Round 2: Comprehensive Review of 6 More Popular WordPress Premium Theme Frameworks

Last updated: 11:35 am Eastern Time on October 18, 2012

About this Theme Review

This is the much anticipated Round 2 of the WordPress Premium Theme Framework Comparison, which has dozens of valuable comments appreciating the WPMU DEV review, correcting errors (that I then updated in the post), telling me how I skipped that person’s favorite one, and asking for additional insights. That’s exactly what I want this one, Round 2, to be.

To be clear, my goals in comparing themes in this table format are to:

  • Enable a purchaser to find and compare their hot-button feature (e.g. BuddyPress support, Drag-and-Drop functionality, etc.). This allows you to quickly narrow down the many quality options to a smaller, more manageable group.
  • Provide a non-biased, third-party initial impression of the framework’s built-in functions, support channels, and ease of use. However, anything can be done with any theme or framework with the right coding, digging, and determination.
  • Serve as a resource of quick-access information for current theme owners. This is why some of the links to protected forum posts and the like are included — because that’s where the information is documented and because if you have a login to the theme’s support forum, you will be able to access the documentation.

About Me

You might be wondering, “Who is this guy?”

Well, I’ll tell you. :-)

I, Clifford Paulick, am very technically-minded, but I’m not a true programmer or designer; occasionally I do try though, most often with success. Ideally, I’d like to have full control of every possible element of any site that I build. I would rather have 100 options that I never change the default values of but are already built-in should I come across a scenario of needing them.

When shopping for a premium theme framework, price is not the primary concern; sometimes, neither is ‘best value’. Let me explain… If Theme X is the absolute best and costs $700 for lifetime access, but Theme Y is a close 2nd at $200 for lifetime access, many people would pick Theme Y. Personally, I’d probably pick Theme X. However, there is no true Theme X. No one theme framework is absolutely perfect for every possible scenario, but once you pick a premium theme framework, you should be able to build any site with it. Make sense?

I like premium WordPress themes and premium WordPress plugins because I like supporting the community financially, and I like quality products that are supported and continually updated. There are a few well-known examples in the free WordPress Extend directories, which I love, but generally I find premium products to be more professional, more responsive to feature requests, and going the extra mile with support if needed. I have to admit, though, that I also love WordPress coupons. Ironic, right?

The Review, Round 2

Enough about me. Here it is. Share, comment, and help me correct inaccuracies (even of the slightest type, if any). Tell us your favorite from Round 1 or Round 2 and why. If you have a website built on one here, share your linkbait here… but only with a valuable comment. Cool? Get to it!

At the end of this post are my summaries, with grades for each framework in a few key areas:

  • Overall Value — Was the product and support bundle worth the price? If money is no object, is it flexible enough for me to commit to using this one framework for the rest of my mid-term (2-5 years) WordPress days?
  • Customizability/Options — Can I do whatever I might want to do, with this theme as the backbone of all my site-customization endeavors? Does it have enough, and the right, options for me to value the framework as a strong design foundation to build all sites on?
  • User Experience — How easy and intuitive are the framework options? How available and in-touch does the support team seem to be? If my non-WP-savvy client sees the theme options, would they be too confused to understand how to do the mini-customizations they may want to do?

Legend:

  • “Y” means Yes
  • “-” means No (used in place of “N” for readability’s sake)
  • Blank means I didn’t have enough reliable information to say Yes or No.
  • When reasonable, I provided a link. Some links may be restricted to logged-in users and, therefore, may ask you to login. The link was still included for current theme owners and for documentation’s sake.

