WordPress 3.9 Released

The latest version of WordPress, WordPress 3.9, has been released. It is named in honor of jazz organist Jimmy Smith, continuing the tradition of naming major WordPress releases after jazz musicians.

WordPress 3.8 was released in December 2013, and this push to WordPress 3.9 is part of the new faster release schedule.

As of July 2013, Matt Mullenweg announced that WordPress now powers 18.9% of the web with more than 46 million downloads in ten years. WordPress is also being used by mobile users more than ever before according to a WordPress Community survey that found 31% were using it on their iOS devices, 30% on Android, and 18% on Android tablets. A survey by WP Engine on WordPress adoption and name recognition found 30% of those surveys on the Internet have heard of WordPress.

With so many people embracing WordPress and incorporating it into their lives and businesses as a content management and web publishing system, the improvements the development teams worked on for this new version reflect the growing reliance on WordPress across multiple user types and needs.

What’s New in WordPress

There have been major improvements in the Administration Panels of WordPress including changes to the interface, and major speed improvements are found throughout the new release.

Specific details and information on this hot new release of WordPress can be found in the WordPress Version 3.9 description in the WordPress Codex. We’ve highlighted some below.

Muktware describes WordPress 3.9 and the new Visual Editor as “stunning,” the new interface resembling Google Docs.

Bob Dunn dug into WordPress 3.9, paying close attention to the long-awaited improvements to the Paste from Word button on the Visual Editor.

It’s gone! Because of the updated TinyMCE that powers the editor, it is now removed. So now if you paste in a block of Microsoft Word text directly into the editor, it will no longer come out looking horrible.

WordPress will incorporate existing WordPress Plugins into the core when the demand and need is high, but it doesn’t happen often. WordPress 3.9 brought the Widgets Customizer Plugin into core this time around and is developing a few others for future versions.

Let’s get to the specific improvements and changes in WordPress 3.9.

WordPress Visual Editor

The WordPress Visual Editor toolbar sees the most dramatic visual changes to the WordPress interface.

The buttons are emphasized, clearer, and more visually specific to their task. There are also some new additions.

Changes to the Toolbar of the Visual Editor in WordPress 3.9.

The horizontal line button has been added to the first row of the toolbar, allowing the user to quickly add a <hr /> line in posts and Pages.

The MORE button, which sets the excerpt position, is bolder and represents its task much better.

On the second line, called the Kitchen Sink row, a Symbol button arrives, making it easier to add HTML character entities in posts and Pages. Included in the list are math, money, and Greek characters.

Visual Editor toolbar features a new symbol button in WordPress 3.9 for HTML character entities.

The biggest improvement is in the former Insert from Word and Insert Text buttons. WordPress 3.9 now automatically detects the foreign and unwanted codes found in word processing and web page content copied and pasted into posts and Pages, yet a button still serves the same purpose for more complicated pasted content. The new button continues to use the well-known clipboard graphic that allows pasting word processing content into WordPress that strips out the formatting, and an eraser button that does the same thing to the selected content.

WordPress developers have long known that a computer users moves faster when their fingers remain on the keyboard not the mouse. While the Visual Editor has featured keyboard shortcuts, they’ve made it easier to recall the shortcuts with a new button in the shape of a question mark. Click it to see the list of keyboard shortcuts for the Visual Editor toolbar based upon TinyMCE 4.0.

WordPress 3.9 Visual Editor offers a new keyboard shortcut button to display shortcuts for accessibility and fast typing.

Unfortunately, the underline button persists even though it violates web standards for accessibility in the US and internationally. Hopefully it will be gone in future versions.

As for the Text Editor used by professional bloggers and coders, it continues mostly to be ignored and in desperate need of an update.

WordPress Media Manager

WordPress 3.9 brings the dream-come-true of millions of users accustomed to drag and drop abilities on their computers. Prior to WordPress 3.9, all images and media had to be uploaded to the Media Manager prior to embedding in the post. With the new version, users can drag and drop images directly into the WordPress Visual Editor.

While easy for the typical user, this bypasses the ability to set images as attachments and control the image title and alternative text details, required by US and international law for web accessibility. Hopefully WordPress will make this process easier in future versions to remain compliant with web standards.

Image editing is faster with improvements to the Visual Editor to permit click and drag resizing. Hover over the image and click the pencil icon to access the Attachment Details screen, then click the Edit Image link to access the image editor native to WordPress for the past couple years. The editor permits basic editing capabilities including flipping, cropping, rotation, and resizing.

WordPress 3.8 added more image editing and customization features including borders and padding. WordPress 3.9 removed these features. Due to the high demand and large number of support questions about this feature, the dev team is considering adding them back in a future release.

