UPDATE: WordPress 3.5, nicknamed “Elvin”, was released on Tuesday, December 11, 2012, and is ready to be downloaded from WordPress.org or can be updated from within the dashboard of your current WordPress installation.

WordPress 3.5 is set to be released this Monday, December 10! What can you expect from the new upgrade? In this article, we will cover the basics of the new default theme, Twenty Twelve, the new Media Manager, and some lesser known but very useful features that will be a part of 3.5.

New Welcome Screen

When you first upgrade your site, you will be presented with a brand new welcome screen designed to make it easier for non-developers and beginners to customize their site. From this screen, you will be able to manage widgets and menus, turn comments on or off, add an about page or write a blog post.

New Minimalistic Default Theme – Twenty Twelve

The new beautifully minimalist default theme, Twenty Twelve, is not only fully responsive across multiple mobile devices, it also uses the very popular Google web font, Open Sans, for a cleaner and more streamlined look. The default page template features a sidebar, but included is a full-width page template without a sidebar and unique home page template with two widgeted areas. Also included are different post formats to select from when writing new blog posts: standard, aside, image, link, quote, or status. Another big change is that while the header image is still available under Appearance –> Header, it will no longer be enabled by default.

New Media Uploader and Media Library

The new Media Uploader and Media Library are the biggest and most anticipated features for WordPress 3.5. Now it is easier than ever to manage, arrange and add media to your posts and pages. The new drag-and-drop interface now gives you the ability to work with a group of photos or media files. It is much easier to add meta-data such as description, caption and alt text to each image, which is great for Search Engine Optimization. Also included in the new Media Manager are the options to set a featured image or insert a gallery of images. There is also improved media search capabilities for those with large media libraries and the upload experience seems much faster and cleaner. A great tutorial for the new Media Manager can be found here.

New oEmbeds for Instagram, Slideshare, and Soundcloud

oEmbeds give you the ability to embed media from different sources from within your page or post by simply entering the full url in the editor. No more embed codes, shortcodes, or embed plugins needed! This support is already built in for many services such as Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Vimeo; but now, support has been added for Instagram, Slideshare and SoundCloud.

TinyMCE and Edit Screen User Interface Updates

Also featured in this release is a new cleaner version of the TinyMCE editor. You will also notice that the “HTML” tab has been renamed to “Text” and the old “Upload/Insert” icon has been replaced with an “Add Media” button, which functions similarly, but much improved as mentioned previously in the section about the Media Manager.

Search Engine Privacy

When developing a new site, you may not want search engines to index your site until it is ready for public consumption. Previously, there was an option under Settings –> Privacy that would allow you to ask search engines to not index your site. This option still exists in version 3.5, however, it has been moved under Settings –> Reading. Important to note is that this option does not actually block search engines from indexing your site, but it does indicate your preference to not have the site indexed, which most search engines do take into account.

Plugin Favorites

One of the features that I am most excited about in this release is the ability to add plugin favorites, which can be managed from your WordPress.org account. When installing a plugin on a new or existing site, you’ll be able to retrieve a list of your favorite plugins by simply clicking “Favorites” and entering your wordpress.org credentials. This is a real time saver for those of us that make many sites.

Links Manager Deprecated

The Links Manager has been removed from the left navigation menu for all new installs, but if you were using the Links feature prior to the upgrade, it will remain. If you would like to use the links feature going forward, you will need to install the Link Manager plugin that will duplicate that functionality.

Compatibility for Retina Displays

Those with retina displays will be pleased with the beautifully clear new icon set.

Developers: New Version of jQuery and Other Libraries

Updated in this release are many of the external libraries: TinyMCE 3.5.6, SimplePie 1.3, jQuery 1.8.2, and jQuery UI 1.9 (before its public release)! Along with the new jQuery comes new versions of helpful tools such as the date picker and the color picker.  Newly updated libraries include Backbone 0.9.2 and Underscore 1.3.3, and you may now use protocol-relative links when enqueueing scripts and styles.

Remote Publishing Enabled by Default

In prior versions, the XML-RPC protocol was disabled by default for security reasons. Those issues have been resolved so the XML-RPC protocol will be enabled by default in version 3.5. This means that it will be easier to publish your site from your mobile device or 3rd Party application. Also noteworthy is the removal of the Atom publishing protocol, however, the functionality may be added back via a plugin.

Should I Upgrade Now or Wait for 3.5.1?

Most definitely, upgrade right away after a full backup and testing of course! The WordPress team has been diligently hard at work squashing all the final bugs, pushing back the original release date of December 5 to December 10. WordPress prides itself with a history of incredibly stable updates, so go ahead and upgrade at your first opportunity. BUT, always make sure to fully test your upgrade before putting the site into live production! Remember to upgrade your WordPress core or plugins only after making a full backup of the files and database of your site, more details on doing this can be found on the official WordPress site.

For more WordPress articles, tips, and tricks make sure to follow @mt_Suzette on Twitter.