Jane Wells today announced the release of the first beta of WordPress 3.4. 3.4 is the net major update of the WordPress platform and the full stable release is scheduled for May 2012.
I was disappointed to hear a few weeks ago that the new default theme Twenty Twelve has been delayed until WordPress 3.5 however 3.4 does introduce a lot of great features.
New features include:
- Theme Customizer with Previewer
- Flexible Custom Header Sizes
- Selecting Custom Header and Background Images from Media Library
- Better experience searching for and choosing a theme
Under the hood changes include:
- New XML-RPC API for external and mobile applications
- New API for registering theme support for custom headers and backgrounds
- Performance improvements to WP_Query by splitting the query (Please test!)
- Internationalization improvements (improved performance and locale support)
- Performance and API improvements when working with lists of installed themes
- Support for installing child themes from the WordPress Themes Directory
New Features Introduced in WordPress 3.4
The biggest changes that have been introduced in 3.4 are related to installing and using themes. Let’s look at the 4 new features that have been added.
Theme Customizer with Previewer
Once WordPress 3.4 has been installed, you will see a new ‘Theme Customize’ in the theme area for all of your themes (yes, it works with all themes!).
Clicking on the link will take you to the theme customiser page. There are 6 sections: theme details, site title and tagline, header, background, navigation and static front page.
At the right hand side of the menu is a live preview of your website. You can browse your website as normal and any changes that you make via the menu will automatically reload your site on the right hand side. In that respect it works in a similar way to the visual editor in the Headway drag and drop framework.
The customiser doesn’t offer you as many options as a theme framework though it’s very useful and a step in the right direction towards a standard for customising themes.
You’ll notice from the image above that all of the options available through the theme customiser were available in WordPress; the customiser simply has them all in a user-friendly interface that lets you see changes in real time. If you don’t like using the customiser, you could make these changes as you normally do directly e.g. via the menu page, header page etc.
Customising the Header
WordPress 3.4 introduces ‘Flexible Custom Header Sizes’ and the ability to ‘Select Custom Header and Background Images from Media Library’. In WordPress 3.3 and below the header image was restricted to a particular size and header images had to be uploaded directly in the header page.
The size of the header image depended on the theme itself. Twenty Eleven stipulated that images had to be 1000 ÃƒÆ’— 288. The option of using more flexible images has been in development for around a year.
Uploading images from your media library is a great feature and something that really should have been added from the start (good to see it there now though).
Better experience searching for and choosing a theme
Browsing for themes via the theme area in WordPress 3.4 is a little slicker than it was before as they have removed the install and preview links and the theme description. Theme descriptions were a big problem before as many theme developers added extremely long descriptions for their themes, which made browsing for designs a pain.
Here’s an example of the result you get when searching for a minimal blue theme in WordPress 3.3 and before.
The same results using WordPress 3.4 are much cleaner and user friendly. This makes finding a suitable design quicker.
At the moment, when a user clicks on the preview link a lightbox style pop up appears showing you a preview of the design. The user can then close the window and install the theme using the install link.
The new system is much more user friendly. When you see a design you like you click on the image link and you are taken to a preview page that shows the theme in full on the right hand side and the name, thumbnail and theme description on the left hand side. An install link is also placed on the left hand side so you don’t have to close the preview window.
WordPress 3.4 was certainly an update that focused on using themes. In addition to the major new features mentioned above, it has also added support for installing child themes from the theme directory and performance improvements for working with lists of installed themes.
Traditionally, the beta release of WordPress has all the major new features that will be included with the final release, so future beta and release candidate releases will probably just tweak the main new features rather than add new functionality.
3.4 is a small evolution in WordPress compared to other major releases like 3.1, 3.2 and 3.3, though I’m pleased with how WordPress are focusing more on finding and using themes.
What are your thoughts on WordPress 3.4?
Link: WordPress 3.4 Beta 1