WordPress 4.0 is deployed

Update: Thursday morning I upgraded our network to WordPress 4.0. Everything appears to be running smoothly.


After testing WordPress 4.0 for about a week, the new version looks ready to deploy to our network. Normally we would wait a bit longer; however, we try to avoid feature updates to WordPress core during the semester. That would mean having to wait until late January, and WordPress 4.1 should be out by then.

The jump from version 3.9 to 4.0 is no more significant than the jump from 3.8. They just chose not to use “3.10” as their new number as Drupal or OS X would do. There are three new features that will impact content creators on our network directly.

Media Library Grid. There is a new grid view in the Media library, with the Edit dialog displaying in an overly, rather than a new page. The list view is still there and functions the same as in the previous version.

Seamless Media Embeds. Embeds now preview right in the visual editor. This includes image galleries and media that uses oEmbed (YouTube, Vimeo, Media Central, SlideShare, Twitter). For example, as soon as you paste a YouTube link into the visual editor, a progress bar appears, and a preview of the video is immediately visible. You can even play the video right inside the visual editor. If you have a large number of video embeds in a post, this might slow down the initial rendering when you go to edit a post. There is one huge annoyance with this feature. After the live preview of the embed is rendered, WordPress inserts the cursor before the embed. I would expect the cursor to be inserted after.

Intuitive Editing. The last change auto-expands the visual editor as you type and then keeps the toolbar in a fixed location as you scroll back upward. This feature takes some getting used to, but it does make the visual editor seem more productive. Content authors who dislike this feature can turn it off individually, via the “Screen Options” button at the top of the Add or Edit pages, as depicted in the following screenshot.

Screen Options dialog

NAS outage Postponed

[Update] The outage planned for 8/9 was postponed indefinitely.

[Update] The outage planned for 8/2 was postponed to 8/9.

OIT will be upgrading the hardware for the Networked Attached Storage (NAS) devices that the WordPress service uses for all file uploads. The outage is scheduled for 8 am to 2 pm, Eastern Time, on Saturday, August 9, 2014.

During this time, authors will not be able to upload files to their site.

Also, any content images (or other uploaded files) that are not cached will appear broken during the outage. We hope to continue to serve up site pages during this time.

We apologize for the inconvenience.

WordPress 3.8.1 is deployed

The upgrade to WordPress 3.8.1 this morning went smoothly. I also activated a Princeton variant of the Twenty Fourteen magazine-style theme. If you are experiencing any problems, please send a message to blogs@princeton.edu.

Looking forward, the date for the WordPress 3.9 has been set for April 15, and tentative dates for the 4.0 and 4.1 releases are mid-August and early December, respectively. If WordPress development proceeds as scheduled, that means deploying 3.9 the week after Reunions, then 4.0 right before the students come back.

WordPress 3.8 coming January 28

Wordpress 3.8 admin interfaceThe time between semesters is usually our opportunity to upgrade to major WordPress releases. This Tuesday morning will bring version 3.8, which includes a major overhaul to the admin interface. Light gray, low contrast is out; dark gray, higher contrast is in. Shadowed, multicolor icons are out; flat, scalable icons are in.

Using a responsive design, the interface is newly optimized for smaller device widths and higher resolution displays.

I will be adding a slightly modified version of the Twenty Fourteen magazine theme, as well.

Up-to-date with WordPress 3.7

This morning I deployed WordPress 3.7.1 to the network. Besides bug fixes and the latest security updates, the major new features of this version are irrelevant to users of our network. WordPress 3.8, planned for December, will be a release with significant changes to the admin interface.

WordPress 3.7 adds automatic updates and a better password strength checker. However, our WordPress network uses a version control system (Git), and WordPress is smart enough to detect this, and it automatically disables automatic updates. As for passwords, we are not using local WordPress passwords; we are instead using Princeton University’s directory servers to manage passwords.

The new update does include improvements to internal search. Search results for sites are now relevance-sorted, in addition to date-sorted.

