The next WordPress release is just around the corner, and the first beta came out on April 5th. If you're a WordPress user, or thinking about using WordPress in the near future, here's what you have to look forward to.
The 3.4 release is set to be pretty modest – the set of features in 3.4 is not extensive or likely to change the WordPress experience too substantially. But it does have a few features that are worth taking note of.
Improved Theme Customization/Preview
Customizing themes in WordPress has gotten easier and easier over the years. But previous versions of WordPress require you to make changes, then save, then reload the site to see if you got what you were looking for. Rinse, repeat.
With WordPress 3.4, you'll be able to preview a theme, set the title & tagline, set a static front page (or not), and more. How much you'll be able to do depends in part on the theme. If the theme supports it, you can set the header image, background color, and so forth – while you're eyeballing the changes as they're made.
Granted, most folks don't make theme changes to their blog every day, so this feature is useful but not ground-breaking. If you do work with WordPress for multiple clients or something, though, this is going to be quite handy.
Use a lot of images on your blog? Using WordPress as a photoblog? Then you'll be pleased to know that WordPress 3.4 adds support for HTML tags in the captions. Now you can use <em> and <strong> tags, and whatnot.
If you have the Comments field enabled on your Edit Post screen, you can now add comments to your posts directly from the post page. Note that, at least in my install of WordPress 3.4 beta 1, this wasn't enabled by default. Go to Screen Options at the top of the Edit Post page and enable Comments if you want to be able to do this.
One thing I hadn't noticed prior to 3.4, but is interesting, is that WordPress has drag-and-drop for images. When you select the "add media" button in a post, you get a "drop files here" dialog by default.
The beta announcement also notes that the 3.4 release has several "under-the-hood" updates as well. It has a new XML-RPC API for third-party and mobile applications, which may translate to a better experience for the WordPress apps on iOS and Android. It also has improvements for internationalization, which should be good news for folks using WordPress in languages other than English.
It looks like WordPress 3.4 is going to be a pretty modest update over 3.3. I didn't really find any features that will knock your socks off, but there are several releases planned for this year.
Note that the usual disclaimers apply about the betas – don't install the beta release on a production site, and back up your data any time you install an update.
The final WordPress 3.4 release should be out in a few weeks – keep your eyes peeled!