Review: WordPress 4 plugs in, turns on, grows up

The latest revision of the powerful and popular blogging engine does far more than blogs, although the power comes with a price

Software often evolves to serve purposes beyond what its makers intended. WordPress stands as a classic example. What started as a simple blogging engine has become one of the most widely used pieces of software for maintaining both public-facing and internal websites. Today the WordPress blogging engine not only powers blogs but also works as a CMS, a social hub, a discussion forum, a feedback-tracking system, an e-commerce solution, and much more. With each new revision WordPress comes a bit closer to being a general content-publishing framework that businesses and enterprises could adopt.

The key word is "could." Preparing WordPress for heavy traffic and securing it for public-facing and even internal use requires some work. On the other hand, much of that work is made possible -- even easy -- thanks to the vigorous culture of development around the product. If you want to do something with WordPress, odds are good that someone else has already done it, and they know how to do the job for you.

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We took a look at the pre-release version of WordPress 4.0, bearing in mind that it was still officially a beta and many elements might still be in flux. That said, because the changes between dot-zero WordPress versions are intentionally limited (more on that below), the WordPress 4.0 beta proved to be quite stable. It's software you can think about deploying to production sooner rather than later.

New and noteworthy
Contrary to conventional wisdom, dot-zero WordPress releases don't imply major, revolutionary changes to the product. The developers of WordPress take a slow and steady route to adding functionality, rather than slating earth-shaking functional changes for left-of-the-decimal-point releases. It should be no surprise that WordPress 4.0 is more production-ready than the typical dot-zero release.

The most significant change rolled into WordPress over the last year -- and the one with potentially the most impact for business and enterprise users -- is in the way the product is developed. Instead of adding changes to the core product directly, WordPress built new features first as plug-ins and tested that way. If they pass muster with the development team, only then are they rolled into the core product.

Aside from keeping the core code cleaner, this development strategy has another boon. It means enterprises that want to customize WordPress for their own use have a fairly standard way to do it, and they can look to existing plug-ins for examples of how to build custom functionality. All of WordPress, from the core code to the plug-ins and the templates, is built using PHP, which -- given the popularity of PHP as a language in the enterprise -- makes it easy to target WordPress as a development platform.

Booting up
A big reason for the popularity of WordPress is that it makes setup and configuration dead simple. Many Web providers have a WordPress installation script for one-button setups, and you'll find a wealth of other easy-start options. JumpBox, for instance, offers a WordPress VM appliance, which I use as part of this review.

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