The WordPress community is currently knee-deep in Gutenberg takes, as the new editor is poised to impact nearly every corner of the ecosystem when it ships in WordPress 5.0. With billions of dollars flowing through the WordPress economy, tensions are high, as many people support themselves and their families with the revenue earned from products and services that have been built on the existing editor.
First impressions range from outright rejection of the new editor to those who embrace it and are hopeful for what it will bring to WordPress. For the past several years, most major new features added to WordPress have come through the feature plugin/feature project process where release leads and other contributors decide whether a proposed feature is ready for merge. The Gutenberg project is taking a somewhat different path to core in that Matt Mullenweg has already confirmed that Gutenberg will ship with WordPress 5.0, but the release will come out when Gutenberg is ready. This approach is part of Mullenweg’s new strategy for core development that makes releases more project-based instead of time-based.
One of the most common concerns that developers and agency owners have about the plan to include Gutenberg in 5.0 is that they may need to hold back some of their sites from updating. The most vocal opponents have called for a way to “opt out” of Gutenberg so that it isn’t forced on their users.
In a post titled “WordPress is about to have its New Coke moment,” Nate Hoffelder shared his first impressions of the new edidtor after taking it for a test run. He said he appreciates the changes it promises but was unable to figure out how to create the blocks in the demo and worries about the “average non-techie” trying to use the interface.
Hoffelder referenced Coca-Cola’s attempt to introduce New Coke in April 1985, which quickly ended in consumers calling for a return of the original flavor.
“My gut feeling is that if users share my frustrations with Gutenberg, they will demand the return of the old interface,” Hoffelder said. “But the official release is months and months away, so it is entirely possible that a UX (user experience) expert will force the Gutenberg developers to make Gutenberg easier to use before it is inflicted upon an unsuspecting public.”
WordPress Users Will be Able to Restore the Old Editor with a Plugin after Gutenberg Lands in Core
WordPress will move forward with the Gutenberg editor as the default experience in the 5.0 release, but Matt Mullenweg confirmed in a comment on his blog that a plugin will be available for users who want to restore the old editor.
“Gutenberg uses TinyMCE, so a better way to think of it is that Gutenberg is a new version of our approach to TinyMCE,” Mullenweg said. “It will be the default experience of WP, for people that want to use something more like what’s currently there we’ll have a plugin they can use.”
This should bring some relief to developers who will not yet have updated their extensions to work with Gutenberg, as well as agency owners who are not ready to give their clients access to the new editor.
In his post, titled We Called it Gutenberg for a Reason, Mullenweg shared his vision for how the new editor will will re-imagine TinyMCE and the advantages it will bring for plugin editors:
Plugin developers will be able to completely integrate into every part of WordPress, including posts, pages, custom post types, and sidebars without having to hack TinyMCE or squeeze their entire feature behind a toolbar button. Today, every plugin that extends WordPress does it in a different way; Gutenberg’s blocks provide a single, easy-to-learn entry point for an incredible variety of extensions. Some folks have already begun to port their plugins over, and are finding that they’re easier to build and have a much improved UI.
For developers who are worried about the compatibility of their metaboxes, Mullenweg said a plugin will be available for providing the legacy edit page for metaboxes. One commenter, whose sites are heavily dependent on Advanced Custom Fields (ACF), asked if there is going to be a version of WordPress that will get long-term support for sites that can’t be upgraded to 5.0 without breaking.
“There won’t be a version of WP like that, but there will definitely be a plugin that gives you the legacy / old edit page. Make sure to let ACF know that Gutenberg compatibility is a top priority,” Mullenweg said.
Scott Kingsley Clark, lead developer of the Pods plugin, said this support for legacy PHP meta boxes is welcome news for the project but that Pods is also looking to get on board with Gutenberg once the project’s engineers have a solution for metaboxes.
“I’m very excited to start using the new meta boxes from Gutenberg once the API supports it and gives us more to utilize,” Clark said. “As soon as that’s available, count us in for immediate adoption.”
Despite assurances that a plugin will be available to restore the old interface, some are still concerned about how Gutenberg will impact the WordPress ecosystem. The average WordPress user has never heard of Gutenberg and its inclusion in 5.0 will be a major change.
In a recent article on WPShout Fred Meyer contends that Gutenberg doesn’t go nearly far enough towards giving users what they really want, which he identifies as front-end editing and the ability to create layouts within post content.
“Gutenberg doesn’t go nearly far enough,” Meyer said. “It won’t make WordPress’ core content editor competitive with hosted builder solutions, or even with WordPress’ own themes and plugins (including badly built, bad-for-the-community solutions like Visual Composer.)”
Meyer believes Gutenberg has the opportunity to defragment WordPress’ ecosystem of page building tools, but only if it moves towards providing “a feature-rich, developer-friendly, front-end page builder and content editor.”
In responding to feedback from the community, Gutenberg design lead Tammie Lister has said that the project is currently focusing on editing before tackling the page building experience. The team has also been working with the authors of page builder plugins ahead of the next focus on customization.
“It is still a little early to say what will happen to plugins and builders,” Lister said. “Initially, Gutenberg is focusing on the editor. The next stage is for the Customization focus (the building of pages). One thing that will need to happen is a lot of testing of existing plugins with Gutenberg. That’s how we can ensure things do work and limit issues. Ultimately, more and more plugins won’t be needed – or at least not so many together to achieve simple things. This benefits users and creates a better, more unified experience for all.”
If users’ first impression of Gutenberg is that it is unable to deliver on all of the lofty promises of the project, they may return to the old interface en masse. WordPress will then have a battle to convince users to give it a another chance as the experience improves to include customization.
Multi-column layouts, which are the gateway to page building, are not currently within the scope of the first official version coming to core. Gutenberg’s one-dimensional, vertically stacking approach to designing pages isn’t very inspiring. This may frustrate average users whose expectations have not been tempered with the understanding that a future version will include an expanded page building experience. A plugin that allows users to opt out until it is an improvement over their current tools is going to be crucial for keeping the community happy.