Ongoing Review of WordPress
WordPress can be easily installed by any system administrator on any server running PHP and mySQL add-ins. I'd advise reading as much of the information on the main WordPress site as you can.
When you begin using Wordpress the default blogging headers and logo will suffice for most users. I personally prefer to have some graphics here and there so I had to learn the rudiments of CSS - cascading style sheets. The easiest way is to lift one or two sheets from other sites where they are offered and compare it to the default, then fiddle with one of the two to get what you want. This entails loading the page on a browser. Loading an ftp client and a text editor then fiddling with the CSS and uploading the new wp-layout.css (the default name for the page style) and reloading the page to see the results. It helps to back up at least one workable css sheet in case you make a huge mistake. For the very casual user who doesn't want to fiddle I'd say use something else or just stay with the original template - it works.
I got a three column template from the alexking.org site where you can find a slew of templates that you can make work with a little tweaking. You should always check your final design with the validator at W3C.org. One interesting thing about the validator is that you can validate other peoples WordPress sites and see what they are up to insofar as their design is concerned, and you can see their mistakes. It takes a few shots before the validator will say your CSS is perfect. If you get that "no errors" grade you are allowed to use a W3C logo on the site.
In fact, they have a CSS tutorial there that is quite intensive.
I figure it takes about a week for someone to learn CSS if they are completely unfamiliar with it and haven't done this sort of "programming" in the past. It turns out that there are a lot of CSS hobbyists who try all sorts of interesting layouts although most are designed specifically for normal websites and not the WordPress content management system. I don't necessarily recommend that everyone delve deep into CSS if they are doing a casual blog. Just find a good template and use that without modification.
When you see a site like Alex Kings you start to see the possibilities. You can make a pretty pro looking site with this system. As this is written mine looks like a pretty standard blog with a graphical header. Hardly inspirational. But the beauty of CSS is that when you change the CSS file, even radically, you can really change the look of the entire site if everything is linked. I'm not totally convinced that massive change is that necessary as you can tell by the fact that these review pages are in plain HTML and I don't see any future need to make them fancier.
Getting too fancy does require another step in personal evolution. You'll need to study and learn PHP (PHP hypertext preprocessor). I can assure you that the Alex King site is not using the default index.php file. If you want to see someone's index.php file just click on the VIEW SOURCE button on your browser. PHP is the underlying command language that creates the dynamic webpages. If you want to get very fancy you should create a CSS template that understands and works together with the index.php file. Index.php is the file that loads the dynamic blog home page.
I suspect that within 6 months there will be numerous alternative index.php files available for use along with more CSS templates that actually work. Right now these things seem sparse to me.
Except for these two files (wp-content.css and index.php), almost all of the rest of your customization takes place within the admin level of the blogging software itself. When the software is installed you need to make sure you get a name and password that takes you from the home page to the innards of the program where you can change things on the home page and make various posts. You can either jump directly to the subdirectory which is ///wp-admin or hit the "login" hyperlink on the homepage.
Once you get inside the system on the admin level you'll want to familiarize yourself with the menus and where everything is.
Over the next month I'll probably be loading more content rather than toying with the design of the blog. I'll post a message on the blog when I do the next installment of this ongoing review.
wp review part 2