General Theme Information

Theme name Dev4Press xScape iThemes Builder MySiteMyWay Thesis 2.0 Ultimatum YOOtheme
Company location Nis, Serbia Stillwater, OK Austin, TX Antalya, Turkey Hamburg, Germany
Theme version xScape Core 1.8.4.1 (cannot be used w/o a child theme) — Child Theme: Xposed 1.1.2 Builder 3.4.12 Any (all include the same framework, but there’s no one parent theme framework) 2.0 2.362 Nano 2 (v1.0.1) theme includes Warp (v6.3) framework
Able to use for client sites Y Y Y Requires additional cost Only with a Developer’s or Designer’s license Y for any license type but uses up one of your usage counts (so buy them their own Basic or you’ll need Standard or Developer)
List of pros - Themselves - Y No, but their free Master theme can be used to create your own resale-able (or buy someone else’s) custom design, like those at ThemeForest
Affiliate program Y Y - Y Y -
Approximate # of current customers 3,000 9,153 52,305 4,331
Approximate # of Staff 1.5 20+ 5 14
Blog Y Y Y Y Y Y
Demo front-end Y Y Y Y Y, Themes and WidgetKit
Demo wp-admin Y, or here - Y By request -
Pricing $29+ per child theme for lifetime updates, or $99+ per year for all current and future child themes $80 includes 5 child themes (not of your choice). $198 includes all child themes. $35 one-time per theme; or $79 one-time for all themes plus $9 per month $87, $164 (additional skins), or $197 (lifetime updates, additional skins, and boxes) $65, $125, $170 39, 79, or 249 Euros for 1, 3, or Unlimited site licenses and 3, 12, or 12 months of updates, respectively. The paid version of WidgetKit is available in all WARP 6 theme Demo packages.20% discount on membership renewals for same level or lower when you renew while your current subscription is active.
Return Policy, Discount Codes No refunds. Promo code “WPMU2012″ for 20% off any/all Dev4Press plugins or themes (unlimited use, expires Dec 31, 2012). No refunds. Discount codes available. Customer Loyalty Program discount 30 Day Money-Back Guarantee. Promos. Promo code “wpmu25″ for 25% off all themes and membership (unlimited use). 30 day money back guarantee No refunds Case-by-case
Child theme store Y Y - Not that I found, but T&C suggests yes: “…Designer’s License grants users the right to sell their works around Ultimatum on Ultimatum Members only website community.” -
Free child theme(s) - Y, quantity depends on the license level purchased - -
Sample Child Theme provided - Y - - No, but you can Create a new Style or Module via code
Plugin store Y Y - - -
Facebook Page Dev4Press Y Y Y Y -
Twitter Account @Dev4Press and @MilanGD @iThemes and @iThemes Builder @WebTreatsEtc @diythemes @Ultimatum Theme @YOOtheme
Showcase of sites - Y Y Y Y
Support/Update Time Period w/o Renewal Lifetime per theme purchase or Annual for the Themes Club Membership 1 year Depends on purchase type 1 year for Basic or Basic Plus. Lifetime for Professional. Lifetime 3 months or 12 months, depending on license purchased
T&C Terms and Conditions and Support Policy Terms and Conditions of Use Terms and Conditions Terms and Conditions Terms of Use

Theme Support Details

Theme name Dev4Press iThemes Builder MySiteMyWay Thesis 2.0 Ultimaturm YOOtheme
Live Chat support Skype limited minutes of support available with Enterprise license. - - - - -
Email Support Tickets-based email support available with Developer or Enterprise license. Additional email credits available for purchase at any license level. - - - - -
Forum Support Y Y Y Y Y Y
Forum Rules/Terms Y Forum Usage Tutorials Y Help Guide
Forum private messaging feature - Y Y Y Y -
Forum access only for current subscribers? Y Y - Y Y -
Newsletter with tips Y Y - Y Y -
Community Tutorials - - Y Y
User/Starter/TOC Guide Intro videos for xScape framework and Xposed child theme Intro Video, Builder Basics videos, Getting Started with Builder video, and Getting Started PDF Y Y Y and how to not have a blank site Y
Written Tutorials Y Builder Codex Y YArticles Y Y, for Themes and WidgetKit
SEO Tutorials - - Y - -
Videos Y iThemes.tv - Y, Screencasts Y -
Action Map / CSS Map List of hooks List of hooks - Within tooltips of each box - -
Demo site content provided - Y, per theme example, linked to in each theme’s settings panel in wp-admin - Links to WordPress default demo content Y, downloadable per theme
Downloadable web elements/graphics/PSD Y, with purchase of Developer or Enterprise license - Y - Y, Adobe Fireworks PNGs downloadable per theme
Responsive tester tool - - - - - -

