v0.9: Becoming more of a WordPress plugin

I’m making some more progress with WP-United v0.9… the brand new settings panel is now operational, and can transfer its settings out to phpBB. This is much simpler to use, and complerely replaces the “Setup Wizard” on the phpBB side.

This marks a major shift in the way WP-United works conceptually. Prior to v0.9 we have always been a “phpBB mod”. The Setup Wizard was quite innovative for phpBB — certainly more so than most other phpBB mods. However, the phpBB ACP hasn’t served us well. It still requires some actions to be taken by the user to see the WP-United Setup Wizard, and in general, the rest of the ACP is a bit of a mess with too many options buried under menus.

Leveraging WordPress’ plugin system better

We’ve always used WordPress’ plugin system in WP-United, but most of the core code sat outside that, under your forum directory.

v0.9 will change that. Now that the panel is working, my plan is to move most, if not all, of the WP-United files (that currently sit under your-forum/wp-united) to a plugin folder in phpBB. I’d like users to be able to automatically download and install the plugin using the WordPress plugin browser — this will hopefully go a long way to achieving that.

However, we still have one snag: phpBB still requires some code edits. Over the last few versions, we’ve cut down the number of edits required significantly, but there are still plenty. In the interest of releasing v0.9 sometime this century, I will start off simply, by including instructions in the WordPress plugins panel with a link to the XML file containing instructions on editing phpBB.

While this should be fairly clear, it’s not a great solution in the long run. Every time a user has to manually edit files, things can go wrong (no arrogance here — I make mistakes installing it myself very frequently). I’d be interested in hearing people’s thoughts on how this should work for v1.0.

Likely way forward for v1.0

I’ve done a bit of thinking, and right now, I think the following would work best:

  • Distribute a customized version of the AutoMod engine with WP-United.
  • After the user fills in the WP-United basic settings in WordPress, we inspect the phpBB installation. If AutoMod is already installed there, we give a link to a zip file and ask the user to install it using their pre-existing AutoMod (likely they are already comfortable using it)
  • If they don’t, we give them a choice: install manually or automatically. An automatic installation would back up phpBB files and apply changes the bast way we can. The inner-workings of AutoMod would be hidden from the user. A manual installation would be the same as planned for v0.9.

Alternative: A pre-mod option

The idea of a pre-mod option is for WordPress users who haven’t already installed phpBB. They could go to the plugin browser, and in a couple of clicks, install a fully integrated, WP-United phpBB. The phpBB install could even be completely managed — hidden in a plugin subfolder and exposing forum pages via permalinks.

This would undoubtedly be cool, and would bring in tons of new users while reducing support requests — but I can see that maintenance would be a big problem. With each release of phpBB I would have a lot more work to do, and that would take time away from what’s important: Maintaining the WP-United core. In addition, users who installed this way would get a nasty shock when it came to installing new phpBB themes: they’d still have to learn how to do mod edits then.

The only way I think this would work is having a user-contributed repository of pre-edited themes at WP-United.com so that phpBB turns into an end-to-end point-and-click install for WordPress users. Maybe this is something we can consider for v2.0. (However, hopefully by that time, phpBB will already be sporting a decent plugin system).

Due to the above, I’ve discounted this option for now, but I am excited about the possibility for a future version.

Your thoughts?

I’d be interested in hearing from users with a WordPress (rather than a phpBB) background as to how the install should work in an ideal world.

Thinking from a WordPress administrator’s perspective, is a completely managed phpBB install desirable? Or would you rather have a separate install which requires some management (and the inevitable bugs that accompany it)?

If we, in the long run, opted for the former, would you be interested in contributing to the community by helping to maintain one-click-install repositories of modified phpBB code and themes?

Posted in WP-United Development, WordPress, phpBB3

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