WordPress 3.2 is the fifteenth major WordPress release in the project’s eight-year history. The focus in this release was to make things faster, lighter and more streamlined.
We’ve spent some time with WordPress 3.2, both in its various betas and in the final version, and put together this guide to what’s new, improved and enhanced.
1. New Minimum Requirements
One of the larger technical changes in WordPress 3.2: This release officially drops support for older versio
ns of PHP and MySQL. The new requirements mean that PHP 4 and MySQL 4 will no longer be supported.
This is a good thing. PHP 5 and MySQL 5 have both been available since 2005, and WordPress is actually one of the last major pieces of web software to drop support for the old versions. Even though WordPress 3.2 doesn’t actually do anything that requires PHP 5, this is the first step in that direction. Moving to PHP 5 and MySQL 5 means that future versions of WordPress can be lighter, take advantage of more new features and be better optimized for performance.
The new basic requirements are PHP 5.2.4 and MySQL 5.0. The popularity of WordPress and the fact that the team made the announcement of the switch a year in advance means that most major hosts who weren’t already running newer versions of MySQL and PHP have had a chance to upgrade.
You can find out if your web server meets the minimum requirements by installing the Health Check plugin from the WordPress directory. It simply tells you what versions of PHP and MySQL you are running and lets you know if that is appropriate for WordPress 3.2.
2. Goodbye, IE 6
In a similar vein, WordPress.org is following in the footsteps of WordPress.com and dropping support for IE 6. Supporting IE 6 has long been a struggle for the UI team — many of the new features and additions just don’t play well with the aging browser.
You can load the WordPress dashboard in IE 6 but it won’t look good or be very usable. For corporate users who are still forced to use IE 6 at work, use this as yet another opportunity to convince the bean counters to move away from IE 6 and onto modern browsers like Google Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Safari or IE 9.
3. New Default Theme
One of my favorite features in WordPress 3.2 is the new default theme, Twenty Eleven.
When WordPress 3.0 was released last year, it came packaged with a brand-new default theme, Twenty Ten. At the time, the WordPress Theme Team said the goal was to introduce a new default theme every year.
Twenty Eleven is the spiritual successor to the Duster theme for WordPress.com and WordPress.org users. Duster was developed by the gang at Automattic (the people behind WordPress.com) and it was a visually and technically impressive theme.
Twenty Eleven has taken the work on Duster and improved it, making it more stable and robust. Visually, the theme is clean and modern and it supports responsive layouts, which means that the same website will look great on a phone, an iPad or desktop monitors of varying sizes.
4. Distraction Free Writing Mode
The big “shiny” feature in WordPress 3.2 is the addition of a new distraction free writing mode. When users enter the fullscreen mode of the WordPress post editor, they are now treated to a new writing mode that aims at cutting down on distractions and making it easier for users to “just write.”
It’s a nice feature, particularly for users who like to spend a lot of time on their prose and don’t want to be distracted by sidebars, menus and options. Plus, the feature is smart enough to still allow users to access various parts of the publishing interface.