Local Development Tools and the Open Web

Who is not using Local? Is it an Open Web tool? Let’s review some “Local history” and consider where WP Engine’s popular developer tools could be headed.

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Once upon a time, I used XAMP. Then I used Desktop Server. I liked it and soon bought into a subscription. It was very host-agnostic and could be set up to push/pull to/from local and development sites. MAMP remains a good choice for this, but Desktop Server was the best for WordPress until about 2019. This past week Desktop Server closed its doors.

Whatever market share Desktop Server once had long ago went to “Local by Flywheel,” which was the result of their 2016 acquihire of Clay Griffiths and Pressmatic. Pressmatic was first released that year and cost $99 with no freemium pricing. Rebranded and rapidly developed for Mac, Linux, or Windows, Local was also completely free — for a while.

Connectability — Anyone should be able to connect to anyone else who wants their connection. This is the foundation for community and well exemplified in tools that are easy to take for granted, like email and Open Source projects like Matrix. 

The Open Web Manifesto

WP Engine acquired Local in 2019 along with Flywheel, and there was a brief period when a separate, subscription-based “Pro” version was rolled out with essential developer features. That didn’t last long, apparently due to the user community reactions, which focused heavily on the lack of host-agnostic support for syncing files and databases. Some features in Local still require additional subscription fees, but most users won’t be crippled without them.

Local was already a raging success three years ago when WP Engine acquired it, and I am sure it has only grown in its userbase. Better integration with WP Engine’s tools for headless sites, like Atlas, along with Migrate and other tools acquired from Delicious Brains will make Local an even more potent toolkit. Add Genesis and where it’s likely headed with Full-Site Editing — see the work Mike McAlister has been doing on FSE Studio — and you can imagine the end result being just about anything needed for WordPress site builds, from relatively simple brochureware to complex sites and headless installs.

“I feel its time for a bump to this issue but the issue of Connect at large. Connect is a closed aspect of Local and we don’t seem to have any sort of mechanism or ability to add to or modify it ourselves, meaning we can’t even write our own extensions to Connect for other hosts and feel this needs to be addressed in totality not just adding a new connection to appease just a handful of users.”

User dsnid3r on the Local Community Forum

There was a short period of time where Local was re-released as a “Pro” subscription product with the most useful basic features moved out of the free version. Due to the negative reactions that came in, the plug was quickly pulled on “Local Pro.” At that point, it had 300,000 users.

Local and newer developer tools in the WP Engine portfolio are all either free or reasonably priced freemium products. How well will any of them will work with other hosting platforms down the line is the question that might have otherwise happy Local users a little worried.

I’d love it if Local’s MagicSync worked with any host — including SpinupWP and InstaWP. In the past, there was some mention of Local’s “Connect” feature potentially being open to other hosts, and developer requests for this have never let up. That hasn’t happened. Local plus Migrate (which is host agnostic) would easily deliver that longstanding request to customers.

Will it happen? If it doesn’t, can we really say Local supports the Open Web?

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