The new Font Awesome, the new Form-to-Email, a peak at the TTG roadmap, and you
Most of the modern Web is built of a combination of original code with modular, third-party libraries, scripts and components. That goes for The Turning Gate's plugins as well, and saves us from having to reinvent the wheel for each new project. But it also means we sometimes have to sit down to reevaluate third-party dependencies in the face of change, and that sometimes leads to head-scratching and awkward conversations.
Today we need to discuss recent changes to Form-to-Email and Font Awesome, and what these changes mean for The Turning Gate's current and future offerings, and for you, the TTG plugin user, now and into the future.
Maybe grab a beer or a glass of wine, and kick back while you read. It's that kind of conversation.
Let me begin by allaying the worst fears that might spring to mind: there is no cause for alarm, we will not be making any changes to the CE3 plugins, and you may continue to use the plugins and your existing websites in exactly the same way that you have been using them until now. Keep that in mind as you continue to read this discussion, and do feel free to ask questions in the comments following the post if you have them.
The New Font Awesome
Our CE3 plugins utilize Font Awesome 3.2.1. Font Awesome lets you write-in icons, like this:
The good people behind Font Awesome have recently unveiled Font Awesome 4, and have basically changed everything. The implementation and syntax are completely different, and the version 3 syntax is not compatible with the version 4 syntax.
Because of the extensive changes in Font Awesome 4, the CE3 plugins will continue to use the 3.2.1 version indefinitely. To say that another way, there will be no further Font Awesome updates made to the CE3 plugins. This is because we wish to maintain support for things you may already have done on your sites using Font Awesome 3; we don't want a maintenance update to break what's already published on your site.
Looking ahead to future generations of the TTG product line, though, we will surely be implementing Font Awesome 4 at some point. For the most part, this has no impact on your use of the CE3 plugins. The one context where you may which to future-proof your content, though, is in blogging.
This has nothing to do with blog design, if you're using the icons as UI elements. The only place this is really important is in blog content, if you're in the habit of using Font Awesome icons in your posts. And this assumes that you might sometime update from CE3 Theme for WordPress, to a newer generation version of our WordPress theme, and that you would also want to carry your blog's prior content forward with the redesign.
The way to future-proof you usage of Font Awesome 3 icons for eventual transition to Font Awesome 4 is to double-up on your syntax.
For example, let's consider the use of Font Awesome icons within a blog post while running CE3 Theme for WordPress. We'll add a star icon into our post using the Font Awesome 3.2.1 syntax:
Now let's plan ahead to a future theme using Font Awesome 4. In Font Awesome 4 syntax, that same star looks like this:
<i class="fa fa-star"></i>
To futureproof our Font Awesome icons, we simply blend the Font Awesome 3 and Font Awesome 4 syntaxes into a single item:
<i class="fa fa-star icon-star"></i>
There is absolutely no harm in having the extra classes, and this will ensure that the icon will display in the current build of CE3 Theme for WordPress, and also in whatever comes in the next generation with Font Awesome 4. Let's just hope they don't change things again for Font Awesome 5 or whatever ...
If you don't futureproof, then Font Awesome 3 icons won't display in posts running under Font Awesome 4. Certainly not the end of the world, and you can always go back to old posts to update the content.
For your reference, here's the Font Awesome 3.2.1 icon chart and the Font Awesome 4 icon chart. Note that Font Awesome 4 icons also need the generic "fa" class, in addition to the specific icon class (i.e. a star should be "fa fa-star", not just "fa-star").
And for those of you who will surely ask: No, there is no reason and nor is it reasonable to attempt to replace Font Awesome 3.2.1 with the newer Font Awesome 4 via PHPlugins.
And again, the ONLY place that this change is going to be relevant is in blog posts, as your posts' content will eventually be carried forward into new designs. And given the mutable nature of the online world, you probably shouldn't be using Font Awesome icons in your posts anyway, just in case you ever decide to switch to a non-TTG blog theme lacking Font Awesome support. I know, such a circumstance is ...
... I just thought I should mention it.
Are we having fun yet?! Let's tackle the new drama that is ...
The New Form-to-Email
Form-to-Email is a PHP script from http://formtoemail.com that powers our HTML contact forms, and appears in three of our current plugins. In TTG CE3 Client Response Gallery the script powers the sending of the client's image selects and feedback to the photographer's email; in TTG CE3 Pages and TTG CE3 Stage the script is used to power the contact form.
We have been relying upon the Form-to-Email script since 2007, and have enjoyed a healthy and beneficial partnership with the script's creator.
But all things change. Form-to-Email is now under new management, with a new business model, and will subsequently be offered as a paid-subscription, cloud-based service.
Again, there is nothing that you need to do or worry about. You may continue to use CE3 plugins utilizing the Form-to-Email script without change, and without incurring any additional fees. With one exception, the plugins do not rely upon the cloud-based Form-to-Email services.
So, why are we talking about this? There are two reasons.
First, let's address the aforementioned exception. Several years ago, Form-to-Email introduced the cloud-based Form-to-Email Remote service. When Form-to-Email Remote was introduced, I built compatibility into the relevant TTG plugins as a fallback option for users, allowing them to use contact forms and client response galleries even on web-hosting platforms lacking PHP support.
At present, I do not know whether our Form-to-Email Remote support is compatible with the new Form-to-Email cloud service. Frankly, I don't care. At present, I am not aware of any user having ever used the Form-to-Email Remote option in our plugins, so if the new service is not compatible, I expect that it will impact absolutely no one. If you have been using the Form-to-Email Remote option, though, please get in touch to let me know. I'd love to talk to you about it.
On to the second reason. The Form-to-Email script continues to be available in a "developer version" which may be downloaded and self-hosted. This is basically the version we have been using in our plugins since 2007. Insofar as I am aware, the script is unchanged; that is not the case, however, for the distribution model.
The free version of the script is still free, and that's the version that ships with our plugins. No change.
But our plugin users have always had the option of upgrading to Form-to-Email Pro. Until recently, the Pro version script cost a reasonable $29 and added a wealth of new features which many of our users found useful. Under the new distribution model, however, the same Pro-version script that previously sold for $29 now costs $129 for a single-site license, and $199 for a multiple-site license. The price hike seems to have no purpose other than to discourage prospective users from using the developer version of the script, as they clearly want people to opt-in for the cloud service. And at these new prices, I no longer feel that the Pro-version script represents a fair value for TTG users.
The CE3 series plugins will continue to rely upon the free version Form-to-Email script, because that's how they were built, and because we see no pressing need to make a change to the plugins' infrastructure in response to Form-to-Email's new business model. However, we now advise against upgrading to Form-to-Email Pro unless you really have significant need for or interest in the Pro version.
We are still discussing this matter internally, but will very likely be moving away from Form-to-Email in future TTG offerings, to build an alternative solution in-house. So understand that if you do purchase Form-to-Email Pro for use with CE3 plugins, it will probably be of no further use to you beyond the CE3 plugin generation.
The gist of all of this is simply to say: carry on as you were with CE3, but you probably shouldn't drop the $129 or more on Form-to-Email Pro at this point.
So, that's the conversation. It's all a bit funny to be discussing -- having to announce that our response to these changes is that we will not be making any immediate, reactive changes -- but I felt these matters should be openly addressed rather than having users stumble upon them, so that we might preempt the inevitable head-scratching.
Once again, if you have questions, ask away in the comments below.