During last week’s core dev chat, Matt Mullenweg urged developers to consider WordPress 5.0 as “coming as soon as possible.” Nevertheless, his decision to set Thursday, December 6, for the new release date has taken many by surprise.
Official feedback channels and social media erupted with largely negative feedback on the decision, as the new release date has 5.0 landing the day before WordCamp US begins. This is a travel day for many attending the conference. It also means both of the planned follow-up releases will be expected during the upcoming weeks when many have scheduled time off for major world holidays.
Yoast CEO Joost de Valk, one of the most vocal critics of the 5.0 timelime, posted a public message of dissent that resonated with many on Twitter:
We vehemently disagree with the decision to release WordPress 5.0 on December 6th, and think it’s irresponsible and disrespectful towards the community.
However, we’re now going to try and support the community as well as possible and we hope to show everyone that Gutenberg is indeed a huge step forward.
Although Gutenberg as a project has strong support from many large companies in the WordPress ecosystem, much of the current uproar is rooted in a communication published in early October that indicated 5.0 would be pushed to January if it missed the first set of planned release dates:
We know there is a chance that 5.0 will need additional time, so these dates can slip by up to 8 days if needed. If additional time beyond that is required, we will instead aim for the following dates:
Secondary RC 1: January 8, 2019
Secondary Release: January 22, 2019
Should we need to switch to the secondary dates, this will be communicated as soon as we’re aware.
Companies made plans based on this schedule, but after those dates passed Mullenweg was unwilling to commit to honoring the previous communication. The plan from the outset may have been to “play it by ear” and incorporate new information as it became available, but the developer community had been counting on the published deadlines to be definitive.
“This decision was made in disregard to earlier specific timelines and promises, and does not take the realities on the ground into account,” Morten Rand-Hendricksen said. “I agree with @yoast it is both irresponsible and disrespectful.”
Although reactions on Twitter run the gamut from unbridled optimism to full on outrage, many of those commenting on the schedule have fallen into resignation, convinced that community feedback never really mattered when it came to scheduling the release.
Mullenweg’s rationale behind announcing the release date with three days notice is that Gutenberg and/or the Classic Editor are already active on more than 1.3 million sites. Users do not have to upgrade to WordPress 5.0 until they are ready. If they opt for the Classic Editor, the editing experience “will be indistinguishable from 4.9.8.”
Users who are informed enough to make this choice will be well-prepared when they see that 5.0 update in their dashboards. However, one of the chief concerns is that millions of WordPress users will update without testing. Plugin developers are scrambling to ship compatibility updates and support staff will need to be on hand to help users navigate any incompatibilities or bugs in the new editing experience. Hundreds of WordPress professionals will be traveling to WordCamp US when 5.0 is expected to ship, which poses challenges for supporting users who experience problems with the update.
“I do not think the attendees of WCUS are more important than much larger portion of the WordPress community who does not (and cannot) attend, and there are numerous ways to deal with 5.0 before or after the 6th if that particular day is inconvenient for someone, regardless of the reason,” Mullenweg said in response to comments regarding the date conflicting with travel plans.
The release date announcement has well over 100 comments from frustrated contributors and developers expressing concerns, and Mullenweg has been responsive in the comments. He has recently ramped up communication ahead of the release, regularly attending core dev chats, adding dedicated office hours to connect with the community one-on-one, and answering some of the most pressing Gutenberg questions on his blog in a lengthy but inspiring FAQ post.
Despite these communication efforts, contributors who are not employed by Automattic have said they feel this release has been plagued by a lack of transparency regarding decision-making. Many WordPress core committers, core contributors, and former release leads have pushed back on releasing before January to no avail. Their concerns and disappointments during the process hang like a dark cloud over what should be an exciting time for the future of WordPress.
“No matter how bad the process around WordPress 5.0 might have been, finally setting a release date was the only right step following the RCs,” WordPress core developer Dominik Schilling said. “Let’s see if it’s also the beginning for doing it better to get back on releases which everyone will love.”
John Teague, who runs an 11-person operation, managing 210 enterprise hosting clients, summarized how many are feeling ahead of WordPress 5.0 shipping out this week.
“I so want to be supportive of this release,” Teague said. “But between the top down, heavily Automattic managed process, poor release communication, super short RC2, RC3, punting on accessibility, and now this two-day notice to 5.0 release – it reminds me of an old Air Force saying when instructors sent barely trained pilots up for their first solo:
‘Send em up and let God grade em.’”