10 Things You Need to Know About WordPress 2.6

WordPress 2.6 is around the corner (sometime next week, it looks like), and as usual, there’s a bunch of changes, improvements, enhancements that have went into this version. In my opinion, this is an odd major release. While there are certainly major new changes that warrant a new major release, much of the release consists of various improvements generally saved for “dot releases”. Security and enhancement type stuff. The thinking is that WP 2.6 can be released so a WordPress 2.7 can come in the early fall timeframe and integrate new features developed in conjunction with the Google Summer of Code project.

Still though, there is a significant amount of new functionality that I find quite nice.

Google Gears Support

Gears is the Google technology that allows for Firefox (apparently IE 6 too, but I can’t confirm) to “pre-cache” pages and speed up access. Gears has been integrated with WordPress 2.6 on the admin side and speeds things up tremendously. This is particularly important where broadband access is limited or inaccessible (third world, for instance). To enable Gears in your new WordPress 2.6 installation, click on the Turbo link in the upper right corner of your WordPress admin.

XML-RPC Editor Functionality

Quietly, a new bit of functionality snuck into WordPress trunk that threw a number of developers and kicked off an interesting discussion. In the development cycle, XML-RPC and Atom Pub API for remote editing was turned off by default as a “security precaution” since many recent WordPress security issues seem to stem from the XML-RPC protocol.

Daniel took the issue up on his blog in a bit of a vicious manner because he has a vested interest in desktop client support for blogs. He is the developer behind the very nice MarsEdit client for Mac which, incidentally, I’m using to write this post. He took his battle up, a bit more congenially among WordPress developers, and the result was a compromise. New WordPress 2.6 installs would be given the option at install to enable XML-RPC editing and upgraded blogs (pre-existing) ware grandfathered in to an “enabled” paradigm.

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This is an important shift in the way bloggers think about writing. Most of us simply want to write. We don’t want to worry about the technical aspects of maintaining a blog. This is the philosophy that drove the b5media team, whom I worked for from very early days, to develop a network of bloggers that were able to simply write without worrying about the logistics of maintenance, upgrades, monetization, etc. Unfortunately, while most bloggers are not technical, malicious parties ‘out there’ are technical and look for any opportunity to attack blogs and other websites. XML-RPC and APP provide a vector which, though pretty secure, has seen its share of exploits in the past. Disabling functionality that is not explicitly used by every user makes sense for security reasons.

Bloggers can enable or disable the functionality via the Settings > Writing page in WordPress admin and most desktop editors still only support the XML-RPC protocol so unless you’re explicitly using the Atom Publishing Protocol, you’re probably safe to leave only XML-RPC checked.

Post Versioning

Developers familiar with Subversion, or SVN, understand the concept of versioning and diffs. Compare one file, or revision, against another file, or revision, and see a breakdown of differences between the two. With the help of GUI tools, developers can see a color-coded red vs. green (removed vs. added) presentation.

This concept has now been applied to posts so you can view differences between posts as well as “revert” to an earlier version of a post. I absolutely love this feature and you can see an example of a “revision compare” built directly into WordPress.
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SQL Security – $wpdb->prepare()

Back in WordPress 2.3, the

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prepare()

first emerged, initially unused… but there. The method was very experimental at the time and was not ready for prime-time so, though it was included, it was not yet used. We started to see its emergence in WordPress 2.5 and in WordPress 2.6 it is being used just about everywhere.

The idea behind

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prepare()

, if you’ll allow me to get geeky for a minute, is to sanitize SQL in such a way that SQL injection is prevented. So, plugin developers, in particular, should be happy with this method (part of the

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$wpdb

class). Not only should they be happy, but from a best practice standpoint, you should be using it.

In my opinion, this should be a part of a “dot release” and not as a major feature of a major release.

Shift-Click Selection of Multiple Checkboxes in WP-Admin

As the backend of WordPress continues to evolve after the release of the drastically redesigned admin in WP 2.5, usability enhancements are also making their way in.

