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One thing that I look for in any WordPress plugin is the ability to simply put the plugin in the plugins directory and enable it -- without needing to fiddle with inserting code into my themes or any of the other WordPress files. I like the fact that I can switch themes easily whenever I feel like it, without mucking with any files on the server at all.
For the most part, the plugins I recommend don't require much more than downloading the plugin, uncompressing it into wp-content/plugins in your WordPress directory, and enabling it in the Plugin Management console. I've already touched on the database backup and Akismet plugins in the WordPress 2.0 review, so I won't go over those again.
Admin Drop Down Menu
The WordPress admin menu is a two-tiered affair that requires you to select the top-level menu, wait for the main page to load, and then select the desired function and wait for that page to load. For instance, say you want to manage users. If you start at the WordPress Dashboard, you need to navigate to the Users page and then to the Authors & Users page, instead of being able to go to the Authors & Users page directly from the Dashboard.
The Admin Drop Down Menu plugin makes the header menu much easier to use by providing a two-level drop-down menu bar. Instead of having to navigate to the top-level menu and then to the sub-menu, you can simply move your mouse over the top-level menu and then to the sub-menu function you wish to use.
I've installed this plugin on my blogs and found that it works very well with stock WordPress menus. It also generally works well with menus that are enabled by third-party plugins, although it doesn't quite work fully with the WP-DBManager plugin. Overall, it's proved to be pretty useful, and it saves me a few clicks each day when I manage my blogs.
Semiologic CMS is a set of plugins and themes for WordPress that work together to turn a WordPress blog into more of a content management system. I run Semiologic CMS on Dissociated Press because I like the Semiologic three-column theme and several of the plugins that come with Semiologic. Each plugin is activated separately, so if you want to use a couple of the plugins, you can do so without running the plugins you don't want.
Semiologic comes with more than 10 plugins, but I'm only going to highlight the ones that I've found most useful. I recommend grabbing the Semiologic bundle and taking it for a spin to see what it offers.
The opt-in, front-page plugin that comes with Semiologic allows you to restrict which posts are visible on the front page by category. Once you enable the plugin, you create a category called "Blog" so that only posts with that category are shown on the front page. Note that you can change the name of the category after creating it, so if "Blog" is too generic, you can change it to whatever you like.
Instead of limiting the front page to a specific category, you may want to display a static page instead. The static front page plugin displays a WordPress page with the slug of "home" on your front page, rather than the most recent posts.
Semiologic also comes with several "tile" plugins to display archives, categories, links, and so forth. These are not displayed by default -- Semiologic gives a lot of control over what content is displayed on your blog.
One tile plugin that I particularly like is the subscribe me plugin, which displays a list of feed subscription services, such as My Yahoo!, Bloglines, and the Google homepage or Google Reader, and lets readers click on any of the links to read your blog using that RSS service. You can customize the plugin to display only the services you want, so if you want to disable the Yahoo! link, for example, it's easy to do.
Admin menu for WordPress
The admin menu plugin is part of the Semiologic bundle, but I want to mention it separately because it's so useful and because you don't have to use it in conjunction with the rest of the Semiologic CMS stuff. It provides a small menu at the top of each page of your blog. The menu is a small strip, about 20 pixels high, that lets you navigate directly to various admin pages -- such as the Dashboard, Options, or Write Post pages.
The admin menu is a simple plugin, but extremely useful. The only downside is that it doesn't play well with all WordPress themes. It works really well with the themes included in the Semiologic bundle, but not so well with the Green Marinée theme that I use on Zonkerama.
One thing that continually surprises me about WordPress is that it doesn't include a way to make a post "sticky" by default. Luckily, the Adhesive plugin makes it possible to create sticky posts. Once you put the plugin in your plugins directory and activate it, each post displays a checkbox for "sticky" in the Post Status box.
By default, a post that's made sticky shows "Important Message!" in the date field, rather than the date of the post. However, you can configure Adhesive to display a different message or the actual date of the post.
This plugin is particularly useful if you're using WordPress for a professional blog or business and you want to make sure that readers see a specific post. Want to let your readers know that your blog will be down a few hours next week? Just create a regular post and make it sticky.
Though not essential, the only thing missing from this plugin is the ability to change the sticky status on a specific date.
The WP-Cron plugin allows you to schedule certain functions in the WordPress admin panel. It comes with several helper plugins that depend on the main plugin. For example, the WP-Cron Moderation plugin sends an email every hour about comments that are awaiting moderation.
The function that I'm most interested in, however, is the ability to schedule backups. Once you enable the WP-Cron plugin, you can schedule daily backups of your WordPress database to be sent to an email address. It's possible to set up a cron job to do a MySQL dump of your WordPress database, but this is far, far easier.
Assuming your database isn't too large when compressed, this can be a very handy way to ensure that you have daily backups. Simply set it and forget about it -- the backups will execute on a daily basis without any effort on your part.
More plugins on page 2...