Cage Match!

Battle of the Titans: Premium Theme Framework Smackdown

I have provided updates for the problems reported with each theme on their pages in this report. We can provide one update per framework as long as something significant has changed (as in a new release of the theme).

For a few days now, I’ve been looking closely at the four major theme frameworks. There are many premium themes. I, in fact, for the time, am using one from Woo Themes that I’ve modified to fit here. However, there are only four that I see as worthy competitors among the elite theme frameworks.

I will be using affiliate links when referencing all of them just because, if you choose to use any of them based on this article, I don’t mind collecting a commission fee. This does not indicate my endorsement of any of them. In fact, quite the opposite. I expect you’ll find me to be a hard, but objective critic of all of them.

The four theme frameworks: Thesis 1.7, Headway 1.6.1, Genesis 1.1.1, and Builder 2.3.11.

Report Scope and Prism

When I went about gathering data on this post, I heard a lot of back and forth from those in the WordPress community about why they liked or disliked each of these themes. Some of the issues were restrictive licensing that flies in the face of the open society that is WordPress. Other things were lingering effects from the Great Premium Theme Pissing Matches™ of 2008. Still others were about how user-friendly the themes were for users. In this report, I put all of that aside and look strictly from the perspective of infrastructure, data, security and WordPress core feature support.

All metrics that have been taken were created equally via a local installation of WordPress (eliminating network latency), with no plugins installed, 10,000 blog posts and 10,000 pages. The data points were taken in the context of a stress test and may or may not reflect actual usage. However, large scale stress is something to be concerned with for any site that is large or plans to become large. How the server handles database transactions, and file load is an integral part of a long term strategy. Each theme was deployed with no configuration changes beyond default settings provided by the theme. The results are fascinating.

This is a seven page article so click through to each new page to read the analysis of each theme.

Photo by icantcu

Extending Technosailor, Extending Thesis

Recently, I kicked off a development effort behind the scenes here at Technosailor.com that will take a bit of time to see through to completion. This plan involves you as a community of readers as well as some of the best technology currently lying around the web. I’m calling it Operation Dharma for no fancy reason except I can’t wait for LOST to come back. :)

Seriously though, the goal is to pull together some of the best ideas and technologies of the web and combine them with the most thoughtful and ambitious people on the web to extend a community that I already am very proud of.

Details to follow. However, in the interest of the “iterate early and often” approach to software development, I am kicking off the new definitive look for technosailor.com.

As outlined earlier, I want to bring some of the best web technologies together. Of course, I wrote about Chris Pearson’s amazing Thesis Theme. The new design here is based on Thesis but has been heavily and significantly modified and customized.

There are still some display bugs I’m not happy with. Feel free to let me know by leaving a comment.

In the last theme, I began including commenter Gravatars which WordPress supports natively now. If you’d like your picture displayed, go grab a free Gravatar account.

For the future, the plans are broad but I’ll highlight some of the plans:

  • Community Blogs
  • Article Promotion/Voting
  • Partner Blogs (Venture Files is currently somewhere between Technosailor and a Partner Blog – that will further be defined, as well as other relationships established/announced)
  • Community Features

With a sad note, this update also involves the well wishing and goodbyes to Carlos Granier-Phelps who has been producing original spanish content over the past year. He is highly focused on building his company, RED66 in Miami.

We also say goodbye to Andrew Feinberg who was writing Tech Policy content. In both of these cases, these verticals do not seem to fit very well in what the Technosailor brand is trying to accomplish. So the decision to focus in the areas that have the largest audiences and traction is obvious, for me at least. I thank Andrew and Carlos for their time here and wish them the best. The archives of the content remain searchable and archived here.

So that’s it. Let me know if you see anything out of place or want to offer feedback (any kind, just if it hurts too much, use a smiley face or something :) )

Revolution vs. Thesis: The Premium Theme Cage Match

Now that WordPress 2.6 has been released and you’ve got yourself upgraded (you have upgraded right?), you might as well take some time to spruce up that old dingy theme of yours and replace it with something attractive and practical.

