A Review of Thesis 1.5 – The Official Release

by Martin Malden

I upgraded to the official release of Thesis 1.5 over the weekend – here are some thoughts.

Full disclosure up front: I’m an affiliate for Thesis.

The official release of Thesis 1.5 must have been one of the longest drawn out sagas of any recent major product upgrade – there were seven (yes 7!) 1.5 beta releases!

To be sure, the first 1.5 beta release generated several howls of protest because, for quite a few people, things basically went haywire.  

Looking back, that release should probably have been an alpha release.

But there’s no escaping the fact that 1.5 is a big jump forward from 1.4.2, as I’ll cover in more detail later, and that probably also contributed to the early problems.

Further, one of the early issues appeared to be caused by the database encoding used by the Fantastico 1-click WordPress installation script – Latin, rather than the UTF-8 that’s the WordPress recommended encoding.

However, things are all sorted out now and Thesis 1.5 is the official current release.

So what’s new, and what’s the impact?

As I mentioned earlier, there’s a lot that’s new in 1.5:

Firstly, let’s look at the SEO features:

Thesis has always been very effective in the SEO stakes, but there are quite a lot of new features in 1.5 that pretty much enable you to drop a number of SEO related plugins.

For example:

  • You can now selectively add ‘noindex’ to your archive pages (tag, category, month, year, author, etc)
  • You can get Thesis to add the Canonical url tag to posts
  • In the post/page write screens you can add META descriptions, keywords and titles for each new article.
  • Again in the post/page write screen you can specify ‘noindex’ for that particular article if you want.
  • You can specify home page META description and keywords (META titles are handled by WordPress for your home page)

SEO-wise that replicates a lot of the functionality of the All-in-one-SEO pack plugin and some of the functionality of the Robots-META plugin – not bad for a theme.

Next let’s look at layout:

Thesis layout options have always been one of its stronger features. This has now been strengthened even further:

You can now:

  • Specify individual column widths for any of the column layout options (3, 2, or 1 columns).
  • Select a Teasers & Features (Magazine style) layout or a traditional blog layout
  • Specify the headings to be displayed in your Teasers & Features layout – e.g. author name, date, category, etc
  • Specify date format and font sizes for your Teasers boxes, which can be different from your main posts.
  • Specify the width of whitespace that surrounds your content (or eliminate it if you want to).

Those are some pretty powerful features and enable you to completely change the layout of your blog simply by selecting different options and hitting the ‘Big Ass Save Button’.

Next, the navigation menu:

A long time characteristic of WordPress nav menus has been that, by default, it uses your page title as the menu item title – which can take up a lot of space.

Also, managing the order in which items appear on the menu bar has always been (in WordPress’ own words) klanky.

With Thesis 1.5 you can now:

  • Select which pages you want to appear in your menu bar
  • Edit the title of each menu item
  • Change the order of each item by simply grabbing and dragging it
  • Include Categories as items in your menu bar

Again – all by just selecting options.

Finally, under the hood:

This part is not immediately obvious, but the architecture of Thesis 1.5 has been completely re-written to make it far more efficient. It’s also supposed to be easier to upgrade.  So I understand, anyway, but I guess we’ll see at the next release!

This has apparently been achieved by designing things so that Thesis makes far fewer calls to the server now than it did before.

I’m sure that’s exactly what they’ve done – but it’s not something I’m in anyway qualified to make any sort of comment on. 🙂

What I can tell you is that my blog and posts load noticeably more quickly now, and that’s something I care (and am very pleased) about.

OK, those items I’ve covered above are the new options that you can select from the Thesis control panels. I’ve not covered the functions that were already there.

In addition to those, you still have the custom CSS file and the custom-functions file.

The custom CSS file enables you to make any changes you want to styling, over and above what you can select through the control panels.  It does this without touching the core CSS files, so if you mess up you can just delete your creation and start again.

The custom-functions file enables you to make use of hooks to move different elements of your page around, pretty much without limit.

The custom-functions file does require that you get to grips with hooks, but you do have an alternative: Rick Beckman, one of the Thesis developers, has released a plugin that makes managing hooks a complete doddle.  I reviewed it here.

So what was my experience with upgrading?

Generally pretty good, although one or two little surprises needed dealing with:

Firstly:

I had to fiddle with the column widths for each of my columns to get things back into place.

I noticed a couple of things that went awry:

1) The width of my main content column changed and that resulted in some elements on some of my pages breaking into the sidebars.

2) The overall width of the content area changed slightly and that resulted in my header graphic looking a bit untidy as it started to repeat itself at each end.

10 minutes fiddling around with the individual column widths got things back to where they should have been.

Secondly:

My contact form plugin (cforms11) took on a mind of its own.

The first thing I noticed was that it changed the alignment of some of its elements. When I tried to change them back it completely ignored my updates and other things started to go awry.

I tried re-installing it, without success. In fact, it lost all styling at that point and refused all of my pleas to behave.

So I removed it and set up a workaround.

I don’t know for sure whether this is a clash with Thesis or some other issue.

I’m going to try re-installing cforms11 from scratch on my development site to see whether I can get it to work properly.

But I think I prefer the workaround I came up with anyway, so I won’t be too fussed if it doesn’t work.

However, if you’re using cforms11 this will be something to watch out for.

Apart from that, the upgrade was smooth.

After unzipping the files I copied the custom folder from my Thesis 1.4.2 installation down to the Thesis 1.5 folder on my PC.  That ensured that all the customizations I’d done in the custom CSS and custom-functions files were copied into the 1.5 folder.

I then uploaded the 1.5 folder, activated it from the themes page, went into the Thesis Options and Design Options pages and hit the ‘Big Ass Save’ button, and that was it.

Except for the glitches I mentioned above.

Thesis is now more than a theme. It’s a platform that enables you to maximize the power of WordPress without the need for coding skills.

If you’re on an earlier version of Thesis, should you upgrade? Definitely.

And if you’ve not used Thesis yet should you give it a try? Double definitely.

You can Find Thesis Here.

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