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WordPress 3.2 Released: Faster, Prettier, Powerful

WordPress NewsWordPress 3.2 has been officially released, this time after a fairly short testing time period. To upgrade, use the built-in automatic upgrade.

According to the announcement, this is the 15th major release of WordPress. Wow, that just doesn’t seem possible, and yet it also feels like too few. How far WordPress has come since 2003, available in dozens of languages, influential in world events, politics, and disasters, and used by so many millions, it’s near impossible to count. I remember joking about his goal being world domination and the rest of us laughing with him. Wow, Matt, you got your wish and thanks for an amazing ride.

This release also brought about a Washington Post/TechCrunch news article discussing how WordPress 3.1, released in February 2011, has been downloaded over 15 million times compared to Joomla at 23 million in total. Within about 24 hours of the July 4 announcement, a holiday in the United States, almost 350,000 copies of WordPress 3.2 had been downloaded. It’s my understanding that the WordPress Download Counter counts downloads not automatic updates or upgrades. Who knows what the real number is for WordPress.

So what makes WordPress 3.2 worthy of you jumping immediately to install?

Security

WordPress 3.1.4 was released last week and contained a mandatory security update. The fix is included in WordPress 3.2. They’ve also updated a lot of their security hardening features to make your blogging experience much safer.

A threat is spreading around the world similar to the one that plagued many websites and blogs, including WordPress, a malware-style bot that can do damage and hide itself from detection, making it painful to remove. According to an announcement on ComputerWorld, the new massive botnet “TDL-4″ hs infected more than 4 million computers world-wide so far. They are calling it “indestructive” due to its strong distribution network and ability to update and reinfect itself. Singularity Hub reports that TDL-4 is defeating most anti-virus systems, opening the door for spamming or phishing opportunities like a backdoor to your computer. Securelist details on the virus say it is passed through file sharing networks, file downloads, and affiliate programs. These files and affiliate programs are featured on many websites, including WordPress-run sites.

WordPress security updates don’t protect against this plague as they are not WordPress core issues, but this is just an example of how determined the time wasting evil doers are, and how important it is to stay ahead of them by responding to all mandatory security updates with WordPress.

Sucuri published an article on WordPress 3.2 security, mostly covering the improvements in security by dumping past versions of PHP and MySQL. Their research shows that 84% of their users will be able to upgrade without any problems, adding:

One of the great benefits in WordPress is the automatic update functionality. However, our analysis estimates that the move to require PHP 5 could leave roughly 15% of WordPress users with no easy update path. When you think of the big market share that WordPress owns, this makes for a very large amount of websites that will potentially remain out of date and vulnerable to attacks.

Will we see a higher number of outdated WordPress instances due to the move? It does seem the number will increase, at least until hosting providers step up their game (which I hope they will do soon).

There are two serious issues here. First, if your server/web host is slacking by not upgrading their servers to the latest stable versions of PHP and MySQL, dump them immediately. They are potentially putting your site at risk.

Second, I worry greatly about all the WordPress sites ignored or abandoned by their owners and out of date. They may be vulnerable to hackers and evil bots, possibly putting visitors at risk. Please, if you have ever installed a WordPress site, upgrade it to protect yourself as well as your visitors. Having just updated a site from WordPress 2.3 to current, it’s easier than you think.

Faster and Lighter

I’m always skeptical with claims of faster and lighter as they are too subjective, but I have to tell you that WordPress is now much faster out of the box in general.

I haven’t found any legitimate test results from those doing comparative analysis on speed, but it feels faster. The brilliant decision to drop support for IE6 and older versions of PHP and MySQL helped to remove a lot of the code bulk from WordPress, adding to the increase in speed and “lightness” under the hood.

So how do you define “faster?” For WordPress, faster happens on the backend as well as on the front. Unfortunately, a lot of the speed for loading on the front end is dictated by WordPress Themes and Plugins therefore harder to evaluate.

