Drupal 7 has an administration overlay and contextual links for local operations. Contextual links are “best friends” with overlay because they allow you to go do a contextual operation, close down the overlay, and you are right back where you were. You don’t need to go away from your page to do your action. You get to change what you wanted and then get the page reloaded as it changed. It is as close as you can get to an "in-place" administration experience in Drupal 7 core.
The overlay is also overused as a generic admin browser when the context sensitivity does not matter, so when you click an admin link in your toolbar you also get to use the overlay to essentially navigate around your administration interface. Drupal 8 is now much closer to actual in-place editing because CKEditor just got committed. Soon it will be fully integrated with in-place editing that is already in core and people will get actual in-place editing for textfields without popup boxes or overlays.
The goal we set out for Drupal 8 is to make actual context-sensitive operations simpler by bringing them under one umbrella with in-place editing. We want to de-clutter the overlay for contextual operations and unify all operations in contextual links. This means no more local tasks privileges for the primary content. The result is one unified way to initiate operations on things, including "number of items displayed in the recent comments block" or "add a menu item here", or "reorder menu items in this menu" which would not be possible to edit truly in-place. It removes admin related pieces (local tasks) from the normal page view and hopefully simplifies quick operations.
Now we are at a point where a fully working Drupal 8 patched build is available to test our proposal (which has several iterations of improvements already in it based on user testing and reviews in issue queues). The changes include:
- An edit toggle that is always present in the top-right corner of the toolbar. This is useful to see all the places you have contextual operations. Essential on mobile.
- Contextual operations on each block. More things are converted to blocks including site name, global menus, etc, so we consider this a universal tool eventually (in the sense that you will be able to initiate contextual editing for everything in the end - some of which will be implemented with actual in-place editing).
- Contextual links are of three types: (1) Quick edit link on entities let you edit the fields of the entity in-place (2) major editing actions, like full edit on nodes opens in a new window, not in the overlay anymore (3) other contextual operations open in a simplified overlay.
- The “simplified overlay” does away with tabs, breadcrumbs and other navigational elements to focus the user on the task at hand. The form is also separated to a visible and a hidden part, the last of which contains complex elements.
All of this works in our build, but the pieces of the experience are less and less agreed on as you move down the list above. The forms changes for example are highly debated.
Right now we need more feedback! You can go test all this at http://simplytest.me/project/spark/8.x-1.x. Provide feedback on the meta issue at http://drupal.org/node/1882482 and the sub-issues for the concrete change proposals (currently managed in three issues).
Find more background information on this effort at http://buytaert.net/spark-update-unified-in-place-editing.