WordPress 2.7 is all about the user

The latest version 2.7 of the WordPress blogging platform for self-hosted blogs was released this week, and a terrific upgrade it is.

The first thing to notice is the brand new structure of the administration interface, aka the dashboard (click the thumbnails for full-size ‘after’ and ‘before’ screenshots):

nhcom-after27-sm nhcom-before27-sm

Most obvious in 2.7’s dashboard is the light grey colour scheme with subtle colour hints when you move your mouse over a link.

More screenshots at Flickr.

I’ve been testing 2.7 since early beta versions with an offline blog installation running on a local desktop PC (if you’re tech inclined, you might like to know I was running it with Wampserver 2 on a Windows Vista machine), so I could see how the new look and feel was developing. And I like it a lot.

I’m not going to write much of an overview in this post about everything that’s new in WordPress 2.7, just focus on one thing that I think is significant about this version.

For a general overview to get a sense of all that is new, you can do no better than watch this rather good short video from WordPress:

I’ve upgraded this blog and my tech blog to version 2.7. A painless process as always, using my hosting service DreamHost’s 1-Click install/upgrade procedure.

And, as always when upgrading WordPress, I follow these 4 key steps after initial prep (including things like checking plugin compatibility – the major thing likely to be the cause of any subsequent issues with a WordPress upgrade is plugin incompatibility):

  1. Back up the WordPress MySQL database.
  2. Disable all plugins and revert your theme to the WordPress default theme.
  3. Run DreamHost 1-Click and wait for email confirmation that upgrade done.
  4. Log in to the blog and re-enable all plugins one by one, starting with the first line of defence (Akismet and Bad Behaviour) followed by all others, testing after each one (here’s a list of the plugins I have running, all of which work with 2.7), then re-enable your usual theme.

It really is that simple and straightforward. Steps 1 to 3 take no longer than 15 minutes. Step 4 is more time consuming but worth the effort in case a plugin breaks your blog.

If you upgrade manually, then make sure you follow closely the WordPress upgrade guide.

(One of the new features with WP 2.7 is automatic upgrade built in to the core files, not a plugin. Read about that here. If you’re a DreamHost customer, you can use either that or the 1-Click, your choice.)

So, to the one thing that I think is significant about this version – usability.

I’ve been using WordPress since version 1.5. With the development of 2.7, I don’t think I’ve seen such attention paid by the developers and others at Automattic (the company that owns WordPress) to engaging with users at all levels of skill and knowledge, seeking opinion on what users want to see in the new version.

The scale and depth of that opinion-seeking activity, carried out in the real world as well as online, is probably best illustrated by the lengths the development team went to concerning readability testing and how people interact with content on a computer screen.

You can get a strong sense of that from the report on usability testing, along with the detailed results PDF as well as a very good slide presentation.

One of the things I took part in was a poll to vote on the icons that would be included in the final design of the admin interface, ie, the dashboard. A small contribution, perhaps, but I’m pleased that I added my voice in that stage of development. Plus I’m thrilled that most of my own preferences that I voted for made it into the final look.

So I think WordPress version 2.7 is the easiest to understand and use version yet of WordPress. It’s not perfect or complete by any means – the developers are already prepping version 2.7.1 to fix some bugs – and lacks some polish, finesse even, in some areas (for instance: built-in help that only links to the Codex home page, or the rather neat QuickPress feature that doesn’t include categories).

But overall, it’s terrific and I’d encourage anyone using WordPress to upgrade immediately. If you use the hosted service WordPress.com, you already enjoy the features of 2.7.

And good news if you manage your blog offline using Windows Live Writer – it works just fine with WordPress 2.7.

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About Neville Hobson

Entrepreneurial business communicator with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Co-host of the weekly business podcast For Immediate Release: The Hobson and Holtz Report. Also an occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Follow me on Twitter and Google+.