From my subjective tests, the Administration Panels load faster and cleaner. I can move around faster through the Admin Bar to the key panels. I am moving faster to key points on the Administration Panel side menu as I can spot where I am quicker and can move to the options more efficiently.

The Edit Post buttons on the Visual Editor are easier to see, but I spent all of my time in the HTML editor and little work has been done to improve that area yet.

Uploading images is faster though embedding those images in a post continues to be painful and time consuming if you have more than one to three images.

In general, it feels faster on the front end, too.

Cleaner Look and Menus

For the most part, the cleaner look and feel of WordPress 3.2 is welcome. I’ve been working with them on for a while and I have to say that it is much easier to know where you are and find what you need on the new Administration Panels. The difference is subtle, so expect no learning curve. Matt Thomas, the lead designer for WordPress, covers design changes in WordPress 3.2 and the story of their inspiration and implementation.

Back during the development of WordPress 2.8, the core team decided to solicit some ideas for dashboard refreshes. Two designs inspired by Dean J. Robinson’s Fluency Admin plugin, submitted by Dean and myself, led the informal poll the core team conducted. Ultimately the team decided to save the update for a later version of WordPress and that version came today, when WordPress 3.2 was released with the new dashboard design. A thread on the Make UI blog follows its progress as it came together. We removed unnecessary chrome, refined typography, lightened the page, and generally listened to Alan Cooper‘s advice on interface design: “No matter how beautiful, no matter how cool your interface, it would be better if there were less of it.”

TechieBuzz predicted an outrage on the new look and feel, but so far, I’ve not heard much. Personally, I like it, and it isn’t that much of a change to invite much discussion.

The Admin Bar has also been improved. The more I use it, the more I like it, especially on WordPress.com as it makes it easier for me to move between my different blogs. However, for WordPress self-hosted installs, I’m enjoying the speed at which I can add new posts, Pages, and Media, and move to my comments panel, where I spent a lot of time on many of my sites.

The distraction free writing feature has long been a dream of Matt’s and now you can streamline the entire look of the edit post panel by clicking the full screen icon or using the ALT+SHIFT+G keyboard shortcut to blog without seeing all of the bells and whistles of options on the panel. The keyboard shortcut works on most browsers unless it is assigned to something else. I do hope WordPress will offer the ability to easily customize the keyboard shortcut key in the future.

WordPress 3.2 Monospaced font for the HTML EditorA monospace font is now being used on the HTML post editor, maybe as an attempt to help distinguish between the Visual Editor and HTML Editor. As I spend my life in the HTML Editor and rarely touch the other, this font is painful to read. It harkens back to the old DOS days to which I dread returning. Ghacks offers a solution on how to change the fonts in the HTML editor textarea, a feature I sure wish was also available for WordPress.com blogs. Unfortunately, the change happens in a core file which means the fix will be replaced in the next update. A recommendation to edit the Remove WordPress 3.2 Admin Shadow WordPress Plugin to handle the CSS issues with the HTML fonts has been made, but we might need a specific Plugin or the Plugin author could offer options to change other features, wanted and unwanted.

The contextual help menus have been dramatically improved with more helpful information and great resource links to get even more help. If you haven’t clicked the Help button on the Administration Panels, check them out now. Also check the Screen Options menu next to the Help button to control what you can see and do on applicable panels.

WordPress 3.2 new Credit Panel showing off who contributed to developmentNew “Freedoms” and “Credits” links have been added to the footer of the Administration Panels. Both open onto new panels in your Administration Panels. Freedoms explains that WordPress is free and open source software and explains more about how it works and what your rights of usage are for the program, numbered European style starting with zero.

Credits features the pictures and names of the core contributors, putting faces on the people behind WordPress and this specific version. This information is pulled from the members profiles. It also lists the external libraries used by WordPress to “help make it go,” as a friend explained recently.

If you wish to see the evolution of the WordPress Administration Panels, check out WPBeginner’s Evolution of the WordPress User Interface which I hope they will update or add to soon.

