After several false starts and a longer than normal development cycle during which a number of proposed features were eventually postponed to later releases, WordPress 3.6 released officially last week. All major releases of WordPress are named after jazz musicians, hence the accompanying picture of Oscar Peterson, this version’s namesake.
There has been a fair amount of fanfare accompanying the release and the usual debate as to whether site owners should update immediately or wait a bit to see what shakes out. As is normal, a significant percentage of sites have been upgraded already and equally normally, some problems have been found.
Problems Are Usually Not WordPress Itself
WordPress itself is typically fairly solid upon release. The beta test process works pretty well and there are usually a couple of “release candidates” before the actual release takes place. The idea is to provide developers and designers ample opportunity to bring their products up to speed with the new version before it’s officially released. In theory, this minimizes the chance for nasty surprises when a site owner updates to the shiny new version of WordPress.
Of course, human nature being what it is, this doesn’t always play out as intended. Plugin and theme developers get behind the curve and inevitably something that should have been fixed before the release doesn’t get fixed until somebody trips over it and the developer’s inbox starts filling up with complaints.
This is a big reason why I rarely update my and my clients’ sites until the first patch release appears. Historically, this is 2-3 weeks after the initial release, so I expect to see 3.6.1 show up sometime in the next 30 days or so. Those of you in my Website Management Program who have visited your admin dashboard are seeing the “WordPress 3.6 is available. Please update” message at the top of the screen and will continue to do so for a while yet.
So, What’s New in 3.6?
As usual, there are a number of bug fixes and some security fixes, as well as new features. Some features are visible and many aren’t. As mentioned earlier, the list of features was quite a bit longer a couple of months ago, but was trimmed in order to get this release finished.
This is not unusual in software development. Sometimes new functionality turns out to be more difficult to implement than expected. Once this is determined, the developers have two choices: delay the release until the new features work properly, or push the difficult features off to the next release cycle and “git ‘er done!” In this case, the WP developers chose the latter course.
Audio and Video Support
The most visible feature is the ability to embed media files into posts and pages without the need for a plugin. All that’s needed is a shortcode and the URL of the media file. For even more control, you can specify the width and height of the video and alternative file formats that are compatible with HTML5. MP3 files can be played directly from a post or page without needing to install yet another plugin. Audio and video files may now be previewed in the media library, as well.
Bloggers, especially those who may have multiple authors working on the same post, will appreciate the new post lock feature. In the past there has been a warning message displayed indicating that a post or page was being edited by someone, but there was nothing preventing someone else from editing it anyway.
Post revisions are handled much more elegantly now, too. Having the ability to restore to a previous revision has been available for some time, but is now more robust.
A new default theme comes with WP 3.6. Twenty Thirteen is responsive and is easily customized with child themes. Of course, like its siblings, it has its own unique look.
Many Behind-the-Scenes Improvements
Many of the new features are not directly visible. They consist of new additions and improvements to the WP developer interface. These allow developers to leverage the new functionality of WP 3.6 through themes and plugins so, of course, you’ll be seeing many new and updated plugins and themes coming along soon.
Why Not Update Now?
As I explained, I believe it’s prudent to wait until the dust settles after a major release before updating to that release. From a practical standpoint, I don’t want to have to update all my and my clients’ sites twice within a short period of time. It takes time to test a major update and the odds of a successful update get a lot better after the first patch.
If there are features someone can’t live without for a few weeks, we can always update sooner with the caveat that it’s a bit more risky doing so on the “bleeding edge”, so to speak. The key, of course, is to backup the site first, just in case. At least that way if it doesn’t work, it can be restored to the previous working version until things get straightened out.