10 essential WordPress plugins

WordPress has developed into a full-fledged content management system -- and these plugins make it even better.

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WP-Table Reloaded

Old-school Web design used HTML tables to put everything into tidy blocks of content. CSS may be more stylish, but tables are still valuable for presenting reams of data.

WP-Table Reloaded

WP-Table Reloaded

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Enter WP-Table Reloaded. Just upload your CSV, HTML or XML file, or use the WordPress dashboard to create an original table of values, names, dates or any other information. The table can then be embedded in any WordPress post or page using a simple shortcode, such as [table id=1]. The results can be paginated, searched, sorted, downloaded and cached, with default sort orders, filters and hidden columns or rows. WP-Table Reloaded uses the DataTables jQuery library, making it extensible so it can to handle unique scenarios or add further features.

The free plugin's only downside is a significant one: WP-Table Reloaded stores its tables in a way that isn't meant to handle a great amount of data. Go over 20K -- a limit you'll hit quickly if your tables contain HTML -- and data can start becoming uneditable or corrupt. When dealing with large tables, keep backups of your MySQL database -- or start investigating third-party alternatives for embeddable tables, such as Zoho Creator, Socrata's OpenData or Microsoft's SkyDrive, which lets you upload, edit and embed Excel spreadsheets.

WPtouch

The percentage of website traffic from mobile devices is growing steadily, having broken into the double digits for the first time this spring, according to StatCounter. This trend makes it difficult for a webmaster to anticipate the environment in which content will be viewed.

WPtouch

WPtouch

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One way is to use (or create) a theme with a responsive design that will reflow to accommodate the dimensions of the user's browser. But such themes can be expensive to create and have their drawbacks.

WPtouch creates a mobile-friendly version of your site. Specific content, menus and navigation can be enabled or disabled based on your site's specific needs. Inline documentation explains each setting, making it easy to streamline your site.

WPtouch can also be configured to replace the default WordPress theme on some devices (such as iPhones) but not others (iPads), or can add a "1st visit mobile users will see desktop theme" option, which adds a link to the bottom of your page where users can opt to activate the mobile view.

One downside to this approach to creating a mobile site is that WPtouch does not inherit the look and feel of your desktop site -- as a result, most sites that run WPtouch will look alike.

WPtouch is free; a premium version, WPtouch Pro, enables more options for a one-time fee of $49 to $199, depending on how many sites you'll use it with.

Conclusion

These ten plugins are just a sample of what WordPress can be made to do. It's a flexible CMS that scales well and has plenty of support -- no surprise, given the number of businesses, individuals and organizations whose websites are built on it.

Whatever plugins you use, be sure to keep them and WordPress itself updated to the latest versions -- not just to get the latest and greatest features, but to ensure compatibility and to remain secure as patches are deployed. A site's success depends on an attentive and dedicated administrator -- and the above plugins can give you the tools you need to do your job.

Ken Gagne covers Macs, retrocomputing and electronic entertainment. Follow Ken on Twitter at @IDGagne, read his Computerworld blog, or subscribe to his news and features RSS feed.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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