WordPress 3 Beta

On April 20th I switched to WordPress 3.0b1 (actually the latest “nightly build”) after testing the original 3.0b1 offline. I subsequently started manually following “nightly builds” which got me to WordPress 3.0b2. It all works fine – even with the patched Magazeen 1.0 theme that I am running.

Upgrade procedure

The general upgrade procedure should be pretty standard for those who know WordPress well. But this means that there are different paths for end users (who avoid betas and especially anything that looks like programming code) and for the brave and curious. There are incidentally videos on YouTube showing how to install a WordPress 3.0 beta. Here are my own notes:

1. Backup you database

This involves using Tools|Export and also – especially if your web host makes this easy – using phpadmin (see online administrative tools provided by your hosting provider) to get a raw backup of the database. You shouldn’t be needing either unless things go very wrong or unless you create a test installation.

2. Test installation

Consider first doing a test installation in a separate subdirectory of your web site (I did).

This will require downloading the latest version from http://wordpress.org/nightly-builds/wordpress-latest.zip and doing an upload using ftp) by following the standard WordPress installation instructions, but using an empty directory and an empty database. Then, as usual, you configure the file wp-config.php (see http://codex.wordpress.org/Editing_wp-config.php). Alternatively (new option) you can fill in a short form you get when you install a fresh copy of WordPress 3.0. This essentially allows you to provide te location and username/password for the underlying database (which can be empty or full).

It is safest to start a test installation with an empty database and then import a copy of the content of your real database. This keeps your test installation entirely separate from your production blog.

3. Versions of WordPress

By the time WordPress 3 is formally released (mid-May 2010), the Dashboard page should allow you to upgrade smoothly from an already running WordPress site: there should be a link on the Dashboard page – also known as http://URLofYourSite.com/wp-admin.

The method to install a beta version (“nightly build”) using a running installation of WordPress is to go to http://URLofYourSite.com/wp-admin/update-core.php . Once you are running a beta version, there is a link hidden in the lower right-hand corner of the Dashboard. You will also find an alternative link labelled “Updates” in the top left of your Dashboard.

4. Themes and plug-ins

WordPress 3 is highly backwards compatible with themes developed under WordPress 2. But there are exceptions (with known solutions, e.g. related to child themes), so it is probably a good idea to first test the WordPress site using the new WordPress 3.0 default theme (“Twenty Ten”) before switching themes. And first select the (minimal) widgets and plug-ins that you need. I presently just use Akismet. Akismet is shipped as an integral part of WordPress (to be called “core plugin” in future releases) and thus should not give any problems.

5. Tracking nightly builds

If you run a beta version of WordPress 3.0 you should refresh your version regularly to get the latest daily (“nightly”) bug fixes. Once the final release comes out, you will automatically lock into the normal non-beta upgrade track. There is also a plugin available for beta testers, but it may be no longer needed for WordPress 3.0.

Benefits of WordPress 3.0

There is enough usable technical information on the internet about what’s new in WordPress 3.0. But the more serious questions are “Why upgrade?” or even “Should I upgrade?”:

  • Because it there“.
    WordPress keeps evolving with enhancements and fixes – including security fixes. So you should simply migrate sooner or later. There is no real reason to migrate to WordPress 3.0 very quickly, but you should migrate at some point. If you are a bit adventurous, you can migrate before the final release of WordPress 3.0. If you are cautious, you can migrate a month after the final release of WordPress 3.0 and thus get the least chance of hiccups (after millions of lemmings have preceded you).
  • New default theme
    Actually I want to migrate the site that I made for my photo club (www.fotogroepwaalre.nl) quickly because I have been planning to use this “Twenty Ten” theme for months. That site so far ran Kirby, the predecessor of Twenty Ten. Twenty Ten is simple, clean, and solid because it is supported by WordPress itself. But this is a special situation. Most existing WordPress users (including this personal site) chose another theme. And people who are not especially bold with technology will not want to change anything unless they really have to. They could stay with the old Default theme (Kubrick). So users of Twenty Ten will typically be new users or new theme developers who want to develop themes that are derived from a clean, state-of-the-art theme.
  • New generation of themes
    There will be new or upgraded themes written specifically for WordPress 3.0. So staying up to date is useful. Twenty Ten is itself such an example: I found that it doesn’ run on WordPress 2.x.
  • Many things are simply a bit better
    The changes are not dramatic because WordPress had the good habit of enhancing itself on a very regular basis and automating this upgrade process. Examples of nice-to-have improvements:

    • A new user or new installation can configure the (wp-config.php) configuration file by answering a list of (still non-trivial) questions, rather than by editing an ASCII file. Many WordPress users are uncomfortable with editing such a file, so this change is useful.

WordPress themes

I recently switched between WordPress themes. I used to use the Esther 2.0 theme and that worked out pretty well. I am now trying out the new Magazeen 1.0 theme.

