El Capitan Means The End Of Mac Themes & Deep System Tweaks

About a year ago I discovered Flavours, a delightful tool to personalize the Mac desktop. With it you could theme the Mac operating system, and all applications, by changing things like color schemes and the iconic top-left Apple logo.

Flavours broke when Yosemite offered a new look for the Mac. That’s to be expected: Flavours modifies system files to change the look of your Mac, and those system files changed completely with Yosemite. So the Flavours team got to work on a new version, which is just now available for $5, with a five day free trial.


The problem: it won’t work with El Capitan, at all, and neither will most customization software. The new version of OS X effectively kills this and other Mac customization software.

If you like customizing your Mac, Yosemite might be the last version of OS X that works for you. And that’s too bad.

A Delightful Way To Personalize Your Mac

Playing with Flavours was a lot of fun. You could browse a collection of 150 themes, setting them to be system-wide defaults in just a couple of clicks. Some offered expanded versions of Yosemite’s dark mode:

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Others offered a touch of the organic:


There was a lot to explore, and it really did feel like you were making your Mac your own. It’s a feeling I’ve rarely had while using OS X — it actually reminded me of browsing beautiful Gnome themes back when I was primarily a Linux user. The ability to customize how the user interface on your Mac feels very… un-Apple.

So I guess it makes sense that Apple is killing off theming in El Capitan.

Apple Is Killing This, And Other Customization Features

So, what’s going on? Flavours explains on their website:

“Apple introduced a new security policy on OS X El Capitan, preventing every process (even privileged ones) from modifying system files, either on filesystem or dynamically at runtime. Unfortunately, with these security restrictions in place, this is the end of line for Flavours.”

Flavours homepage

The change looks like a good one from a security perspective — malware and hackers can take advantage of the same process to run exploits. But there’s going to be a lot of collateral damage, and not just for Flavours.

One of the most popular Mac customizations out there is Bartender, which helps you clean up your menubar.


It turns out that many of the features Bartender users love, such as moving and hiding the Notification Center widget, require additional steps to make work with El Capitan. Bartender offers instructions for achieving this, so it’s not a total loss, but you need to boot into Recovery Mode to follow them — a lot of effort to get a $15 program up and running.

Popular free programs are facing the same hurdle. We showed you Flashlight, which lets you add superpowers to Spotlight. Turns out it’s also affected by El Capitan’s changes, meaning Flashlight is going to become independent of Spotlight in the months to come. Developer Nate Parrot:

“Apple’s new “rootless” security system blocks code injection into system processes. Technically you can disable rootless – but I’ll have to agree with the TotalFinder devs that it doesn’t make sense to ask ordinary users to do this. And these security restrictions will only get tighter in the future – it doesn’t make sense to build a product around circumventing them.”

Flashlight developer Nate Parrot commenting on GitHub

Flashlight made Spotlight better, so to me this is a real shame (though I’m excited to see how well it works as a standalone project).

The EasySIMBL team has the same problem, meaning it may no longer be possible (or, at least, not easy) to customize everything about your Mac using that program. This also means all the ways to customize Safari that depend on EasySIMBL are also going to break.

Put simply: customizing your Mac is going to become a lot harder and, in some cases, not even possible.

The iOSification of OS X?


Tech pundits have been predicting this for a long time, saying that Apple would slowly but surely lock down their desktop operating system in a manner similar to their mobile one. And it’s not as though this is a terrible idea: the change that prevents these customizations will also prevent a lot of malicious code from ever running on Macs.

But Mac power users, who have grown accustomed to making their Mac run exactly the way they want, are going to feel disappointed when their favorites tweaks and themes no longer work.

Workarounds will present themselves, but it might take a while. Now we want to know what you think.

Are you going to be putting off El Capitan until tools like these are easy to use? Or do you not care about customizations and other tweaks? Let’s discuss in the comments below.

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