Bye-Bye Oldy Moldies

I can’t say I’m going to miss Internet Explorer 6 nor support for it. Good ridance to bad rubbish is my thought as I gleefully greet the decision for WordPress to stop supporting it. YEAH!!! IE7 support is next on their list, so if you haven’t upgraded your browser, I don’t even have pity for you. Sorry to be so harsh, but seriously, I mean it.

WordPress is also getting harsh with these intentions, popping up a warning sign if your browser isn’t compliant.

From now forward, WordPress will ONLY work with PHP 5.2.4 and MySQL 5.0.15 and higher versions – until those versions drop out of favor. Check with your web host to ensure your servers are updated.

WordPress warning for out of date and old web browsers

Improvements to Twenty____ Theme

Not sure if this is a trend, but the new default WordPress Theme from last year, TwentyTen, has been upgraded and now we have TwentyEleven. See the trend?

I’ve been doing extensive testing with TwentyTen with several clients who liked the simple and easy-to-use look and feel. TwentyEleven brings with it layout options for positioning the sidebar on the left, right, or none, and the ability to customize some of the CSS styles for the unvisited link color and light and dark color schemes, adding some more flexibility and control. It also adds more header art to choose from and the ability to rotate between the different header images for a more diverse look and feel. TwentyEleven is also HTML5 ready and rocking.

Theme.fm has a review of the TwentyEleven WordPress Theme, digging deeper into how it was coded.

If you’ve been using TwentyTen and you wish to switch to TwentyEleven, any customization you made to the older version does not carry forward. Make sure you backup your changes and child Themes before upgrading and switching Themes accordingly.

Automatic Updates

WordPress incremental updates have been improved and sped up. Instead of automatically installing every file in the update, WordPress automatic update will only replace the actual files that have been modified or added.

This will not only speed up the process, it makes it safer as it reduces download errors and lightens the demand on your server during updates.

While improvements to upgrades are in the last version, expect these new features to make future upgrades even better.

Improvements You Might Miss

As with all major releases of WordPress, some of the tiny improvements add functionality and power to WordPress that few ever see. A few highlights include:

  • The PressThis bookmarklet is now easier to add and use for WebKit browsers and the interface has been improved.
  • Inline documentation and help files have been updated and improved.
  • The Posts link in the menu is now “All Posts” clearing up some confusion for those as well as Pages and Links.
  • The Sticky Posts checkbox feature is now restricted to those with permission to edit other author’s posts.
  • Previously uploaded header art now available across various Themes.
  • A new is_multi_author() WordPress template tag for Themes for multiple author sites.
  • WordPress Plugins can now disable screen options with a filter.
  • Comments now feature Approve and Reply as one click for those who like living with comment moderation.
  • For WordPress Multi-site users, the Network Admin is now found under your “Howdy” account link.

A lot of work has also been done to better support WordPress Themes and Plugins.

Here are some other details you may want to know about WordPress 3.2.


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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen.

21 Comments

  1. Posted July 5, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    Wowza! Thanks for the amazing, in-depth overview! I really really really love 3.2 so far. WordPress continues to impress.

  2. Posted July 5, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    It does count automatic updates actually, if they’re using the built in updater.

  3. Posted July 5, 2011 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    As always it is a delight to read your thoughts on a new WordPress version. Thanks for keeping us in the loop.

  4. Posted July 5, 2011 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the detailed post Lorelle. Lots of good info on the new release.

    I am already loving it, it’s got lots of great improvements.

    The best thing about this release in my opinion is that we no longer have to keep deleting that “Hello Dolly” ‘bug’ after every single upgrade. Yay!

    Also, the move back to a single page of plugins instead of splitting them up was a good move. I know you said that was normal but that was just making extra work for us with no benefit. No it’s on a single page again. Yay!