WordPress Themes

WordPress themes are powerful add-in modules that handle layout and style of the entire blog. They even add some features to a WordPress blog.

WordPress themes are more powerful than HTML style sheets (“CSS”) because they include programming. They essentially extend the core PHP code that defines WordPress. But, unlike HTML style sheets, WordPress themes only work with the WordPress software framework. WordPress was written from the start to allow this degree of modularity: WordPress comes with a Default theme that was originally known as Kubrick.

Esther theme

The Esther 2.0 theme was written by Patrick Chia from Singapore. Esther is best recognized by the image of a digital photo frame in the upper right-hand corner. By default it contains a black-and-white image of a young girl (not Esther, incidentally). The photo can be easily replaced by a custom photo – in my case a picture of tropical bird photographed at a zoo.

What I liked about the Esther theme is that:

  • it has a pretty simple look
  • it has customizable widgets
  • it renders correctly in major browsers (I tested with Internet Explorer, FireFox, Safari)
  • gravatar support

It has a number of drawbacks for me:

  • it lacks structural clarity: boundaries between postings are not too clear as they rely on heading sizes
  • it doesn’t display HTML Unordered list (UL) items as bullets. This is likely a style choice, but I tend to use bullets regularly.
  • it doesn’t like wide images (images are left-aligned, and thus overlap the widget column; maybe all WordPress styles do this)
  • it doesn’t completely adhere to the XHTML rules (and thus generates errors when reviewed with http://validator.w3.org/)
  • there is only occasional maintenance by its author (I tried to report the validation bugs)
  • it creates very long home pages with 10 consecutive full-length postings (ok for short statements, but not great for 500+ word postings)

Magazeen theme

The Magazeen 1.0 theme is designed by Liam McKay (Coventry, England) and coded by Spencer Gurnk (USA). Liam is a web designer specialized in WordPress. His website and company is www.wefunction.com.

Magazeen has a lot of benefits:

  • it looks clean and gives a good overview. For example the boundaries between postings are clear: postings are white boxes against a light blue background
  • it relies heavily on images: excerpts are shown with a thumbnail, and 9 recent postings are shown as thumbnails directly under the header.
  • it shows the two* most recent posting in full on the home page. Four* previous postings are shown summarized (excerpt). A few* more older postings are shown as titles only.
  • it encourages readers to comment on postings
  • it has a prominent Search field and a prominent icon for the RSS feed
  • it displays bullets
  • it is backed by an active web design site, which will hopefully ensure lots of users and future maintenance/evolution
  • gravatar support

* In my case I adapted these numbers to 1 + 6 + 15. Search for the three query_posts function calls in the file index.php.

For me it also has some drawbacks:

  • it has known rendering problems with Internet Explorer 7 (this is a serious problem, but will hopefully fixed in an update). Pressing F5/Refresh tends to help.
  • authorship of articles is shown prominently (good, but so far I am the only author)
  • it prominently displays the number of comments (good, but I often have 0 comments as I have a small readership so far)
  • it doesn’t like wide images (images are left-aligned, and thus overlap the widget column; maybe all WordPress styles do this)
  • it pretty much forces you to provide a thumbnail for every posting.  This is extra work and a clumsy process in WordPress (but adds value).
  • there is hardly any menu-based customization: you can’t even change the color scheme. There seem to be plans to fix this in the future.
  • there is some mild advertisement intended to draw you to www.smashingmagazine.com (bottom of screen, more if you enable “featured news”)
  • I have the suspicion that the theme is slow (unsure).

Installation “fun” with Magazeen

If you download the Magazeen zip file, unzip it on your computer and then attempt to upload the Magazeen directory tree to the wp-content/themes, you are likely to see strange error messages which indicate that the copying (e.g. ftping) failed. This is because the zip file contains subdirectories named

  • cache
  • images
  • inc
  • js (javascript)

but it also contains 4 additional files of 0 byte length named cache, images, inc and js residing next to each of these directories. That is double-plus-ungood: both Windows and Linux do not allow a directory to contain both a file named foo and a directory named foo. The trick is thus to copy just the directories. The zero-length files are presumably there by accident and only get in the way. Presumably the developers and many users have some other approach to upload these files uploaded – I haven’t found complaints about this elsewhere yet.

You should also set the access rights to the cache directory to allow anybody/anything to access it. This avoids problems when the thumbnails are scaled to different sizes. There are a lot of postings on this (http://www.google.com/search?q=magazeen+theme+chmod).

Next, you will find that the nine thumbnails at the top are empty and look awful. These can fixed by opening each post for editing and entering a URL to a suitable picture in the new “Magazeen Post Options” Image field. These files can be uploaded as Media, although WordPress doesn’t make it particularly easy to find the URL of the file you uploaded. But you will get it right sooner or later. The URL for the thumbnail used in this posting reads http://peter.vdhamer.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/magazeen_theme.jpg but you obviously want your own pictures and generally don’t want to link to images on someone else’s website.