WordPress 2.5: The Write Post Interface

WordPress IconShortly after I installed WordPress 2.5, I blogged at length about my experiences with (and dislike of) some of the “new and improved” features of the administrator’s interface. The Write Post interface was a particular bone of contention with me, but my co-host at The Secret Lair made it known that he thought the entire design of the administrator interface was poorly done. You can find our discussion in Episode 0009 of the podcast, beginning at the 07:57 mark.

A couple of days ago, Matthew Hill ((Check out Matthew’s own views on the change in his blog post, WordPress gets it wrong…and goes deaf.)) left a comment here directing me to a very helpful post on the official WordPress Support Forums. As I began exploring the forums, I discovered that Chris and I were hardly alone in our feelings toward the WordPress 2.5 Admin interface. There are several threads at the forums devoted to the administrator interface, with special attention on the Write Post screen and the Widget control panel.

One thread in the Requests and Feedback forum caught my eye, as there were more than 100 replies when I began reading it, with new replies continuing to trickle in at a fairly steady rate. I felt somewhat vindicated to learn that other WordPress users were being very vocal about their dislike for the new Admin screens, and more than a little disheartened at a forum moderator’s attitude toward people posting on a forum that is clearly labeled as being designated for feedback and criticism:

Well, prepare to continue to be annoyed then…

WordPress developers generally don’t comment in these forums, as a rule. They’re too busy developing. If you want a say in the code development, then login to the bug tracker and make your comments there. Submit patches to the code. Whatever.

But really, please, stop complaining about it here. These are support forums, for people with actual problems. Not liking the layout is an opinion, not a problem. And this is really not the proper place to vent opinions or to suggest changes to WordPress. ((Initial response to users by forum moderator Otto42.))

More disheartening than Otto42’s attitude, however, was his assertion that the development team simply doesn’t pay attention to the “Requests and Feedback” forum, leading me to wonder why they would even bother having forums in the first place.

Fortunately, a number of users were doing more than just expressing their dislike for the new Admin interface: they were diving into the WordPress code to do something about it. The post Matt linked to contained information about a hack created by Judy Becker of the knitting blog, Persistent Illusion. That’s right, a blogger whose focus is knitting hacked WordPress 2.5 in order to make the Write Post screen resemble the old WordPress 2.3.3 interface.

Judy’s hack moves the Categories, Comments & Pings, Tags, Post Author and Password Protect sections (what someone collectively referred to as the meta-data sections) to the right of the editor window, much as they were in WordPress 2.3. Unfortunately, since the changes require modification to some core WordPress files, it doesn’t appear that what Judy has done could be accomplished with a simple plugin, but I wasn’t about to let that stop me.

I applied Judy’s hack and, lo and behold, the Categories section was back where it belonged: to the right of the post editor. If only there were some way to fix some of the other design flaws: ((Yes, I call them “design flaws”, and I will continue to do so. The attitude that the only constructive approach to resolving these issues is to suggest a solution that does not involve reverting back to the WordPress 2.3.3 design because that would constitute a step “backward” is simply pig-headed. The changes to the design could hardly be called a step forward, as they forced efficiency and functionality to take a backseat to making the screen look simple “above the fold”.)) an overabundance of white space above the editor, unnecessarily large typeface for the blog title, etc.

Then I found the Fluency Admin plugin, which “re-skins” the entire WordPress Admin interface. Fluency arranges the major admin functions (Dashboard, Write, Manage, Design, Comments, Settings, Plugins and Users) in a column on the left side of the screen, while displaying sub-functions across the top. The interface feels cleaner and tighter, though I still think that some of the space above the fold could be put to better use.

Unfortunately, the Fluency plugin didn’t look so great with Judy’s hack: the repositioned sections overlapped the editor, making the whole thing feel very cludgy, which it was; the hack and the plugin weren’t designed to be complementary, after all. Rather than give up, I decided to do a little hacking myself. I tweaked some of Judy’s CSS to fix the overlap problem and hacked the postbox JavaScript file to remove the “twisties” ((Also known as “disclosure triangles”.)) from the section headers. The result is very satisfying. Compare the two screen shots below: the first is the default WordPress 2.5 Write Post screen, the second is the Write Post with the Fluency Admin plugin and Judy’s hack applied.

WordPress 2.5 Write Post Screen (Default/Safari)
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WordPress 2.5 Write Post Screen (Hacked/Fluency/Safari)
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There are a couple of drawbacks to this approach. First, the Fluency Admin plugin only works on CSS2 compliant browsers. That’s not a major problem because I do the majority of my blogging from Firefox, SeaMonkey, Flock and Safari, all of which display Fluency quite nicely. Every once in a while, I’ve got use Internet Explorer 6 or 7, neither of which is CSS2 compliant, so the Admin interface reverts back to the default theme with the hacks Judy and I made. It’s not entirely pretty, but it’s still functional and still better than using the standard interface.

WordPress 2.5 Write Post Screen (Hacked/IE7)
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But ultimately the biggest problem is that I’ve had to utilize a hack to fix a user interface issue, a hack that will be overwritten with the next WordPress upgrade. The likelihood that the interface will be improved with that upgrade seems slim, given that a request to revert the layout of the Write Post screen was deemed “invalid” by the developers, ((So much for following Otto42’s advice.)) which means that I’ll have to re-hack WordPress after the upgrade.

Okay, I was wrong: the biggest problem is the lack of any kind of official response to the community feedback. Several people have reverted back to WordPress 2.3.3 rather than fight with the new Admin interface, some are simply not upgrading, and I suspect that others may jump to another blogging platform. Me? I’ve got a hack in place that I can live with for now, but I’m only going to re-hack WordPress so many times before I start looking elsewhere.