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.

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One Response to WordPress themes

  1. pvdhamer says:

    The newly (March 2009) released Internet Explorer 8 seems to solve the remaining layout problems (positioning of Comments box during scrolling) with the Magazene theme. Possibly because IE8 is more compatable with XHTML or CSS standards.


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