WordPress 6.1 “Misha”
WordPress 6.1, the third major release to the WordPress platform this year, was released on November 1, 2022. Like all major WordPress releases, this release has been named after a jazz musician. This release was named for Soviet-Norwegian jazz pianist Mikhail “Misha” Alperin. Alperin was a founding member of the first Moldavian jazz quartet and, later, the Moscow Art Trio. The Outcome Labs team has been testing 6.1 for several weeks to prepare to deploy this to our sites. Here is a brief overview and our take on the release.
Polishing the Block Editor
The native WordPress Block Editor has been polished and matured. Most blocks now have the ability to manage colors, typography, borders, and dimensions (padding-margins) directly in the Block Editor. You can see the detail by block in this article. The setting interfaces are now consistently presented across the core blocks. There are also improved block placeholders that show customization options. These changes will make building and updating sites with the Block Editor much more consistent and intuitive.
There have also been some block improvements. The List and Quote blocks have added support for inner blocks. This means you have much more granular control over the format of these types of content.
Building out the Site Editor
Significant new capabilities have been added to the Site Editor (the “new” name for Full Site Editing). Theme authors and users can now create templates that can be applied to specific posts, pages, and custom post types. You can also define user-selectable custom templates for all post types and taxonomy-specific templates for categories or tags. New block-locking options have also been added.
Menu management has been improved. The navigation block now offers fallback options in case the block isn’t pre-populated with inner blocks. If the navigation menu is empty, the fallback behavior is to display a list of available pages using the Page List block. If there are multiple block menus, the fallback is to display the most recently created block menu.
The initial version of fluid typography support was included in this release. This feature enables theme authors to define font sizes that will smoothly scale between smaller and larger viewports, adapting in a fluid way to varying widths.
While the Site Editor is still considered a “beta” project, this release does provide enough capabilities for us to begin serious evaluations of block themes as part of our “toolkit” for projects here at Outcome Labs. We will be doing a pilot project to recreate some sites and will be posting about that here in our journal.
Evolving the theme ecosystem
The release also includes a new block theme, Twenty Twenty-Three (TT3) as the default theme. It uses a stripped-back version of Twenty Twenty-Two as a base with ten community-contributed style variations. While they all have “personality”, only a few are polished enough, in our opinion, to be used for non-hobby sites.
There was a big focus on enabling PHP-based themes to incorporate new capabilities being developed as part of the Gutenberg project. Enabling this hybrid approach will make it easier for theme authors and site owners to use these new capabilities. A number of major commercial themes like Blocksy now support theme.son. The platform now enables block-based Template Parts to be used in “classic” PHP-based themes.
The WordPress theme ecosystem has three significantly different types today. The first group includes “classic” PHP-based themes that are usually used with the Classic Editor or plugin-based page builders. The second group includes hybrid themes like Astra and Blocksy which are also PHP_based. These themes have been optimized to work with the native Block Editor and usually support the leading page builders as well. The third group are the new block themes which are not PHP-Based. These are designed so they can be built and extended with the Block Editor.
WordPress 6.1 is a significant update to the WordPress platform. The native Block Editor was matured and polished. As we noted above, these changes will make building and updating sites with the Block Editor much more consistent and intuitive. This release provides a reasonably robust version of the Site Editor. It is still in “beta.” You should expect functionality “gaps” and usability issues. You also should be prepared that things may change significantly in future releases. The theme ecosystem is expanding with new Block themes. It will be interesting to watch if any of themes become “go to” choices like Astra, Blocksy, and others have done.