Gutenberg is a take on a new editor for WordPress. It is named after Johannes Gutenberg, who invented a printing press with movable type more than 500 years ago. The current visual editor requires a lot of us to utilize shortcodes and HTML to make things work. Their goal is to make this easier, especially for those just starting with WordPress. They are embracing “little blocks” and hope to add more advanced layout options. You can check out the official example.

It is an exciting, ambitious project, but one that I’m not entirely sure is necessary. If WordPress core is going to fundamentally change the way I create content without giving me a choice, I want as much information and user research data as possible to convince me that it’s the better option.

It may seem odd that these questions and concerns are being raised six months into the project but at the same time, development has moved so fast, it feels like the opportunity to have them addressed at the beginning was missed.

Revamping the editor experience is a massive undertaking and, six months in, it’s not better than the editor I use today. I wrote this post in Gutenberg and it was a cumbersome, frustrating experience. It will need to address a lot of issues if it’s going to beat the current WordPress editor, let alone leapfrog its competitors. However, the team is making good progress on a weekly basis.

How to Install Gutenberg

You can download the latest version of Gutenberg from the WordPress repository or by searching for it within your WordPress dashboard under “Add New” plugins. Again, we recommend installing this on a test site or utilize your host’s staging environment.

Exploring Gutenberg

After installing Gutenberg, you will see links under your Posts that allow you to open up the Gutenberg editor. They don’t replace the default WordPress editor, which is a good thing in our opinion, as during the testing phase it allows you to bounce back and forth. Obviously, once this is merged with Core, it would probably by default use the “Edit” links. As of the latest version on the repository, it now supports custom page types and pages as well.

 

Gutenberg link on post

It also adds a new menu in your WordPress dashboard which contains a demo (as seen below) and the ability to create a new post. Again, this menu is probably just for testing purposes As you can see the visual editor looks quite different than the once you are probably used to. It has a very similar feel to Medium, which we think is great.

Gutenberg editor demo

If you take a look at both the Gutenberg editor and the current visual editor side by side (click to enlarge) you can see just how much more writing space Gutenberg has, especially on smaller screens. For people writing on laptops, Gutenberg is going to be a nice change of pace! It really is focused on “writing first” and is trying to provide a less distracting environment.

Comparing Gutenberg vs current editor

 

Pros of Gutenberg WordPress Editor

Here are a few pros we see with the current Gutenberg Editor.

  • Ditching *some* reliance on TinyMCE is a good thing in our opinion. We would love to see a tighter integration between core, theme developers, plugins, and the editor.
  • For publishers that prefer the newer Medium style editing experience, they are most likely going to love the WordPress Gutenberg editor.
  • Gutenberg provides a less distracting experience with more screen space.
  • Blocks are fun to use and the new alignment options are a step forward for larger resolution screens and full-width templated and responsive sites.
  • Already works great on mobile, and going forward we can actually see people utilizing this a lot more. Need to make a quick edit on your phone while on the go? No problem.
  • The ability for theme and plugin developers to create their own custom blocks.
  • Easier to use for beginners.

Another thing that caught our eye was in Gutenberg 0.4.0 they mentioned in their development logs adding an API for handling pasted content. (Aim is to have specific handling for converting Word, Markdown, Google Docs to native WordPress blocks.) This would be amazing.

Cons of Gutenberg WordPress Editor

And here are a few cons we see in the current Gutenberg editor. Remember, it is still in the testing phase, so a lot of these things will probably be fixed or added.

  • It is currently missing Markdown support.
  • While we also listed it being easier to use for beginners, we can also see this as being harder for some to learn.
  • Doesn’t support custom plugin meta boxes such as Yoast SEO yet. This alone makes it unusable in production right now. But it is understandable as plugin developers will now have to start testing integrations with the Gutenberg editor.
  • Doesn’t support responsive columns yet. We really hope this is coming. A lot of times this is a reason people install visual builder plugins or shortcode plugins, is to get the column feature alone. It is definitely time for columns to be in core!
  • With so many themes and plugins out there, backwards compatibility is going to be a huge issue going forward. In fact, there will probably be thousands of developers that now have to do a lot of work, such as those that have integrations with TinyMCE. Out of all the WordPress updates, this is probably going to be one that causes the most work for developers. Although there might be a wrapper coming which would enable TinyMCE backwards compatibility. See pull request #1394.
  • Some are worried about the accessibility of Gutenberg. Joost de Valk, the developer of Yoast SEO brought up this concern. Make sure to also check out this post about using Gutenberg with a screen reader.

Ahmad Awais has also released a Gutenberg boilerplate to help WordPress theme and plugin developers kick-start their development with Gutenberg. Worth checking out.

Summary

Overall we were quite impressed with the new Gutenberg WordPress editor, it’s definitely something we are excited about for the future. We encourage everyone to grab a copy of it from the WordPress repository and install it on a dev or staging site. This is our chance folks to help build the editor we have all been wanting. We can have the same experience Medium folks do, but in our favorite CMS! The team here at Kinsta will definitely be taking some time to help give feedback.

Have you tried out Gutenberg yet? If so, we would love to hear your thoughts, both good and bad.