I am alway looking for ways to take control of the design and functionality of my websites. Hand-coding a site is by far the best way to do this, but I no longer want to build a CMS or all the functionality that plugins provide, so I have decided to stay within the WordPress environment (not a bad place to be really).

Recently, as in late last year, I heard about Oxygen Builder, which on the surface seems to be the closest to an elegant compromise between the two approaches. If you are not familiar with Oxygen Builder, it is a plugin similar to Elementor, Beaver Builder, or even my personal favorite the Avada Builder, but it is essentially one layer below, allowing your to build your theme as well as providing the builder features that you may already be familiar with. How does it do that? It disables all themes to give you total control.

What I like about Oxygen

The concept of Oxygen Builder is really where I want to be. Total control of my WordPress design and clean code under the hood. In addition to the primary tool, the ecosystem around Oxygen is very strong, with numerous additional plugins to extend the capability. My favorite thing about the tool is that it is relatively inexpensive for lifetime support and upgrades for an unlimited number of sites and that the plugins that enhance the features have taken the same approach.

What I don’t like about Oxygen (100% subjective)

This could be a really long list, but I am going to limit it to those that you, the reader, might find it helpful.

My first impression of the builder was not good. The UI has so little contrast that it is difficult to focus. After spending a couple of hours with it I quit. I found the workflow to not be intuitive. I did find later that there are several videos available to help you get through this initial challenge. After watching the videos, the build process is much clearer and similar to the new capabilities of Avada – build layouts for the repetitive features such as headers, footers, basic content.

Another pet peeve is the inability to see the code. As a designer developer, being able to work in the source code is a must. The interface requires you to style elements on class at a time (tedious) and the class entry doesn’t support colons in the class (e.g., mobile:grid-col-4) that I have become accustomed to using the US Web Design System and Tailwind. Speaking of these frameworks, the inability to load an existing stylesheet from a framework and have the tool register the classes is a pain.

Mega-menus have to be built by hand and do not use the built-in menu functionality. This was initially a show stopper for me, because the menu tool in WordPress is functional (needs enhancements), but as I thought about it, it gives you tremendous freedom without having to have your max input vars set so high. I still think it is a distractor for simple sites, but huge sites, like State.gov (best mega menu ever IMO) it makes perfect sense.

Reliance on the ecosystem to take care of some really basic enhancements. At the time of this writing, version 3.7 is about to be released and at this point I would think that the ability to have right click functionality and a clean, useable UI would be present, but no. If you want those capabilities, you have to buy other plugins. While almost all, if not all, of the plugins that extend oxygen use the same lifetime unlimited model, it does add up (thank goodness for refund policies)

What I decided about Oxygen

I went ahead and bought Oxygen a second time (initially received a refund) and decide to spend more time learning the interface and the workflow. For most of my use cases it is still unusable, but I like having it in my toolset. I do think as new versions are released some of the reliance on third-party plugins may diminish. If you are considering using Oxygen, I recommend two additional plugins to provide the minimum level of enhancements to make the base tool useable. Swiss Knife Pro ($30 at the time of this writing) make the interface usable (see image below). It improves the color contrast and rearranges some of the tools to make them more workflow friendly. It also adds code completion and Emmet capabilities when working with css. The second is Hydrogen Pack for Oxygen. This seems to be on everybody’s list of must have plugins and I would agree that the added right-click functionality is a necessity. If you want to go down the Oxygen path, in addition to those two plugins, I recommend checking out OXYGEN4FUN for tutorials, tips, and tricks.

Default Oxygen interface and the interface after adding Swiss Knife Pro

There are a couple of upsides to the effort on my part. I found a greater appreciation for Avada and the Theme Fusion team. I know at some point I will move to another set of tools, but Avada provides so much functionality and control, it may not be soon. The other true plus is the discovery of the WP Grid Builder plugin (this is also a must for Oxygen IMO). While I hope that Avada will eventually add similar blog lay features found in the cards sections, the addition of the facets functionality makes this a keeper.

I invite you to leave comments or if you have found another tool that goes beyond Oxygen, please share it in the comments.

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