Automattic Theme Team launches Underscores.me site to promote their framework

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You might remember when the Automattic Theme Team announced their _s theme on ThemeShaper back in February. This week the team announced Underscores.me, a new home for the framework theme and those who build websites with it.

The personified theme (which is always fun, of course) says this on the home page (emphasis mine):

Hi, I’m a starter theme called _s, or underscores, if you like. I’m a theme meant for hacking so don’t use me as a Parent Theme. Instead try turning me into the next, most awesome, WordPress theme out there. That’s what I’m here for.

I find this interesting in a theme climate where everyone is promoting the use of theme frameworks – almost exclusively – as parent themes. Automattic’s team here, though, sees the theme’s goal differently. Ian Stewart, Michael Fields, and Lance Willett were the primary authors of _s, though twelve other folks receive credit for tweaks to the theme via Github on their site.

Have you used _s for a project? Do you think it stands up against other theme frameworks – particularly any of the paid ones?

Automattic releases new _s starter theme

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The folks from Automattic just this week released the _s theme, pronounced “underscores”. It’s their team’s attempt at a better and more flexible starter theme. The new theme is a fork of Toolbox, which was the starter theme used to build the free and premium themes on WordPress.com.

Toolbox worked, but the fact that people had used it as a parent theme meant that making drastic improvements would break things up. As Theme Wrangler Ian Stewart explained, this meant a change was worthwhile:

Unfortunately, we wound up in a situation with Toolbox where we wanted to make some more drastic improvements to it as a starter theme but got a little stuck. We had people using it as a Parent Theme and that meant that the simplest id or class change could become a problem. Simply changing an id of #branding to #masthead in the template is enough to break most CSS.

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ThemeShaper sees a redesign, refocus as the Automattic Theme Team blog

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ThemeShaper saw a redesign this week, which is always fun. But more interesting is the new vision for ThemeShaper, as it is now the blogging home of the Automattic Theme Team. ThemeShaper was previously the WordPress blogging home of Ian Stewart, who brought ThemeShaper to Automattic when he was hired in March of 2010.

The new design has retooled the site for the purpose of sharing tips and tricks from the Theme Team back to the community in a more organized way. Most recently Matt Mullenweg shared the backstory of premium themes on WordPress.com. Currently featured on the new ThemeShaper are also Custom Menu Code Samples, A Sample WordPress Theme Options Page, and Using TextMate for WordPress Code Cleanup. So you can get an idea for where the Theme Team will be taking ThemeShaper in the future.

The design itself is based on Duster, a theme released on WordPress.com this week as well. Duster will be made available to WordPress.org users in a week or so. Watch last week’s interview with Lance Willett where we discussed, in part, the new ThemeShaper.

What do you think of the changeover, and the new design? Raise your hand if you’re excited to see Ian Stewart come back to WordPress blogging, at least in some capacity? Mine’s up.

Roundup of thoughts on what 2011 should hold for WordPress

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Jane Wells started a thread on the WordPress.org forum called “What should 2011 hold for WordPress?“. The purpose of the thread is to collect ideas for the upcoming core leadership meetup this month. The thread is being closed on January 4th (that’s today) so you should head over to that thread if you have your own thoughts to share.

Below we’ve collected a few of the more intriguing thoughts. Do you agree with their thoughts? And don’t be shy to share your thoughts with us too: What do you want to see for WordPress in 2011?

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New Toolbox theme brings the HTML5, begs for CSS

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Automattic Theme Wrangler Ian Stewart announced a new HTML5 theme for users on WordPress.com, as well as for those from the WordPress.org end of the spectrum. Stewart describes the new theme, deemed Toolbox, and compares it to a certain theme framework that you’re probably familiar with:

Much like the Sandbox theme, Toolbox provides all the markup you need to build your very own theme with CSS alone–with one difference. Toolbox uses some really exciting new HTML5 elements–like <article>, <header>, and <nav>–that better describe what your content is all about.

What can you do with it? Anything you want. :) Since HTML and CSS go together like peanut butter and jelly we’ve put together a small demonstration.

A Toolbox theme demo shows some of what is possible with the theme. To take advantage of the CSS capability on WordPress.com you’ll need to pay for a Custom CSS Upgrade. But if you run your own WordPress sites you can grab the theme from the .org Theme Directory and sling as much CSS as you want. For free.

Is your site supported by HTML5 yet? What do you think of the various HTML5 WordPress theme options that are available right now?

WordPress.com will replace PressRow with new theme Pilcrow in two weeks

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Theme Wrangler Ian Stewart announced on the WordPress.com forums that PressRow, a WordPress theme developed by DIYThemes’ Chris Pearson and added to WordPress.com years ago, will be replaced by the new theme dubbed Pilcrow in two weeks. Users have two weeks to switch themes themselves, or at least prepare for the switch.

Describing the decision, Stewart said:

There are two main reasons for the upgrade. Firstly, PressRow’s original creator has a history of building on WordPress while limiting the freedom of his users and violating the core WordPress license. Continuing to use a theme tied to the same author is bad for everyone.

But that’s not the only reason to upgrade PressRow to a new theme. PressRow was sorely out of date and in need of a major refresh to bring it in line with the core WordPress experience. The new Pilcrow theme has a ton of options that let you customize and personalize your theme—custom menus, backgrounds, layouts, header images—while retaining a very similar feel to the older PressRow theme.

The announcement also includes helpful information for users looking to prepare their custom CSS for the new theme.

Speculation that August’s removal of Cutline from WordPress.com was driven by the growing division between Chris Pearson and Automattic seems to be validated with this announcement.

Pilcrow can be tested out by logging in to WordPress.com; a version is not yet available in the WordPress.org theme directory. Those looking to reminesce can demo PressRow at WordPress.com as well—but only for another two weeks.

Hat tip to Nickie for tipping us off to this.

New zBench theme on WordPress.com and the theme directory

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Theme Wrangler Ian Stewart announced on the WordPress.com blog that zBench, a new theme from designer zwwooooo, is now available on WordPress.com and the .org Theme Directory.

About the new theme, Stewart says:

zBench has a lot of great features that make personalizing your blog a snap. Features like custom background images and colors, a custom header image, bonus widget areas in your site footer, and custom menus with beautiful drop-down effects. My favorite feature is probably the alternate layouts available in Appearance → Theme Options. With one-click you can have your site sporting multiple sidebars in several different configurations!

Give the theme a test run and, if you like, download it for yourself from the WordPress.org Theme Directory.

WPTRT.com launches as the new home of the Theme Review team

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The WordPress Theme Review team has launched a new blog home this week at WPTRT.com, with its announcement post by Edward “Cais” Caissie (see our interview with Caissie from earlier this  year).

Right now the blog seems to serve as a place to recap IRC meetings and, eventually, answer questions and hold discussions in a forum (yet to be added).

Automattic Theme Wrangler Ian Stewart mentioned the site on Twitter earlier, but quickly said a new location for the blog would follow shortly. We’ll update you as we hear more.