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

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Even if you're installing by hand, setting up an instance of WordPress is remarkably uncomplicated. Creating the database, unpacking the files into a directory, and setting the program's file permissions are the hardest parts, as the rest is done automatically by WordPress itself. All of the major options for the program are either automatically configured or set up through the Web-based admin panel.

Likewise, the entire product -- along with all of its plug-ins and themes -- can update itself in the background, a relatively new feature. Enterprise users might want to toggle this off, to guard against features breaking silently in the background. WordPress is no less guilty than any other software product of having plug-ins or theme functionality go awry because of a change to the platform.

If you're importing existing content, one way to do this is to generate it in WXR (WordPress Extended RSS), WordPress's own XML file format. One major drawback of using WXR is that it's not formally documented anywhere; it only exists in the form of the actual code used by WordPress to export data. That said, other people have reverse-engineered how the format works, so while creating an export file takes some effort, it's not impossible. WordPress will automatically slurp up RSS feeds, although importing assets or user accounts requires additional tinkering.

One decision you'll have to make is whether to use WordPress's Multisite mode. A typical WordPress installation is treated as a single unit, with all pages, users, and assets handled together. For more complex deployments -- say, a setup where each department has its own discrete user base, asset list, and blog -- it's possible to deploy multiple instances of WordPress side-by-side. But another, more compact option is to use Multisite mode to allow multiple WordPress sites to be managed by the same instance of the program. Note, however, that not all plug-ins play nice with Multisite. In fact, developing a plug-in to work with Multisite requires some savvy.

Looking good
Most of the immediately visible changes to WordPress over the last year revolve around its UI and ease-of-use functions. For instance, the editor and control panel have been reworked to use a responsive design, and the theme management system was changed to make it easier to organize and sort through. One native addition that should appeal to enterprises is that changes to posts can be tracked line-by-line and attributed to specific users, taking the mystery out of who might have broken what.

The editors in content management systems are generally terrible, encouraging users to compose their texts outside of the system and paste them in. WordPress's editor encourages users to work directly in the browser, and to the credit of the designers, I ended up doing exactly that. One recent addition to the editor is a distraction-free mode, where all nonessential prompts are hidden while you're typing. Too many content management systems present you with a tiny editing box in the midst of a sea of rarely touched controls, so this is welcome relief. The WordPress editor is even mobile-friendly, with the editing controls both resized and reorganized to work well on tablets and phones.

WordPress plug-ins
The vast ecosystem of plug-ins and themes makes WordPress a platform unto itself. Be cautious about adding plug-ins, however, because they don't all play well together.
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