WordPress 2.5 is coming…

With less than a month to go before the scheduled release of the next major update to WordPress, testing has moved from the Alpha (use at your own risk, likely to have severe breakage) to early Beta (use at your own risk, likely to have moderately severe breakage). Rather than expose my live site to such delights, I’ve been running the development versions locally on the Mac[1][5], using a slightly edited version of the database from the live site.

And now I’ve had it for a while, and made an effort to get used to it, I have to say that I have major reservations about this version. What visitors will see will be unchanged, but the back end has had some major work. I’ll pass over the washed-out, rather insipid new colour scheme – I’m not keen on it, but it’s not going to get in the way of working with the software (and if it bothered me that much, I’d tweak the CSS to make it less naff). No, the problem for me is the posting page – the bit where I type all this nonsense. This has had a major redesign which early reports suggested had something to do with “improving usability”, which is a phrase that will strike terror into the hearts of anyone who’s used Microsoft Office 2007. Yes, it’s the kind of usability “improvement” that makes very basic tasks simpler (possibly), while making more advanced use more difficult, if not impossible.

WordPress 2.3.x

WordPress 2.3.x

In version 2.3.3, there’s a useful sidebar which contains various blocks that you might want to use when creating or editing posts. There’s a block for selecting categories, one that lets you edit the timestamp of your posts, and other bits and bobs. The cool bit is that it’s really easy for plugins to add sections to the sidebar – for instance, I like to use Cricket Moods which has its own section. Actually, the really cool bit is that you can drag these sidebar blocks into whatever order suits your way of working. Any sections you don’t use often can be collapsed so they just show the header, and you can even use the Clutter Free plugin to remove any bits you’re sure you don’t want to use. This is all very nice and very flexible. Taking the Microsoft Office analogy further, it’s like the way you can set up toolbars any way you like in Office 2003 and earlier.

WordPress 2.5

WordPress 2.5

But in 2.5, this has changed. The sidebar has lost all its niceness. Most of the bits have now moved below the main posting area, leaving just a few options and some links that I wouldn’t need to use. And just to enhance usability, if you need to edit the timestamp, rather than simply editing it, you now have to click an “Edit” link. I can’t really see what that’s for – it’s not as if the sidebar was so full of stuff that it was necessary to save space…

The main problem with this new layout is that lots of the interesting stuff now lives much further down the page – which means that a lot of people (including me) are going to have to scroll up and down a lot to complete their posts. That’s a fairly major reduction in basic usability, and I really can’t see the point. Oh, and now the sidebar has been reduced to a shadow of its former self, it’s been dedided to make the posting box a lot narrower – rather than having a fluid layout that lets the user make use of the available screen area (I’ve got a wide screen and I like to use it…), it’s currently a fixed width box, which means even more up and down scrolling…

A side-effect of all this is that some plugins are going to crash and quite possibly burn unless they are updated to account for the new arrangement of the page. Cricket Moods works, but the poor thing is lurking at the bottom of the page, all stretched out and hard to see and use. Others may fail completely…

There are still a few weeks to go before the final release, so some of this may change before then. I do hope so, as otherwise I won’t be in any hurry to install this update.

[1] One of the things that makes the Mac more useful than Windows PCs for web developing porpoises[2] is that the underlying OS is Unix, the web server is Apache and it only takes moderate tweakage to get PHP and MySQL working. This makes it a much better imitation of the live site than running the same stuff under Windows. It’s not impossible, or that hard, to do it on Windows[3], but some things get very confused with Windows-style paths as opposed to Unix-style paths[4].
[2] And other technological mammals
[3] I’ve done it myself using Webserver on a Stick (WOS)
[4] It’s all about slashes…
[5] Using SVN to keep it up to date in these early stages before fixed beta releases are generally issued. This is another thing where the Mac’s Unix-style command line interface is lovely – while there are Windows SVN clients, which work well enough, I have to say I prefer running a quick script sometimes…