Support » Theme: Customizr » Unbeatable licensing and constantly up-to-date

  • Remember the first day you were made aware that PHP 8.0 had been launched, or that WordPress 5.8 was finally out? Each of us got the news from different sources, possibly by signing up to all sorts of geeky, techy e-zines. In my case, it was when I got a new update of Customizr Pro and it said on the release notes: ‘Now fully supports PHP 8.0 and WordPress 5.8!’.

    Obviously, many themes did the same, too (free ones or paid ones). But not all of them did that immediately — some promised such support at a later date (a promise that they eventually kept), some simply ignored, hoping that the billions of errors thrown by PHP 8.0 (as opposed to earlier versions, which just threw warnings that everybody silently ignored) would not be noticed, and expecting that the shiny, brand new features of WP 5.8 wouldn’t be used so much (at least at the beginning). They also relied on WP’s legendary backwards compatibility to keep outdated themes and plugins still working for a long time after they have been rendered obsolete.

    Not so with Customizr (and Customizr Pro). It’s not a ‘new’ theme, but one that has been constantly been evolving to adapt to ever-changing conditions. This is a tough job on the theme developers, which have to be constantly up-to-date with those changes, and tweak their themes to support them without breaking content. That’s the commitment of the Customizr developers; that’s a commitment they have kept for many, many years.

    At some point in the past, Customizr used to be voted the ‘most popular’ or even ‘the best’ WordPress theme around — and that was mostly because you could configure it so easily. Almost all the customisation options are in the built-in WordPress Appearance Customizer section, which makes everything familiar (even if WordPress changes how this backend functionality works — which they do!) and, to a degree, future-proof. Oh yes, Customizr also includes its own templating system to do further customisation, but the truth is that you don’t need to rely upon that to change the look & feel of your site considerably. In fact, on all my sites that run Customizr (and they’re the vast majority!), I don’t even bother with those ‘extra’ tools, but simply use what is available from the Appearance Customizer section. Obviously that’s a question of personal choice — and you have it if you wish.

    Customizr pretty much works out of the box and I haven’t yet found an incompatibility with any of my plugins — even those that I still use, years after WordPress has retired them from the Plugin Library. That said, some features, such as explicit support for WooCommerce, comes out of the box and has been integrated by the developers a long, long time ago.

    As for the licensing — it’s hard to beat Customizr Pro (the commercial version of Customizr). The vast majority of paid/freemium themes have reasonable prices (competition works to drive prices down!), but usually these are for a single license only. Sure, everybody does discounts if you buy multiple licenses; some even offer a monthly (or yearly) subscription and you can have as many licenses as you wish so long as you’ve paid for at least a month or so. Companies get creative in the way they handle multiple licenses, but PressCustomizr, the company that developed Customizr, has a very simple licensing scheme: you either do a yearly payment for a license for an unlimited number of websites, or — even better! — for about twice that price, you just buy a lifetime license: all the sites you want, in perpetuity, with full access to product updates and technical support for as long as you wish. It’s hard to beat that on a commercial offering that has some 100K+ happy customers. And you even can get your money back within 15 days of activation — if you think that the price is not worth the extra goodies that come with Customizr Pro.

    This sounds like a sales pitch, but it isn’t. You might even imagine that with such generous offerings, there would be a catch somewhere — like getting an outdated theme, or one that lacked features popular in contemporary themes, or something like that. The truth is that neither is the case. I do own a handful of licenses for commercial themes. Most of those licenses are from companies long gone — I got a handful of upgrades, and after a year or two, the company would shut down, and leave me with an unsupported product. Don’t get me wrong: those themes I bought were actually quite good when I bought them, and product support was outstanding. It was good while it lasted, but, ultimately, those companies figured out that a great theme needs constant maintenance to keep up with the insanely fast obsolescence of Web technologies, and it wasn’t simply worth the trouble to remain in the market any longer.

