Right, I’ve been using WordPress 2.5 live for the best part of a week, and that’s in addition to a fair amount of testing. I’m well aware that I can be resistant to change, and that sometimes it really is just a matter of getting used to something that’s a bit different, so I’ve held back from commenting here in any detail up till now. But the more time I spend with the new version, the more sure I am that the Write Page, the part of the admin interface where I spend most of my time, in its current form, is, for me, quite thorougly borked. Here’s what it looks like:
This is a screen capture taken from Firefox on my Mac. I have my browser window at nearly full screen.
The first problem is that huge gap on the right. For reasons that never made sense to me, a decision was made that the user interface should be fixed width rather than fluid as in previous versions. Now I type quite a lot of words, and having a wide text box to type in makes this easier for me to do with less scrolling up and down to see what I typed a few paragraphs previously.
The next problem is the split navigation. Items which are deemed to be less frequently used have been spit away from the main menu options and shoved over to the right. The split seems quite arbitrary to me – for instance “Design”, which most people are only likely to use if switching WordPress to a different theme, is part of the main navigation, while “Plugins”, which will be used at least as often, is over on the right. Splitting this up wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for the fixed-width thing. Rather than have the navigation the same width as the page content, they’ve made it the full width of the window, which struck me as bizarre the first time I saw it, and still makes no sense at all to me. If you must have a fixed width interface, why not be consistent about it? There’s also a fairly large chunk of vertical space used up by the header. Much too much of it for my taste, given the other layout issues.
Which leads me to the big one. The sidebar. In WordPress 2.3, this was actually very useful. All the various bits and bobs such as Categories, Post settings, and extra elements added by plugins, appeared here. And you could rearrange them so that sections that you rarely or never used could be shoved to the bottom out of the way, and things you used for every post could appear at the top. There was even a plugin to hide bits you didn’t need at all. This worked very well for me, and meant that I could compose and publish posts with the minimum of scrolling up and down. And talking of scrolling, here’s the rest of the page.
Those various sections there can be opened or closed as you need them, which is similar to how they worked on the old sidebar, but their order is fixed and they’re all rather tall, which means I have to scroll down all the way to the bottom to find the mood plugin that I use on every post. The author is apparently working on a replacement version which I hope will be able to live in the sidebar, but for now, I have to scroll all the way down to add a mood. That wouldn’t be too bad, but then I have to scroll all the way up to find the Publish button. It’s only moderately annoying, but it’s a change that doesn’t give me any benefits. I’ve been told that the new interface is “much better”, but actual details of why it’s better for me to be unable to make it work the way I want to, or better to have to scroll up and down much more, are a bit thin on the ground.
There was a lot of quite robust discussion about this on the WP mailing lists, in which people asked why some of these changes were being made. The best answer I got boiled down to “WordPress 2.5 is about trying something different”. Well, I’m not averse to making things different, but change for the sake of change, and removing users’ ability to modify the interface to suit their own needs strikes me as a huge step backwards. It seems that I’m far from alone in disliking the changes made to the interface. People are working on plugins and actual hacks to change the page into something more usable. Nothing I’ve seen yet is quite what I want, but I’m keeping an eye on things. In the meantime, a couple of plugins have mitigates some of the annoyance:
Here we can see the write page nicely filling my window, thanks to the Remove Max Width plugin. You can also see the navigation vastly improved by the Admin Drop Down Menu plugin, which not only brings everything together, but also reduces my click count by making submenus into drop downs. This is a lot better for me, and I’d like to see something like it as a core feature. I’d still like to reduce the amount of vertical space wasted at the top, and I’ll be looking at admin themes that will modify that – and that’s something I never felt the slightest need for in previous versions.
On the brighter side, this image does show one new feature I actually like. You now get a preview of the permalink to the post you’re writing, rather than just having the “slug” as one of many editable options. This is much clearer and easier to understand, and is a Good Thing.
Another good thing is the new “Save” behaviour. Previously, there used to be a “Save and continue editing” button, now there’s just a “Save” button, which does what it should – saves your work as it is, and lets you carry on working. A link appears telling you that the post has been saved and letting you go back to where you were previously – this makes more sense to me than the previous behaviour, where if you edited an existing post and hit “save” you’d immediately go back to the post, just as you realise that you missed another typo…
So, WordPress 2.5 – a bit of a mixed bag, really. A couple of enhancements, a generally prettier admin interface, but some quite nasty usability changes. I’m sure as it settles down, more customisation options (either in core or from plugins) will become available, and my present concerns will become irrelevant, but right now it’s quite annoying.
 That’s most of the time I spend on WordPress, not most of all my time. Though my recent post count might suggest otherwise
 Yes, it’s silly, but it’s my site and I like a bit of silliness on it, thankyouverymuch