Updated Aug. 10th 2018. WordPress 5.0 release cycle announced to start November 2018 (see below).
There is an adage that goes “if it isn’t broke don’t fix it!”. This is an old wise tale that Automattic, the creators of WordPress, have abandoned to forge WordPress into the future.
Most WordPress users, have no idea what is on the horizon when they upgrade to version 5.0. For Automattic, the introduction of 5.0 is either going to be an impressive success or a gigantic flop (with many angry and bewildered users).
WordPress 5.0 is set to be released in late 2018 to early 2019,
in April or May 2018 and it won’t be pretty. This version of WordPress is more than just an upgrade. It is a complete replacement of the Tiny MCE editor we all know. It’s also a complete change to the WordPress framework, back-end, and the way content is rendered.
The new editor in WordPress 5.0 is called Gutenberg, and is currently available as a beta plugin. Gutenberg is neither intuitive nor easy to use. WordPress 5.0 is definitely not the WordPress your used to, and it may not be compatible with your current themes or plugins. It’s certainly not how your grandmother wrote a letter.
You can learn more about the future and vision behind this new WordPress, at the official Gutenberg page.
What is Gutenberg?
Gutenberg is the new editor replacing the current TinyMCE Editor in WordPress. Although it is built on TinyMCE, it leaves its old reliable parent behind. Gutenberg doesn’t resemble any known editor or work flow you are used to (as in MS Word). Even if you use a visual editor, you’ll be in for a big change.
The new concept behind editing and content creation is based on blocks.
Want to copy and paste text? Want to add bullet lists in your post? Forget it, Gutenberg doesn’t do that. Your content will be copied into separate blocks (see fig. 3). If you want to revise your article, you’ll have to move blocks instead of copy-and-paste. We’re not sure how content writers will find this easy to use.
The usual toolbar your used to seeing is also gone. Instead you’ll be presented with a blank white screen without the toolbar (see fig. 1). You’ll need to click on a small circle with a plus sign, choose the block you want, and then add your content (see fig. 2). Apparently, this new work-flow, is what the Gutenberg teams sees as an improvement. While it works, it is rather cumbersome, and will be confusing for beginners.
Gutenberg also pales in comparison to other visual editors, such as Divi, Site Origin or Visual Composer. So many are wondering, why did Automattic even bother?
It is quite likely, Automattic wants to bring the power of all these page builders (and other functions) into the WordPress core. Unfortunately, the Gutenberg editor doesn’t come close to its competitors. In its current state it is neither intuitive, nor easy to use. Time will tell if Gutenberg does become easier to use, or integrated as is.
Fig 1. Here is what you see in Gutenberg when you open a blank post or page:
Fig. 2. Clicking on the + symbol opens the block menu. There are a lot of blocks to choose from – confusing for anyone. 😉
Fig. 3. When you copy-and-paste, your content is put into separate blocks – each and every single paragraph!
Core vs. Plugin
Many in the WordPress community, have been frustrated with the refusal to merge the Gutenberg editor as a plugin. Instead it is being integrated directly into the WordPress core when 5.0 is released. A third-party plugin, Classic Editor, needs to then be installed to disable Gutenberg (see Revert to Classic Editor section below).
To complicate the matter, there has been a rush by the Automattic team to launch this new editor, even though it is still in its infancy and largely untested. Many wonder why Gutenberg is being integrated into core so quickly, even though its barely hatched (and barely usable).
Spaghetti Code and Compatibility
The problem with WordPress is that many custom integrations rely on the TinyMCE editor and current WordPress configuration to connect them. This is a critical point to many existing themes and plugins (i.e. metadata, custom-post types, and shortcodes). While not the most efficient programming flow, this is the way WordPress has evolved. It’s also what has given WordPress its immense flexibility and power to do so many different types of sites and tasks.
WordPress 5.0 offers to all of this through blocks. However, it also runs the risk of breaking existing themes and plugins. Backwards compatibility and metadata (as an example) haven’t been fully addressed. To give credit to the Gutenberg team, they do recognize and are working on backwards compatibility. But many plugins and custom themes may be at risk.
A Dismal Start
The rush to merge Gutenberg into the WordPress 5.0 core, hasn’t been a good start to the project, nor has it been well received. This has left many concerned with the future of WordPress.
The 1-star reviews of the Gutenberg plugin, clearly show this trend. In fact, over 50% of people testing Gutenberg, have left a one-star review (139 of 273 reviews on Dec. 17th, 2017). This is unheard of and has never been seen before – at least for a plugin as important as Gutenberg.
Many reviewers have also left detailed explanations, which were answered with cookie-cutter responses, or not addressed at all. As an example, most one-star reviews have clearly asked for Gutenberg to remain a plugin, a request that currently seems unlikely to happen. Many have also commented on the cumbersome work flow, and lack of compatibility with various well-known plugins and themes etc. The list goes on.
Although a few months late, the recent update on the main Gutenberg page, has done a much better job of outlining the project goals (thank you to the Gutenberg team for that). But there are still a lot of unanswered questions and concerns.
Revert to Classic Editor
Many in the one-star reviews, have asked for a on/off switch in the new 5.0 core to enable/disable Gutenberg. For some reason the development team seems unwilling or unable to embed that integration. However, there is a plugin for that.
One of the core WordPress developers, has created a Classic Editor plugin. It is being promoted by the Gutenberg developers as the official off switch. It will deactivate Gutenberg, but only if Gutenberg is currently installed. So, what’s the point you may ask? The Classic Editor plugin is really a test-plugin, and is intended to be used when Gutenberg moves to core.
As the plugin is developed by WordPress, we remain optimistic the plugin will not be discontinued after a period of time. However, we are skeptical Automattic will want to or can keep the off-switch a permanent feature. We can also place trust savvy developers who will always provide the off switch, and provide the classic Tiny MCE Editor we are accustomed to.
Test Drive Gutenberg!
WordPress 5.0 and the Gutenberg editor are coming, and it’s going to be integrated into core. This is already decided and is irreversible. However, as Gutenberg is a plugin, that means you can test it out before WordPress 5.0 is live.
Before considering upgrading to WordPress 5.0 in April or May, it is recommended you do install the Gutenberg plugin and test drive. This way, if there are issues, you can simply deactivate the plugin. At the very least, you’ll get a good idea if you like the new future of WordPress, and if its compatible with your themes and plugins.
Do keep in mind Gutenberg is in beta mode, so it will be revised several times prior to being integrated into core. This means bugs that occur today, may be ironed out in future revisions. And if there are bugs, this is a good time to let the developers know.
What You Need to Know!
Before upgrading to WordPress 5.0 do keep the following in mind:
- It’s better to test with the Gutenberg plugin first.
- Upgrading to 5.0 is irreversible. Make backups first!
- 5.0 may break themes and plugins.
- 5.0 will change the way themes and plugins are used.
- 5.0 is not the editor you are used to. It’s going to be a tough change.
- In 5.0 blocks will replace everything (even widgets).
- It may be best to wait a few months after 5.0 is released before upgrading.
Easing the Transition
At Web242, we are not fans of the new Gutenberg editor. However, we do realize the future of WordPress is moving in this direction.
We plan to wait even 3-6 months following, for the bugs to be worked out, and a stable release. However, we’ll take all our WordPress sites for a test-spin with Gutenberg to be certain, before upgrading.
Also, be sure to download those backups, especially the database. Making a backup first, means if your site is broken after upgrading, you can always roll back.
Need help with the transition to WordPress 5.0? Let us know we can help!