Feature Comparison

Theme name Dev4Press iThemes Builder MySiteMyWay Thesis 2.0 Ultimaturm YOOtheme
Auto-updater Y - Y No, but automatic notifications
Beta updates Y By approval only Developer’s or Designer’s license
Color palette reference gallery - - - - - -
Pre-made color palette/style alternatives Y - Y - Y
Ability to restrict theme options to a specific WP user - - - - Y -
bbPress-capable Y Y Y Y
BuddyPress-capable - Y Y, more info Available for Developer’s or Designer’s license Not totally
MultiSite-capable Y Y Y Available for Developer’s or Designer’s license Requires Standard or Developer version, (depending on the number of sites/sub-sites, due to their Site Licenses restrictions)
Shortcodes Y (must reference the List of hooks) - Y and Shortcode Generator - Y and a shortcode generator Y, via WidgetKit
Sliders Y Some built-in, additional available via $150 DisplayBuddy plugin Y - Y Y, via WidgetKit
Tabs, accordions, etc. Includes a widget that is tabbed - Y - Y Y, via WidgetKit
Theme layout/column options Y Y Y Y Y Y
Threaded comments Y Y Y Y Y Y
Widget-ready Y Y Y Y Y Y
CSS Pre-Processor - - - - -
Twitter Bootstrap - - - - - -
Drag-and-Drop layout options per page template or per page / post - LoopBuddy is true drag-and-drop, included in Developer Pack - Y Y -
Footer display/layout customizations Y Y Y Y Y via widget or code customizations
Custom header/logo image(s) Y Y Y Y via widget or code customizations
Favicon Y Y Y Y Y Must replace theme folder’s existing file via FTP
Apple touch icon - - - - Y Must replace theme folder’s existing file via FTP
Background color/image settings - Y Y Not without code
Featured image settings/customizations - - - Y, but not native WP Featured Images Y -
Fonts/Typography Y Not built-in Y via Skin Generator, and you can Add Additional Cufon Fonts Y Y, via Cufon, Font-Face, or Google Y
Menu/Nav settings Y Y Y Y Y Y
Login page customizations Y - Y - - -
404 Page customizations Y Y Y Y Y via code
Translation-ready Y Y Y and WPML Y Y, announcement Y
e-commerce-ready GD Products Center Shopp, WP-eCommerce, and Cart66 via select child themes, like Depot and Market Y, Jigoshop and WP e-Commerce WooCommerce available for Developer’s or Designer’s license Editing code might be needed for Jigoshop, WooCommerce, but CPTs are supported so WP e-Commerce should work
Responsive - Y, and instructions for 100% full-width, or a Mobile Plugin Y - Y Y, some themes
Responsive sliders - Y - Y Y
SEO customizations Y Y Y Y Y, screenshots -
Import/export functionality Y Y Y Y Available for Developer’s or Designer’s license -
Online storage of customizations/exported settings - - Public Skins community (see links below), no Private storage - - -
Community theme settings sharing - - Y. How-to get started sharing your skins -
Settings reset button Y - Y Y - -

Theme-Specific Commentary

Dev4Press Xscape Framework with Xposed Child Theme

Framework gets updated constantly, but child theme updates are seldom.

Footer link credits are shown by default, but are able to be edited by going to Theme Settings -> Footer -> Main Content.

The UI feels like it was a really well designed theme in 2010. However, in late 2012, its look admin interface feels outdated. It supports WordPress’ Custom Menus and also has its own menu system — the choice is yours. The attention to detail gives it a powerful feeling, like it was coded by a pro, which it was. Other than not being responsive, the front-end displays well and has nice color choices but lacks any killer-app features in terms of design.

BuddyPress isn’t supported, but bbPress (standalone installation) is supported.

According to my letter grades below, it’s a solid “B-theme”. My guess is that Dev4Press’ priorities are on plugins, and I think that’s the right choice. Everything I’ve seen from Milan over the years has been top-quality but I’d recommend he commit to plugins and drop themes or clone himself (lol – or hire someone) and dive into creating a new round of themes. Said another way, I get the feeling that themes are in a sort of maintenance mode instead of in active, awesome-seeking development.

Recommended for: Users looking to integrate with Dev4Press’ plugins, wanting Milan’s expert advice and support, or someone looking for an inexpensive framework that has a lot of tweaks and settings built-in.

  • Overall Value Rating: B
  • Customizability/Options Rating: B
  • User Experience Rating: B

iThemes Builder

Builder was easy to learn and customize the “hard part” of laying out a site. However, I was unpleasantly surprised by the entire lack of design options like built-in font selection and color controls… Until I found out about the included Style Manager plugin. Additionally, there are plenty of child themes available, and any design can be achieved via CSS customizations.

I think the Builder “Start Here” page should invite users to install and activate the related plugins, especially Style Manager. Without Style Manager, the framework feels more like a layout controller than a full theme framework with all the bells and whistles.

iThemes goes overboard on documentation, which is great. However, there is information everywhere — forums, blog posts, codex, in-theme videos and documentation, etc. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and say it’s all current / up-to-date information no matter where you find it, but I wouldn’t want the job of updating documentation for iThemes. It’s in my nature to appreciate over-documentation, even if its organization is a bit confusing (as opposed to lacking documentation), but I think reorganizing it would really benefit users looking to perfect their Builder skills.

Recommended for: Users looking for a bunch of child theme options and a lot of control over layouts. Or CSS coders just looking for a framework to do the heavy lifting of moving content areas (header, footer, widget areas, etc.) around visually. Any skill/comfort level can find or create a theme to love with Builder.

