Feb 132010

One thought I have been wrestling with since the past few weeks is a redesign of the options menu in Suffusion. While the options page is ultra-powerful in terms of what it can do, it looks rather overwhelming. I am not a big fan of the long list of options that shows up when I click on a tab in the menu and I would dearly love to make it cleaner. If only I could come up with a better solution!

When the options in Suffusion were a lot fewer (think release 2.0.x) the interface was perfect. But as the power of the theme grew, so did the list of options. And it becomes particularly taxing on the eyes of the administrators who have to change the options. There is something that is stopping me from changing the structure of the options page and that is the fact that it is incredibly easy to code it up the way I have it. I started a handful of tutorials on how to write a theme options page a few months back. In that you can see how absolutely easy it is for me to add new options, given the modular structure of my code. I simply need to figure out the option type, provide some option values for it and bingo! The processing code is very straightforward and it automatically picks the options and formats them as appropriate.

But as is the case very often, what is easy to code is not necessarily easy to look at. I did a good bit of redesigning during Christmas last year and came up with two sets of tabs, a horizontal set of tabs for high-level grouping and a vertical set of tabs within each horizontal tab. This at least made the vertical list look a lot smaller. But as I continue to add options, that page is again threatening to look daunting. So what do I do now?

I looked around to see how some other themes do this and here is what I saw in two really good themes:

Atahualpa WordPress Theme

The Options Page of Atahualpa

Constructor WordPress Theme

The Options Page of Constructor

Suffusion’s options look to a large extent like Atahualpa’s. However, given Atahualpa’s incredible number of options it too probably faces the same fate as Suffusion to a degree. Where it does gain an edge is in the fact that it uses pictures to illustrate what it is talking about and doesn’t rely on text like Suffusion does. I will be the first to admit that Suffusion’s options are verbose.

The other theme presented here is Constructor. If I were to use one word for the options page for Constructor, that word would be lovely. Its options are much fewer in number than Atahualpa’s or Suffusion’s, but the page is truly nice looking. It makes liberal use of JQuery, and is the perfect advertisement for the adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words”. But here is a catch – every option has been manually coded. This is fine with a small set of options, but it will require an effort of Herculean proportions if I were to adopt that approach for Suffusion.

My feeling is that the options page should be something in between the two styles. If I could figure out a way to automate the generation of pages like Constructor’s, that would be perfect. What do you think? How do you feel I can move to a structure more like Constructor’s?

Feb 122010

As the adage goes, “A bad workman blames his tools”. So let me start off by saying that my IDE went aggressive and did something I didn’t mean for it to do. In my zeal for being semantically correct I renamed a file called sidebars.php to widget-areas.php and inadvertently changed all strings of code referencing “sidebars” to “widget-areas”. As a fallout, the string “no-sidebars.php” became “no-widget-areas.php", but the file name remained no-sidebars.php. Ditto for other templates. The result is that people using specific column templates to this date suddenly have had their column templates break.

I fixed this problem and submitted the correction in 3.3.3 a few minutes back to WordPress, but in the meanwhile if you are using a specific column template, please move down to a lower version, like 3.3.0. You can download it here.

As a person who spends a good deal of time coding this, I fully sympathize with the time and effort this might have cost you. Terribly sorry for the same.

Dec 302009

Dear Users of Suffusion,

I have a sincere request for you. As you are aware, I tackle the support for the theme at the forum. Of late I have noticed an incredible number of queries on the forum asking for assistance regarding various aspects of the theme. To provide you some statistics, I opened up the forum in October for public use and the first support request came in on 21st October. Up until this point I have written 758 responses to different queries. Simple arithmetic would indicate that I have posted no less than 11 responses on an average each day (more than 15 each working day). While this is high, intermittently the numbers have been astronomical, with me requiring to respond at least 20 times each day.

