Since the initial release of WordPress in 2003, hundreds of updates have been released for the framework, many of which have forever transformed the way we use WordPress. WordPress 3.9 was released on April 16, 2014 and came packaged with many featured designed to make WordPress easier to use. Below are some of the key changes every blogger should know about:

Audio & Video Playlists

Since the launch of WordPress, one of its greatest weaknesses has been the lack of support for video and sound players. Thankfully, third-party plugins and iFrames from YouTube have generally filled this void, but by default this has always been one of WordPress’ greatest weaknesses. As of WordPress 3.9, this is no longer an issue. A better video player has been globally implemented on WordPress sites, and the media library finally supports media items besides images. Through this new library, music and video clips can be showcased to blog readers through customizable playlists.

Through the admin dashboard, audio and video files can be grouped together to dynamically form a playlist. Once this playlist has been created, it can be easily deployed by using a simple shortcode. WordPress has even gone to the extreme of building a data network of music in an attempt to automatically get metadata associated with the file. Artist, album, and song names can all be automatically generated without including advertisements for the artist.

Improved Visual Editor

Once again, WordPress continues to add features in an attempt to improve the visual editor. While before the visual editor included simple functionality that was often inconvenient in comparison to manually coding each page with WPML, WordPress is continuing to get closer to realizing its goal of website builder functionality. Also known as TinyMCE, the visual editor in WordPress has been in need of an update for a long time. WordPress users can now view image and gallery previews without having to render a full page preview.

WordPress is also making this easier by supporting drag-and-drop images. By selecting images from a folder on a local computer, simply dragging them onto the page will automatically place them on the page without any hassle. This way, WordPress users can add media without having to navigate through the media library interface. These images can even be modified without having to open the visual editor by simply dragging the mouse to resize them. For users that are not technically-savvy, this approach is much more intuitive since it mimics traditional Microsoft Office functionality.

Better Theme Navigation

The new theme selector is designed to make free themes from WordPress more accessible by allowing them to be previewed and sorted in real-time. Additionally, the user interface has been given a facelift that makes the design more responsive and offers more detailed image previews for each theme option. A search box has also been added, and themes can be viewed by browsing popular tags. These new features have been long overdue, and we are pleased to finally see them being implemented in this latest version of WordPress.

Real-Time Widget Previews

Another star feature of WordPress 3.9 is the ability to dynamically preview widgets in real-time before they go live on the website. Before this update, each widget update had to be painstakingly-checked manually on the live website. While fine during the development stage, this made maintaining live websites with substantial traffic volumes a definite challenge. With these new changes however, the functionality of the visual editor has been expanded to support live widget customization. This means that changes can be made through visual drag-and-drop interfaces and previews can be rendered live.

While these real-time widget previews still don’t make WordPress a drag-and-drop editor, it certainly leaves users with hope for what could be coming in WordPress 4.0. As WordPress continues to expand its capabilities as a drag-and-drop editor, it is very possible that future updates could expand even more on this functionality to the point where WordPress themes can offer much more flexibility. In the meantime, these changes are great, especially for developers that use WordPress as a content management system for ordinary business owners.

Better HTML5 integration

With some of the most recent updates to WordPress have come features that help developers better-integrate some of the enhanced functionality afforded with HTML5. Expanding further upon this, all WordPress themes now support HTML5 markup for galleries and captions. This enhances the appearance of websites where ordinary users wish to include a gallery. While there were plugins available to add this functionality before, it is nice to finally see an official way of doing this without having to use third-party plugins. The ability to render captions as well through HTML5 can make websites look much more sharp, especially on mobile and retina devices.

Updates for WordPress Developers

While ordinary users got the most out of these updates, developers received additional features as well. Mostly, these updates were related to the new WordPress functionality and fixing some small bugs. To cut down on load times, colors.css was merged with wp-admin.css to remove 1,065 lines of code. While relatively small, this change means substantial savings when multiplied by the billions of webpages that use WordPress and the thousands who view each of them.

Along with these relatively-minor updates comes the further implementation of the “heartbeat” system that WordPress started rolling out in the last update. Since WordPress has continued to make changes to its core functionality over the years, this has forced WordPress to keep a massive library of outdated functions to prevent it from breaking plugins. Unfortunately, this has been spread across hundreds of files that can make WordPress development difficult. As a result, WordPress implemented the “heartbeat” system in an effort to consolidate these functions into only a few files and stay more organized on the backend. As of this latest update, the saving of POST data has been moved to heartbeat as well.

Summary

While certainly not a revolutionary update, 3.9 is definitely worth installing for both developers and ordinary users alike. With interface updates and enhanced functionality, this latest update is simply one that cannot be ignored.

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