  • Overall Value Rating: A
  • Customizability/Options Rating: A
  • User Experience Rating: A

MySiteMyWay

MySiteMyWay does a great job of documenting their features, benefits, and support topics in an organized, reassuring format. It was quick and easy to find most of the answers for this theme comparison just by reading their 3 or 4 information pages. And all their stuff — documentation, tooltips within the theme admin settings, and site designs — are beautiful. Kudos.

There’s not much to complain about here. In fact, I sort of enjoyed the customization process even though I was on my 100th hour of testing and researching (not really). The designs are pleasing, and the options extensive. My only concern is that activating the theme inputs a bunch of dummy content alongside (not replacing) the site’s pre-existing content. It makes me wonder if I don’t browse every corner of my site, I might have MySiteMyWay dummy content still on my site in production. However, it’s a nice touch when first activating the theme because it shows me what’s available and gives sort of an unofficial cue what to look for when wanting to find and replace that default content. Overall it’s a great collection of design, customizability, community skins, and professional documentation and support. They also offer free, royalty free icons (with or without a theme purchase).

Recommended for: Users looking for out-of-the-box beautiful designs that also have a slew of design tweaks (no code required) and a skins community and are comfortable staying within the given layout options. Also, anyone who loves creating anything they can imagine all with the power of shortcodes.

  • Overall Value Rating: A
  • Customizability/Options Rating: A
  • User Experience Rating: A

Thesis 2.0

Thesis 2.0 is definitely an improvement in usability and speed of site building compared with previous versions. This review left many blanks instead of answering “-” (no) because all the documentation and integrations aren’t released yet (it’s only been 2 weeks since Thesis 2.0′s release). However, I believe it’s a much improved foundation upon which to build Thesis websites.

I value the ability to change every little thing about my site (including support for schema.org), but I feel Thesis 2.0 is a developer’s/designer’s framework, not to be considered by novice/n00b customizers. Customizing the metadata and many of the settings is as simple as drop-downs and text inputs, but making layout/CSS customizations is cumbersome or actually requires CSS.

Thesis 2.0 is a commendable improvement that should be flexible enough to satisfy current and future Thesis users in the years to come, but it’s not a novice’s “DIYer’s” theme in my opinion. With the previous version of Thesis, I knew certain design customizations just weren’t available without digging into the depths of documentation. Thesis 2.0′s sales copy and wp-admin UI give the impression that customizing layouts and designs is just a click away, when in fact it’s about 10 clicks and a few CSS properties away. There are just too many other solid choices that are way easier to customize both the design and metadata settings for.

Recommended for: Already loyal Thesis users and CSS coders who want a theme framework simply for controlling the order of front-end content and the order of metadata settings.

  • Overall Value Rating: B
  • Customizability/Options Rating: A
  • User Experience Rating: A

Ultimatum

Ultimatum is a full-featured framework with built-in support for creating CPTs and forms (usually separate plugins). It is truly a widgetized theme; imagine every area of your site is like a WordPress widget, into which you drag-and-drop widgets to control content layout. It’s similar in concept to PageLines’ drag-and-drop “modules”, but it allows for more flexible layout options.

Overall, the settings are fairly intuitive, except when getting started with the Templates (i.e. layout editor). Getting started, I found myself wishing there were more built-in Template options because you’ve really got to sit down and think about where you want everything laid out on-screen. Each widget is within a layout row. Each layout row is inside either a full or partial layout. And these full and partial layouts are within Templates. In the forums, Ultimatum has acknowledged there are improvements to be made in the next version for initially activating the theme.

The framework is professional, and the forum has quite a bit of content, but I think a Template and Plugin/Add-On store (free and/or paid downloads) would greatly benefit the theme and its community. Having 5-15 pre-built Templates to import would be very helpful for users of all skill level who are new to the theme’s unique templating and layout system.

Before changing any settings, I’d recommend watching all the Ultimatum videos regarding Templates.

Recommended for:

  • Overall Value Rating: B
  • Customizability/Options Rating: A
  • User Experience Rating: B

YOOtheme

The name YOOtheme seems to conjure some “WooThemes piggyback” concerns. I assure you, they’re not related in any way and, in fact, YOOtheme existed before WooThemes. YOOtheme started out with Joomla templates, added WordPress themes in October 2010, and now designs all their themes for both systems (separate download files, not the same exact .zip files). Now that that’s settled…

All of YOOtheme’s current WordPress themes are built on its Warp Framework. There are a few dozen WordPress themes to choose from. They don’t use the standard WordPress Child Theme setup, but you can add your own skins and layouts. Layout settings are available via the theme options, like moving a sidebar from right to left for the entire theme or per page via Profiles (but not per post). There are 18 pre-defined widget areas. Basically, you add widgets like any theme then you go to the YOOtheme settings and control each widget’s display — pick one of 6 stylings, add one of 6 icons, and/or one of 4 badges. Also, each widget is able to be turned on for all pages or just the selected one(s).

