Having worked on a WordPress theme called Fauna for a while now, I’ve learned that theme options can be quite helpful.
In a nutshell; if you have installed WordPress, you can download a WordPress Theme, unpack it and with a single click, activate it. This will change the look and feel of your website. Additionally, themes can have theme options, meaning if the theme comes with a header image, chances are you can easily switch that header image out on the theme options page.
Fauna does that, with the help of a so-called Themetoolkit. The themetoolkit is a 3rd party collection of functions that makes adding an options page rather easy. Very little PHP knowledge is required, and the results are pretty good. Even so, in adding this feature to Fauna, I’ve had to deal with both security issues, compatability issues and plugin conflicts.
Now why isn’t there a 1st party “theme toolkit”? Like the extensive WordPress plugin APIs, why isn’t there a similar complement to theme options pages? If a 3rd party can make theme options easy, surely the fine WordPress team can make theme options easier and more secure!
There are a number of benefits to this. First and foremost, if a security issue or a conflict is discovered, the issue can be fixed in the next WordPress release and automatically all themes using the theme options APIs would benefit from the fix. Secondly, it is in the interest of the WordPress team (especially in this WordPress.com era) to have happy theme authors working on great designs that are easy to port to WPMU. Moving the heavy code-load away from theme authors not only encourages good designs, but gives the WordPress team an extra measure of control over potential security risks.
It is the logical evolution of WordPress themes. Everybody wins.