If you can afford your own custom theme development, then by all means, do it. Nothing says professional like a completely unique theme that has been professionally designed with not only appearance, but functionality and practicality.

However, maybe you can’t afford a $3500 theme or maybe there is something that, out of the box does what you need.

While I won’t get into the merits of “premium themes” and if themes should ever be mass marketed AND paid products, I would like to do a compare and contrast on two separate premium themes by two very competent designers.

Revolution Theme

If you believe your WordPress powered blog is more than a blog, you probably want to check out Revolution Theme. Revolution currently has ten different variations designed with the intentions of various industries in mind. If you’re using WordPress more as a content management system and your business is in real estate, pro media, tourism, online magazine, sports, tech news or other corporate variety – Revolution might be the theme for you.

Brian Gardner, the creator of the Revolution Theme commented to me that he “developed the Revolution themes in order to take WordPress to a higher level ““ to stretch the capabilities, and to show that it can be used for so much more than a blogging platform.”

Indeed, we used the Revolution Pro Media theme over at The District of Corruption and found it to be very suitable for displaying all our content in a sexy way.

Revolution was not without its problems though.

For instance, the out of the box CSS is not compatible with Firefox 3 which handles the

1
float

property incorrectly. We were able to hack the CSS with a different solution. In addition, the video box on this particular theme assumes that video content is going to come from YouTube which is an incorrect assumption, in our opinion, with all the video formats available.

Also a problem with our use of the theme was the requirement for every post to have images attached to them via custom fields. We had to hack the theme files to not display images when no images are available.

Revolution Pro (which again is only one variant) offers few options for power users. It does offer a WordPress administrative page but jumps to vast conclusions that are probably not relevant to bigger publishers.

Picture 6.png

Revolution Theme is an incredible sexy and well designed theme from the code point of view. Semantics are paid attention to and the use of the WordPress API ensures that the theme will be compatible with WordPress for, likely, years to come. I would recommend that Brian does not rely on plugins to accomplish tasks. Include that code in the theme’s functions.php if the code is GPL and use an

1
if( function_exixsts() )

check to find out if the extra code is needed.

The Revolution theme is available for as little as $79.95.

Thesis Theme

Unlike Revolution, Thesis comes in one variety. It is a good variety though. The brainchild behind the Thesis theme is Chris Pearson. Chris is never content just building a theme but making the theme as braindead simple for anyone to use in a wide variety of situations.

To that end, Thesis is mainly configurable directly from WordPress admin and I have yet to have to significantly modify the out of the box code base. Granted, I have not had the length of time with Thesis as I have with Revolution.

One of the things I get to do is maintain my church’s website, which was in desperate need of overhaul and maintenance. I did not want to spend tons of time on it as, let’s face it, I’m not paid to do so. ;-) Thesis allowed me to stand up new content, new organization and a completely different look and feel in less than an hour. There’s still work to be done, but Chris has done most of the work for me.

The key to this ease is the amazing configurability directly from WordPress admin. With the interface, I have granular control of my navigation elements, formatting of posts, ad and analytics software, etc.

Picture 7.png

Thesis does not allow me to modify some of the basic layout rendering to my heart’s content, however. Fortunately, I could write little plugins to do little things like apply different CSS to elements but, as robust as it is, more could be done.

The Thesis theme only comes with one variety and it is available for $89.95.

Comparison Chart

Revolution Thesis Winner
Ease of Deployment (1-10) 6 8 Thesis
Variations 10 1 Revolution
Plugin Dependencies Yes No Thesis
Price $79.95 $89.95 Revolution
Support Forum Blog + Forum Thesis
CSS Firefox 3 Incompat Support for custom CSS Thesis
CMS-Friendly Yes Kinda Revolution

Winner: Thesis 4-3.

Both are great and Chris and Brian should be commended for providing great resources.

Added: I forgot to mention one thing that I really wish theme authors would do more of. The Thesis theme has some of this but it could use more. Hooks, people! Add hooks everywhere in a theme.

The main reason for this is that people who want to modify the behavior of a theme can do so without editing the theme at all if there are hooks built into the theme.