Blog Post

Review of WordPress 3.3

New WordPress is here, and it is first major release in the past 3 years I have mixed feelings about. It has several interesting features for developers, but it doesn’t offer anything that important for most WordPress users, with a small drop in the overall performance on admin side.

Last week I have published a benchmark of all 4 latest major versions in the 3.x line. I am sorry to say, this is first WordPress major version in 3.x line that is a step back in terms of performance and resource usage. WordPress 3.2.1 remains fastest WordPress among all 3.x.x releases. In some areas, WordPress 3.3.0 is even slower than, year old, WordPress 3.1.4. Over the past week many users after upgrading to WordPress 3.3 noticed slower admin side on their websites. You can find discussions threads on forums, on Twitter and on many websites with some users had trouble upgrading and ended up with broken websites.

Upgrading WordPress problems and slightly lower speed on admin side are not related. This performance drop is not a problem, it is not a caused by a buggy release of WordPress, it is caused by changes made this time, and those changes are mostly UI related. But, before passing final judgment on new WordPress, lets see all the changes and improvements.

Flyout menus
Flyout menus

Flyout menus

First thing you will notice when on admin panel, is that menu is not the same. WordPress now uses flyout menus. All top level menus are always collapsed, except for the currently active one. To see contents for collapsed menus, you need to hover over the menu item. So far, community is divided on the new menu design. For me, this is one of the features that was added just of the sake of having new UI feature.

Old menus were working great, this is more a regression considering also accessibility problems for disabled users or users with touch screen devices. Not to mention that you will need more time to get to the panel you need. In any case, it will take some time to get used to it, but in the end, you have to get used to flyouts, I doubt that they will be removed in next version.

Reportedly, new menus work fine on iPad, but they don’t work at all on any mobile phone browser I tried on the phone with Android. Last time I checked, Android has more mobile devices than iOS, but no one bothered to test new menus there. Now, if you use touch device than is not iPad, you will need multiple clicks and waiting for pages to load needlessly to get to the menu you need.

As with any visual improvement, it comes down to personal preference, and I am sure than many users will hate, and many users will love these new flyouts. Too bad that there is no way now to have both new and old and let users choose.

Context Help

As much as I dislike the flyout menus, I really like new context help tab. It opens into a configurable tabbed navigation panel with sidebar area that is really a nice touch. WordPress has all its context help areas converted, and I have done the same to convert context help for my Pro plugins. Hopefully, more plugins will adopt the new help system and use it. For now, here is the screenshot for the context help in GD Press Tools Pro:

Context Help
Context Help

Admin Bar is now Toolbar

New adminbar has much more functions than before, it can’t be disabled on the admin side at all, and it is called Toolbar. Toolbar is smaller and darker and it integrates all previous header elements and old admin bar. From developers point of view, there are some new things added to the toolbar, like groups in menus and few more functions for better control and better menu items organization.

Still, after using it for a several weeks now while in beta and stable, I would prefer to have old layout back. WordPress logo button and drop-down are not really useful at all to be always on, stupid Howdy is always there (more on that later) and the fact that it is always on and that it can’t be disabled. Right now, only thing that keeps toolbar needed is user menu with log-out option, everything else is not important. I can confirm that I will be adding new tools to GD Press Tools Pro to deal with at least some of the toolbar annoyances. There are few plugins in the repository to handle new toolbar and move things around. Also, users of Ozh’ Admin Drop Down Menu will be frustrated to find out that this plugin is broken in new WP due to the toolbar changes. I expect update soon for that, but having always 2 toolbars on, is not good solution.

New toolbar duplicates needlessly too many things from the menu on the left, and if you remove duplicated options, and options that are useless, you will end up with empty toolbar. That’s why it ended on both my pros and cons list for new WordPress.

New Uploader
New Uploader

Uploader and Media Library

WordPress 3.3 brings new uploader that supports drag-n-drop and is not depending on Flash anymore. New uploader is powered by Plupload library (from creators of TinyMCE). drag-n-drop is supported by Firefox, Safari and Chrome browsers and  Opera to get support with next major version. There are some improvements to the handling of media in this version and all these changes are great addition to WordPress, making adding of files more straightforward, since now all files are handled in the same way. On the editor toolbar, only one button is there to open media library.

Of all new features, drag-n-drop uploader is the one worth switching to new WordPress. If you deal with a lot of images, it will be faster to just drag them to the uploader when working on posts or in the library. Creating galleries will be faster, and more natural.