To cut a long story short, I would like to request you to note the following before you post:

  1. Please search the forums thoroughly. Trust me when I tell you that more than 80% of questions are reposts of issues that other people have had. E.g. if your featured posts are not working, there is a chance that you have defined only one post as featured. If your magazine template is not working, it is probably because you haven’t assigned a post to this template. Questions regarding how to change the font colors etc have been answered not less than 10 times.
  2. Please do some due diligence at your end and be as informative as you can. E.g. a question asking “Can you tell me what is wrong?” should be accompanied at least by your blog’s URL. Also, if you have changed the PHP files at your end, that is akin to voiding the warranty of the theme. If something breaks after you have edited the PHP, I would first suggest replacing your changes with a backup. If you don’t have a backup, there is always the official theme release page for download.
  3. This is a site for a theme and the forum is for the theme, too. I understand that the theme is lacking good documentation and I will strive towards making it better. However, posting general WordPress questions and CSS questions that have nothing to do with the theme are very distracting. Some of the questions are alright, but make sure that you have searched the WordPress plugins repository for non-standard functionality. Some of the plugins you might find useful are Widget Logic for controlling which widget appears on which page, My Category Order to change the order in which categories are displayed, My Link Order to change the order in which links are displayed, Sociable for inserting social bookmarks in posts etc. I keep adding functionality to the theme all the time, but in the meanwhile, please use the plugins available from WordPress to substitute the functionality.

Please note that I am supporting the theme free of cost. Completely. I seriously doubt there is another free theme with free support that tackles this kind of query volume. Any support query that I have to answer takes time away from development. So please be considerate when you post your support queries.

(Furiously working away on release 3.1.5, while 3.1.0 is still pending approval at WordPress!)

PS: I hope I haven’t alienated any users, but please try to see this from my point of view.

Dec 042009

Apologies for this, but a bug crept past my notice in version 3.0.2. While fixing a bigger bug about breaking layouts, I inadvertently introduced a smaller one.

If you have upgraded to the new version you will see that the widget headings on the sidebars show up with some padding – white space or black space depending on which skin you are using. To temporarily remedy this, please go to Suffusion Theme Options -> Sidebars and Widget Areas -> Use JQuery to fix widget layout issues? Set this to use JQuery. This will fix the problem. I have already patched this. I will make a release soon, after which you can download the new version and roll back this option.

Apologies for the trouble.

Nov 222009

For once this is not a post about a theme release. I wanted to thank all of you who made contributions towards my coffee. Turns out that I can now get an iPod touch, and that too, before Thanksgiving!! I can hear some of you snickering, “Well, you can now test out the theme on iPhone / iPod Safari!”

I have been doing bug-fix releases the past week. I have also added some minor functionality, but nothing big. The reason is that I have been working towards releasing a magazine-styled layout. The basics are taking time to put in. I will start with one magazine-styled layout and then add a few more. Photo-blogging will follow. Expect the first magazine-styled layout later this week. The new versions will start from 3.0.0 onwards, because, frankly, the theme in its current state looks nothing like release 2.0.0 and the magazine-styled layout seems like a good point to jump release versions and indicate the revolutionary nature of some of the last few releases as opposed to the evolutionary (featured posts, tabbed sidebars, multiple types of drop-downs in the menu, RTL language support etc).

Oct 202009

The Comments section in WordPress has served its utility as the forum for support issues. Effective today I am moving the support for Suffusion to a new phpBB-based forum. The forum is set up with the default theme and I intend to customize it over the next few months and have Suffusion for phpBB.

Starting today you will not be able to add comments on my “Contact” page or on the theme page. You will have to use the forum. This will ensure better search capabilities and logged issues can be tracked better.

I am disabling comments on the said pages.

Oct 192009

Over the past few days I have received a lot of support from willing volunteers who translated Suffusion into different languages. I would like to thank each of you who did this:

  1. French – Wolforg. Given my familiarity with the basics of French, this is the first language to be officially included with the theme. Version 2.4.7 of the theme, which is currently awaiting approval from WP, has this included
  2. Spanish – Memoria De Una Desmemoriada and Erik. Version 2.4.8 will have this included.
  3. Catalan – Erik again. Version 2.4.8 will have this included.
  4. Portuguese – Luis Santos. Version 2.4.8 will have this included.

The delay in getting the translations out is mainly due to the fact that the translations are for a prior version, so the line numbers are different. The reconciliation process is lengthy, so it takes me some time.

