The next version of WordPress is due out soon (probably in early May), and one of the most exciting new things in WordPress 2.8 is the re-worked widgets admin. The vast majority of the complaints I received about the WordPress 2.5 admin redesign, were about the widget admin page. First, you could no longer add widgets using drag and drop. Instead they added the ever annoying “add” link, which would instantly add the widget to the bottom of the current sidebar. The other thing was that if you had a widget configured just how you wanted, and you needed to remove it for even a couple minutes, you would lose all the settings and have to re-do them all. Unfortunately, this seemingly backwards progress held on through versions 2.6 and 2.7 of WordPress as well. However, this page has undergone a complete redesign for 2.8. The real question is, does it make up for lost time? In order to try to answer this, I set up WordPress 2.8 on a development version of Xavisys.com.
First, the ability to add widgets to a sidebar by simply dragging them to where you want is back! While I really am excited to see it, I’ll be the first to say that this should really have never left. As web-based applications become more and more common, people expect to see the same kind of functionality on the web that they find on their local system. I know that my mom would never be able to move things around on her computer if she were expected to open the proper window to the right, then click a link to move a file. She has grown so accustom to drag and drop (and rightfully so, it’s everywhere) that it’s what she has come to expect. If WordPress is really going to be the blogging platform for your average Joe, they can’t take steps backward like that. Thankfully it’s back now.
Additionally, like the rest of the admin section in WordPress 2.7+, the widgets page has been modified to take advantage of nearly any screen size. As you can see, in a browser that’s 1024 pixels wide, there is one column of available widgets and another column for active widgets.
However, on my screen, which is 1920 pixels wide, I get four columns of available widgets along with the column of active widgets. As a person that uses a high-resolution widescreen monitor almost everywhere, I really appreciate this new layout. I know it won’t benefit everyone, but as you can see it degrades nicely and should work well for pretty much everyone.
If you look at the screenshots above, you’ll notice a couple of other new features as well. First, you will see the inactive widgets box.
You can drop fully configured widgets here to store them, rather than lose them altogether, when you remove them from a sidebar. As you can see, the WordPress Twitter Widget Pro widget is fully configured and ready to be dropped back into any one of the widget-ready spots on the theme. This will be really handy for people who change their widgets on a regular basis. However, one of the reasons people wanted this so bad, to move widgets between sidebars, is no longer needed. Instead, you can now simply drag from one sidebar to the next. If the sidebar is currently empty, it will be closed by default. Simply click the name of the sidebar to open it first. You will see it expand vertically, giving you a place to drop a widget.
The widget settings still work in much the same way as they have for the last few versions. Each WordPress, when the mouse hovers over it, shows a little arrow on the right side. If you click the arrow the widget expands to show all the settings. As you can see, the settings for the WordPress Twitter Widget Pro widget are exactly what you expect, looking just like they have for a while. The settings will show if you click the arrow on any active or inactive widget. Each of the available widgets has the same arrow, but expands to show a description of the widget rather than settings. This actually makes for an extremely intuitive user interface, which is quite refreshing after what we’ve been working with for the last few versions.
So, does the new widgets admin page make up for lost time? I think it does! I was really afraid that the new updates would do nothing but restore what was lost in WordPress 2.5. Instead, the new features in 2.8 give us that and more. The refined user experience of the widgets admin page will go a long way toward truly making WordPress the blogging platform for everyone.