Opinion: Why only one theme manager is a bad thing for custom ROMs

Image credits: Dirty Unicorns

I've been pondering over this topic ever since Nougat hit and CMTE was no longer supported as a viable theme engine when running Nougat. But all isn't lost because we still have the awesome theme engine that is Substratum. Before I get into this discussion, I want to make it clear that Substratum is an awesome piece of coding and my hat goes off to the whole team that puts this out. If it were not for Substratum, there would have been no theming in Nougat at all.

If you have had watched any of my reviews or been to my Google Plus community, you would see that I am a fan of CMTE and not so much for Substratum, which from here on out will be referred to as OMS (Overlay Management System). I think that CMTE themes deeper and changes the look and feel of the custom ROM to it's core. I just prefer it to OMS and it is a personal preference.

Here is where the gripe or "my rant" starts. This is as much a personal preference as the color choice of your next car. It is all in what you like. I'm not going to get into whether or not one is better than the other, I've been there and it's not a happy place. But what I am going to do is ask the questions that didn't seem to be getting brought up by anyone except for me. My guess as to why nobody is bringing it up is maybe to not cross the developers over at Substratum.

It's been brought in a few posts and I've seen it said many times in many different forums, "Why would we need CMTE when we already have Substratum"?.. That is the question. CyanogenMod was once the big boy on the block and was a custom ROM giant until their downfall toward the end of 2016 when the company (it's just weird to say that) went under and then came back as LineageOS (LOS for short). LOS is now pushing nightlies (or better say weeklies) and is adding more and more devices almost on a daily basis. But the theme engine that they were known for, CMTE, still did not make it to Nougat and doesn't look like is going to now, and this assumption comes from what I have been reading on all the different threads and forums that I subscribe to. I even heard murmuring in the LineageOS forum that the heads at LOS was considering allowing OMS to be merged into some builds.

So what happens if we have only one theme engine and why the big fuss over it? Am I just being a poor sport and standing in the way of progress? No... I am looking at this from a wider perspective than everyone else. I'm asking the questions that I know are being thought of but not being brought up. Here in the US, where I live, we have laws on the books that prevent Monopolies because when one person controls something then we are all forced into doing what a small group decides, or even one man decides. Let me elaborate on this. If there were only one phone company in the US, all of us living here would be forced into whatever the phone company would decide to do. They could raise their price 200% and we would have no option but to pay it, if we wanted phone service. They could start saying that they didn't like the country of say, "Transylvania" and therefore no calls to that county are permitted and we would have no other option but to suck it up and do as they say.

Let's go one further. What if the Substratum team decided to charge for their theme engine? You would either pay it or go without a theme on your device, since they are the only theme engine for Nougat right now. I'm not saying that they will, but you never know. The point is, you can't just say, "I will use a different theme engine then..." You can't because there is only one now. 

There are also checks built into Substratum, that I don't personally agree with at all, that check for Google certified themes. While I don't use pirated apps, I do like to use older app versions sometimes and when I do, I have to get the app from somewhere other than the Google Play Store. Even if the theme you are using is a free theme, it will not work unless installed from the Play Store. You can't even install a theme from a backup and have it work. The theme has to be installed from the Play Store or no go. Now they are controlling me, not unlike a communist country would control what you purchased and how you used it. I am not saying that they are communist either, I'm just making an analogy. You can't install a theme without an internet connection either. This is so they can check your theme to make sure it was not installed from any other source than the Play Store, so if you wish to theme the ROM you are using, you will need Google. That means if I want to go Googleless, I can't, because then I won't be able to apply a theme using Substratum. The fact that you have to have an internet connection  to change a theme is absurd. Moreover, the very reason why we use a custom ROM is because we wish to choose what's there on our phones. Thus to a certain extent, custom ROMs give us the right, or better say freedom, to choose what we want to have on our devices. However, I feel that I was devoided of freedom in my choice of going Googleless.

This is why we need another theme engine. I am still hopeful that CMTE will come through for us but as stated earlier, it's not looking good. We simply can't have just one person or one group of people controlling how we use our devices. I like to root and take controls of my device and then, with the help of a theme, make that custom ROM my own. I also like the freedom of being able to download a theme from other than where they tell me I can. I don't want a small group of people to say just because they don't like a certain developer, that his theme are no longer supported with their theme engine either. And they have already done just this.

That's my rant. I'm going to step down off of my soapbox now. I really don't want any of you to think that I don't appreciate the hard work that went into the theme engine Substratum because I do. I have very high regard for the main developer and his team. Heck, Chum, the head developer of Substratum is a very young and talented individual who has a promising career ahead of him in the development field. This is more to do with letting one entity have control of the whole enchilada, that being the theme community, and making all of the decisions. This is because of people going onto threads like LineageOS and Resurrection Remix and pestering the developer to add OMS support so they don't have to wait for CMTE to get included in the builds. Those people are the main reason that LOS is even considering giving up the port of their them engine.

The last thing I have to say is that we must be careful what we wish for because it just may come true and you may not like the way it turns out. Bottom line is this, Android was once all about choice. The way to look at and summarize this whole "rant" is, we have different custom ROMs because we like different things in our ROMs. If you don't like a feature or direction the ROM team is headed, you run a different ROM. You will not get that option if things keep going the way they are for custom themes. We need to support LOS and encourage them to continue with the quest for CMTE in Nougat and beyond.

I write this with a heavy heart as I just read, in this article, that the proverbial nail in the coffin for my beloved CMTE theme engine has just been hammered home. Lets hope that my concerns are unfounded.

Nuff said. My rant is now over..lol... 😀

David Hayes
A lover of custom ROMs, a husband, and a proud father, David Hayes is the eldest member of the AndroGuider family. He owns a plethora of devices including several from Google, Samsung, OnePlus and Motorola. In addition to being a blogger, David is also a custom ROM developer having compiled ROMs for the Nexus 6, the Nexus 6P, and the Google Pixel 2.
Opinion: Why only one theme manager is a bad thing for custom ROMs Opinion: Why only one theme manager is a bad thing for custom ROMs Reviewed by David Hayes on 3/05/2017 10:43:00 PM
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