Thesis Should Become the New Default WordPress Theme Options Page

On June 6, 2010, I spoke at WordCamp Chicago about WordPress theme standardization. I argued that to move forward, WordPress needed to continue to assimilate third-party theme features, especially those that seemed to be repeated over and over throughout the theme building ecosystem.

Matt Mullenweg Vs. Chris Pearson on Mixergy.com

Mullenweg Vs. Pearson on Mixergy.com

A good example of this assimilation was integration of WooTheme’s menu functionality into WordPress 3.0. Of course, the finished product ended up being slightly different (and in my opinion, slightly better) than the original Woo menu, but the important point is that there is now a menu standard that has been readily adopted throughout the theme building community. Almost every new theme takes advantage of this functionality, so it becomes easier to build universally on top of this technology now that you have a set of conventions on which to work.

“Originally themes were designs. Then they became designs with functions stuck on.” –Alex Denning, WPShout

Now, as everybody in the WordPress community has already covered, long-time GPL-hater Chris Pearson has begrudgingly agreed to adopt a partial GPL (Gnu Public License) for his Thesis theme (which he considers to the most important WordPress theme ever, btw). The partial adoption refers to the fact that he has actually decided to split-license his theme, meaning that he GPL’ed the PHP and WordPress functionality that he stole borrowed (seriously, though, you can’t steal GPL code–that’s the whole point of the GPL), but also instituted a more strict propriety license on the theme’s images, CSS and javascripts (which to note, is absolutely kosher).

What does this all mean? It means that Thesis is now GPL compliant because of a hard-fought war of attrition and the dual licenses (which was Matt Mullenweg of WordPress’s idea, btw) really do seem a win for everybody:

  1. Automattic (the company behind WordPress) and Matt don’t have to incur a PR nightmare by dragging Pearson to court to set an inherited license precedent (especially silly since so many other major theme authors already adopted the GPL last year). In fact, Matt kinda looks like a bad-ass (Ghandi-style, at least) for persuading Chris to go GPL, using just some well-formed arguments and a couple of online soapboxes, including the infamous tipping-point discussion on Mixergy.com.
  2. Chris gets to keep making a fortune off of theme sales (around $2 million so far, according to Chris’s first Mixegy interview), since nobody is allow to resell his theme outright (not with his images and CSS, anyway).
  3. Most importantly, the WordPress community can now use Thesis’s functionality in other themes, and hopefully, take what many consider to be a standard-bearing theme admin panel, and turn it into the actual WordPress standard theme admin panel.

As an active ThemeForest downloader, I’ve seen dozens of different options panels, and while some are excellent, most are imitations of older versions of admin panels from the major theme developers, like WooThemes. Imagine, though, if every theme had the same easily updatable options page–making customizations a snap, as well as allowing you to reuse code (or create plugins) that added functionality to each and every theme options page right off the bat.

Another obvious feature that comes with these standards and conventions is exporting/importing. If all future admin panels shared the same hooks, actions, filters and even input id’s, you could easily transfer settings from one site to the next without fear of corrupting your database.

“Sure, there are some limitations with this system. With a set standard, new plugins will likely emerge to fill in the gaps.” — Justin Tadlock

As you can tell, I’m glad to see the walls of proprietary licensing finally fall away from long-time WordPress theme holdouts, like Thesis. There is work to be done, though, and the next step is taking this newest open-sourced theme and integrating either into the core of WordPress, or maybe even into a core theme admin plugin like the import/export function did in WordPress 3.0. One way or another, we need to create efficiencies by aiming to standardize as much of the WordPress backend experience as possible. I know it sounds crazy, but I’d like to one day see WordPress developers focus on web design once again;) If Thesis can become the de facto admin panel, we’ll be well on our way.

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