Matt Mullenweg published an appeal to WordPress users over the weekend in a post titled “We Called it Gutenberg for a Reason.” In it he offers a better look at his vision for Gutenberg, which he contends will be as transformative for WordPress’ future as the first movable type printing was for Europe’s printing revolution.
Mullenweg identified the new Gutenberg editor as the tool that will enable WordPress to meet its competition and the opportunities available in the small business sector:
WordPress’s growth is impressive (28.5% and counting) but it’s not limitless — at least not in its current state. We have challenges (user frustrations with publishing and customizing, competition from site builders like Squarespace and Wix) and opportunities (the 157 million small businesses without sites, aka the next big market we should be serving). It’s time for WordPress’ next big thing, the thing that helps us deal with our challenges and opportunities. The thing that changes the world.
Automattic has been moving towards offering better support for small businesses with its 2015 acquisition of WooCommerce and steady commercialization of Jetpack, with plans targeted at business owners. The company is poised to capture even more of the self-hosted small business market by allowing customers to tap into WordPress’ third-party ecosystem.
However, many vocal opponents to Gutenberg (and the changes that will come along with it) are concerned that the project is being developed chiefly to serve Automattic’s customers and corporate interests.
“Gutenberg has been mainly introduced by one particular company which seems to be in urgent need to compete with other SaaS businesses,” WordPress theme development company owner Michael Hebenstreit said. “That’s fine, but then keep it as a plugin for at least 1-2 years, put it on WordPress.com (to gather real live feedback and usage data) and nobody will have any issues with that approach.”
Mullenweg addressed concerns that Gutenberg is being developed for Automattic’s customers in a reply to a similar comment on his post.
Those who build websites for clients have voiced concerns about how Gutenberg will affect their businesses, whether the brand new interface will drive users away from WordPress. Developers and product owners are eagerly awaiting more answers on what it means for existing plugins and themes in the ecosystem, as the project has yet to iron out some of the more technical details regarding extensibility and support for metaboxes. This naturally raises concerns about Gutenberg’s timeline.
“Gutenberg will ship with WordPress 5.0, but the release will come out when Gutenberg is ready, not vice versa,” Mullenweg said. “We still have target dates to help us think about scope and plan for all the supporting documentation, translation, and marketing efforts, but we’re not going to release anything until Gutenberg is something the team working on it agrees is ready.”
WordPress users have been conditioned to anticipate releases on a regular schedule but the new approach to core development will allow for the next major release to wait until the targeted features are ready. Mullenweg confirmed in the comments of his post that Gutenberg will ship with a legacy interface to offer backwards compatibility for PHP metaboxes that have not yet updated to be JS-powered.
“Some things like toolbar buttons will definitely need to be updated to work with Gutenberg, other things like Metaboxes there will be no problem to provide a legacy interface for a few releases,” Mullenweg said. “But I would say that plugin authors should start updating their plugins in late September if they want to benefit from Gutenberg’s launch.”
One of the most prevalent concerns that remains is React’s licensing issues, which came to a head after the Apache Software Foundation added Facebook’s BSD+Patents license to its Category X list of disallowed licenses for Apache PMC members. Facebook’s engineering directors considered re-licensing the project but decided against it, citing “meritless patent litigation” as the reason behind adopting the BSD + patents license. The WordPress project has yet to announce its stance on the decision.
“We anticipated a decision on React around the Apache deadline (closer to now), will have more to announce about WP and Gutenberg’s approach here in the next few weeks,” Mullenweg said.
He also reiterated how invested he is in the WordPress project and ecosystem as a whole. His post elaborated on the many benefits he anticipates for plugin, theme, and core developers, agencies, users, and hosting companies. He challenged the WordPress community to see Gutenberg in the same light.
“My life’s work is improving WordPress,” Mullenweg said. “I firmly believe that Gutenberg is the direction that will provide the most benefit to the maximum number of people while being totally in line with core WordPress’s philosophies and commitment to user freedom. So keep giving us your feedback, and let’s push through the fear together. It’s worth a little discomfort to change the world.”