Anyone with a German or a Russian translation?

Oct 182009

Recently an issue was brought to light by one of Suffusion’s users (Colin), where the NextGEN gallery widget wrecked the layout of the rest of the theme. I took a look at the issue and found a few things.

As you are probably aware, I use Docking Boxes for some snazzy effects on the sidebar, mainly “Drag and Drop” and “Expand / collapse”. For these features, particularly the expansion and collapsing I had to separate the header (handle) from the content. For those technically inclined, to tackle this I had to define <div> tags in before_widget, before_title, after_title and after_widget elements in the widget definitions. This works well, almost. The first problem that came to light was for text widgets, where WordPress’s default implementation decides to skip the before_title and after_title if there is no title. While this generally works, if you are starting a <div> in after_title and closing it in after_widget, you have a mess. Since after_title has not been invoked you end up having an extra </div>, which results in messing up further aspects of the layout.

To fix this I overwrote the text widget with my own class, which slightly tweaks the output. However, there are other widgets out there which are not in my control. And the very popular NextGEN Gallery widgets fall in that bucket. Firstly NextGEN provides its own tags for the widget title. That is still okay, since it causes a minor inconsistency in the look and feel. The next, however is a little more tricky – if you have Web-Slices enabled for the NextGEN widget, it does some more large-scale layout changes for the widget, again destroying the layout.

The Fix

As of now the simplest fix is to disable web-slices for the NextGEN widget. The only loss of functionality you suffer is that a person who is viewing your website in IE8 cannot pick your gallery as a “slice”, but has to subscribe to your blog as a whole.

I have put in something on the support forum, but there have been no responses. Mind you, any website that uses docking boxes will suffer from this problem, and I am sure there are a few of them.

Of course, it would be best if WordPress provided something like “before_content” and “after_content”, in which case things would be much more easy.

Oct 062009

Over the past couple of months I have spent a lot of time adding new features and supporting users of Suffusion. I started with a single template and now the theme has morphed to something with a good set of options. Of course, it is not as comprehensive as Atahualpa (and I don’t want to provide the ability to customize everything – that will become a support nightmare), but I believe I have got a lot covered. At this point the theme is close to completion and I have a few tasks remaining:

  1. Support for more levels in the drop-down menu: Currently 3 levels are supported in the drop-down navigation bar. I am working on extending this to multiple levels, because I have received a few requests to have this capability
  2. Separation of comments from trackbacks / pingbacks: Now that I have more or less run out of tasks to do, this has come close to the top of the list
  3. Widget Areas, Widgets and Templates: The theme currently has 5 widget areas. I intend to add 3 more, though this is low on priority; 5 areas work well for most users. I also intend to build a couple of widgets, one for Twitter and one for RSS subscriptions. And lastly, templates. I made a submission to WP yesterday with a template page for “No Sidebars”. I hope to add a few more templates so that users don’t have to scramble to put something together to meet their needs.

That is the total list of activities remaining. More suggestions are most definitely welcome! I will slow down the development a notch to avoid wearing myself down, but nonetheless all of these should be available by early next month. Along the way I will make minor releases with code optimizations.

And yes, though I will cease adding new features, support will remain! The big thing about open source is that the users are proud of their work and like more people to use it, and hence feel the need to support it better.

What’s Next?

Suffusion was meant to be a stepping stone for me. I wanted to test-drive theme development before my next big plunge. A few things I will be doing as I gradually stop adding more features are:

  1. Port the Suffusion theme to phpBB: I have been supporting users through the comments on WordPress. Though this has worked, it is not really the right way to do things, and it is difficult to keep track of individual issues. I am working on building a forum to support this and phpBB is my platform of choice. While I work on making it look like I want it to, I am going to continue accepting support requests through the comments page
  2. Tutorials: I wrote a few tutorials to support Suffusion users and WordPress developers. I will continue to enhance those.
  3. My Next Theme: Yes, I believe now is the time to actually use the work I have done on Suffusion and extend it to my next project. Hope it is fun!

In the meanwhile keep the feedback coming!