Core changes

While the most of the visual changes I find lacking, I like core changes. Permalinks are improved to allow proper use of slug only in the post links, and this new permalink format now doesn’t have any speed issues (before it required more SQL queries and depending on number of posts you have could cause problems). Now, the new post name only permalink is even recommended for links structure.

WP_Screen API is also improved to make creating admin panels/pages easier and more WordPress like. Best thing is rewritten editor API that allows for more than one rich text editor instance with no hacks to make it work, and it can be used on front end also. New jQuery 1.7.1 is included, as well as full jQueryUI 1.8.16. Post formats are now more prominent than before and they are available in quick edit mode also. I am not a big fan of formats, but I am sure that all users that use formats will welcome this change, it makes the process of changing post formats much easier.

There are more minor changes to functions, filters and actions, JavaScript used, but they are mostly low-level stuff and you can find all that in the changelog (link at the bottom of this review).


Pointers, Welcome and About pages

To improve new users experience, WordPress got some interesting features: pointers, welcome and about pages.

Pointer should help with introduction of changes and features. While they look nice, after few days and several test installations, I find them extremely annoying. I expect that when plugins start using pointers it will make a mess on the page after upgrade. And I expect that we will soon get plugins to  always disable pointers.

About page looks really nice. You can see overview of new features, credits and freedoms tabs. Similar to this, new Welcome message displayed on the dashboard after installing WordPress 3.3 is a nice touch as well:

Welcome Message
Welcome Message

There are many minor improvements that I like and that will maybe go unnoticed since they have a natural way about them and they blend into the interface. New toolbar icons and options are really great, new hidden-behind-icon search form on toolbar also. If you are using Tumblr, WordPress has new importer that can transfer data from your Tumblr website to your WP website.

Go away ‘Howdy’!

Removing stupid Howdy greeting from every single page should happened years ago. And yet, it is still here. And, you can’t change it. There are no filters that allow changing this word to something else. There are some complicated methods of replacing whole user item in the admin bar, but I expect that would break something else down the road. A lot of WordPress users hate that little word. It is time to get rid of it. Well, it is too late now, we need to wait yet another major revision for that. Was it that hard to add simple filter that envelops that word? I know it’s not, but some people decided against it. Problem is that now this is forced on front end too, because it is moved to new toolbar and that makes this much worse. Having a serious website on WordPress, with toolbar active, and stupid Howdy greeting your users, it is just wrong.

Plugins compatibility

While we go some new interesting core changes, too bad that they will remain unused for some time. Plugins need to be updated to take advantage of new editor, or new context help and other things. Considering how slow most plugins were updated before, this will take a lot of time. I expect that some plugins will be broken by new jQuery, and some will be broken with new editor. First plugins problems were already surfacing, and I expect more will be found. Good thing is that many developers are releasing updated plugin versions.

My Pros and cons list for WordPress 3.3

Pros Cons
+ Drag’n’Drop uploader
+ New context help
+ WP Editor API
+ Some of the Toolbar changes
+ Many core changes
+ Permalinks improvements
– Flayout Menus
– Annoying Pointers
– Howdy
– Some of the Toolbar changes
Admin side Performance

Should you upgrade to WordPress 3.3?

Yes, but:

  1. Test on the sandbox to make sure that you will have no issues due to plugins or theme
  2. Make a backup of whole website, files and database, so you can revert back if things go wrong
  3. Try new WordPress locally to see how great new uploader is and to test all the changes
  4. Clear the cache in your browser after upgrade
  5. Clear the cache on website if you are using cache plugin(s)

I expect that current problems with new WP will be resolved, and I think that we will see 3.3.1 soon. It is important that only small number of users had problems upgrading, there are many factors that can be a problem, and not everything is direct fault of new WordPress. Upgrade problems existed with earlier versions, and will be here with future versions.

More important question is do you need to upgrade at all? Well, that comes to personal preference. There are no security fixes in this version that are discovered from WP 3.2.1 until now, there are no groundbreaking features you must have (except for uploader, but not everyone will need that), so test it and decide for yourself if you need new WP or not.

Useful Links:


My major complaint with new version are UI changes. What was wrong with 3.2 visually? Don’t mention the ‘vertical space’, because it is just a lame excuse. I understand the need to have design changed from 3.0 to get better looking menu with no space on the left, but this version I don’t get. I liked the header we had in 3.2.1, it was small and functional, I liked the fact that admin bar could be disabled. Now, we lost both only to get toolbar with 70% of useless options on it. All the great work done on optimizing WordPress 3.2.1 is undone with this new WordPress and unnecessary UI changes. I would prefer that WP 3.3 had: editor API changes, new context help, uploader and most important core changes.

