On December 6, 2018, WordPress 5.0 was released, bringing new Block “Love it or Hate it” Editor (previously known as Gutenberg) into the core after 2 years in active development.
In this review, I will not go into all the drama and controversy surrounding the Gutenberg development and merge into the WordPress core, because I will write more about that next week in the separate article, this article is a review of WordPress 5.0 as it is released last week, and the Block Editor. This review is made with the official 5.0 version of the plugin, with no other patches or changes added, and 5.0.1 is expected to fix many issues 5.0 has at this point. This review is from the end user perspective, it doesn’t look at the potential developers related problems and challenges new WordPress and Block Editor bring (and there are a lot of these).
WordPress 5.0 is focused on bringing the Gutenberg editor into the core, and that includes a lot of other changes that are also related to the Gutenberg, including updates to REST API, a new TwentyNinteen theme to showcase the Gutenberg, changes to the build process and tools, updates to custom post types and taxonomies.
The Block Editor
Over the past two years, Block Editor has changed a lot and the version that ended in the core is looking polished and reliable. Yes, it still has many problems and performance issues, but far less than standalone versions leading up to core merge. and, I expect a fast turnaround for minor versions that will be fixing issues and improving the editor, so the bumps on the road with 5.0, will soon be fixed.
Working with Blocks
Blocks selection is working really well now, and block menu is easy to navigate and with the ability to show recent blocks, it can make the building of content faster and easier. One of the great things of blocks is the ability to create reusable blocks, export them into files, and import from file, allowing you to easily transfer pieces of content. But, reusable blocks management page should be added into WordPress admin menu in some form, because right now it can be accessed only from the Block Editor. Also, right now when you open the Blocks management, and click Add New, you will get the white screen.
Writing with Block Editor
Overall, Block Editor is very stable to use, and writing with Block Editor is now much smoother and easier. Great thing is that a lot of things you can’t do with the Classic editor are working very well now with Block Editor, including better work with images, ability to bring many widgets directly in content, and support for third-party blocks that will make a lot of things possible and easier to do. A lot of things I had problems with during development are now working as expected, and I am not even bothered that much with the need to click a lot to go through menus and selecting things, because complex blocks will always require to click to set things up, they can’t use magic to work, it will require user input.
But, in my opinion, a lot of things are just not intuitive, and I constantly find myself thinking how to do basic things, including adding the new blocks, configuring them with some options available in the toolbar and some in the sidebar area. Yes, click enter in text block creates a new one, but, you either need to remember codes to type for each block, or you need to click button to add and that button still can be hard to notice and use.
Some blocks are painfully problematic. Columns block is very buggy, it changes columns width from minimal to full while you type, causing things to jump around and be very distractive. The inline image block is very confusing, and I have no idea what was the intention for this block, but in my opinion, as it is now, this block makes no sense, as you can see on the image below where the text is aligned to the bottom of the image.
On the other hand, I really like some small details that can be very useful while editing the content, including the very convenient way the editor marks text elements with some sort of markup. Linking content is easier, but if you have gotten used to the Classic editor showing the post type with the list of the results to link, this can be a bit problematic, because post type name is not displayed, and it might be very useful if you work with a lot of post types and possibility to have the same post names across post types.
Many of these things will require a learning curve, and that is OK, but for users that are used to Classic editor, switch to Block Editor will look hard and many users will ask why should they need to do that, and that also is OK, you don’t need to switch to Block Editor at all. There are many ways to stay with Classic Editor, or even use Block Editor selectively.
Block Editor works on mobile browsers. But, writing experience is worse than with Classic editor (btw, most of this review was written with the Classic editor on a mobile phone). A lot of blocks are displayed with cut sides, making some operations hard to do. Blocks markup can take a lot of space on the screen, with huge font sizes, and it can be hard to focus on writing. Yes, Classic Editor also has small space to write due to the size of the keyboard, but that space is better used, and you can review more of the content.
And, Columns block is, unsurprisingly, very hard to use on a small screen. And again, here is the inline image on the mobile screen, and there is no image visible at all!
