“Una salus victis nullam sperare salutem.”Translation: “The one hope of the doomed is not to hope for safety.”
The big thing about this milestone release: A new editor named Gutenberg was to be officially debuted, after being in beta testing for many years.
In theory, Gutenberg levels the playing field (or at least, sets the stage for one later on as it matures), allowing WordPress users to better craft blogs and web pages visually through the concept of “blocks” of certain types of content (ex. You write one block of text, post a new block after that’s just a photo, then another block of text followed by a block that’s an embedded Tweet or YouTube video, etc.), without having to delve too deeply into short codes, markup or other kinds of web programming in order to do so. Eventually, you’ll be able to click and drag those blocks all around the Block Editor wherever you like and once you hit Publish, that’s how they’ll appear to your reader.
This new way of composing is a good thing for the platform and the community, as it’ll make things more accessible to those who want to get down to the business of creating great web content without having to enroll in a course to learn basic web development first. That can only help in growth and adoption of the platform in the long run.
In general, major releases with new functionality are a cause for celebration, but not in this case. This release filled many WordPress developers with dread or mixed feelings, even to the point where some people were begging to delay the release.
And understandably so. For example, there are still some major assistive technology issues with Gutenberg in its current state, and developers are recommending that if you need those features, to either wait on upgrading or to preemptively install the Classic Editor plugin to ensure the old interface is used after the upgrade. There are also around 185 bugs still left to be fixed as of this writing, which for some people is simply too many to consider a software product as “stable” or ready for the general public.
As the editor is the core feature that all things such as themes and plugins is built around, the concern in the community was that things would break all over the place, especially with the sheer number of unmaintained themes and plugins still in use. And considering that WordPress now powers at least 30% of all websites on the planet, some people were concerned about doomsday or apocalyptic scenarios where almost one-third of the Internet would disappear due to botched updates (should have called the new editor Thanos instead, ha!).
All of these concerns and more made people feel that WordPress 5.0 is not ready, or at least, not ready for the general public.
But, WordCamp US 2018 was this weekend, and the more cynical of us out there figured that they’d need something to announce at that thing. Thus, only a few days notice was given before it was released to the masses. And whether or not you agree that the release was rushed for the wrong reasons or question the motivations behind all of this stuff, the bottom line is that WordPress 5.0 and the new Gutenberg editor are now out and we’re all stuck with them.
This is part of the reason why I put tweaking this blog of mine on hold for a bit; I wanted to wait and see what the fallout from the new release might be.
My initial plan was to wait until January or so for a point release or two to come out, fixing some of the major bugs that were missed. In the meantime, I’d clone this site and others onto a local dev VM and play around with the new code.
The problem was, as soon as I enabled the Gutenberg editor on my dev VM, everything broke. While I could still access my dashboard, I couldn’t edit existing posts or create new ones because the editor would throw an error anytime it tried to save.
Suffice to say I was ready to throw in the towel; no need to waste my life trying to figure out where the problem was or who was at fault when there was every likelihood that things might fix themselves if left alone for long enough. Having the Classic Editor enabled worked just fine, so I could just stick with that until this whole thing blew over.
However, I was bored yesterday and on a whim, I decided to update a live WP instance that I had running on a server that I had yet to do anything with (rebuilding that one from scratch would have been quick because there was literally nothing on that site), and lo-and-behold, everything worked fine. Which was strange to me because the exact same set up on my local dev VM did not work properly.
So at this point, I had things working perfectly fine on my production instances, but absolutely horribly on my development instances. Usually, it’s the other way around!
And because I was feeling bored and just a bit adventurous, I shrugged and said to myself “Una Salus Victis” while taking another backup of the live version of this blog before clicking on the “Update” button on the production dashboard.
And everything still works just fine! All the old posts still render correctly, and I’m even writing this post using the new Block Editor rather than the old Classic Editor.
Of course, I didn’t do so without preparation. I made sure to switch to a theme that was still maintained and guaranteed tested to be compatible with Gutenberg, purged stale and unmaintained plugins and/or found more current alternatives, etc. So that certainly helped things. And yes, I did make sure to have the Classic Editor plugin installed prior to upgrading, just in case.
I don’t mind it. I can see where they’re going with this, and I can see the potential once they develop and add in more block concepts. I’m a visual person too, and the main reason why I’ve struggled so hard in wrapping my head around web programming is that using markup language to lay things out visually was never intuitive to me (I mean, seriously I’ve had to resort to using tools such as Netscape Composer in order to build websites in the past!). But a Block Editor that lets you click and drag things around until you’re satisfied while still offering you the functionality needed to offer your guests the rich new media experiences that they expect? Sign me up!
A friend of mine who’s a pro with WordPress said that it feels like he has to click five times now to get anything done compared to the old editor, but a) No one’s stopping him from using the Classic Editor or coding directly in HTML, and b) he is probably not the intended audience with this new editor.
Personally, I’m glad that I don’t have to switch to something like Squarespace anymore, just to get a website looking the way I see it in my head without having to spend a ridiculous amount of hours coding and testing and coding again. I actually like WordPress and think the new Gutenberg editor is exactly what the platform needs. The Classic Editor will continue to be maintained until at least 2022, so those who prefer the old way of doing things have nothing to worry about. And the great thing about the Classic Editor plugin is that it allows you to switch between it and the new Block Editor as many times as you want. That’s what I’m doing at the moment as I start to modernize bits and pieces of this site over the next few days and weeks, but honestly, I’m tempted on making the new Block Editor my default editor (while leaving the Classic Editor plugin still installed and active).
Granted, I’m probably one of the more lucky ones as my WordPress needs are very basic (as in, I only use it for a personal blog). Others who’ve put in a lot more custom development work into their sites (or their clients’ sites) will need to be more cautious.
Time will tell if this was a wise move for WordPress. In the meantime, if you’re looking to learn more, here is a collection of Gutenberg Conversations, Resources, and Videos, and a good discussion on all the various viewpoints that make Gutenberg’s inclusion so divisive among the WordPress developer community.
And if you’re super pissed at how all of this went down to the point that you’re looking to do something about it in protest, check out ClassicPress, which is a fork of WordPress without Gutenberg, aiming to modernize the codebase through community input. In fact, you can switch right from WordPress 4.9.8 directly to ClassicPress almost seamlessly!