WordPress 3.0 – unpacking the new features

In recent years, WordPress has begun evolving into more than an extensive blogging platform. It is now robust enough to be used for non-blog centric websites consisting primarily of a series of pages or other non-blog post items.

This year sees WordPress celebrate its seventh birthday with a new release — version 3.0. The new version promises a vast array of updates as well as a few features to enhance WordPress in the generic content management vein, as well as enhance the user experience and functionality available to the ‘Average Joe’ installing the system.

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Let’s take a look at a few features that are immediately noticeable in WordPress 3.0.

Installation – Everyone’s gotta start somewhere
A few new things here. The most prominent being the option for the user to choose the administrator username and password at installation point. This feature will surely save many users time as well as prevent a well-known WordPress exploit of attempting to login using the generic “admin” account, created by pre-3.0 versions of the system.

User Interface – The pretty stuff
The user interface is often taken for granted on any platform. It is, however, the first and last aspect of the system which the user sees, as well as with which they work within the system. The entire WordPress user interface has been given a lighter facelift, making use of light grey and off-white tones. On following the WordPress development cycle, an immense amount of time, effort and consideration has been put into the user interface and its recent updates. Working with the updated user interface feels like a breath of fresh air.

Ladies and gentlemen… TwentyTen!
Out with Kubrick, in with TwentyTen. The previous default theme, Kubrick, along with the Classic theme, will no longer be packaged with WordPress. In their place, a fresh young face, TwentyTen, will sit.

Having received major time and consideration on all levels, TwentyTen is an amazing starting point for users wishing to learn how to create or customise WordPress themes, as well as being an excellent showcase of the new WordPress 3.0 feature additions and updates.

User-driven styling…
WordPress 3.0 adds support for a few user-driven styling areas, namely the custom background image, custom header image and editor style areas. Editor style is more of a coded element, but hey, it’s not that difficult to integrate and TwentyTen does an excellent job of showcasing the feature and making it straight forward to understand and implement with knowledge of CSS and minimal knowledge of PHP.

The background and header image areas provide full control over the background image and its settings (repetition, position, alignment, etc) as well as the main header image strip within TwentyTen (or any other theme, for that matter). The header image feature has been around since Kubrick and has often been used as a means for end-users to customise their WordPress websites with ease and a unique image.

Note: A picture of your “adorable new puppy” does not a background for your plumbing business website make. Use these features wisely, folks.

Navigation menus – you’re in charge
A feature that has long been requested is the ability to create multi-level navigation menus consisting of pages, categories, posts and custom links all in one, with any of them on any level, in any order. You asked, and the WordPress world has provided.

With the initiative of the team over at WooThemes, coupled with the savvy and passion of the core committers team on WordPress (and a base of users testing and contributing ideas on all aspects of the menu system) an advanced navigation menu system has been created that allows exactly the above. In addition, the new navigation system includes multiple different menus, with full integration into the WordPress system, and its coding style and development cycle as a whole.

The custom navigation menus feature also supports custom content types as well as custom taxonomies, which I’ll be touching on in just a moment. First, onto WordPress Multi-site.

And now for something technical...

WordPress Multi-Site?
Yep, you read correctly, no more WordPress MU (multi-user). WordPress MU and the single installation of WordPress have merged code-bases under the “WordPress” umbrella with the feature “Multi-site”, which can be enabled via the WordPress configuration file.

While this involves a splash in the PHP puddle, it’s only really one line so it’s not all that bad. Plus, once you’ve got that one line in, the entire “Network” feature is enabled, allowing for the creation of fine WordPress Multi-site systems, ala- WordPress MU. Seems like a decent reward for coding approximately one line of PHP, wouldn’t you say?

Custom content types
Right, folks. This is the big one. Custom content types have been around for a fair while. It was always just more manual. All administration pages, front-end functions etc, would’ve had to have been created manually, causing pain-staking time and effort on the part of the developer. It’s not an insurmountable task, in context, while still being time-consuming and somewhat cumbersome in comparison to the new features set for custom content types.

Within the system, these are referred to as custom post types. This is, I believe, purely due to where they are stored in the database. The custom content types features set allows for the creation of completely new and customised types of content — for example, a dedicated “Podcasts” menu, or a simple “Portfolio” system. These content types are managed via their own menus in the administration area and do not in any way relate to blog posts within the system.

Creating custom content types does involve a fair bit of coding and understanding of certain aspects of how the WordPress system has been structured and constructed. Luckily, there is a large and active community of WordPress users online who are eager to assist users in this regard, be it with understanding how custom content types work, or creating custom content types tailored to your specific needs.

Gone are the days of uploading portfolio items as blog posts, or having podcasts in a specific blog posts category with certain custom fields that are only required by certain blog posts that are in certain categories. Custom content types also work out really nicely with custom taxonomies.

Custom taxonomies
A taxonomy is a means of categorising information — for example, the existing blog post categories and tags are both taxonomies, as is the link categories system. While this has been a feature for a few releases already, with WordPress 3.0, the custom taxonomies feature has been given a dose of rocket fuel.

Creating a custom taxonomy, in its purest form, is approximately one line of PHP code. Not too bad for creating a means of categorising large amounts of important information on your website.

And on a final note…
Folks, WordPress 3.0 is an exciting release, not only for the system, but for the abundant community that surrounds it. Both users and contributors have put a lot of effort into this release, both in development and in testing, and have opened the doors to many exciting future developments within the WordPress community.

If you’re a WordPress theme or plugin developer, why not get a head start and create themes or plugins that make use of the exciting new WordPress 3.0 features?

Who knows, your new feature or enhancement may just change the way the world uses WordPress.

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