Yet Another Theme Update

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YATU (Yet Another Theme Update)…

In two previous posts, I mentioned that with my new XAMPP setup, I could and would be tinkering around with WordPress themes a bit more. At the same time, I switched to the Aspire theme, which I liked (functionally), but wasn’t thrilled about in terms of color contrast.

For the past week or so, I’ve been playing with a variety of themes. Conceptually, I liked a theme template called Sandbox (it’s also linked in the footer on every page now). Basically, a theme template is one that can be used as a standalone theme, or other themes can point to it as a base template, and customize it via css in a separate theme directory.

Sandbox held a competition for theme designers to build their own themes on top of the Sandbox template. You can see on that page that the designs varied greatly (showing the strength of good semantic markup, coupled with good knowledge of css layout).

Of the designs shown on that page, SandPress was closest to the style that I am currently fond of (three column, two right sidebars). I downloaded it and started to tweak. I also downloaded a few free css editors, including a couple of more complete editors (HTML/CSS/Preview, etc.). None made me particularly happy, but they all worked.

I then received an email announcement from ActiveState announcing the open source release of Komodo Edit 4.3. ActiveState was a portfolio company of mine from 2000-2003. We sold it to Sophos, which later spun the tools part back out into a standalone company called ActiveState again.

Even though they developed Komodo IDE while they were a portfolio company of Opticality, I never possessed a copy nor even saw a demo. It was an ancillary business to the anti-Spam part of ActiveState at the time. Now that the editor portion (not the entire IDE) was open source, I decided to download it.

Bingo! It was the more interesting of the tools (for the way my brain works) and I was able to accelerate my tweaking of the SandPress theme.

There was nothing wrong with SandPress out of the box, and I could have lived with it, reasonably happily. My tweaking was motivated by two things: wanting to get my hands a little dirtier with the theme process (specifically css in this case) and wanting to slightly simplify the theme (less graphics, less whitespace, etc.).

I accomplished my goals (to my taste, but probably not to others). This theme (of course, if you’re reading this more than a week after I wrote it, perhaps I will have changed again) is the result of a tweaked SandPress/Sandbox theme. ;-)

It may last a while, it may last a day, I’m really not sure. I like it, but I haven’t exactly lived with it for any amount of time either. There is a new theme that is in alpha now (so I have not had access to it), called Vanilla, which is also based on Sandbox, but combines Sandbox with the Yahoo User Interface (YUI) library. I’m intrigued by the concept of making all of this more standards and reusable oriented, so I will likely check it out when it’s finally ready for general distribution.

Now that I feel a tad more comfortable with the theme process, I may tweak a bit more, but it probably won’t be things that will be worth blogging about directly.

Here are a few final observations/questions. If you’re a theme expert, please leave a comment so that I can learn from you!

I wanted to change the footer.php to add a link to SandPress and to add a copyright. I had to change the footer.php in the Sandbox directory, rather than to my tweaked SandPress directory. On the one hand, it seems to make sense, since Sandbox is the template, and a copyright statement might apply to all themes based on Sandbox (on my site).

On the other hand, the link to SandPress doesn’t seem to belong in the Sandbox directory at all! If I switched to another Sandbox-based theme, it should be able to easily point to that site. It would seem that a theme template should allow the easy over-ride of specific php files, and not just css. Perhaps I’m missing something. I certainly didn’t dig at all…

Lastly, I can’t decide whether I should switch the main blog page (the index.php equivalent) to be article summaries with read more links. Given the length of my posts, the front page is a honking big one. Not many people come to visit that page directly so I’m not sure it matters. If anyone has a strong opinion, with an argument to support it, please leave me a comment. My gut is now telling me to switch to a condensed front page, but I just don’t know if that makes sense or not…

  • http://www.thingelstad.com/ thingles

    I like the new theme updates — the white background for the main text is much easier to read.

    Personally — I’d kill the tag cloud and use something like Popularity Contest to put lists of posts in that space.

  • http://www.opticality.com/blog/ hadar

    Thanks. As for the tag cloud, while I like it (conceptually), in practice, I suspect that you are correct. The main tags at the top will dominate for quite a while, so I’m not sure they really help people “discover” new things. At a minimum, I should definitely chop it from the “top 100″ to the top 20-30 (and I likely will do that, at a minimum…

    As for Popularity Contest, I can easily do that, as I have the Popularity plugin. The part that makes me hesitate is that I also wonder whether the most popular posts are necessarily the ones that require any more “advertisement” for them.

    Thanks Jamie!

  • http://www.thingelstad.com/ thingles

    I like the new theme updates — the white background for the main text is much easier to read.

    Personally — I'd kill the tag cloud and use something like Popularity Contest to put lists of posts in that space.

  • http://www.opticality.com/blog/ hadar

    Thanks. As for the tag cloud, while I like it (conceptually), in practice, I suspect that you are correct. The main tags at the top will dominate for quite a while, so I'm not sure they really help people “discover” new things. At a minimum, I should definitely chop it from the “top 100″ to the top 20-30 (and I likely will do that, at a minimum…

    As for Popularity Contest, I can easily do that, as I have the Popularity plugin. The part that makes me hesitate is that I also wonder whether the most popular posts are necessarily the ones that require any more “advertisement” for them.

    Thanks Jamie!