Tablet use is a bit better, but, currently, I would not advise using Block Editor on the small screen and touch-only devices, available space is not enough to do things and preview them correctly.
Copy/Paste the content
Compared to the standalone Gutenberg early development, this is so much better now, and for the most part, you can safely paste any content and it will work as you expect it, split into proper blocks, and look as you expect it too. I tested copy/paste from Google Docs, LibreOffice, MS Word and everything was OK.
But, one thing that doesn’t work is to copy from Classic Editor and paste into Block Editor. Yeah, I can’t believe I just said that, but it doesn’t work! While I was working on this review, I selected all the content from the Classic Editor, and opened the new post with Block Editor (on a different website, without any plugins active), pasted the content, and I ended up with text and headings looking fine, but all the images duplicated into a weird looking blocks like this one:
Well, they all work (or most of them work). Everything I tested worked. Where metaboxes failed, and that is something that was obvious from the start, is that metaboxes that had the ability to manipulate the content will continue to work with the Classic editor, and will not work with Block Editor until they are remade as blocks.
But, there is a big issue with the performance if you use third-party plugins that hook into the editor to work with content. Such plugins can cause considerable performance problems, and they are expected to be fixed in the minor 5.0.1 release soon. If you use the Yoast SEO plugin, for instance, and you want to write long texts, that will cause huge performance problems, including the long typing lag, problems with scrolling and very long time needed to load the editor. At this moment, it is not clear if the plugin or the Block Editor is to blame for the problem.
Twenty Nineteen Theme
The new theme was made to showcase the new editor, and for the most part, it does that very well. But, it is clearly made for small screens, because the layout looks very awkward on the big screens, with content positioned too much on the left, with useless white space on the right, and no possibility of adding widgets there. And, that was done so that the banner and cover images can nicely fit full-screen width, but that makes the content positioning even more problematic.
But, this theme is made for one purpose, to show how the content can look exactly the same as it does in the editor. And, for many users that is extremely important, and it was impossible to achieve with Classic Editor. I really look forward to testing more themes that will behave this way and bring the content while editing close or exact to what website visitors will see when the post is published. That is one of the most important things that Block Editor brings to the table.
Other things to know
There are few more changes to the WordPress core that are related to REST API, custom post types and taxonomies. Basically, 5.0 should be very much the same as 4.9.8 was, with the addition of Gutenberg.
What is worrying here is that multiple sources reported through different benchmarks that WordPress 5.0 is overall slower than 4.9.8. Just today, Kinsta published a benchmark covering various WordPress versions tested against PHP from 5.6 to 7.3, and WordPress 5.0 is on average 10% slower than 4.9.8. That is a big issue, and quite a mystery, because, on the surface, Gutenberg should not affect front-end loading. But, some changes that ended in 5.0, affected overall WordPress speed, and these changes have not been tested enough due to the rush of merging the Gutenberg into the core.
Few final words
Well, WordPress 5.0 is a very stable release, and the Block Editor, for the most part, works really well, much better then I expected based on the Gutenberg development, and especially on the merge into the core phase. With a few days of testing I have uncovered various problems, and I am sure a lot of other users will find more problems, but all that is not a deal breaker to using the Block Editor. True, I have opted out to wait for the first minor version to be released before I switch my websites to 5.o, partially due to the issues with overall loading speed of WordPress. I expect 5.0.1 to fix a lot of bugs, and bring some of the fixes that were ready for the Block Editor, but missed the window for the WordPress core.
Most of the issues and problems with the Block Editor will go away in the next few months, but these issues, even now, are not that big of a deal. For years we have tolerated a lot of issues TinyMCE editor had (and still has), but, we used it anyway. No software is perfect, and it will never be. Now, you have a choice to make, stick to the old editor or embrace the blocks and move on. For the next 3 years (at least), the Classic editor will work is it does right now, and a lot more is expected from the Gutenberg concept to change the way WordPress work, and you can switch anytime you feel comfortable. Again, you can always disable Block Editor.
The Block Editor is a big leap forward, and WordPress 5.0 is only a first step, and for that, it is a very good step to start something new.