I have just upgraded to WordPress 3.4 and it is as easy as all the earlier version of WordPress. The simplest method still works — backup database, disable plugins, replace files, upgrade database, then you enable the plugins back again.
The highlights in this new incremental update of WordPress are theme customization, custom headers, Twitter embeds and HTML support on image captions. The rest is mostly under the hood improvements.
Live Theme Preview
This is probably the answer to Bloggers template designer. There are a couple of WordPress themes in the market that use WYSIWYG editor for customizing theme but this is the first time that WordPress shipped with a theme editor out of the box. With Live Theme Preview, it is easier than ever to create a beautiful website even if you are a beginner.
Better Custom Headers
At first I don’t understand what’s new with custom headers but after some testing I realized that it is just like the old custom headers but this time around, it follows the height of the image. So you don’t need to edit CSS property anymore just to adjust the height of the header. As far I remember, you can’t easily change the size of your header but now WordPress 3.4 offers the easiest header configuration available.
I used to have Blackbird Pie installed but with this built-in support for embedding tweets, I think I will use the standard embed from now on. Take note that when you are embedding tweets, they should be just plain text, not links. It does not matter if you embed http or https. They will be embedded.
Just upgraded to WordPress 3.4 in under 5 minutes.
— Marck V. (@metallicvapor) June 14, 2012
The advantage of Blackbird Pie is the inclusion of Twitter background along with the tweet but the native WordPress Twitter embed opted for a cleaner standard look.
HTML on Image Captions
This feature took almost an eternity to be included in the standard feature and I believe it should have been added many years ago. Nevertheless, it’s better late than never.
I think due to the number of image-centric websites popping up, this feature had finally been given the green light. Now it’s easier to link photo credit using captions.
Do you agree it is more elegant to give credit using captions instead of footnote or by linking the picture to an external link?
Under the Hood Improvements
There are many improvements included, and here is the list of what’s new for WordPress 3.4 from a developer’s perspective.
One of the most important changes under the hood is the improved WP_Query. The technical part is explained here.
This patch breaks default WP_Query queries into two parts – one to select a list of IDs with the given selection criteria, and a second to actually select the posts once the IDs have been determined. This vastly reduces the amount of data that has to be processed by the database, resulting in fewer context switches and vastly improved performance.
After upgrading to WordPress 3.4 I immediately see improved performance in the server and my blog felt more snappy. I will urge you to upgrade to WordPress 3.4 now just for this improvement.
Translation system is also more robust now as well as the API support.
Theme developers should be able to use the added functionality in WordPress 3.4 to make themes more user-friendly just like the 2 default themes that comes with WordPress, Twenty-Ten and Twenty-Eleven.
Final Thoughts on WordPress 3.4
With the addition of neat features like Live Theme Preview and better custom header, themes supporting the new features can further enhance theme customization options. If you post a lot of pictures you can finally put links on your captions!
More importantly, if you have huge database (i.e. blogs with many posts) chances are you using a caching plug-in now. The improvement gain shouldn’t be to obvious with caching enabled but if you disable the caching plugin then you should be able to feel the difference now that WP_Query is improved. As described by the contributing developer, the benefit could range from good to dramatic.
Therefore I highly recommend to upgrade to this version soon.
Word of caution: Test your business-critical plugins first in a sandbox before upgrading your production (live) server. I had to disable one or two minor plugins that is not yet compatible with WordPress 3.4.