Let’s start today’s post with a quick trip down memory lane.
It’s way back in 2012, WordPress 3.4 has just dropped, and the world has its first opportunity to glimpse a radical new theme customization functionality.
This new feature allows users to try out different theme settings without publishing the changes – instead, a real-time preview is generated as changes are made. For the first time, you can make cosmetic tweaks to your website in private, away from prying eyes.
Fast forward to 2015, where this functionality is now known as the WordPress Customizer.
Little did we know when it was first launched, but the Customizer is expected to play an important role in the future of the WordPress platform. The clues were there, though, as this quote taken from the original WordPress 3.4 release proves:
“We have more planned for the customizer down the road.”
In the build-up to the WordPress 4.3 release, this statement feels particularly relevant, with the WordPress community divided by the future plans for the Customizer.
Adding new functionality to the WordPress Customizer is nothing new.
WordPress 3.9 brought the first major Customizer enhancements, with the addition of live widget and header previews. This allowed you to add, re-order, and edit your widgets from within the Customizer interface.
Version 4.1 saw some smaller under-the-hood changes, as well as support for conditional logic, which allowed you to preview page-specific site elements.
In the latest 4.2 version, theme previews were added to the Customizer, allowing you to test out any of your installed themes before committing to the switch.
With an expected August release, WordPress 4.3 will see the biggest overhaul of the Customizer to date, though. And, as you are probably aware, not everyone is happy about it.
Customizer Changes in WordPress 4.3
The build up to the release of 4.3 has raised lots of questions about the future of the Customizer.
From the core developers’ perspective, the Customizer is the future of WordPress – with ambitious growth targets in place, the core team believe that the Customizer’s user-friendly interface is the key to attracting new users. This has seen several new features for the Customizer committed to the WordPress core.
The most controversial new feature by far is Customizer menu management.
The menu controls – usually found by navigating to Appearance > Menus – have been duplicated in the Customizer. As users build and manage their menus, the changes can be previewed on a live version of the site.
One camp believe the live preview makes menu building easier. The other think menu management has no place in the Customizer, largely due to the restrictive interface. Despite a lot of kickback from the community – including the release of a plugin to remove the Customizer functionality completely – the core team have gone ahead and committed the proposals to the core.
You can now test out the new Customizer menu management for yourself by checking out the WordPress 4.3 Beta.
There have also been smaller, less-publicized Customizer proposals for 4.3, including:
- Customizer partial refresh — makes the Customizer run more effectively by only refreshing the part of the page being changed.
- Customizer transactions — essentially allows you to save draft Customizer settings, which can be retrieved at a later stage.
- Customizer locking — prevents multiple users using the Customizer at once and continuously overwriting the other’s hard work.
It’s worth point out that these “smaller” improvements have met much less resistance and have mostly been accepted by the community.
The Future of the WordPress Customizer
So what’s the problem?
If you want to manage your menus using the Customizer, you can. If you don’t want to, you can do it the old way.
Well, for now you can, and herein lies the problem.
In the discussion notes, project lead Mark Halsey made several hints at the Customizer’s future.
- Somewhere between WordPress 4.4 and WordPress 4.6, the current menu building process may be scrapped altogether, with all menu building actions performed from the Customizer.
- Menu Customizer is the first step towards the long-term goal to move every possible functionality from the admin to the Customizer.
I think we can all agree that choice is good, right? Unfortunately, though, it’s these future plans that are causing so much uproar.
In an open source community like WordPress, surely the preferences of the majority have to be considered. In this instance, and with a mostly anti-Customizer community, it feels like we’re being ignored.
It will be interesting to see how the Menu Customizer is received when WordPress 4.3 launches. You can currently preview early versions of the Menu Customizer functionality by taking the 4.3 Beta versions for a dry run.
For now, though, it’s over to you, as I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
Is the WordPress Customizer the future of the platform? Or have the core team got this one wrong? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!