If WordPress 3.8 does come out in December, I plan to deploy the new version in between semesters.

WordPress 3.6 is deployed

Our WordPress network is back to running the latest version of WordPress core. Version 3.6 was released on August 1, so I waited at least a week for any major issues to crop up with WordPress itself with third-party plugins. Everything looks good so far.

Little blue flag windows will show up in the post and page editors to let you know about the new features. The revisions interface is completely redone and has a useful slider to explore the revision history. Autosave now saves a local copy in the client browser if a network connection cannot be established. The Add Media dialog has been slightly refined and now includes a built-in HTML5-based media player for embedded audio and video.

We would ask, though, that you continue to use external services for storing videos. The server has a limited capacity and would fill up quickly with video content.

Audio files are small enough to not be an issue. For audio, we have always used the Audio Player plugin. However, I experienced compatibility issues between the plugin-based player and the new  WordPress-based player. I had to disable the plugin. The existing shortcodes that were inserted by the old player should be work fine with the new player. The main downside is that the old player was a bit more customizable. The new player should work great across all devices.

WordPress 3.6 audio player

One feature of 3.6 that is not yet activated across our network is the new Twenty Thirteen theme. I still have some work to do in order to create a “Princetonized” child theme of Twenty Thirteen.

WPtouch Pro, Jetpack Mobile, Responsive

WPtouch Pro with thumbnail images

blogs.princeton.edu, as seen using the WPtouch Pro plugin with thumbnail images

Site admins who would like their WordPress site to be optimized for mobile devices now have a few more options. On this network, the default setting for new blogs is to have WPtouch Pro activated, but first time visitors see the “desktop theme” and can click a link to switch to the WPtouch Pro theme.

WPtouch Pro is a commercial theme that tries to create an “app-like” experience for mobile users of your site. It is faster loading and maximizes vertical space, hiding the search and page navigation behind a pop-up menu. By default it shows calendar icons next to each of your posts, but that can be changed to post thumbnails. A tablet view is also a configurable option, although the default setting is to use the WPtouch view for pocket-sized devices and use the desktop theme for tablets. If a site admin is willing to invest the time to explore all of the configuration options, a WPtouch Pro mobile site can look rather impressive.

The Jetpack super-plugin recently added a “Mobile Theme” option to its dozens of features. This plugin feature also displays an alternate theme to mobile viewers. This theme, unofficially called “Minileven,” is a minimalist version of the Twenty Eleven theme, with a more compact menu. There is a separate configuration option for an excerpt view or a full-post view. The “Edit CSS” item under the Appearance menu has an additional option to allow custom CSS to be applied to the Minileven theme. If you choose to activate the Jetpack mobile theme, you should go to the Plugins menu and deactivate WPtouch Pro on your site to avoid conflicts.

If you choose to disable both of these plugin-based mobile themes, you can rely on the responsive display of the desktop themes. All of the approved themes on this system are responsive, meaning that they adjust their display according to the width of the viewing device or window. Fortunately, the aforementioned custom CSS feature finally allows CSS with media queries, so a site owner can have full control of the CSS display on all device sizes. The responsive theme for blogs.princeton.edu is just the default Twenty Eleven theme with some custom CSS, including media queries.

Carousel of Zodiac Heads

The new installation of monumental sculptures in front of Robertson Hall is the perfect opportunity to show off the Jetpack plugin’s new Carousel feature, which extends the WordPress native gallery feature with a presentation overlay that dynamically expands to fill the entire browser window.

Below are photographs of Ai Weiwei’s “Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads” that I recently. A second gallery of closeups and some basic instructions for adding galleries follow.

Continue reading

Dashboard feed for network

dashboard news feedToday’s update is a bit meta. The feed from blogs.princeton.edu now displays in the WordPress administrative dashboard for sites on the network.

We try to avoid mass email communication to users in the WordPress network, so these news updates are the primary method of communicating outages, upgrades, tutorials and new features.

It is possible to hide this dashboard widget by clicking the corresponding checkbox in the Screen Options setting up top.