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WordPress 3.4 offers no hassle theme testing

The new version of the blogging platform allows users to try new themes before showing them to the world

Although taking a few months longer than expected, Automattic and the volunteer developers have finally released version 3.4 of the widely used WordPress blogging platform.

Those who upgrade to the new edition will enjoy such features as the ability to test themes before applying them to the entire blog site and the ability to add HTML code to their caption photos.

WordPress is the most widely used blogging platform, deployed for almost half the world's blogs, according to a recent estimate by Web services firm Pingdom. The developers have planned to release new versions of the open source software every three or four months. Version 3.4, however, is the first major release since last December, when version 3.3 was released.

The biggest addition to the new edition is a new theme customizer, according to WordPress cofounder Matt Mullenweg, who explained the new features in a blog post. A theme is third-party free or paid style template that can be laid over the WordPress site, giving the text and layout a customized. This feature allows you to view new themes, in a test mode, before publishing them. It also pretty radically eases the process of selecting background and images.

"The theme customizer ... allows you to play around with various looks and settings for your current theme or one you're thinking about switching to without publishing those changes to the whole world," Mullenweg wrote. "For themes that support it, you can change colors, backgrounds, and of course custom image headers."

"WordPress hasn't historically handled rich media and other digital assets in an intuitive way," so the theme customizer and related features is something "many users will appreciate," said Irina Guseva, an analyst for The Real Story Group analyst firm who covers the blogging platform, in an e-mail interview.

The development team will add more functionality to the customizer in future editions.

Also noteworthy is the ability to add HTML code to image captions, allowing users to stylistically format parts of the captions and add links. Other new features include the ability of the software to recognize links to individual Twitter messages. Links to individual messages are automatically converted into fully formatted Twitter messages on the page. Various bug features, performance improvements and developer optimizations have been added as well.

Potential users can deploy either a version hosted by Automattic or by other hosts, or download a copy to run on their own servers. Current users can upgrade through the upgrade button that will appear on their administrative console.

Following its tradition of naming its releases after jazz musicians, WordPress 3.4 has been named after guitarist Grant Green.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com


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