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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By default, WordPress provides five user roles within its system: subscriber, contributor, author, editor, and administrator. A subscriber is essentially little more than a comments moderator; a contributor can create posts but do little else; an author can post and manage their own media; an editor can work on other peoples' posts and media; and an administrator can run the whole shooting match. For most scenarios, these roles should work fine, but you can add more granular control over user behaviors through a third-party plug-in such as User Access Manager. The same goes for integrating with existing authentication and authorization systems such as Active Directory.

Bend it, shape it
On top of the ease of installation, WordPress's ease of customization is the other big draw. Themes for WordPress sites can be downloaded from a repository controlled by WordPress or added by hand, and they can even be edited directly within WordPress. Themes can be tried out provisionally, so you don't need to reskin the entire public-facing version of your site to see how well a given theme works.

But the real power behind WordPress's customizability and malleability is its plug-in system, which is a software ecosystem unto itself. There is literally not a single aspect of WordPress that cannot be customized with plug-ins, which cover most every conceivable bit of functionality: SEO optimization, content caching and acceleration, content management, search-and-replace, contact forms, newsletter and email subscription management, e-commerce add-ons, and on and on.

Two widely used plug-ins that demonstrate the power and flexibility of WordPress are BuddyPress and bbPress. The former allows a WordPress installation to be turned into a miniature social network; it's so popular that entire books have been written on how to get the most out of it. The latter adds forum functionality to a WordPress site, leveraging the WordPress user database for sign-ons. There's even a way to leverage WordPress's user database as a CRM system, by way of PauPress.

Naturally, you can also find plug-ins that make WordPress more useful as an enterprise tool. I already mentioned Active Directory integration. Another example is Secure FTP support: WordPress doesn't support SFTP natively, so you'll need to add a third-party plug-in to make use of that. Likewise, plug-ins exist to provide cross-integration with platforms such as Salesforce or SugarCRM.

What to watch out for
As powerful as the plug-in system is, it can also be the source of some of the biggest headaches associated with WordPress. Because plug-ins can make radical changes to the way WordPress works, they can interact badly or conflict to such an extent that they fail to work at all. Likewise, some plug-ins don't work properly in a Multisite installation, and many aren't aware of the presence of BuddyPress or bbPress.

WordPress editor
WordPress's in-browser editor works well in both mobile and desktop browsers. The "distraction-free" mode hides everything but the editing box.
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