One of the better usability enhancements added in WordPress 2.6 is the ability to “shift click” to select multiple checkboxes at once. Say, for instance, you want to clean up an unwieldy category system (as I need to), Simply navigate to your category management page, click on the first category you want to delete, for instance (posts will go into the default category), and “Shift-click” on a checkbox farther down the list. Magically, all checkboxes in between will also be selected.

This, of course, works anywhere where checkboxes are employed in the WordPress admin.

More Avatar Options

With the Automattic acquisition of Gravatar last year, in-built support for Gravatars was introduced in WordPress 2.5. WordPress 2.6 gives the blogger more options by allowing for selection of the “default” avatar. Out of the box, the default Gravatar can be “Mystery Man”, a generic grey avatar with a white silhouette of someone. Default avatars can also be “blank” (self-explanatory), the Gravatar logo, Identicons, Wavatars or MonsterIDs. These have all been a part of WordPress.com for some time and now come to the rest of us. For more information, Matt wrote a post for the WP.com community that you should probably check out. The difference here being, of course, that WordPress.com offers “dashboard avatars” and WPFROU (WordPress for the Rest of Us) does not include this functionality.

Page Templates over XML-RPC

In addition to the XML-RPC/APP security measures listed above, a new key bit of functionality has now been exposed for API editors (and also, if you think about it, demonstrates the power behind XML-RPC and why you might want to turn it off if you don’t use it). The XML-RPC interface now allows for managing page templates from an API editor. To the best of my knowledge, no editor supports this yet and may not. However, increasingly there is the ability to remotely post content from places like YouTube, Utterz and others. None of these services would have any real use for this functionality either, however I want to point out that because they can post remotely anything that is exposed to the remote world can also be managed.

It’s also conceivable that an offline WordPress client could be built that replicates WordPress admin in a desktop client, and this is one more step in that direction.

Press This

Press this! is a new enhancement of a long-existing concept. Bookmarklets. In fact, WordPress used to have a bookmarklet included that would allow a user to quickly start a new post from the browser toolbar, but the functionality was limited.

The Press This! functionality rocks, actually, because it allows the user to be on any website, click the bookmarklet and get a miniaturized version of WordPress admin with options to snip text, photos from the page, quotes or video embeds.

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Obviously, we can lead you to water but we can’t make you drink. BE VERY CAREFUL OF COPYRIGHT VIOLATIONS! Oh, and the Associated Press sponsored this. (kidding!)

Integrated Theme Preview

Theme previewing has been a bugaboo for many a theme designer. How do we check and develop without affecting the rest of the site. Some folks resorted to using Ryan’s venerable Theme Preview plugin. Others setup a beta version of a site that was sandboxed off from the rest of the world. Lots of different approaches, all of which remain valid.

However, for theme developers and bloggers looking to see how a theme will look on their site, with their content, there is now theme preview bling. When you are on your Design page, click on one of the theme screenshots and your site will be loaded in a lightbox-like overlay to allow you a live preview. Heavily inspired, I’d imagine, by the Mac OS X Leopard Quick Look functionality.

Remember when Technosailor looked like this?

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Plugin Management Overhaul

Finally, the plugin management interface has received a face-lift and some added functionality. Active plugins and inactive plugins are segregated and with that new fangled Shift-click functionality I talked about before, plugin management just got really freaking simple. Note that Active plugins can be deactivated in bulk and Deactivated plugins can be activated or even deleted in bulk. Clean up that stale plugin list in a snap. But… there’s always a but… make a backup before you go nuts.

Lessons from Wall*E

Normally, I would not do movie reviews on this site. I would generally use aaronbrazell.com which is much more of a personal site than this. However, there are quite a lot of lessons and hidden agenda items (good and bad) in Wall*E that I think are applicable.

