WordPress 3.2: The Good, the Bad, and the Whaaaa???

I haven’t been blogging about WordPress much lately, but I’ve been upgrading a number of different WP sites lately and had to deal with decisions related to the WordPress 3.2 upgrade after it was announced on the 4th of July, and I thought my experiences in the past few days might be worth sharing.

If you don’t know WordPress, it’s a website publishing platform that lets users, even those of the decidedly non-techie variety, publish a blog or a full-fledged website with relative ease.  WordPress is an open-source system, which means that both everyone and no one is ultimately responsible for its functionality.  WordPress is free, which is a good price for something this amazing, but the open-source nature of the thing is often a blessing wrapped inside a curse (or the other way around), on any given day.

While there is a core group of folks (led by Matt Mullenweg) who manage the updates of WordPress, an astonishing amount of both functionality and support for WordPress is provided by independent users and developers the world over, making it one of the largest open source projects in history.

Rhapsody in Blue

Every so often WP releases a new installation, upgraded to offer anything from small security features to wholesale improvements in the platform.  This month they released WordPress 3.2, known as Gershwin (the WP folks seem to like American Jazz performers as name sources, ala Mingus, Duke, Coltrane, and Thelonious, all past releases).  Gershwin promises a number of features designed to make WordPress faster and lighter, easier to install and run, and with some pretty cool user-end features.

If you have a WordPress site, you are advised not to upgrade until you know the effect it will have on your site.  While there are some cool features you’ll like, there are some pitfalls, which is always the case with any brand-new batch of open-source 1’s and 0’s that you invite onto your machines.  Before you do anything remotely Gershwin-esque, don’t forget to back up your stuff.

The Good

The rundown of the “good” in 3.2:

  • A New default theme, called Twenty Eleven (the previous was Twenty Ten):  Prettier and more functional than its predecessor, although I’ll never use it, so who really cares?
  • “Zen mode”:  the full-screen toggle on the writing editor now does a cool thing and makes everything else on the Dashboard disappear so you can just concentrate on writing.  It’s a much better fullscreen mode than they had before, and you can update the page while remaining in it… a nice touch.
  • Streamlined Dashboard:  Much more clear labeling of things, with more fitting on the page to view.  Oddly though, they still don’t show you what your Post ID number is, and you still have to jump through hoops or install a plugin to find out what this often-used digit is (one of the great ongoing mysteries/gaffes in WordPress development history)
  • Speed Upgrades:  This new WP makes use of a feature called PHP lazy loading, which speeds things up on the developer end and disables a few things that usually lead to slowdown… always welcome!!

The Not So Good

And here’s the things that will make you pull your hair out and forget all about how cool “Zen” mode is:

  • This is a MAJOR update:  There is a growing list of popular plugins that have survived many tweaks of the WP upgrades, but many of these plugins don’t work in WordPress 3.2.  This kind of thing is to be expected in an open-source dilly, so if your site relies heavily on plugins, do your research and check around before you upgrade to 3.2.  It may be better to wait until plugin updates have caught up to Gershwin.  Here are the plugins I’ve had trouble with so far:
    • Cache Plugins:  WP Super Cache and W3 Total Cache worked for me across multiple other themes but both have given me problems in WP 3.2.  This may be due to theme compatibility, and probably is, but that’s little comfort when you start getting error messages across your pages.  Waiting for some consensus to develop on the best caching plugin for WP 3.2, or for an upgrade to these popular plugins.
    • Quick Page/Post Redirects:  I totally love this plugin because it makes redirecting pages easy as pie, but it crashed the site I’m working on now and I have to find something else to use.  It was working fine on 3.1 so the upgrade must be affecting it.  I have had to ditch the use of this plugin and edit my .htaccess file manually to get my redirects to work.
    • NextGen Smooth Images:  NextGen regular is working ok, but the improved version has not yet been upgraded for 3.2
  • Slider Problems/JQuery:  Some themes that use things like jquery image sliders, especially the JQuery Nivo Slider, may experience conflicts when they upgrade.  In my case one of my homepage sliders just froze up and I had to revert back to the old WordPress (read here to learn how) while waiting for the theme designer to publish a 3.2-compliant upgrade to his theme.

What You Should Do About WP 3.2

If you are able, try installing 3.2 first on a test site or on a local server (I love WAMP), include all the plugins you care about, and see if you have problems.  If you do, de-activate each plugin one at a time to isolate whether it’s these that are causing the issue, and also check the support for your theme to see if they are doing anything to address Gershwin issues.

In the case of my slider site, the developer just had to update the js folder than contained the scripts for the Nivo Slider, so you may only need a file or two.

The lesson I learned with this WordPress upgrade is to not get too eager… after they publish an update, it’s advisable to hang back a bit and see what the web community has to say, and do a bunch of testing offline or on a test site before rushing in with the upgrade.  Gershwin is nice, but at the moment the headaches have outweighed the improvements.

Onward and Upward!



Read more about WordPress help here and let me know if you have questions.  

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