I had put off writing this post for a while, partly because I wanted to take the time and really give Wordpress 2.5 a whirl before bashing it.

For several months now I have watched the discussion on the Wordpress.org support forums – especially about the much maligned admin back-end changes, run a security "back-porting" experiment to keep my heavily customized version of 2.3.3 viable, and put 2.5.x through its paces to see what it does and doesn’t do.

All along, I’ve been taking copious screen-caps to help build my case. And at least for me, the verdict is in: Wordpress 2.5.x has been largely a mistake. Here’s why:

  1. The layout and design changes to the admin backend have done preciously little to solve the problem of wasted vertical screen "real-estate", even though a supposedly top-notch design firm was hired in the redesign. Not sure what they were thinking, but even though the menus were made a little more sane, I still find no real consistency in what was done.
  2. Several things that actually worked well for people (and especially power-users) were taken away for no apparent reason, with sometimes additional complications being caused. Yes, I’m talking about the "Widgets" screen, as well as the needless moving around of the "post controls" away from the right hand of the write screen (wasting, surprise, surprise, even more vertical screen real-estate).
  3. It doesn’t truly address several of the long-standing issues with the WYSIWIG editor and the "wpautop" function that is at the root of these (which also happens to make Wordpress slower than it needs to be). Sorry for the arcane tech reference, but it’s necessary to remind people that Wordpress overly messing with people’s HTML has gone on far too long. The current "HTML" view in the write screen is now a very strange hybrid.
  4. And as I’ve argued in great detail in the posts on the security back-porting experiment, none of these rather extensive design changes needed to be rolled into the same update with the much needed security updates. They could have been kept separate, allowing users to continue using 2.3.3 for the time being. If Apache is able to do this, so should Wordpress… Stop using security fears as leverage to push your feature "upgrades".
  5. Just for fun, along the way one of the more testy threads on the Wordpress.org forum was closed by Mr. Wordpress Matt Mullenweg himself, even though there were MANY, MANY complaining about issues with the 2.5 admin back-end design. Listen to your power-user base every once in a while, they are the one’s evangelizing your product for you (go read some Guy Kawasaki on this issue). They are the ones that might have to live through dozens of upgrades for clients, and their often painful aftermath.

OK, so let’s get into the details. Here is what my own customized Write Screen looks like, using the FCKEditor plugin and changes to the admin stylesheets and /wp-admin/menu.php.

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You can see for yourself that the vertical screen real-estate is handled with "respect". On a standard 15" laptop screen there is no scrolling necessary for me, even though the editor textarea is a good writing size.

It starts with moving the Blog Name and "User Account" info off to the right, saving tons of space at the top. Presumably as the author, we know what our blog is called… (open-to-all user registration is a security risk that should be turned off, unless you are e.g. trying to use Wordpress as some sort of membership site hack).

I do have my Firefox browser optimized not to waste too much at the top with toolbars either (it’s held to about 1" including tabs by customizing/decluttering/combining the toolbars), and my Windows bar is actually dragged over to the right edge of the screen.

But even without this one would still have a good sized editor textarea, maybe the "Tags" text-field would no longer be visible as it is now. The toolbars for the FCKEditor are also condensed down to the most important items BTW.

The point is, I can start typing without scrolling, the key controls are all within reach on the right side or at the top, and the Wordpress menu options are still within reach without scrolling as well.

(Notice also that I moved the "Publish" button away from the "Save" buttons to avoid accidental publishing, after all with your ping list, you really can’t take that back very well. Also, I added a "Duplicate" function that is the equivalent of a "Save As". Comes in handy if you write posts that belong to a series with mostly the same tags, or to break up over-long drafts into two or more posts. Also handy for duplicating pages where you e.g. want to split-test elements of your sales copy, etc. etc. "Save & Close" reliably takes you back to the "posts management" screen.)

I think since 15" screens are the de facto standard in portable (enough) laptops, it’s really useful to build screens for decent display on those. Yes, some people have much larger desktop screens, but one shouldn’t assume that.

Another issue is that text becomes harder and harder to read the wider the column size (your eyes have to move/fixate more horizontally), so going wider with the editor textarea is not helpful. I have set mine to display in roughly the same width as my posts are displayed on the blog itself.

Now compare the Wordpress 2.5.x write screen, I have put some free-hand notes in there to highlight the issues:

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It’s really quite a sight. In fact, the first thing that pops into my head whenever I see the 2.5 write screen is how empty it is: There is almost nothing in the top half of the screen! Also noticeable is that part of the menu/sub-menu was arbitrarily moved off to the right (not visible in my screen cap).

Settings, Plugins, and Users are now separated from the rest, even though Themes and Widgets are still under "Design" on the left. If that is supposed to be intuitive, good luck. First off, changing Themes should be the rarest of operations, so if anything IT should be moved out of sight. Second, aren’t Plugins part of the design in a way? Widgets and Plugins may get changed quite a bit more often for some, so if anything they should be closer at hand.

I am including a few other screen-caps of my set-up, just to show what the menu and some of the screens COULD be like. Obviously everyone is likely to have slightly different priorities and preferences. Which is exactly my point: If Wordpress wants most of its users to be happy, it might be worth considering drag-drop customizable menus.

I did my changes in /wp-admin/menu.php manually to get greater sanity. Dropped a few of those items I never use, and otherwise rearranged and renamed things as much as was quickly possible.

Also notice that I rearranged the posts table to sort by status first and then by "Modified" so that my drafts would be at the top. It’s like a post to-do list and brainstorm. (Don’t ask me what hoops I had to jump through to get the list to sort by BOTH "Status" descending AND by "Date Modified" descending combined.)

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To show how the old Widget screen could have been updated only slightly to make it more usable, look at this next screen-shot. None of the much-criticized new Widget screen functionality needed to be invented, it works great like this:

Tightened up the font-sizes/margins/padding on everything a bit, moved the Widget "tray" to the top, and thereby created space for easily handling up to 5 sidebars – I use different ones for the index.php, single.php, and page.php views.

(click image to enlarge in a new tab)

There are a few other design issues with 2.5, such as the "Manage Posts" view that will now delete posts without a pop-up warning, and a few others. But so far most of the criticism has come in response to the write/edit screen and the new Widget management screen. And frankly, I believe for good reason.

Until they do something to blow me away with in terms of new functionality, I am sticking to my custom "2.3.3 Renegade" version… can you blame me?