YOOthemes’ responsive-ness is sub-par. Images don’t get resized to fit within the selected number of columns to display (1, 2, 3, or 4 columns), and images don’t resize when viewed on desktop or mobile browsers… unless you add class=”size-auto” to each image you want to be responsive (like this). Without doing so for each image, a 600 x 400 picture remains 600px wide no matter the device it’s viewed on, even though the site around it (navigation, text, etc.) adapts. Additionally, the navigation resizes to a boring-looking drop-down menu. I suggest they create prettier responsive navigation and add a “make all my images responsive” check box in the admin panel so you don’t have to edit each existing and future image.

The admin panel is minimal but intuitive. You’ll want an SEO plugin and YOOtheme’s WidgetKit plugin (which works for any theme, not just ones from YOOtheme), and don’t miss the included Fireworks PNG icons (nice bonus!).

YOOtheme has some great features throughout its collection of products (themes, WidgetKit, and icons), but I think it needs some additional options/features to really be an awesome (and most expensive) theme framework combination.

Recommended for:

  • Overall Value Rating: B
  • Customizability/Options Rating: B
  • User Experience Rating: A

Conclusion

There will never be a universally-agreed perfect theme framework, and customizations and better aesthetics will be expected each year as WordPress and user expectations continue developing.

Choosing a theme framework is often a decision to commit long-term and to build multiple sites, now or over time. Picking the right jockey (theme) is important, but picking the right horse (company / parent theme) is likely more important. If the framework / parent theme doesn’t continually get invested in over the years, you might find yourself reading reviews like this, shopping for a new one.

Of the themes reviewed here, I’d conclude that Builder and MySiteMyWay are my favorites. MySiteMyWay is easiest for making simple style customizations, and I love having a collection of community skins just a click away.

I’d love to see sharing of customizations (i.e. child themes or skins) for all theme frameworks, sort of like Adobe Kuler for color palettes.

However, MySiteMyWay doesn’t have the layout engine that Builder offers, and no Builder is complete without the Style Manager plugin. iThemes should really promote installing and activating that within the Builder wp-admin area (maybe they will once Style Manager is out of beta).

Dev4Press, to be honest with my WordPress friend Milan, should either invest a lot of time to create new functionality and designs or commit to only developing plugins instead of both plugins and themes. The themes feel like they used to be great but fell behind. Milan is a very talented developer and has a designer, but the themes currently feel outdated, even though maintenance releases are provided often via the automatic updater.

Thesis 2.0 is a dramatic improvement from prior versions. For some of you, I can see how it’d be “the one” for you. I imagine as documentation and add-ons get developed, it’ll keep getting better and better.

Once Ultimatum makes the customizing of layouts more intuitive, they’ll have a really solid layout engine that could take off once some designers get in there and add some sweet styles to pick from.

YOOtheme needs better responsive-ness if it’s going to advertise that it’s responsive. The options are simple, the appearances are good, and the layout editing needs to be done via text editors. I imagine with some enhancements, it’ll be even more popular with its existing fans and be more appealing to new customers. However, the license restrictions are tight and the price and update schedule makes it a definite value proposition decision. Currently, the 249 Euro price equals $325.20 USD (+80% of that price annually), which is steep unless you know it’s exactly what you want.

Comparing to Round 1

I chose to use the same table structure and fields as Round 1 to allow for side-by-side comparison.

Round 2′s grades (A, B, C, …) were awarded keeping Round 1′s grading scale in mind; thus, an “A” is an “A” and a “B” is a “B”. Here are the ways to pick a theme framework from these 2 comparison reviews:

  • Pick a framework with a long-term mindset. Pick the one that you think suits your layout, styling, support, and feature requirements best. Also consider your opinion of the company’s and product’s longevity.
  • Then consider price. If it’s $50 or $200 more to get exactly what you want, just consider that you’re still saving money compared to hiring a totally custom site design job, and you’re getting the foundation that the framework provides. And if your best choice isn’t the most expensive, be grateful. Don’t consider price as a major comparison factor.

I hope you enjoyed Round 2 as much as Round 1.

Please share your own experiences, thoughts, and questions below. I look forward to the conversation.

Comments (50)

  1. Great and useful pair of articles, Clifford! One subject I would like to see addressed in this type of comparison though is what is the quality of code they produce i.e. how clean and lean, standards and WP compliant, etc. Not being much of a coder (enough to be dangerous) I’m not super-qualified to evaluate the quality of the code myself, but would sure like to see a pro’s opinion about it.

