November 2018 Update

Summary

If you do not want to read the detail that follows then the latest information can be briefly summarised as follows:

  • The major news is that the launch of WordPress 5.0 (the Gutenberg release) is currently set for November 27th, 2018
  • If this date is not met (and my money is on it not being met) then the launch will be put back to January 22nd, 2019
  • There is talk of subsequent minor releases every fortnight initially to fix bugs .. 5.0.1, 5.0.2 et cetera
  • My confidence in the reliability of WordPress 5.0 when it is eventually released has taken a nosedive in recent weeks. I plan to continue to use the current editor until such time as I consider that the dust has settled
  • It has been announced that the Classic Editor (i.e. the current editor) will be officially supported until at least the end of December 2021
  • WordPress.org users should be using version 7 of PHP from January 2019, as version 5.6 will no longer be supported after December. Version 7.3 is due to be released shortly but it should not be used until WordPress announces that it supports it. 7.0, 7.1 and 7.2 are ok.

The WordPress Rollercoaster

I previously said that version 4.9.9 would be launched in early November, and that it would focus on preparing the way for 5.0 (the Gutenberg version). This sensible approach (to my mind) was abandoned. The pressure to get Gutenberg out as soon as possible resulted in a change of plan. Work on version 4.9.9 was halted almost before it got started and all the focus was switched to version 5.0.

The WordPress version 5.0 project is being led by MattWullenweg (Mr. WordPress himself), a sure indication that he is determined to launch it ASAP. Quite a few people were convinced that he wanted to make the big announcement of its arrival at Wordcamp US, a conference which takes place in early December. You can read his “plan” here. The initial target date for the release was November 19th, 2018.

Beta versions of 5.0 have been around since October 24th (beta 4 is due out today). However, significant bugs have been found, leading to general cries for a delay. Another factor has been a big hoo-ha on the subject of accessibility in Gutenberg, i.e. the ease of use for individuals who require assistive technology. The target date has now been put back to November 27th. If that date is not met the launch will be delayed until January 22nd, 2019.

Latest Gutenberg Information

Gutenberg 4.3 is the latest release. In theory, the development of new features in Gutenberg was halted around early July. In practice, new items continue to be added. I will mention just a few of them.

Distraction-free writing

There has been much criticism that the Gutenberg user interface “gets in the way” of free-flowing writing. A number of features have been introduced to placate these critics:

  • The positioning of the toolbar which relates to the current block just above the block was one particular dislike. A unified toolbar option now allows you, if you wish, to position the toolbar at the top of the screen instead.
  • Spotlight mode is another new option. When set, it greys out all blocks except the one that you are currently working on.
  • Thirdly, there is a full screen mode. This removes the dashboard items on the left of the screen. So, not actually full screen but simply a larger area.

I feel sure that further changes are likely in this area, and indeed to the general user interface which has come in for some stick.

Classic block – insert media button

I had previously mentioned that there was no insert media button in this block. This has now been rectified. However, there is still no insert contact form option. If you need to insert a contact form you will have to use a shortcode to do so. See the contact form support item for further details. Note that existing contact forms will continue to work OK.

Multiple reusable blocks

The reusable block which was introduced some time back was somewhat limited in its usefulness. It has now been extended. Multiple blocks can now be exported and subsequently imported elsewhere.

Media and Text Split Block

As the name implies, it allows you to have text alongside an image. I do not like the initial implementation: there are no facilities to vertically align the image within the block; and the text does not wrap round underneath the image. I will monitor it to see if any changes are made to the implementation.

My Experiences with Gutenberg on Wordpress.com

As a WordPress.com user, I decided to act as a guinea pig in late September and try out Gutenberg on my bkthisandthat.org.uk website. My main objective was to ensure that my existing content would work with Gutenberg. I currently use the Independent Publisher 2 theme which is aimed at people who want a simple theme where the word is king. Here is the link to my feedback in early October if you have not seen it.

It was moderately upbeat in tone. However, I had another play with Gutenberg recently and immediately hit a problem which was not there before. Converting a post / page to Gutenberg resulted in all images being duplicated! The problem has not been resolved at the time of writing. Hence, my current mood is somewhat downbeat, given that this is such a basic item of functionality.

On the plus side, the problem with pasting content from Word into Gutenberg seems to have been resolved.

How to control which editor you use on WordPress.com

I do not know! There is still no news on this front. It is said that Gutenberg will be the default editor. Question – will we be able to specify the Classic Editor as the default? There is talk of making a link to the Classic Editor plugin available on the WP Admin dashboard. However, it is not clear if it would only apply to WordPress.org users. The phrase “we are considering” keeps appearing on this general subject. It seems obvious to me that they want people to use Gutenberg, and will only allow them to specify the Classic Editor as the default if they absolutely have to .. and that they will not make a decision until the last possible moment.

The current set up in WordPress 4.9.8 is that if Gutenberg is activated then it is treated as the default editor when posts / pages are accessed via the WP-Admin dashboard. However, there is an option on the second line (underneath the name of the document on the all posts/pages directory listing) to select the Classic Editor instead.

PHP

This item is only relevant to WordPress.org users. WordPress server-side code is written in the PHP scripting language, of which there are various versions. Although WordPress will work with PHP 5.2, that version has not been supported for some time. The minimum version which is currently supported is 5.6 but support will also cease for that at the end of December.

Version 6 of PHP never officially appeared, so that means that you should really be on version 7 in January 2019. There are currently three versions: 7.0, 7.1 and 7.2. In addition, version 7.3 is due to be available in mid-December although it should not be used until WordPress announces that it supports it.

You should check with your ISP or support person as to what version of PHP you are currently using, and then arrange to be on some variant of version 7 if you are not already using one of them.

Miscellaneous

New default theme. If you have used WordPress for two or more years then you will know that Automattic was in the habit of producing a new default theme annually, usually around December time. There was no new theme last year, presumably because the emphasis was on Gutenberg’s development. However, it has been announced that there will be a new theme to accompany WordPress 5.0, unsurprisingly called Twenty Nineteen. Also unsurprisingly, it will be a Gutenberg theme!

Support for the Classic Editor. There has been a fair amount of clamour for information on just how long the Classic Editor will be supported after Gutenberg has been launched. It has recently been announced that the Classic Editor will be officially supported until at least the end of December, 2021.

Classic Editor plugins. I have been asked to explain the difference between the Classic Editor and the Classic Editor Addon plugins for WordPress.org users. The Classic Editor plugin currently has over 500,000 activations, so obviously quite a few people want to stick with the current editor, at least for now. However, it is still possible to inadvertently activate Gutenberg. This is a potential problem for any site where more than one user has administration rights. The Classic Editor Addon plugin installs the Classic Editor plugin and then removes all mention of Gutenberg from it. The bottom line is that they are both effectively doing the same thing; it is just that the Classic Editor Addon adopts a safety-first approach to avoid any accidental activation of Gutenberg.

Activity is a new feature on WordPress.com. It logs details of changes on your site which you can browse. It sounds as if people on the free plan will be able to see the last 20 items, while those on paid plans will see items from the last 30 days. There are various plugins on WordPress.org which can provide logging information for those users, the most popular being Activity Log.

Beyond WordPress 5.0

Plans are already taking shape for subsequent versions.

As mentioned, there will obviously be room for bug-fixing releases in the early days .. 5.0.1, 5.0.2 et cetera.

The next stage of Gutenberg development will minimally include the following: widgets will become blocks; there will be menu navigation blocks; and nested blocks will be supported. Quite what else may appear in block form in the short to medium term is not yet clear, at least not to me.

Also, expect changes / new functionality in the areas of privacy and accessibility.