Preparing images prior to upload continues to be the best decision, but these improvements make it easier to do simple fixes after uploading and embedding.

The Gallery is one of the most dramatic improvements to the WordPress image handling features. Prior to this version, if a user inserted a gallery, they would see a graphic representing multimedia in the Visual Editor. The user would have to save the post and preview it to see the gallery images. In the new version of WordPress, the gallery view is live in the Visual Editor where images can be edited and rearranged.

WordPress 3.9 now features live view of galleries in the Visual Editor.

WordPress.com users have been experimenting with the Media Playlists for Audio and Video, and this is now added to the core in WordPress 3.9. The playlist feature includes cross-browser support for a variety of audio and video extensions including HTML5, Flash and Silverlight files.

Simply upload the media to the Media Manager and select Create Audio (or Video) Playlist Rearrange the order and click the Create a new playlist button. A few more tweaks and embed the playlist into your post or Page. Scott Taylor wrote an extensive tutorial on the Audio/Video playlist features in WordPress 3.9.

Tuts+ has an in depth tutorial on all the new features in the Visual Editor and Media Manager.

WordPress Theme Improvements

Three major improvements have come to WordPress Themes and WordPress design. They are the WordPress Widget Customizer, WordPress Customizer, and WordPress Theme Browser.

The WordPress Theme Browser is a bit cleaner. The summary information at the top of the panel featuring the activated WordPress Theme is gone. The activated WordPress Theme now appears in the top left corner highlighted. A Customize button is next to the Theme name.

WordPress 3.9 theme Browser - improvements in the new release include featuring the active Theme in the first row corner.

This leads to the WordPress Theme Customizer. The Customizer permits instant access and preview of Theme modifications with AJAX. Instead of go to the specific Theme option panels, the user can modify the header art, colors, menus, front pageview, site title, featured content, and other WordPress Theme options. These maybe different depending upon the options available for each WordPress Theme.

WordPress 3.9 Theme Customizer modifies the Theme from the front end view with AJAX.

For those on slow bandwidth and Internet access, be warned that the WordPress Theme Browser loads exceptionally slow, and the last thing to load is the search menu at the top upper right of the panel.

WordPress Widget Customizer

The new WordPress Widget Customizer now includes a preview to allow the user to see the sidebar configuration from the Widget Panel rather than refreshing the front pageview of the site and switching back and forth between browser tabs.

In the past, WordPress Widgets had to be dragged from the Widget menu to the appropriate sidebar or widgetized area. For long sidebars and long lists of Widgets, it was a click and drag nightmare. With WordPress 3.9. a click of the Widget offers an option to add the Widget to a specific widgetized area easily, no more dragging.

WordPress 3.9 Widget Customizer to set the Widget in a specific sidebar area.

In this update, WordPress honors a long tradition of incorporating successful and powerful WordPress Plugins into the core of WordPress when the majority of users will benefit. The new WordPress Widget Customizer is based upon the WordPress Customizer Plugin by Weston Ruter with major code contributions by Shaun Andrews, Michael Arestad, and others. The merger was announced in January with the comment that inclusion wouldn’t be ready by version 3.9, but the development team worked overtime to integrate the Plugin into core.

Web Accessibility in WordPress

The Accessibility Team for WordPress has been working overtime on this release with extensive improvements to meet US and international laws and standards for web accessibility.

The improvements include:

  • Making list table row actions keyboard accessible.
  • Improving color contrast throughout the admin.
  • Improvements for accessibility to the Theme installer and browser
  • Improvements on focus styles across the Administration Panels

WordPress For Developers

There are some excellent improvements for developers with the new release of WordPress. They include: [can you find specifics and links to references for more information on these?]

  • HTML5 markup for captions and galleries on WordPress Themes
  • Updated External Libraries
  • Improvements in inline code documentation for action and filter hooks, and access to the Media Manager and Customizer APIs
  • Improved database layer
  • New utility functions

The WordPress Themes Review team went through their Theme Review Guidelines to ensure all WordPress Themes are compatible with the new release. The second version of the proposal included some highlights important for WordPress Theme developers to know including:

  • Best practices for ensuring all WordPress Themes are translation-ready without user configuration
  • Themes are NOT to include bundled WordPress Plugins – support yes, bundled no.
  • Sane Defaults, the out-of-the-box settings for more WordPress Themes, are now to be required, allowing the user to install a WordPress Theme and use it without user configuration.
  • Themes are not allowed to have arbitrary header and footer scripts to provide non-Theme specific functionality, turning the responsibility over to WordPress Plugins.
  • Custom logos must be disabled by default and user-configurable to allow users the freedom of handing favicons and Theme-branded logos.