    • Jacob, I agree that’s something to consider. However, everyone has their own hot button issues in terms of code. For people that don’t trust anyone else, they just code themselves. For you and me, we use theme frameworks because they’re flexible enough to be the foundation for any new site that comes our way. I thought about it, but I figured that since these things get updated so frequently, it’s something that I didn’t want to weigh in on, especially since I’m not a “real” programmer. But I did run Theme Check and WP_DEBUG and some other general checks on all in both articles and there weren’t any red flags for any theme.

      Check out http://wpmu.org/wordpress-deprecated-function/

  2. Nice comparison, but perhaps one more category would be appropriate – “Potential”. Clearly Ultimatum is still getting itself into the thick of it, while many of the others have been around for a while. But many of those oldies are actually pretty stale – old world frames. Ultimatum has more potential than any of the others, and dollar for dollar, for a designer or developer, that’s important. A newbie will likely not be able to get the most our of any of the Frames, and in fact should aspire to them, but not use them until more experienced. Like ‘em all – use many – but in the long term, and perhaps in the short term when the next version is done, Ultimatum will set the tone for future Frames.

    • I like the forward-thinking, Bob. I think the comparison should provide you with enough to say “that’s the one I want” or to say “I want that one, but I am going to request a feature that the other one has”. Yes, with time, these all could (and should, since they’re premium) continue improving dramatically. Ultimatum, in specific, has a good concept of a widgetized theme, but it might really do well if it gets a Store and/or a Community Theme/Skin collection like MySiteMyWay does.

  3. Clifford,

    Thanks for having us included in your comparisons. It is always good to see yourself from a distant objective eye. Thanks for critics we hope to get Ultimatum in a level which will get A for all categories you have.

    Keep up the good work we really appreciate it.

    • Thanks for the comment and being cooperative with my preparation for the review. I think having a more intuitive initial setup will go a long way, and I read in your forums or somewhere that it’s on the to-do list. I’m sure Ultimatum will continue getting better and better.

      • Thanks to both of you for responding about Weaver II. I only became aware of it a few months ago. WordPress Academy recommends starting with it or Genesis. I have some doubts about Genesis after looking at this fairly thoroughly. Weaver has all kinds of controls and access to css on a granular level. It makes nice looking sites. And, you can’t beat their starter price.

        I hope you’ll review the paid levels. I’d enjoy reading your thoughts on it.

  4. Good article!

    Regarding Builder, as Tim mentionned they just released 4.0 with Responsive support (which is a first step as more is coming). Builder 3.5.0 was also released almost a month ago and it was also a significant if evolutionary upgrade.

    I know it was not a criteria in your first comparison and it’s only fair it was not here but a VERY important criteria that should be important to anyone that is serious about working in the WordPress ecosystem is how well it supports and follows WordPress best practices and coding standards. In that regard, Builder is one of the best frameworks out there and would get an A. Thesis 2 which is still insiting on working with proprietary methods (skins instead of child themes) and black boxes loop code instead of having the standard WordPress templating system deserves a D or an F in that regard IMO. CUstomizing with hooks can only get you so far. iThemes Builder and all WooThemes themes (including Canvas) offer FAR more flexibility to anyone who can code a little PHP and has a minimal grasp of WordPress templating functions.

    Sadly, this is something that is rarely mentioned in theme or theme framework reviews but it is a key criteria IMO.

    • Stéphane, good points. I agree that a WP setup is my preference. Thesis, MySiteMyWay, and YOOtheme have a non-WP skins sort of setup (I think that’s all of them that I know for sure.) I did include several ‘child theme’ related rows in the first table. If something doesn’t allow child themes, I think that’s the biggest alert to “hey, they might do some basic WP things their own way”. But I think (for me at least) trying to compare how much is not a perfect science.

  5. You hit on just what I had been wondering about, Stéphane. Thanks for sharing that about Builder, which I have, but have not really used yet…will have to revisit it now.

    I wonder if anyone can share what grade they feel Ultimatum deserves in this regard?

    • I have no idea about Ultimatum as I never used it. Many other frameworks have the same issue (no standard templates with loop code) but do work with child themes and have loads of hooks. Two examples are Headway, Genesis and Catalyst so, with that particular criteria I might give them a C or a B depending on how many usable hooks they have.

      FWIW I own Builder, Headway, Genesis and Thesis. I’ve used Headway a long time and it’s because of that template thing and missing the hooks I needed in early version of Headway 3.0 to display Custom Post Types as I needed that I tried Builder and figured what the more standard way to build a theme is. I discussed some of these issues at length as they relate to my experience here:

      http://pixelyzed.com/2012/05/17/state-of-my-2012-wordpress-toolset-themes/

  6. I disagree that iThemes has too much documentation. You can never have too much documentation. I have never found any of the documentation there to be out of date. They make it a priority to keep things current. Also, they answer the forum questions very quickly and the forum format is easy to search. I thing the iThemes codex is second to none. As a WP developer I will always use iThemes for my projects.