There are several new things in WordPress 3.3, and many improvements that will be very interesting mainly to developers. Overall, I think that this is an average release, I have updated all my websites to WP 3.3 and I expected that all developers and users closely involved with WordPress will upgrade. But, the fact remains, this is once again mostly design-centric release that makes WordPress a bit different looking without many changes that will make a lot of difference for most people. Major problem with this version is that it lacks wide appeal, and I am afraid that most users will decide against updating. I have written about slow adoption rate of recent WordPress versions couple of weeks ago, and this new version will have same problem as WP 3.1 and WP 3.2 had (at least WP 3.2 was very fast, and even that didn’t help to get widely adopted).

Hopefully, users with WordPress 3.0 or older versions, will decide that it is time to upgrade after skipping some earlier versions. If that doesn’t happen, by the time WordPress 3.4 is released, we will have big fragmentation of WordPress versions on the market, and that is not good from plugins development and support point of view.

What we need in WordPress 3.4?

To stop needless UI changes. To get posts relations. To get usable posts and taxonomies management. To get improved user management. No more UI changes. Seriously, leave UI alone.

What are your experiences with new WordPress? What things you like and what you don’t like? Leave the comment and spread the word about this review.

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About the author

Milan Petrovic
Milan Petrovic

CEO and Lead developer of Dev4Press Web Development company, working with WordPress since 2008, first as a freelancer, later founding own development company. Author of more than 250 plugins and more than 20 themes.

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14 thoughts on “Review of WordPress 3.3”

  1. Almost every time I present WordPress to my clients one question is inevitable: “Can we change this ‘Howdy’ word?” As an administrator and a developer I simply cannot say “no” and I’m forced to act. But why should I? Why the development team is so stubborn? How WordPress can be treated by clients as a serious CMS with such childish an approach? Same thing with pointers. That should up to the administrator if pointers are to be used or not. These are my main concerns. Other things I can live with as they are more a matter of preference.

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  2. BTW: as a temporary solution to ‘Howdy’ in WordPress 3.3 you can use the code presented in How to Change the Howdy Text in WordPress 3.3 Admin Bar article on website. I use it as a plugin dropped into ‘mu-plugins’ folder.

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    • There is another solution with accessing the text through translation engine, but both these methods are not really good because they have potential to break things. We need filter. And that is a 1 minute to create and submit patch that can go into 3.3.1, but that is not going to happen, lead developers refused to do it already.

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      • I cannot believe it! It looks like they feel we offend their collective wisdom. How sad is that?

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        • Here is the ticket in the Trac: containing patch even, and the post here: where Matt ended the discussion on it, so we at least know how doesn’t allow that change. Suggested gettext filtering method is bad, because is targeting all Howdy words coming through it.

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          • Yeah, I saw both. And I don’t understand why they still promote gettext method which is bad. And they defend ‘Howdy’ like without it WordPress wouldn’t be recognized anymore. “It’s part of WordPress DNA” says Jane Wells. Give me a break!

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    • Hi,

      Another option is to edit the ‘howdy’ by changing line 141 in the admin-bar.php file (found under the /wp-includes sub directory)

      $howdy = sprintf( __(‘Howdy, %1$s’), $current_user->display_name );

      Now edit the (‘Howdy, %1$s’) bit of the code to reflect your personal preference

      $howdy = sprintf( __(‘Hello or whatever, %1$s’), $current_user->display_name );

      Finaly, save the changes and FTP the admin-bar.php file to the /wp-includes sub directory.


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      • This is not good solution because it involves changing WordPress core files.

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  3. Not being a programmer I cannot make comment on tech stuff but that stupid “HOWDY!” Must Go!

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    • As for the tech side, one line in the code needs to be changed to add filter so that Howdy can be changed. That’s it, one line.

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  4. Yeah i also didn’t know much about new WordPress performance but that Howdy is ok with me while, rest of the new features are good, better UI and loved the new uploader!

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  5. could one of the plugins like the tools plug in have a change Howdy to Welcome or none if wanted

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    • GD Press Tools Pro will have the option to do this soon.

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  6. It’s super-basic to change or remove this using JavaScript.

    Just include this jQuery snippet in a global script:

    jQuery(function(){var admin = jQuery(‘#wp-admin-bar-my-account > a’); admin.html(admin.html().replace(‘Howdy’, ‘Welcome’));})

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