What you need to know about WordPress Calypso

What you need to know about WordPress Calypso

Big changes are happening in the world of WordPress.

With the recent 4.4 update, a ton of cool new features have been added to WordPress core. One of those is the addition of the WordPress REST API, which I talked about recently in this article. Another big announcement was the new WordPress.com desktop client, which incorporates a ton of admin interfaces and features that were previously exclusive to WordPress.com users.

The project, codenamed Calypso, is the culmination of more than 20 months of work from the WordPress team, and says a lot about the direction the WordPress community is headed in, and what the future holds for WordPress users and developers alike.

 

 

What is Calypso?

Calypso is essentially an alternative to the ubiquitous WP-Admin interface for both self-hosted WordPress sites and hosted WordPress.com blogs. It has both a desktop and web client, and it allows the user to manage as many WordPress installs as they like (as long as Jetpack is installed). It also includes an RSS reader, with functionality that allows you to add your favorite (probably WordPress powered) blogs to a feed of recent articles. There is also functionality that allows the user to manage their plugins, although as of right now the custom admin panels added by some plugins do not affect the Calypso client.

Part of the impact of project Calypso comes from what’s going on underneath the hood. The application is built using a slew of popular, modern, JavaScript technologies, including React and Node.js. For those of you who are new or unfamiliar with the technical intricacies of WordPress, this is a pretty big deal. WordPress has historically been closely tied with PHP and MySQL, and most of the platform is written using those technologies.

A Bit of Background

The use of PHP has long been an aspect of WordPress that has repeatedly come under fire, especially from modern web developers who inhabit a web ecosystem that has been dominated by JavaScript for the last few years. Opponents of the older language have voiced concerns mostly about the simplicity and compatibility of a platform built on top of PHP in an era of JavaScript. Although many people like to argue about how PHP does certain jobs better than others, it has historically been the backbone of the WordPress ecosystem and the foundation for many other popular web technologies. However, that may slowly be changing, at least as far as WordPress is concerned.

For those of you completely out of the loop with the development world, a great primer on JavaScript and how it relates to WordPress can be found over at Tutsplus.com. Likewise, an overview on PHP can be found here.

While the WordPress Calypso project doesn’t necessarily mark an immediate departure from PHP, WordPress is obviously moving in a direction that is more friendly towards JavaScript. Calypso is a complete re-imagination of the WordPress admin interface using JavaScript, and it benefits from all of the speed improvements and quality of life enhancements that can be expected from a modern JavaScript web application. The majority of WordPress remains unchanged, with the original PHP code untouched. Calypso is, for the most part, a re-tooling of the forward facing aspects of the WordPress admin interface, which it definitely benefits from.

Matt Mullenweg, one of the original founders of WordPress, on the need for the Calypso project overhaul: “We realized that the [original PHP] tech wasn’t going to take us to the next decade.”

 

Why It’s Important

An update to the WordPress admin interface has been an important topic in the WordPress world for some time now. With the rapidly increasing popularity of the platform over the last few years, WordPress has become the choice tool for a growing number of users with a wider range of knowledge of the platform. Users with little knowledge of WordPress have the help of the massive WordPress community, but the admin interface definitely left many wanting. With the rise in popularity of the more social oriented blogging platforms like Medium, WordPress needed to simplify and revamp their admin interface or risk losing users to platforms  with a nicer aesthetic and shallower learning curve.

Calypso is both beautiful and easy to use, and I believe the WordPress team and community of developers did an amazing job in creating such a well rounded and polished interface. Paired with other new functionality introduced in WordPress 4.4, such as the new WordPress REST API, the Calypso admin interface really shows off how powerful WordPress has become as it’s matured as a platform.

These additions follow a larger theme that WordPress has been adhering to over the last couple years. While WordPress began as a simple blogging platform, as it has grown in popularity and functionality, it has transitioned into a more capable general framework for content rich websites. The addition of the Calypso interface and WordPress REST API further enhance the versatility of the platform, and indicate that WordPress will probably continue to diversify and adopt new features that enhance its usability in more and more ways.

 

Final Notes

It is important to note that Calypso is not replacing the traditional WP-Admin interface. Calypso is simply an alternative that users can opt to use or not, depending on the need of their project. While Calypso seems to be very well suited to managing multiple WordPress installations easily and efficiently, it does not yet include any functionality to support plugins that alter the admin toolset. This means that WP-Admin is still the way to go if you rely on admin facing plugins that Calypso doesn’t account for. If the history of the WordPress platform is any indicator though, we’ll soon see plenty of extensions to Calypso that remedy any narrowness in scope that the current implementation suffers from (yes, Calypso is just as open source as the rest of the WordPress platform, meaning we’ll see tons of extensions to it the as the community gets more time to play with it).