K2 theme unmaintained, looking for alternatives

The K2 theme which is used on my weblog powered by WordPress is unmaintained for quite some time now. The last new version was a release candidate for 1.1 which was released a year ago, and there is no final 1.1 release yet. I wrote theme, but the K2 developers describe it as an ‘advanced template’, which is probably more accurate given that it is quite comprehensive and does a lot of things differently compared to the standard WordPress theme. Because this makes it so different from many other WordPress themes which don’t modify so much things, this means that maintenance is required, as in new releases, to make sure that it keeps working nicely with the WordPress internals. The development team of WordPress continues cranking out new versions and with K2 not keeping up with those changes some of it’s features no longer seem to work. For example, after many updates of WordPress the search field of the K2 theme which used to be automatic now requires pressing the ‘Enter’ key, and after doing so you see the input of the field overlaid on the ‘Search’ text placed by default in that field.

So I guess it’s time to look for a new theme then. That’s unfortunate, because I really like the default layout of the K2, I like the simplicity of it. I changed nothing, all I did was upload a custom header image and add a child theme which adds some CSS so that tables get the same layout as tables on Wikipedia. By now, the default theme of WordPress is Twenty Eleven, which I dislike very much. As you can see on the demo page of the theme which I just linked too, at the top is a large text header with a lot of blank white space around it. Then comes a colossal header image, which is 1000 pixels wide versus 780 pixels for the K2 header image. Half of the page is occupied by this combination of headers while the K2 header occupies little more than a quarter. Also notice that the font size in the Twenty Eleven theme is a lot larger, not only compared to K2 but also compared to the average font size of most other websites. The large font size makes it stand out in a negative way and it means it needs more space for less text. We’re told that the large font size was chosen to make it ‘really readable’ and that anyone who thinks otherwise can make their own child theme. Yes, of course we can edit it to our liking, but not everyone possesses good knowledge of CSS or wants to invest the time in customizing it. It’s all about sane defaults, K2’s defaults are excellent while Twenty Eleven’s are ill-chosen. It should be the other way around, that minority (my assumption) which wants such a ‘readable’ theme should make child themes so that the average user shouldn’t be looking for a different theme. Even better, the developers could make some changes to the WordPress Default 1.6 theme (the Default 1.5 theme is so unappealing it should be dumped outright) which is still shipped with WordPress to freshen them up and make them viable alternatives for dissatisfied users.

I’ve been looking for alternatives to Twenty Eleven in the free themes directory of the WordPress website, but to no avail. I simply can’t find any theme which looks similar too, or as attractive as K2’s theme. Many simple themes do not feature a header image, and if they do they don’t feature text ‘floating’ above it like with K2. So maybe I should start making my own child theme for Twenty Eleven after all? At least I would learn more about CSS then, even if it would be very time-consuming and annoying. Secretly I’m hoping the dear Lazyweb, a.k.a. you, the reader of this blogpost, might have some good advice for me.

Another issue is that WordPress still doesn’t include features which I, and I assume many others, consider useful. Support for OpenID for example. Another issue is that WordPress doesn’t have a nice way to show photos, for example when you click images on the Twenty Eleven demo website, they are loaded in a new page to display them full screen. To fix that problem I’ve been using the NextGEN Gallery plugin, but I’m not totally satisfied with it. Not only does it get a lot of updates (making me update more often than I’d like), it offers many features which I don’t need and most importantly it reinvents the wheel. It doesn’t use the standard functionality for managing uploaded images in WordPress, the Media Library. Instead, it uses it’s own facilities through which you upload images. Even though this plugin works nicely, I’m looking for something simpler which works with the WordPress Media Library. Besides that, all the functionality I really need is that it displays photos using LightBox or similar scripts such as Fancybox, just like NextGEN Gallery does but without all the bloat. It looks like plugins such as Simple Lightbox, Lightbox Gallery or Fancybox for WordPress would be more suitable for my use case. However, just like hacking up my own child theme for Twenty Eleven, migrating all my photos uploaded with NextGEN Gallery to the WordPress Media Library would be very time consuming. I’m lazy, so I’ll probably procrastinate this to eternity, certainly while my current setup of K2 and NextGEN Gallery work okay. I should probably ask on the WordPress forums to decide on the best course of action.

Oh, and I have one more gripe, with the WordPress.com Stats plugin. it requires that you use the evil, proprietary Flash plugin to see the chart of visitor numbers drawn by this plugin. Fortunately, a search I just performed revealed that this plugin already uses JavaScript for blogs hosted on the WordPress.com weblog service. An update implementing this for self-hosted blogs using the plugin should arrive later, said the post announcing this on 30 September 2010.

6 thoughts on “K2 theme unmaintained, looking for alternatives”

  1. hey, i’m also a very loyal K2 theme user. I don’t know if you knew that there have been several updates to the theme and you can find it on getk2.com/nightly. The updated versions work fine except there some problems occur when you try to view the site on old explorer browsers.

  2. Thank you for comment, I knew about the nightlies but simply did not use the last nightly yet. The last change being of 6 March 2011 is not giving me much confidence in the vitality of the project. However, what is old is not necessarily bad. After updating to the latest nightly build on your recommendation I must admit that it still works nicely. I’ve been experimenting with the Tarski theme – http://tarskitheme.com/ – as a replacement for K2, it comes close but still can’t measure up to K2. For example, site title can’t float as text above the header image like in K2 and it has only one background for both blog content and the surroundings of the content. Nothing which couldn’t be fixed with investing some time in making a child theme, maybe I’ll do that when I have to much time on my hands. For now I guess I’ll just stick with the latest K2 nightly, don’t fix it if it isn’t broke.

  3. Dude, any luck with finding a K2-like alternative?? I’m like you, too — LAZY. 🙂
    I get a sneaking suspicion that premium blog theme vendors probably got skeered of K2’s awesome FREE feature set. Could this be a conspiracy? 🙂

  4. Hi Max, thanks for your comment. Take a look at the link in the pingback above your comment. I switched to Tarski and made a custom alternate style for that theme (feel free to use and modify it yourself), now it mimics K2 well enough for me.

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