    No longer do we have to deactivate all plugins before upgrading??? I accidentally hit the automatic upgrade before deactivating my plugins and the site didn’t collapse in a heap like it use to. I have been waiting for ages for this simple feature. So many people have broken their sites by upgrading without deactivating plugins. This is now a thing of the past. Yay!

    Three cheers for WordPress 3.2!

    Yay Yay Yay.

    • Posted July 5, 2011 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

      I’m with you on the multiple pages of Plugins. I HATE pagination everywhere, except when necessary…and sometimes, it just ain’t necessary. And I’m also glad about not turning off Plugins, though that’s been fairly true for a while.

    • Posted July 5, 2011 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

      Oh, I thought you liked the pagination. When I commented on the inconvenience cause by the introduction of pagination with 3.1 you wrote:

      “As for pagination on the Plugins, that’s natural. It’s considered better to load a few things into a single page instead of a hundred things into one long page. “

    • Posted July 5, 2011 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

      When you have 160 Plugins, that’s “appropriate.” paging for 20 at a time is dumb. Paging a post into pieces is dumb. If it is long enough, break it up. Appropriate is based upon subjective stuff, but I look at Plugins as a list I rarely visit once the Plugin is set up.

  5. Posted July 5, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    Lorelle, thank you for the link on how to revert the vomit-inducing new font in the HTML editor back to the original one; just what I needed to fix the one thing that annoyed me about the 3.2 update.

    HTML editors unite!

    • Posted July 5, 2011 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

      If you want a NON core hack, I came up with a quick and dirty plugin: WordPress HTML Editor Font Plugin

    • Posted July 5, 2011 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

      You are amazing. Now, if we could only get Engtech active again so he could create a Greasemonkey UserScript to fix this for WordPress.com users!

    • Posted July 5, 2011 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

      Douglas, my friend, I’m totally with you. When it hit WordPress.com I thought there was something wrong with my eyes. I’m totally with you on the vomit-inducing font status. :D

  6. Posted July 5, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    Great explanation of the update. I just upgraded, and came out unscathed. The only thing I noticed that didn’t work after the upgrade was my Sharebar plugin. A minor casualty, I’d say.

  7. Posted July 6, 2011 at 5:53 am | Permalink

    All is good except the new font choice / typography in the admin. It simply sucks; why fix something that’s not broken?

  8. Eddie Truman
    Posted July 6, 2011 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Dev4Press has done some benchmarking; http://bit.ly/oTsRn9

  9. tayler
    Posted July 6, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    Why not benchmark 3.1.4 vs 3.2 with twenty ten theme running on both, no activated plugins? That’d be a fair comparison, no?

    • Posted July 6, 2011 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

      The testing was done on the Administration Panels, testing the back end speed and loading times. Front end testing is more subjective, but it would be interesting to test the TwentyTen Theme versus TwentyEleven. :D When WordPress is talking about “faster and leaner” they are talking about the program itself, not the paint job that people see, though that is influenced by a faster program.

  10. Posted July 6, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    WoW. Amazingly through review of WordPress 3.1.4. I’m a fan of the TwentyTen theme, so I’ll check out TwentyEleven.

  11. Posted July 10, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    Hi Lorelle
    Yes indeed… much faster.
    My theme is a bit of a donkey when it comes to loading and I have been thinking of changing it.
    With 3.2 it now loads super fast and I’ll stick with it.

    The speed of WordPress was the only thing that used to disappoint me but with 3.2… all that has changed.
    Well done to the guys at WordPress, no more slow sites.

  12. Posted July 12, 2011 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    I wish I could upgrade, but 1and1 hosting are using an old PHP version. Hopefully they will install the latest version soon, and I can upgrade my blog then. Thanks for the in-depth information.

    John
    Leamington Spa, England

  13. Posted July 13, 2011 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

    Great review. I’ve got to say I love the way 3.2 is looking so far. I do find it much better since i’ve upgraded my browsers.

    Love the speed and new features I’m gradually discovering as well.


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