A retrospective of WordPress Classic

In God Emperor Of Dune, Leto II Atreides ruled for almost four thousand years as tyrant of humanity. In doing so, he created a desire for people to be free, and ensured that they will never stagnate and fall victim to the need for a single commodity for existence.

Back in 2002 I started to learn web design from a code-based perspective. The CSS techniques we now consider standard were at the time, groundbreaking. Grey Matter, Blogger, and Movable Type were the frameworks of the day, while I started poking around with a then-little-known program called B2. Fast forward a few months, and a then-little-known guy named Matt Mullenweg decided to fork B2 into a new project, called WordPress.

By the time I was testing it out in version 0.71 I had a custom stylesheet that is now lost to history, so I never saw what it looked like out of the box at first. When version 1.0.1 Miles, came out, I started doing projects for other people and I saw what is the now-legendary, ghastly, pea-green scheme contributed by none other than the also-legendary Dave Shea, blogging at Mezzoblue. Here’s a screenshot:

Screenshot: WordPress Classic
Screenshot: WordPress Classic

So negative was the reaction my contacts held towards it that by the time of the 1.2 Mingus release, I had issued for public consumption a pallet-swapped stylesheet. To this day, my friend still uses it on his site (though admittedly it’s time I update the damn thing). The post got picked up by Weblog Tools Collection, and found its way as a selection on Blogsome and Blog Ireland, where it remains a no longer popular, but still available, choice. Here’s a screenshot:

Screenshot: Jaws style
Screenshot: Jaws style

Set aside any ill will that I, in this post, may have dealt to Dave Shea, for I intend none. He is, by far, a greater designer than I. While WordPress Classic remains ghastly, it was by the very nature of its look that gave impetus to thousands of coders and designers to develop a different look for their WordPress installation. Sadly, I do not have numbers to back up the following conjecture, but a cursory observation is that in the period between version 1.2 to 1.5 (when WordPress default came out) fewer blogs stuck with Classic than there are those who have stuck with Default. For many bloggers, Default, or what was back then called Kubrick, is enough. But WordPress Classic?

Despite the seemingly counterintuitive reasoning around the contribution of WordPress Classic to the history of theme development in WordPress, I still use it as a platform from which to start most projects. It was only when I finished the current redesign of my site, a theme I call Richmond, did I use a different framework for my WordPress-related projects. Even that statement is only fairly accurate, as Richmond is nothing more than a highly refined form of Classic anyway.

As a starting point for writing a theme, Classic has a lot of merit. Not merely because I say so, nor because I do so, but because it is so: it has the most commonly-used functions, and it remains up-to-date, to a point: when they added Gravatar support in WordPress, it was included into the theme (although the function for threaded comments is not). It has an easy to understand document flow, and very few conditional statements that can confuse starting themers. If  the goal for some is to develop individual templates according to the hierarchy, Classic leaves the field clear and unimpeded for DIY themers. While it is not without its drawbacks—no theme is perfect—it strikes the balance between carte blanche and overkill. With so many themes out there, WordPress classic offers an easy way to learn theme development from scratch, or to familiarize oneself with the theming process before moving unto other, more complicated frameworks.

Just as the passing of Leto II Atreides led to the Great Scattering of humanity and ensured its survival for all time, Dave Shea’s WordPress Classic was the impetus for many a theme developer and WordPress-based designer to come out with something awesome, ensuring that the creative potential that WordPress offered was placed to great use.