Other improvements developers will enjoy include:

  • OEMBED Support for Imgur, Meetup, and others
  • New functions and features in Query Posts
  • TinyMCE 4.0 with new fatal error prevention
  • Support for PHP 5.5 that includes the MySQLi PHP Library for improved performance and stability
  • Support for HTML5 in galleries, captions, and multimedia
  • Updates to most of the major libraries including Masonory, Backbone, PHPMailer, and jQuery
  • Improvements to WordPress MS including filters, improvements to site and network detection, and deprecation of old functions
  • Symlink WordPress Plugins available to symlink to Plugin directories with new wp_register_plugin_realpath() function

If you are a WordPress developer, consider following Mike Schroder’s This Week in Core posts on Make WordPress Core. Each week, Mike releases a summary of all of the activity in WordPress development, pointing out items that impact not just WordPress development but Theme and Plugin development.

WordPress 3.9 Reviews

WordPress 3.9 has been in development for a few months and many have been watching and evaluating it closely, especially the new interface and Media Management changes.

The following is a list of reviews of WordPress 3.9. Please remember that reviews from earlier beta and release candidates may not reflect upon the final release version.

How to Upgrade WordPress

To upgrade to WordPress 3.9, don’t wait. It is a one click upgrade. Go to the Administration Panels and look for the announcement of the upgrade and following the instructions.

WordPress 3.9 Update Announcement on the Administration Screens.

As a precaution, strong consider backing up your database and site before upgrading, but few reports have come in about upgrade issues.

After upgrading, you will see a “Welcome” screen listing all of the major changes and new features in WordPress along with videos and links to tutorials and more information.

WordPress 3.9 screen after upgrading listing all of the new features.

WordPress.com members have been using many of the features of the new release as WordPress.com is a testing site for all WordPress core development. WordPress.com users need to do nothing to upgrade their sites.

Also check for updates to your WordPress Themes and Plugins and update them accordingly to ensure compatibility with WordPress. Changes in MySQL and the inclusion of HTML5 supported technologies, along with changes to the Visual Editor, may cause conflicts with a few related WordPress Plugins.

Reports of compatibility issues are few. WPTavern has been monitoring issues in the WordPress Support Forum and reports minor issues with the Visual Editor as the most frequently mentioned issue, resolved easily by deactivating all WordPress Plugins and turning them back on one at a time. If you are using a WordPress Plugin that interacts with the Visual Editor or toolbar, deactivate it.

Another possible solution is to manually empty or refresh your web browser’s cache. A recommendation to switch WordPress Themes does the same thing, so skip that step and just clear the browser cache.

As with all major releases, WordPress maintains a master issues list for each version. It begins with the words “Don’t panic” and includes “remember you are not alone.” If you are having issues and the above doesn’t resolve them immediately, check this list.

There were some worries about the heartbleed security bug impacting WordPress and the release of the next version, but the core of WordPress is not directly impacted, though those using Open Source OpenSSL-based systems, tools, and WordPress Plugins are, so check your setup and server if you are running a self-hosted version of WordPress. Barry Abrahamson of Automattic and WordPress.com announced that all OpenSSL servers and systems have been updated and are secure, and members are not currently asked to change their passwords.

WordPress 4.0: What’s Next?

Word is already underway on WordPress 4.0. While it is the twenty-third major release of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg and the team are already working on making it a special release. Brian Krogsgard of Post Status reports that the WordPress development team is considering a wide variety of features including the long awaited front-end editing, improvements in WordPress taxonomy, changes to WordPress MS, .

Many have speculated about what should happen with WordPress 4.0. In May 2013, Matt of Webmaster-Source proposed a complete rewrite of WordPress to remove the old stuff and add improved functions much needed to streamline WordPress under the hood, yet admits that WordPress is certainly not bloatware.

Matt Mullenweg talked about changes in WordPress to modularize WordPress to make it more Plugin-like by the end of 2013. While that is on track, expect to see more work on modularizing WordPress in the next version.

Whatever is coming for the next major release of WordPress, the development team will work overtime to ensure it meets our needs and drives WordPress into the future well.

Thanks, WordPress Team!

The list at the end of the announcement for the release of WordPress 3.9 features all the people who touched the code aspect of the release, but it doesn’t cover everyone who lent a hand to make WordPress 3.9 possible.

Credit goes to everyone on the WordPress Development team, as well as those in the UI, Mobile, Accessibility, Polyglots, Themes, Documentation, and Support teams. While their names are not in lights, they should be as such a release takes everyone, including the thousands testing the new features on WordPress.com and testers around the globe.

It truly takes a village – a world – to put WordPress through its paces, and we all benefit from the hard work. Thank you.

NOTE: This article was a Clark College WordPress I class project for Spring Quarter 2014. The assignment was to work on a collaborative document in WordPress. Credit goes to all students who gave their best to this assignment.

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