As with all major updates of WordPress, 3.9 will be adding new features to the WordPress platform. I took the release candidate for a spin to see what we can expect from this upcoming release.
Widget Previews Added to the WordPress Theme Customizer
The theme customizer was added to WordPress in version 3.4 in June 2012. It was a great addition to the WordPress platform, however I always found it limiting. Whilst you could preview a new theme’s colors and change the menu and header image; you could not add widgets.
This meant that you could not populate widget zones such as the sidebar with data. Therefore, the preview usually showed one column of content instead of two.
WordPress 3.9 addresses this limitation with a new live widget previewer.
WordPress adds a menu item for each widget zone on your website. When you click on the “Add a Widget” button, a panel filled with all available widgets will slide out to the right. You can also search for widgets through the panel.
When you add a widget in this manner, it will instantly display in the preview area.
Widget previewing works great in practice. For me, it has finally made the customizer a practical tool that I will use on my websites.
This new feature was imported into the core from a plugin entitled Widget Customizer. I recommend trying the plugin out if you want a sneak preview on how the new widget previewer works.
The open source WYSIWYG editor TinyMCE, otherwise known as the WordPress visual editor, has been updated to version 184.108.40.206.
As someone who disables the visual editor when writing, it was not initially clear to me what had changed.
There seems to be a slight change in the icons that are listed in the visual editor. This is a screenshot of the visual editor in WordPress 3.8.
This is a screenshot of the visual editor in the upcoming release of WordPress 3.9.
From the top row, you can see that a new icon has been added after the quotation mark. When you click this new line icon, you can add a horizontal line into your content.
I initially thought that the option for distraction free writing had been completely removed from WordPress. However, on closer inspection, the icon for distraction editing has simply been moved to the far right of the editor. This seems to be a more practical place to display this icon as it is not used to alter content.
You can see that the icon for “Paste from Word” has been removed from the bottom row. Now you can copy content over from Word by simply copying and pasting and not worry about any unwanted styling code being copied over. You can completely remove formatting by enabling the “Paste as Text” option.
Installing New WordPress Themes
WordPress has also revamped the new theme installation area. In WordPress 3.8, the main page displayed a search bar with a feature filter underneath for making searches more accurate.
Things look much nicer in WordPress 3.9.
Instead of just being displayed on the search page, the search bar has been moved to the navigation menu and now displays on all pages. This is clearly a more practical solution.
Likewise, the option to upload a theme has been moved from the main menu and placed to the right of the “Add Themes” text at the top of each page. The “Newest” menu link has also been renamed to “Latest” and the recently updated page has been replaced by a page for popular themes.
The feature filter has been removed from the main page and moved to its own unique page. Options are now displayed vertically, rather than horizontally.
The new layout of the theme installation area looks much better due to screenshots being displayed on the home page. Hopefully, WordPress will rotate the featured designs regularly so that the same designs are not promoted all year round.
Video and Audio Playlists
Galleries proved to be very popular with WordPress users. WordPress have expanded upon this concept by adding an option for playlists for audio and video files.
It works in the exact same way as adding photographs to a gallery. If you upload audio or video, you will see a new option to create a playlist.
As usual, WordPress allows you to edit the title, caption, and description of uploaded files. The description is automatically entered for audio tracks by pulling data from the ID3 tags.
The final page allows you to arrange the order of your tracks or video clips. Playlists can display a track list of artist’s names and display images.
You can preview your new playlist directly from the visual editor. I was amazed at how fluid the audio player was and how quickly it transitioned between track selections.
HTML5 Galleries & Captions
WordPress have added HTML5 versions of gallery and caption tags. They have also performed some minor styling adjustments to the way captions are handled.
The screenshot below shows you how captions look using HTML4.
This screenshot shows you how things will look moving forward by using HTML5.
And the Rest…
As usual, WordPress 3.9 introduces a lot of changes that will affect developers, including:
- They added an extra layer to WPDB. This means that developers should no longer use mysql_*() functions.
- Added the ability to symlink plugin directories.
- Updated the Plupload library to 2.1.1.
- Updated Masonry to v3.
- Added many more audio and video features such as multiple sources for audio and video, video workflows, and video subtitles.
You can see a backlog of all the features that have been added, and fixes that have been applied, by reading the WordPress Core blog. If you fancy trying out the latest version of WordPress in a test environment, you can do so by installing the WordPress Beta Tester plugin.
WordPress 3.9 has officially arrived. For those of you who do not have automatic theme updates enabled remember to manually update to WordPress 3.9, or at lease make sure you update to WordPress 3.8.3 as it addresses a bug found in 3.8.2.