There is no such thing as a free…..

When I started experimenting with WordPress about three months ago a big part of what led me to use WordPress was the astonishing number of free themes. I still think that the free themes are a great idea but I’m a lot more cautious than I was three months ago about what I use.

First – I read this blog which worried me a bit.  Following Siobhan’s instructions I started to check what I was downloading a bit more carefully. I was already downloading from sites that were recommended by some reasonable source (eg Smashing), so I didn’t find as much bad stuff as Siobhan did – but there were things I didn’t like.

Here are the six things that I use regularly now:

To take those in reverse order, turning on debug (just change the flag from ‘false’ to ‘true’ in the wp-config.php file) threw up a few errors I was surprised to find – for example uninitialised variables. I know PHP ‘forgives’ these but I think they are usually a pretty good indicator of sloppy code.

Using the W3C validator also picked out invalid HTML (usually missing closing tags). The CSS validator found a few incorrectly set properties – nothing major but stuff that might be annoying to find and fix.

The theme-check plugin was the most useful – in one case it found dreamweaver files (bad enough in dreamweaver, exceedingly annoying in a WP theme).

None of the themes I looked at failed TAC or the Exploit scanner – but I’ve listed them here because I’d always use them.

None of what I found was too terrible – but it did make me think. Would I buy a paid for theme from a company that released a free theme which didn’t pass these basic checks?  Not a chance!

That doesn’t mean that I think all free themes are bad – there are some great sources (listed in Siobhan’s blog) – but now that I’ve looked at a few I think I’ll be starting with Sandbox and rolling my own in future. At least all the mistakes will be mine :-)