On Wednesday, WordPress 3.1 was pushed out to the masses, the first major release in 8 months, and it sparked an intense flurry of activity as bloggers, hosts and other site administrators rushed to bring their versions up to date.
However, unlike the previous security updates, this release makes significant changes to the way that WordPress users interact with and use their sites. Many users, especially those who are having their blogs updated by others, may be in for a bit of a shock when they visit their sites for the first time and should be aware of the new changes, what they mean and why they are useful.
So what can new converts to WordPress 3.1 expect. The list is actually very long, but there are only a few changes that will be immediately noticeable.
The Big Changes in WordPress 3.1
For most users of WordPress, there are three changes with version 3.1 that will instantly leap out and may initially present some confusion:
- New Admin Bar: If you are logged in to WordPress and visit the public site, you’ll see an admin bar across the top with quick links to edit the content, administer comments and even view statistics. This bar is NOT visible to anyone who isn’t logged in and can be easily disable by visiting “Your Profile” under “Users” in your administration area.
- Internal Linking: If you use the visual editor, which was also upgraded in this release, the next time you add a link to your post you’ll see an option to add an internal link, which will allow you to search through your prior posts and easily link to an old story. This feature is not available in the HTML editor.
- Admin Interface Improvements: Finally, there have been many changes to the admin interface including cleaning up the CSS files, modifying the “Blue” theme and removing clutter from the writing pages.
However, the change that will likely be the most important moving forward probably won’t be visible to the bulk of those who are upgrading. Post Formats enable users to tag posts with different formats (similar to what Tumblr users do) and have themes display them in different ways. Unfortunately, since this feature requires theme support and most themes have not been updated to use the feature, few will see it.
All of that being said, many of the more important features are buried deeper down in WordPress and may not be instantly noticeable, including a few that may help keep your blog safe and speedy.
The Less-Noticeable Changes
As great as the big changes are, the smaller ones also offer a compelling reason to update:
- Security Improvements: WordPress 3.1 includes a slew of under-the-hood security improvements, most notably a streamlined and improved password recovery system and additional administrator types for installations with multiple blogs.
- Importer/Exporter Improvements: Elements of the import/export functionality have been overhauled to ensure you can easily export your site to another installation if needed.
- Streamlined Theme Searching: The process of searching for and installing themes has been greatly improved. The result is that the process should be easier and faster than ever.
Of course, the update also came with dozens of other tweaks and changes you can read about in the Codex entry on the release.
For many bloggers, the upgrade to WordPress 3.1 won’t be optional as their hosts or control panels will take care of it for them. However, for those who do have the option and haven’t done so yet, the question becomes, “Is WordPress 3.1 worth the upgrade?”
The answer, for nearly everyone, is going to be yes.
Why Upgrade To WordPress 3.1
Generally with WordPress, or any Web-facing software, the rule is that you should always upgrade your software as soon as possible unless you have some compelling reason not to. With WordPress 3.1, there just doesn’t seem to be much of a compelling reason.
Though there have been a few minor hiccups with plugins, including one issue with the Disqus plugin and another with WPTouch Pro, for nearly everyone the update has gone smoothly and all plugins/themes seem to be working reasonably well (that were also working with 3.0).
In short, if your site functioned well in 3.0, it probably will work with 3.1.
If maintenance and security issues don’t motivate you, the new features should. The admin bar is a very convenient way to make quick updates and the internal linking feature greatly streamlines the process of finding old posts to reference. They might not be game-changing features, but they both save time and can help you run a better site.
All in all, WordPress 3.1 is a solid, stable and safe release. It is more evolution than revolution but that’s all the more reason to upgrade straight away.
As with any WordPress update, you should take the standard precautions of making sure that your database, themes and media files are backed up, possibly by using a service such as SiteAutoBackup to ensure completeness. Though the odds of a complete disaster are very slim, it is always best to be prepared.
Beyond taking sensible precautions, there’s no reason to avoid this update if you have a working WordPress 3.0 site. WordPress 3.1 simply doesn’t change enough to cause problems.
The few things it does change are either very useful or are important building blocks for the future of WordPress. That alone makes WordPress 3.1 a worthwhile upgrade, even if the buzz around it has been more muted than previous versions.
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