Today, I have completed my first plugin review. It covers the well-known NextGEN Gallery plugin, which is one of the first "must-have" plugins I ever discovered. Of course, I have rated it "must-have" which means 5 out of 5 points for this great plugin.
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Plugin Review: NextGEN Gallery v0.61a
The NextGEN Gallery plugin is a very complex plugin that enables wordpress users to show their pictures within their blogs. For presentation, thumbnail galleries are supportet as well as flash slideshows (see below for more information).
You said "I will preferably review new plugins that are unknown to many wordpress users". Yes, that’s exactly what I said. There are two reasons that my first review covers the very well known NG-Gallery plugin: First, I said "preferably". This does not exclude well-known plugins from review. Second, the ng-gallery plugin has been one of the first "must-have" plugins I ever discovered in my rather short wordpress carreer.
But for now, lets turn to the point of it. I’m reviewing version 0.61a which, at the time this review has been written, has been the latest version available on wordpress.org.
Installation of NG Gallery is very straightforward. It nees the usual steps to be installed wich are documented inside the wordpress.org compatible readme file, and it it is fully compatible to PlugInstaller, so installing the plugin is really a simple task. Only if you want to include the flash slideshow option, you will have to manually download the slideshow applet which is provided by a third-party author and which is not available under the GPL. This is a bit annoying, but I’m afraid that, due to license restictions, this situation will not change in the near future and it’s of course not the fault of the plugin authors.
Don’t forget to create a directory "wp-content/gallery" and to chmod it to 777, as ng-gallery is unable to create the gallery folders below otherwise.
After having installed and activated the plugin, a new section is added to your administration settings. From there you can manage everything related to the plugin. Also, there is an extensive list of options available to the user, many of which may seem to be confusing at first glance, but the standard settings perform quite well with most wordpress themes.
After successfully installing the ng-gallery plugin, your first question might (and probably will) be "how do I use the damn thing?". A very basic description with the most important instructions is provided within the readme file, but actually the admin interface options are mostly self-explaining, and you can always experiment with some options until you find out what they mean. Unfortunately, I did not find any instructions to explain the differences and different uses of "Galleries" and "Albums".
The plugin boasts so many features that I am not able to cover them all without risking to bore you. So I will stick to the most important features, you will have to see it yourself to be able to judge the load of features this plugin provides.
To use the plugin, you will have to create a gallery first. This is very straightforward, and the plugin even supports uploading multiple files in one step (of course, as the upload mechanism is html based, you will have to select each file individually) or importing a gallery that has been uploaded to the server before (maybe with an FTP client). You will only need a few minutes to upload your gallery, as thumbnails for the gallery preview are automatically generated according to your settings. After having uploaded your images, the gallery is almost immediately ready to use. You may add titles or descriptions to each single picture, or instantly use the gallery insinde your postings. It’s a pity you cannot edit the gallery name (which is used to create the page title when embedding the gallery into a newly created page) and the gallery title (wich is displayed to your visitors) in a single step. Now you may either link your gallery to a page, or insert a tag into your articles which includes the gallery into any existing or new posting. To make this really comfortable, NG gallery adds a TinyMCE toolbar button that lets your select the desired gallery from a dropdown combobox and inserts the tag automatically. You can also put galleries together as an "album", the purpose of which I did not quite understand, but it seems that this is a space-saving way to link to galleries within posts. But adding galleries to albums features a nice drag ‘n drop user interface, wich is still a bit buggy.
For presentation of your galleries, there are two main views available: a thumbnail preview which is configurable by different styles (and may be a bit tricky to adapt to your site’s theme), and a flash slideshow, which requires the user to download and manually install a flash slideshow applet provided by a third party author. Upon clicking on a preview thumbnail, there is a nice "fade out" feature for the page background, a customizable loading toolbar and a nice, web 2.0 style image display option (see the screenshots below).
A third party contributor wrote a sidebar widget for ng gallery that is actually a set of three different sidebar items: a method to display random images, the most recent images or a slideshow of a single gallery. These widgets are configurable but showed strange behaviour when I tested them with different settings. The sidebar widgets are included in the ng gallery package.
NG gallery is really easy to use if you are once familiar with its options and the process of managing galleries. The feature I really did miss is the ability to comment on pictures inside a gallery. If you want your visitors to post comments on single pictures, you will have to encourage them to comment on the article containing the gallery, naming the picture the comment is related to. I still hope to see this feature in a future release. Also, there is no way to rate pictures, which would be nice in combination with a per-picture commenting system, especially for photographers or artists who present their work on their blogs.