If you’re afraid of spoilers, you might not want to read further, however I will do my best not to offer spoilers, per se and instead talk about the principles behind the messages because that is where I feel the importance is.

From the get go, it was apparent to me that Wall*E was an environmentally oriented flick. We’re introduced to a desolate earth that struck me as very much similar to the one we saw in I am Legend. Bonus points to the astute viewers that catch the I am Legend hat tip in the movie.

To me, it was apparent that the desolation of earth was a result of human irresponsibility and that Al Gore probably was lurking somewhere ready to hand out carbon credits. While that message certainly existed, it was the message of personal responsibility that struck me much more direct between the eyeballs.

In the movie, we get the sense that a pseudo-governmental organization has morphed humanity into a dependent culture that is given everything. It is pampered, fed, smothered and by and large turned into a welfare culture where the human race has lost the ability to care for itself or even see any problem with their state. They have been turned into automatons, beholden to the whims of the BnL Corporation.

The heroics of the movie revolve around, among other things, the ability of the human race to take responsibilities for their own actions and rise above the societal norms inbred into them, challenging the status quo and ultimately their race.

Without getting too political, the metaphor I saw was comparative, in many ways, to current western culture that is increasingly liberalized, and increasingly fed the doctrine of government dependence. Rely on government-subsidized social security. We need to pass a law that does blah. The Constitution is a living document requiring federal judges to tell us what it means for us today. Get my riff?

Another strong metaphor I saw, is applicable for those of us in social media – and really any kind of new media, whether it’s politics, science or sports. Those that follow the dotted lines are doomed to exist in a narrow and unproductive world that never changes!

Throughout the movie, robots followed the dictates of lines painted on the ground. They never left those lines because those lines provided guidance. Those lines provides meaning. Those lines provided safety.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have more rambos that challenged the status quo, said what they meant and meant what they said? They didn’t follow the dictates of Techmeme or those perceived as A-listers? I mentioned yesterday that confidence is a sexy attribute and stepping outside the lines demonstrates confidence that will take you somewhere.

As a sidenote, yet related issue, this mommy blogger needs to quit worrying about a so-called A-list blogger and be confident in herself. Those that are considered A-list, including myself, often are not (also including myself). No one can do your job better than you. Own it and forget about the rest.

I highly encourage people to see this movie. Besides the fact that Pixar always makes great movies, it’s a wonderful movie for kids and adults alike and if you go with an open mind, you’re going to be challenged.

Play to Strengths

Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. Jeremy Schoemaker is a rockstar in SEO. Darren Rowse is a rockstar in making money online. Erin is a rockstar among women bloggers. Thomas Hawk is a rockstar photographer. Brad Feld (a Lijit investor) is a rockstar VC. Chris Brogan is a rockstar people person. Alex Hillman is a rockstar community man. Jody is a rockstar musician.

I’m telling you, everyone is a rockstar in their own right and no one can take away their strength. As Micah puts it, no one can do your job better than you can.

The problem comes when you are not confident in what you do and you let a different kind of rockstar dictate your behavior.

We’ve all seen it. Someone of stature arrives on the scene and the person who knows the space and environment best gets star struck or intimidated by the presence of the rockstar and suddenly doesn’t know how to behave, act or represent themselves.

Confidence is so important. Confidence is sexy. Confidence displays your rockstarness and communicates that you own the place and people should stick by you. Confidence draws people in and causes them to get lost in YOU.

We all need someone else and no one can do it alone.

For myself, I know I have certain qualities and abilities that command the respect of others. I also know that I need people (such as all the people above, to name a few) to teach me something about their environments. Alex, in fact, was the one who gave me inspiration and motivation, not to mention pointers, on beginning the small co-working community we have here in Maryland.

Thomas taught me (via Scoble) a thing or two about lenses for my camera.

And so on.

Who are you learning from? Who inspires you? What are you teaching others?

(See, Chris Brogan taught me how to end posts with questions ;-) )