year -- so it isn't going anywhere soon. Commercial software companies also provide customer support, which can be enormously helpful.
Just the same, MyBB has a huge installed user base with a lot of people who are happy to help out fellow MyBB users. So it depends upon who you are and your specific needs.
Giving MyBB a Try
MyBB will run on most Apache servers. It recommends PHP 5.5 and MySQL 5.5, but most hosting companies offer these by default. In fact, you can probably use Softaculous to install it with a single click. That's also likely true of phpBB, SMF, and many other forums. So you can do direct comparisons. But MyBB is definitely worth checking out.