What to Expect in WordPress 4.0

Is it just me, or does WordPress 4.0 seem more like version 3.10?

Did someone get the numbering wrong? Did we accidentally skip to 4.0?

That must be it, because I can’t think of any other reason why such a minor upgrade to WordPress is deserving of a full version number.

WordPress 3.10
Welcome to WordPress 3.10.

WordPress news sites have lauded the “exciting new features” in this release, which is now available to download and test as a beta.

The software does come with improvements, such as the ability to select your language during installation and a grid view for the media library and plugins, but these are hardly groundbreaking features.

The fact is, users who upgrade to 4.0 when it’s released on August 27 won’t even realize there are any changes.

Nice Features… For a Point Release

We had high hopes for WordPress 4.0. So high, in fact, that we got a little excited and made our own predictions for the features in this milestone release (tongue placed firmly in cheek).

Okay, so we got a little carried away. There’s nothing wrong with getting excited about our favorite software, right? The fact is, we expected a major, milestone version of WordPress to be something special, something that would shine brighter than your average point release.

Take WordPress 3.0 for example. When it came out in June 2010 there were many reasons to be excited about this actual milestone release:

  • MU (now Multisite) was integrated into core
  • There was a new, lighter interface
  • New APIs for theme developers
  • Custom post types
  • Twenty Ten default theme
  • Bulk updates for multiple plugins and themes
  • Custom menu management
  • Shortlink support
  • Ability to set admin username and password during installation
  • Contextual help
  • Hundreds of bug fixes

WordPress 3.0 was huge. Custom post types gave developers the ability to create more than just posts and pages. Then there was the merger of Multisite into core, making it easier than ever to manage a network of WordPress site.

The lighter interface gave WordPress a more modern edge, the new default theme took full advantage of core’s features, menu management made it easier to create and customize menus…

WordPress 3.0 was a pioneering release that cemented the transformation of WordPress from a simple blogging tool into a fledgling content management system.

Now let’s take a look at the features in WordPress 4.0.

Select Your Language During Installation

In previous versions of WordPress, if you wanted to use a language other than English you had to install a localized version or manually upload translation files.

WordPress 4.0 allows you to select your language during installation without the need for downloading separate files.

Considering two-thirds of WordPress users live outside the US, this feature is a long-time coming.

Internationalization
Internationalization.

Media Grid View

You can now view the media library as a grid or as a list.

Media grid view
The new grid view in the media library.

Updated Plugin Install and Search Experience

You can now view the plugin install screen as a grid.

Plugin grid view
The new plugin grid view.

Post Editor Improvements

The menu bar at the top of the post editor now sticks to the top of the page when you scroll. This is probably the most useful feature in this release because it is really annoying having to scroll to the top of the page to access editing buttons.

Post editor
Updates to the visual editor include new sticky editing buttons.

Embeds have also been improved so users can see embeds (and not just a grey square) in the visual editor when they paste in a URL from sites like YouTube and Twitter.

Widgets Updated in Theme Customizer

Widgets were added to the Theme Customizer in WordPress 3.9. In 4.0, widgets have been moved to their own separate panel in the Customizer.

API for Customizer Panels

Not forgetting developers, the Customizer now includes a new way to group options together using panels.

Where is WordPress Going?

Internationalization is hugely important, especially considering 22 per cent of the web uses WordPress and that number is growing. Adding improved internationalization to WordPress has been a long time coming.

As for the other updates in this release, they pale in comparison to those featured in WordPress 3.0.

Since WordPress 3.8 introduced features as plugins, contributors have working fairly autonomously on projects for integration into core without actually considering the product as a whole. Developers are relentlessly pushing forward with uninspired and boring releases that don’t reflect the scale and influence WordPress has acquired four years on since WordPress 3.0 was released.

That’s not to dismiss the work of the army of contributors – all unpaid volunteers – who help build WordPress and have made it what it is. They should be commended for the huge amounts of time and effort they put into building the software.

The problem is there are a lot of people on this open source bus but no one knows there it’s going. Where’s the roadmap?

After WordPress 3.0 was released, WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg announced contributors would take a release cycle off to focus on the community using the software. Developers had spent so much time improving the software, it was decided to put a pause on WordPress 3.1 and support the people that had quickly grown around WordPress.

It’s time once again to put a pause on development and actually think about where WordPress is going, how we can improve the software to build better websites and actually improve the WordPress experience.

As one user in the WordPress Support Forums recently put it, “Make the foundation of the house of WordPress as good as the shiny layers of paint you keep slapping on willy nilly.”

Come back tomorrow for our take on the four features that should have been included in WordPress 4.0.

WordPress 4.0 Beta 1 is now available for download and testing. You can also use the WordPress Beta Tester plugin to access the latest bleeding edge nightly versions of WordPress.