What is WordPress?

WordPress is a free, open source Content Management System (CMS) that lets users quickly and easily create websites, primarily blogs. Development and maintenance is led by Matt Mullenweg, Donncha O’Caoimh and Ryan Boren, as well as a team of volunteer developers. WordPress utilizes the PHP scripting language in combination with a database access technology of the user’s choosing to dynamically create and deliver web-based content “on-the-fly.”

In plain English, that means that WordPress is a piece of software that runs on a web server and allows users to manage a website, typically a blog, without needing to worry about doing any programming on their own, writing any web pages, or even knowing any HTML or having any programming skills in particular. WordPress is a highly-customizable and extendable “front-end” that enables users to create and display web content without ever having to do anything technical whatsoever beyond the initial installation (which is often managed by the webhost itself).

History of WordPress
Before WordPress was WordPress, it was known as b2\cafelog, a PHP blog management system written by Michel Valdrighi and designed to make use of the MySQL database access language. In 2003, Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little aspired to create a new fork of b2\cafelog; a friend of Mullenweg’s suggested the name “Wordpress” and the name stuck; thus WordPress became the official successor of b2\cafelog (although Valdrighi, the original creator of b2\cafelog, continues to develop and contribute to WordPress).

WordPress gained a huge surge in popularity when rival software platform Movable Type changed its licensing terms, driving a significant number of its users away (mostly to WordPress); the growth surge for WordPress established a powerful momentum which has continued into the present, providing the platform with consistent and sustained growth in recent years as the “Web 2.0” revolution has taken hold.

WordPress.com and WordPress.org
WordPress operates a free blog-hosting service on the WordPress.com domain, where users can start their own blogs without any external hosting. WordPress tracks those blogs and manages the server resources themselves, but users are significantly limited in terms of modifications to the software, advertising, and so on.

WordPress.org is the domain used to manage the WordPress software package itself; users who want to install their own version of WordPress on their own web server visit the WordPress.org domain to download the software or download plugins (extensions to the software’s basic functionality) or themes (files that change the outward appearance of WordPress).

Current Usage of WordPress
WordPress is currently in Version 2.8; this version was released on June 10th, 2009. Each major point version of WordPress is given a “code name” that the central team of developers uses to refer to the software; the version code-names are invariably named after a famous Jazz or Blues musician. Version 1.2 (the first version of WordPress to support plugins) was code-named “Mingus” (after Charles Mingus); Version 2.7 was code-named “Coltrane” (after John Coltrane). Version 2.8 is referred to as “Baker.”

According to WordPress themselves, there are over 15 million WordPress blogs currently in operation; six million of those are hosted on the WordPress.com website itself (which runs on the WordPress software) and nine million are self-hosted, running the WordPress software on a web server.

Benefits of the WordPress Platform
WordPress’ greatest strength is undoubtedly its broadly extendable “plugins” system; this is what originally distinguished it from other CMS packages. Plugins are add-ons, usually developed by independent, third-party developers, which extend upon WordPress’ basic functionality, allowing users to mix and match features, creating the perfect “recipe” of functions and features; this capacity for customization is what has made WordPress such a robust platform for bloggers and web developers. Plugins have been available since the 1.2 version of the WordPress.org software and have become the mainstay of the WordPress application.

“Themes” and “Widgets” fill out the WordPress repertoire, giving users the ability to quickly and conveniently customize the WordPress front-end as easily as plugins allow them to customize the back-end. Through the WordPress.org site, users can download “theme” archives, full modifications of the user-facing aesthetic side of the software; with one click, users can change the entire outward appearance of a WordPress blog without needing to know any HTML or CSS.

“Widgets” are a more recent innovation of the WordPress platform; users are able to drop blocks into their WordPress sidebars, adding functionalities with the ease of dragging-and-dropping; Version 2.2 of the WordPress software featured built-in Widget support; previous versions of the software had implemented Widgets through the use of a third-party plugin.

WordPress: Looking Toward the Future
WordPress is a robust, dynamic application platform in constant development; the open-source and free nature of the software guarantees that it will continue to have a solid team of developers, committed to building and improving the WordPress software for its own sake. New point releases are released with great frequency, closing exploitable security gaps and improving the software’s underlying architecture, making it more efficient, more user-friendly and generally more fun to use and develop. As blogging becomes more and more mainstream, we can expect to see significant growth in the WordPress user base, as well as significant improvements to the already-powerful software platform.

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