This screenshot gallery is presented to you, of course, using ng gallery. If you want to see the postings this screenshots have been created with in action, feel free to experiment with my demo posting in the wordpress testing environment.
This gives you a summary on NextGEN gallery and provides you with the most important facts on NextGEN gallery.
|Plugin name and version||Next GEN Gallery 0.61a|
|Installation rating||easy to medium|
|PlugInstaller compatible||yes, with automatic updates|
|Manual installation adjustment needed||sometimes|
|Usage rating||easy to medium|
|Wordpress compatibility (according to author)||2.1.3 - 2.2.1|
|Overall rating||must-have (5 out of 5)|
More Information and download
You may visit the development blog or download the plugin from the wordpress.org plugin repository.
Today, I have released my second plugin for WordPress. Actually, it is a very simple plugin that enables you to link to wikipedia definitions in multiple languages whilst writing your posts. It uses a markup style similar to wikipedia’s markup which is almost as flexible as the actual wikipedia markup. The links in this post have completely been created by ActiveLink.
Featuring an enhanced automatic update checking and installation mechanism that keeps your wordpress plugins up to date, a mechanism to install problematic non-standard plugin packages and to find and remove broken plugin installations.
Usually, we say “there is good news and there is bad news. Which one would you like to hear first?”. As most people generally want to hear the bad news first, let’s start with that:
The development of automatic plugin checking for PlugInstaller 0.2 has proven to be more complex that I first thought, so I have not been able to implement the full functionality yet.
And now the good news:
As version 0.2 incorporates some important fixes for people with non-standard-directory installations of WordPress, I have decided to release the current version anyway. I have called this version 0.1.9 with 0.2 to follow within the next few days. And the best is: Update checking (and, of course, automatic update installation) already works for some of the plugins, so be sure to hit the “check for updated plugins” button as soon as you have installed 0.1.9.
Download from here!
The next steps towards PlugInstaller 0.2 are taken! As 0.2 will be a major release, several new features will be included, for example:
- Complete integration of install/uninstall functions into a redesigned plugin management page
- Automatic updating of plugins (at least for wordpress.org hosted plugins)
- As well as some minor changes that will eliminate possible problems on non-standard WP installations.
There are still some things to do and it will take some more days to complete the release, but for those of you who already want to try the new version, I have provided a preview version for download: PlugInstaller 0.2 preview version (be sure to upgrade to the final version if it becomes available!)
Due to a mistake during development, version 0.1.6 of PlugInstaller did not solve all the problems for people who are unable to download file using fopen_wrappers. Thanks to a contribution by angrycamel, this problem is solved in version 0.1.7.
Finally, PlugInstaller does also feature plugin downloads with cURL on servers that have fopen_wrappers disabled. You don’t need to configure anything, the plugin will automatically determine if fopen can open URLs and fall back to cURL support if fopen fails.
This is just a minor upgrade which does only add cURL support. More features will be introduced in the 0.2 version.
If you get the fopen(): url file-access is disabled in the server configuration error on using PlugInstaller, you should upgrade to this version.
As a research towards version 0.2 of my plugInstaller Plugin I have developed a small php library that incorporates a fallback to cURL where fopen_wrappers are disabled. The problem with plugInstaller has been the fact that several servers do have fopen_wrappers disabled (for whatever reasons) and need to fall back to cURL to download files from the net. This is the case if some users of your script get the error message saying fopen(): url file-access is disabled in the server configuration.
As I do not want to rewrite the complete download code for plugInstaller, I have developed two small fopen/fclose replacement routines called uopen and uclose. When changing all fopen()/fclose() calls to uopen and uclose respectively within a script, the cURL fallback functionality is immediately enabled. uopen() and uclose() will check if fopen_wrappers are available and will then open or close the specified URL using fopen and fclose. If that fails (because fopen_wrappers are disabled), the functions will try to open the output of the cURL commandline utility as a process file handle. You can then use the returned file pointer as it were opened with fopen(). uopen and uclose work exactly the same way as fopen and fclose do (they take the same parameters and return the same values), so you may even use them for local file access.
If you are interested in using those two functions, just download them here (1,09 KB), they are released under the GPL!
PlugInstaller 0.1.5 has been released today! As promised, the following new features and fixes have been implemented:
- automatic uninstallation of plugins
- display readme file after installation
- display readme files for already installed plugins
- guess file type when downloading from a redirect page (does not work with wp-plugins.net)