WordPress has emerged as one of the most popular blogging and content management platforms available, and for good reason: it’s simple to set up, yet powerful and flexible to use. The fact that it’s free and open source doesn’t hurt a bit, either.
The recent release of WordPress 2.6 makes it a great time to try out the system, and here are some pointers on what you need to know to get started.
First, decide whether you want to use the free, hosted version, or if you’d like to download and host it yourself. WordPress.com offers a free hosted version of the platform, and is the easiest way to get started for non-technical users. The tradeoff for hosting it yourself — either with a third-party hosting provider or on your own servers — is that you’ll have more flexibility with customizing and adding additional functions via plugins, but you’ll also need to work through a few technical details, such as DNS settings and basic configuration. The good news is that either way you go, WordPress makes installation and set up a breeze.
WordPress.org has a list of recommended hosting providers that support PHP version 4.3 or greater and MySQL version 4.0 or greater (both are required for WordPress), but most reputable hosts will meet these requirements. You also can do it yourself with a server running a LAMP setup of Linux OS, an Apache Web server, a MySQL database, and PHP scripting language support. For what it’s worth, I’ve used WordPress with 1&1 Hosting with positive results.
WordPress refers to its “famous 5-minute installation” and it’s right on — as blogging and content management platforms come, this is about the easiest to set up. Once you have it installed and configured (or if you need some additional help getting there) the documentation section of WordPress.org is invaluable, particularly the “Getting Started with WordPress” and “New To WordPress — Where to Start” articles.
Extending the functionality and changing the interface for WordPress can easily be accomplished with plugins and themes, respectively. WordPress.org/extend/themes/ is the “official” themes repository, but there are literally dozens of resources. One site that offers a broad selection and good theme previews is WordPress Themes — The Best Of The Best.
WordPress has no shortage of plugins, which are modules that extend the WordPress’s base functionality. Plugins can be used to make WordPress behave more like a traditional content management system, add anti-spam tools, or dozens of other functions. Again, WordPress itself has one of the best resources for plugins at WordPress.org/extend/plugins. Another helpful plugin resource is the WordPress Plugin Database.