Justin Tadlock

In defense of the WordPress 2.5 widget panel

I’ve heard a lot of moaning and complaining about the new WordPress dashboard. Some of these complaints are valid, such as the need for the dashboard to be either centered or fluid-width for users with larger screens.

I want to argue the other side of one of the major complaints I’ve read about — the widgets panel. And, I’m the last person one might expect to defend anything 2.5-related after my recent upgrade hassles.

I’m a huge fan of the new widgets panel and have been asking for something like this since the release of my Structure theme.

If you haven’t downloaded WordPress 2.5 or taken a look at the new widgets section, then you’re in for a surprise — the drag-and-drop ability is gone and has been replaced by something entirely different. You now must choose which sidebar/area you want from a drop-down list and wait for a new page to load.

Why defend something that is obviously less usable?

Simple. One of my forum members and I have been discussing this very matter. She needed 50 sidebars for various bands and such. They all needed to be unique. Since this was something I had in mind already, it was easy to get the project set up.

I want you to imagine being able to widgetize anything easily. Now, imagine 50 different widget blocks in the old widget admin panel. Could get messy, right? The new widgets section gives you a drop-down list of your widgetized areas, which sets no limits on how you use your blog.

Here are a couple of pictures you can compare between a WordPress 2.3 and 2.5 install with numerous widget-enabled sidebars to choose from.

(Click the images for an enlarged view of the different versions.)

WordPress 2.5 Widgets

WordPress 2.3 Widgets

You’ll notice that you can’t even see the draggable widgets for the 2.3 install because they’re so far down the page you can’t reach them, making it nearly impossible to actually use the sidebars. In the 2.5 install, you can easily choose which sidebar you want. It’s much cleaner.

Cool things you can do with this

You can make widgets for anything and everything.

Want to widgetize your footer? Done. The Cat Photos category sidebar? Done. About page sidebar? Post attachment sidebar? Done and done.

In the next releases of any of my themes, I’m implementing total widget control, at least for the sidebars. Structure theme users will have some extra special options because the theme was built upon this idea.

Here are just the default sidebars I’m adding:

  • Sidebar Home
  • Sidebar Single
  • Sidebar Page
  • Sidebar Category
  • Sidebar Archive
  • Sidebar Author
  • Sidebar Search
  • Sidebar Day
  • Sidebar Month
  • Sidebar Year
  • Sidebar Time
  • Sidebar Date
  • Sidebar 404
  • Sidebar Attachment
  • Sidebar Search
  • Sidebar Paged

On top of all those, users can add additional widget areas for any type of page easily. This is only a small sampling of what can be accomplished. All of this is controlled using WordPress’ built-in conditional tags.

What are your thoughts?

We should start thinking about what we can do with this new functionality before reverting back to 2.3. I’m sure the WP development team heard our cries for more widget control. They’ve delivered. Now, it’s time for us to use the power that’s been handed to us.

Some may think this would be a bit “code heavy,” but the sidebar file I’m working with right now is only 2.09 kb.

If you want to check out how I done this for my Options theme, you can read the full discussion. Or, you can beg (in the comments) for me to write a full-blown tutorial on this.

Let me know what you think of the new widgets panel and if you’d still prefer the old one after this revelation.