    • From what I can tell, all their documentation was up-to-date. And I LOVE loads of documentation (the more the better), but I think their organization of documentation needs some work. It definitely didn’t count against them, as I said in the post.

  7. I am the guy that updates Builder Codex obsessively.

    If I feel that another user might have the same question now or in the future, I immediately add it to the documentation.

    It saves my own time when answering forum questions that there is relavant and extensive documentation and FAQ. I just provide links for the users when they ask what’s already there in the Codex.

    • …and as a Builder user and iThemes customer I am thankful to you for that as well as yours and Ronald’s stellar support in the forums (Chris Jean, Builder’s lead developer is also often active and very helpful).

      Quality of support should be another important criteria for evaluating premium theme frameworks and in that respect, iThemes deserve an A+!

      I’m also with Carla, documentation is key and a detailed codex with many examples of common as well as less common modifications is invaluable to users who use these tools every day in their work.

      Lack of documentation is where DIYThemes failed badly with the recent release of Thesis 2 and where Headway failed just as badly a year ago when they released Headway 3.0. The difference is that Headway maned up, accepted the criticism and apologized for both rushing the release and releasing it without docs and they fixed it as quickly as they could. DIYThemes should ease up on the hyperbole and self proclaimed genius and actually work to deliver on their promises…

      But that is another discussion… ;)

      • Chris Pearson said he worked on Thesis 2.0 for 4 years (if memory serves me right). My impression of the way they released it was that he finished it in mid to late September (it launched October 1).

        Personally, I think as long as they don’t do a clean cut-off (e.g. “we no longer support prior to v2.0″) before v2.0 docs are available, I’d want to get my hands on it right away (pre-documentation). If I do, I can have it. If you don’t because of lacking documentation, you can still use prior to v2.0. I’m okay with that.

        More documentation is always better, and iThemes excels at that. (But I still think there’s room to improve the organization of the information.)

        • Yes, everybody can improve something but a search usually yields what I’m looking for in the iThemes codex.

          As for Thesis 2.0, personally I am thoroughly unimpressed. Especially for somthing that’s been touted as revolutionary and “best” for so long. I spent a few hours with it because I paid a for a dev license over 2 years ago and wanted to see if my investment would finally be worth it. For me that’s now a clear no. Live and learn.

          The Thesis “drag & drop” UI is horribly confusing and unintuitive. A learning curve is normal but this is ridiculous. They should have hired a UX pro to help. Aside from other issues I have with the product, in terms of pure drag & dop for building a layout, Headway still stands head and shoulders above the rest and were the true innovators in this area. Thesis is playing catch up and failing badly IMO. Lack of documentation for a new version that is such a complete departure from the previous version just adds insult to injury… But you are right that they at least said they’d support 1.x for the foreseeable future. Whoever chooses to stay with the previous Thesis version can probably do so with better peace of mind that those stuck with Headway 2.0.13 which hasn’t been updated in over a year and which still have an insecure version of TimThumb… But that too is another discussion :)

  8. Thanks for Round 2! I am still really undecided about which direction to take. I want something that is SEO friendly, not bloated, improves my rollout time and that allows me to add functions without too much hassle. I think I need a Round 2 read of the articles :)

    • That’s what they’re all designed to do (except the ones without SEO options – but a plugin can help with that). :-)

      Maybe you could say what kind of stuff you’ve done in the past or are looking to do in the future and what your level of CSS and PHP are.

      P.S. Did you see the first iteration of this? Link is at the beginning of this article. Enjoy.

  9. Hi Clifford,

    Nice to see you really kept the pace in reviewing your second round of frameworks. Although I was quite critical about Thesis (just annoyed by the endless bragging and empty release promises) I like it you gave them a second chance now that 2.0 is finally there. I like 2.0 but to see it immediately in comparison with others also puts it with the feet on the ground.

    Same thing happened with YOOtheme that you included now. I got to know it via your first review and was impressed by the styling of their themes and the apparent flexibility the widget/module-centered way of developing a site. But they are a bit stiff in their pricing and subscription methods (comparable too iThemes, you pay for everything and every year). Furthermore they have a very technical approach to things (probably comes along with Joomla background). Via this review got to read about another Joomla derived WordPress framework that I can try now: gavick.com (one of your colleague bloggers here wrote about it).

