WordPress have announced that from version 5.0 on, the default editor will be the Gutenberg block editor, with the old editor as a plugin. This has been a quite controversial decision, the development version is available as a plugin, and that plugin has a lot of 5 star and 1 star ratings. It seems to have divided the user-base in half. But here is my take on why it’s a very good thing.
WordPress is really old, and it hasn’t changed much over the years. Up to this point WordPress have used a single content field that uses the TinyMCE editor to insert the content. This is usually fine for simple posts, but it’s quite restrictive for pages. There are a lot of plugins and themes that completely replaces the content editor with something else. This is not a problem in itself, but it means that if you want to do anything more than very simple HTML in your content you must learn a new system, and that system might not be used in any other sites you manage. In addition, most systems seem to want to be all things for all people, and that means they usually get fairly complicated.
Unlike many of the plugin systems, Gutenberg doesn’t really change how the site works, it just replaces the tinyMCE editor with a more advanced block based editor. It doesn’t have a built in grid system, or allow you to change every margin and color like many of the plugin systems. In it’s “core” form it has pretty much the same capabilities as the old editor, but it allows themes and plugins to extend those capabilities. The fact that it’s block based also mean that you can move around the different parts of the content, and they keep the markup a bit clearer. You won’t accidentally copy paste a part of a different element when moving parts around.
The real power of the system comes from how it can be extended. Any theme or plugin can add their own blocks to the editor. Although it doesn’t completely replace shortcodes, it is easy to create a block that does the same thing a shortcode. This is ultimately much more user-friendly than having to remember a specific shortcode format for the plugin. It can also give a visual representation of the element directly into the editor.
The Gutenberg editor is already functioning pretty well, and seems to be well designed. Where it still falls short is that other parts, like themes and plugins are not designed to function with it yet. This means that it’s nice to use if you are building your own theme, but if you use ready made themes, your mileage might vary. But once 5.0 is released, and everybody is using it, it’s true power will be shown.