Writers are as different as the stories they produce, and their ideal writing environments vary no less. One thing most writers agree on, though, is that one of the toughest challenges is overcoming distraction. At WordPress we’ve always believed that when you’re using the application, the focus should be on what’s most important — your content. In the spirit of making things faster and simpler, today we are introducing a couple of changes to your dashboard that will make it easier for you to just write.
A Fresher, Faster Dashboard
The most noticeable change is that the dashboard looks a little different. Nothing drastic, just a little facelift intended to make managing your content easier. Moving the left menu up means more room if you tend to keep a couple of sections open at the same time. Fiddling with the font sizes in the header also created more vertical space, so you can make your writing window/post box bigger on the editing screens (you can drag the lower right corner if you use the Visual editor, and/or change the default height of the writing window in Settings → Writing). We’ve also replaced the icons in the Visual Editor toolbar with new ones designed by Ben Dunkle, the same person who designed the navigation icons for the dashboard, that we think are less distracting and fit better. You’ll also be saying goodbye to the “New Post” button that used to live in the header. We’ve added an “Add New” menu to the admin bar instead, for faster, easier content creation. Oh, I almost forgot — we’ve made a number of performance improvements to make everything in the Dashboard run just a little bit faster. Yay!
With this update, WordPress has discontinued support for Internet Explorer 6. It has required increasingly complex code trickery to make the WordPress dashboard work in the IE6 browser, which was introduced 10 years ago and does not support current web standards. Even Microsoft is counting down to IE6′s extinction! If you try to log in to your Dashboard using IE6, it will be pretty broken — but don’t worry, you’ll see a red alert box that provides a link you can use to upgrade. What do we mean by broken? This is how the new dashboard looks in modern browsers:
…and this is what it looks like in IE6:
So please, if you’re still using IE6, upgrade!
While we were at it, we started looking at other older browsers, and it makes us cringe a little when we see people using them, because the web could be so much better for them (not to mention more secure) if they would update to their favorite browser’s current version. Starting with this update, if you log in to your WordPress site using an outdated browser, an orange alert will appear on your Dashboard screen letting you know, and will provide links to the browser updates and to Browse Happy, where you can learn a little more about your options.
Approve and Reply
This is a small improvement, but it feels huge. If you’re like me, sometimes you might not want to approve a comment unless you have written a reply. It used to be that if you clicked to reply to a pending comment in your Dashboard, your reply would be published but not the original comment. I know, I know, it’s not like it is difficult to click on Approve. But! We’ve made it better anyway. Now when you reply to a pending comment, the submit button will say “Approve and Reply,” and will perform both actions at the same time. After using this for less than a minute I was completely hooked.
Introducing Distraction-free Writing
The other big change — one that we love — is a major upgrade to the full-screen writing experience. The normal posting screen is great: you can set it up the way you want it, and you can add and edit every piece of metadata related to your post in addition to writing it. Sometimes you just want to focus on writing, though, without all the extras, right? If that’s how you feel, you may have used the full-screen writing mode in the Visual Editor before, accessible by clicking a blue screen-shaped icon in the top row of the toolbar. That full-screen mode took up the full browser screen, which was cool, but then your lines of text went all the way across, making it harder to read and edit your creations. The Visual Editor toolbar stayed up top, which was handy if you wanted to add a picture or a link, but was a little bit distracting because of the colors. And if you zoomed or resized your browser, that was not good.
Everything about this feature revamp is designed to relax you, and allow you to find your groove without distraction. There’s a lot to point out — because hey, we’re proud of it — and the new look is quiet and deceptively simple.
- It’s available for all users, whether you use the Visual Editor or HTML. Visual Editor users will notice a more laid-back icon to enter distraction-free mode, and HTML users will see a new [fullscreen] button. Click one and you’re on your way.
- Distraction-free writing mode still takes over the browser window, but the writing area is optimized for a comfortable line length and easy reading and editing. Editor styles set by themes are also supported.
- The formatting header is shown when you first arrive on the screen, to orient you, then fades away so you can focus on your writing. Move your mouse to indicate that you want access to these items and it will magically reappear.
- Only the most-used formatting and embedding icons are shown, reducing visual noise, along with a Save button in the upper right (you’ll need to go back to the regular editor to publish), and the word count in the lower left.
- Keyboard shortcuts are supported.
- You can switch beween Visual and HTML modes while in distraction-free writing mode.
- Have I mentioned how restful this screen feels when you’re writing? Well, I have now.
I never used to like full-screen mode for writing, but I love distraction-free mode. Try it, and I bet you will, too!
Tip: make your browser go full screen if you really want to be distraction-free. Press F11 on Windows, or Command+Shift+F on a Mac. To disable full screen, use the same keyboard shortcut, or move your mouse to the top of the screen to reveal the menu.
Get Featured on Freshly Pressed
We hope you’ll enjoy these updates as much as we do. As always, let us know what you think, but this time, let’s mix it up:
- If you encounter a bug, something looks weird/broken, or you need help with the new distraction-free writing feature, please let us know in the special distraction-free writing support forum instead of leaving a comment about the problem on this post. Note that we’ll be continuing to touch things up as needed based on your feedback for the next couple of weeks.
- There’s also a new distraction-free writing support page for reference.
- Leave your feedback on the design update in a comment on this post.
- To comment on the new distraction-free writing feature, go try it first! Write a post and see how it feels. Give it a “just write” tag. Then come back and tell us what you thought about the experience and give us your feedback in a comment on this post. Include a link to the first post you wrote in dfw mode so we can check you out.
I will personally read every first “just write”-tagged post that is linked in the comments within 48 hours. I will (completely subjectively) choose my five favorites posts and feature them on Freshly Pressed, and will also send the authors a WordPress swag pack (buttons, stickers, maybe a surprise or two) as a prize. Note: I am easily swayed by correct spelling and grammar, so be sure to make use of the built-in spelling and grammar checker!
Update 5/31/2011: I chose my winners! With hundreds of posts to read I couldn’t narrow it to 5, so I filled up Freshly Pressed today with my picks. Here are the winners in no particular order:
See full post here: WordPress.com News2011-05-19.