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The beta version of WordPress 3.4 is out.

So what's new? At first glance, you might say "not much". Unlike version 3.3, there are no easily visible changes to the admin area.

WordPress 3.4 is all about making theme customization easier, but even when you click on Appearance, you still won't notice any changes.

It's only when you dig deeper that you start to notice the magic.

Installation Improvements

Go to Appearance > Install Themes and search for a theme. You'll still see a very familiar set of results. The only difference is that the links and text underneath each them have been removed.

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As a comparison, this is the current WordPress 3.3 screen:

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When you clicked on the theme in WordPress 3.3, you saw a large pop-up image. Now in 3.4 you see a more sleekly presented page with the themes details on the left. From here, you can choose to install the theme or go back and search again. This large preview screen is a taster for more to come.

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It's worth mentioning at this stage that the release announcement for 3.4 also mentioned an under-the-hood improvement of "Support for installing child themes from the WordPress Themes Directory". However, I wasn't able to notice any difference yet between 3.3 and 3.4.

Customization Improvements

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Under Appearance, click click the new Customize link next to a theme and you'll see a similar large screen view:

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You'll now be able to use try all of theme's settings and test all of your changes before they go live.

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With Twenty Ten, you can change the title and replace the header, all before making those changes live for visitors.

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You can also change the background color, add a background image, use a different menu or modify your front page. All of those changes can be tested before going live.

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When you're finished, there's a Save button at the bottom to make your changes live on your site:

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About the author

Steve is the founder of OSTraining. Originally from the UK, he now lives in Sarasota in the USA. Steve's work straddles the line between teaching and web development.