Wordpress will very shortly be releasing version 5 of their hugely popular content management system (CMS). Unlike many of the recent updates, this is a major release, and will include changes that fundamentally change how the CMS functions.
While there are some smaller additions (we'll list a few of these in a bit), the biggest change that will be included in this release has been codenamed "Gutenberg". This will involve a major shift in how the primary content editing function of the CMS will work, and users will need to spend some time relearning how to edit their websites.
Wordpress have provided a guide on exactly what Gutenberg is and what it is going to change here. If you edit a Wordpress website, it's well worth taking the time to read this to get a head start on understanding the changes. In brief, rather than going into a post or page to edit the main content of that page, a page is now divided into many "blocks" that can be various types of content. Text / images / video / buttons etc. These are dragged and dropped into a page at the required location.
Our advice is always that you should never apply a CMS update without testing it first (or having a backup to instantly roll back to at the very least). This applies doubly so in this case. Given the extent of these changes, it's entirely possible that old themes and plugins may not play nicely with this new editor which lead to unexpected errors on both the front and back end of your website.
No doubt Wordpress have decided to make this change to try and fend off the challenges from newer CMS products like Squarespace and Wix that allow content editing in this way. Unsurprisingly, a lot of long term Wordpress users would rather Wordpress concentrated on doing what it already does well rather than making fundamental changes like this to compete with others. Only time will tell whether this is the right move.
It's worth pointing out here that using this editor will not be compulsory at first. Wordpress are making the "classic" editor available as a plugin that you can switch back to. However, they will no doubt be looking to phase this out as soon as they can, so switching back to this would probably only be a short term "fix", so it may well be worth just getting used to the new system now.
This release will also contain a new free "2019" theme. As you would expect, of the free themes that come preinstalled with Wordpress, this will be the best optimised for use with the new Gutenberg editor.
As for when this will be rolled out to users, this update was actually supposed to launch this week, but various issues during testing has postponed the release. The release candidate has been made available this week. This is usually the last step before the final release. However, the new launch date has not been confirmed at the point of writing.