    One thing that I’m wondering about after looking at all the framework/theme demo’s and reading about responsiveness is how these frameworks deal with sites that are in basis more then 960px, f.i. 1120px, 1200px or even more pixels wide. I know Catalyst, Headway, Thesis and Ultimatum easily deal with it, but looking at others makes me wonder. Reading at sites and fora (as long as they still exist unlike Woothemes) almost never reveals it and although all the MySiteMyWay themes now claim to be responsive they all look very 960 to me.

    Since I build some sites with a still extremely popular (U-design) 960grid theme, but seeing monitors getting bigger and HDTV’s getting more internet capable, I think the 960grid will be very soon, very outdated and probably does some of themes and frameworks. In this aspect, as some commenters do, I expect a lot from the potential and new developments of Ultimatum. Despite the lack of a (child)themesshop you mention I think the future is for the developers that can focus on their framework and don’t need too much time for their themes. Thanks for round2!

    • Hi Patrick. Good comment. I know PageLines allows for pixel-based if you want to go extreme widths (can’t remember about the others), but I would recommend using the demo links for each theme you’re considering. I’m glad you’ve appreciated the theme reviews.

    • Patrick, it seems you’ve missed the links to the responsive versions of the themes at MySiteMyWay. In the demo you can choose the different themes in the dropdown. On each menu line there are actually 2 links, on the left a link to a fixed setup and on the right a link tot the responsive setup. It took me a while before I noticed it.

      • Hi Jurgen, thanks for pointing to this, but my issue is not the responsiveness, which I see when I make my browser window smaller. It’s the lack of it when I make my browser window bigger. It’s still 980 or 960px and leaves a very narrow column on a big screen. Should be 1200 or something.

  10. Clifford, it seems the comment login buttons/tabs don’t work in IE9. Nothing happens when clicking. I type this in Chrome, which works fine. I know most developers don’t like IE so maybe no one noticed it yet :-)

      • Clifford, many thanks for your comparisons 1 & 2, I’m impressed with the work you put in.
        As a newbie, I was hoping to find Pro Framework included in your columns.
        It seems to offer a lot of usability and flexibility for non-coders, for a one-time payment of 76 dollars.
        Is there a reason for not including it that I overlooked?
        How important is a rich user forum environment with this kind of drag-and-drop functionality?
        Another question: how do you judge the likelihood of the framework developer going belly up at some point?
        Sorry for only bringing questions here at this stage; I will write about the UX once I’m stuck in.

        • Hi Richard. I’m glad they’ve helped, and I understand sometimes more questions can arise. I’m unfamiliar with Pro Framework; never heard of it, which means it hasn’t been mentioned at this or the previous post in the 2nd half of 2012… Good luck with your theme search. :-)

  11. Really good data here Cliff, thanks for the time and effort. As a long time Joomla developer (Mambo) every once in awhile I would wet my beak on WP and tried various themes but I never felt like I was gaining anything by adding WP to my tool belt. Then Ultimatum Theme came along and for me it was a game changer. For the first time, a truly solid theme framework that was responsive and allowed me to start with literally a blank page. No longer being tied down to YOO, Elegant, Theme Forrest (your favorite themer here) SOS layout/module/widget positions or childs.

    Ultimatum works, it’s easy to use, can be white labeled and has great support. I truly don’t care about per-designed themes/layouts (parent or child). Before there were all of these fancy named theme and framework entities, we all built and designed websites from scratch, with the same HTML code, mostly from a sliced psd in Dreamweaver.

    What I need is a solid and robust theme builder that allows me to go back to being both a designer and a developer of my clients website, with the exact functionality and look the way the client wants; not the way someone else thinks it should be.

    Ultimatum Theme, IMO, give the best all around “blank sheet of paper” starting point and experience without any shackles or limitations. Like anything else out there, it has some things that I would do a bit differently so I work accordingly. I kinda wish it had the CSS3 builder like Catalyst, just to make writing CSS a little quicker, but since I can write it myself, it’s not that big of thing. Like Burger King, I like having it my way.

    Ultimatum lets me do just that!

  12. This set of two articles is the most amazing thing I have read in a long time. I can see that hours and hours of research went into putting it together. This was so helpful to me. Clifford, you think just like me. You want it simple but with plenty of options. I finally chose My Site My Way based on all the research, but I may go back and buy a second one to get some variations in themes. Each set of themes does have a specific look and feel, and MSMW looks super corporate. You saved me so much time and effort. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  13. Hello Clifford,

    Why you say that twitter bootstrap is not compatible with the Genesis Framework?

    front end developers are telling me that bootstrap is compatible with the Genesis framework.

    Can you please clarify this point?

    Thanks,

    Janet

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