Switching from WordPress to ClassicPress;
Use the Right Fork
January 9, 2020
By: Sean Thompson
WordPress has been my go-to platform for building websites since 2013. It
is the best core for any type of website, especially those with a blog (or, regularly published articles). There are infinite ways to customize WordPress through plugins, a custom theme, and generally modifying, adding, or turning off features where needed. I have yet to find a reason to use anything else, until recently.
I should mention that I’m referring to the open source version of WordPress. You can download it free from wordpress.org. Then, install the WordPress software on your own hosting, and customize your website any way you like. A large community surrounds, and contributes to this iconic software. Wordpress.com is a paid (not worth mentioning the free membership), hosted version that gives you a subdomain.wordpress.com site with limited customization.
With regular updates, WordPress gained new features (some more useful than others). The one thing that remained mostly unchanged was the content editor, used to add content, mainly to posts and pages. The TinyMCE editor in WordPress is basically a word processor, and should be familiar to anyone who’s used WordPad or a similar program. It does one thing, and does it well — adds the content you type into it to the content area on the front end of your website. The theme of your website dictates the layout of where the content area is, and how it looks. All you have to worry about is writing the content, and possibly adding a few images (also an easy task with the TinyMCE editor).
WordPress has an 80/20 rule when adding features to the core software. If a feature isn’t useful to at least 80% of WordPress sites, it’s better as a plugin, rather than part of the core. The plugin system allowed users to add functionality as needed, while keeping the WordPress core lighter, faster, and the dashboard uncluttered. There are thousands of plugins available, both free and paid.
Even with this rule in place, years of adding features made WordPress a bit bloated. Old features remained, even outdated ones, in the name of backward compatibility. Most of my WordPress customization involves disabling useless features and removing the bloat that would slow down your website. This is why I started building custom themes from scratch, so I can include only the functionality needed for your particular website. This is a minor issue, and the benefits of WordPress far outweigh the minor customization needed.
So, What Happened to WordPress?
A WordPress plugin called Gutenberg, when installed, replaced TinyMCE with an editor that uses blocks for each piece of content. You need to add a separate block into the content area for each paragraph, image, etc. These blocks also guide the layout which makes it kind of a pseudo website builder. This isn’t compatible with a lot of other plugins and themes, and has an awkward workflow. Plus, users report glitches regularly, as if it’s still in a test stage of development, and not ready for use on live websites.
As long as Gutenberg remained a plugin, no worries. Just don’t install it. However, that changed in WordPress version 5, when they basically reversed the 80/20 rule. Ignoring major discontentment from the WordPress community, they added Gutenberg to the core. Now all other plugins, as well as themes need to be Gutenberg compatible. This was months ago, and community members are still leaving one-star complaints on the Gutenberg plugin page. At the time I’m writing this, they number 2017. They’re coming in so fast, I noticed the Gutenberg developers are using canned responses to keep up. I don’t need to go into more detail about Gutenberg, and am unsure about the agenda behind WordPress giving the community the big middle finger here. You can read the Gutenberg reviews yourself if you want.
There is a way to disable Gutenberg, and still use the TinyMCE editor. The plugin that disables it quickly became the most popular plugin in the repository. This is just a band-aid on something that shouldn’t have happened in the first place. And, eventually, this won’t be an option. Some plugins already require WordPress version 5.
This isn’t meant as a rant about WordPress and Gutenberg. Just giving you the basics of the situation. On to the solution, and moving forward.
Something good did come out of this. Being open source software, anyone can take the WordPress code and modify it, creating their own fork. As long as the version they create remains open source, they can make it available for public use. A group of dedicated developers did exactly this. They started with WordPress version 4.9, the latest before Gutenberg ended up in the core, and created ClassicPress.
ClassicPress retains the TinyMCE editor. It gets even better, though. The developers at ClassicPress opened a petitions forum, so users can post suggestions, and the community can vote on each one. Most of these center around removing, or modifying the outdated or useless features I end up disabling anyway. They’ve been working on cleaning up and modernizing the code. ClassicPress is moving in the direction of a more streamlined, secure, reliable, and better performing software.
ClassicPress is promising. Upon the first release, I migrated all my clients sites, and my own to ClassicPress. The transition was flawless. After several months, everything is running smoothly with zero issues. I’m building all new websites with ClassicPress as well. This is the reason for this post.
WordPress Plugins, Themes and ClassicPress
All plugins and themes compatible with WordPress version 4.9 work on ClassicPress. Most will continue to work for a long time, some will always work. However, as the two forks become more different, the list of incompatible plugins will grow. This will happen faster with themes, because they all use the content editor. I’m chalking this up as a non-issue. I don’t use pre-built themes anymore, and only use a few plugins from the repository.
The only plugin I need to keep an eye on is the WooCommerce eCommerce plugin. It’s owned by the same company as WordPress, and there’s already a notice it will require WordPress version 5 soon. This isn’t a big concern, because there’s a fork of WooCommerce, called Classic Commerce, on it’s way. Once it’s released, I’ll just switch them out. Developers are also working on other plugins and themes built specifically for ClassicPress.
Closing note: A big thanks to the hard-working developers and contributors over at ClassicPress who gave us a permanent alternative to the Gutenberg editor.