    Obviously, there are lots of those small companies around that have survived the test of time, are doing great business, and keep updating their themes all the time. In fact, I’ve also bought licenses from at least two other direct competitors to PressCustomizr. Their themes are great, but not overwhelmingly so; I picked them mostly based on reviews and functionality, as well as the customer’s personal taste. At the end of the day, these themes were insanely hard to configure just to get equivalent functionality that Customizr Pro handles out of the box. All of these themes include their own ‘site builder’ as a separate plugin — each working slightly differently, and none are perfectly integrated into Gutenberg. It becomes a pain to get used to one system of updating the look & feel of one site, and then have to switch to something completely different. PressCustomizr also has their own site builder, similar in functionality to whatever else is out there, but the truth is that you won’t need to use it much, even if you want to do a heavily customised site — at least, that’s my experience. With a few tweaks, I can get Customizr doing pretty much everything that I need, and that often means emulating the look & functionality of existing sites requiring an update to modern Web technologies. That works so well with Customizr that I’m personally frustrated with the high cost of the ‘competing’ products, which promise a lot, but, at the end of the day, offer little more than what Customizr can do.

    No review would be serious if I didn’t address the shortcomings of Customizr and the pet peeves I’ve got with it. First of everything, it’s slow. Not unbearably slow — I have bought much slower themes! — but slow nevertheless. The developers assume that you’ll be running everything from a good cache plugin in combination with a reverse proxy and a CDN — which is basically par for the course these days, even with much faster themes. It’s still slow, and you’ll notice it when you do a fresh install and try it out.

    There has been a tremendous effort put in handling annoying ‘shifts’ in the many elements as the browser renders all theme elements, but sometimes you can still briefly notice them. Not all come from Customizr itself — one plugin I’ve installed has a CSS file with 10,000 lines (!) and that will inevitably take a long time to render, no matter what. Still, there are optimisations that could (and should) be done. Customizr Pro loads unnecessary fonts even if you don’t use them, for instance. There is quite a bit of redundancy in both the styling and the JavaScript here and there — possibly in order to support a lot of different ways of doing similar things, and letting the WP admin pick the one they like most (such as the choice of slideshow plugin, for instance). There is also an annoying issue when you’re overriding some styles in a child theme: in one of the sites I did with Customizr, I had to basically change the main styles to keep the overall look & feel of this website, which went through several incarnations since 1997 (!), all of which used a dark theme with a background image. There is no problem in overriding the default light theme with your own CSS, but there is a catch: for some unfathomable reason, Customizr will first load a white background page with black Times New Roman characters, while it waits for the background image and the Google Fonts to load. These will not come ‘instantly’, but, with the cache turned off, it’s quite obvious that the whole site gets drawn first in black-over-white without custom fonts, and then, as further elements are available to the browser, the page gets redrawn and redrawn, over and over again, and this causes an annoying flicker plus some styling shifts. Granted, this is something that Customizr shares with a gazillion themes out there and one of the oldest questions of Web design: what should you show while information is loading and you have no content to display to the user? (An empty page taking a few seconds to load will be brutally penalised by the Google page ranking algorithm.) There is no easy answer to that, but there are some tricks that can be made: for instance, thumbnail images in Customizr can have a ‘temporary’ image being displayed while the actual image is loading. The same, however, is not true for background images: in my scenario, instead of having a white background while the image is not loading, I’d rather prefer having a black background — and my CSS actually provides that, but, alas, Customizr doesn’t care much about my settings, and, essentially, when my own custom CSS loads, the background image has already been transferred anyway. Again, these are pet peeves of mine, that will be only noticeable with the cache turned off (such as when you’re logged in and using the Appearance Customiser on the WP backend to make changes and preview them in real-time).

    One issue that particularly bothered me (to the point of reaching out to customer support) is the way how Customizr Pro handles custom fonts. You get not one, but two different ways of choosing them. Customizr offers a simple, yet comprehensive, tool: Font picker and font size, available from inside the WP Appearance Customiser. With those, you get a pre-selection of Google fonts, as well as web-safe fonts, some of which apply to the whole content, others which are properly paired (one font for titles and such, the other for the body of the content items). So far, so good, and it all works flawlessly out of the box. Except that you cannot add your own choices; all you have is the selection that the Customizr developers thought would look nice, and, as you can imagine, it’s necessarily limited.

    Customizr Pro not only includes that font & size picker but it also includes a license for their WordPress Font Customizer. This is a much more extensive plugin, which can basically assign all kinds of font properties to every HTML tag out there — you’re just limited to your imagination, the thousand or so available Google fonts, and a lot of time and patience. The idea is to be able to configure every aspect of font typography visually, without the need of understanding CSS at all. And it does its job.

    But there’s a catch. Customizr and Customizr Pro are not very consistent in the way they apply fonts to the various HTML tags. Although the many possible options are grouped together in easy-to-understand blocks, which ought to change font properties for everything related to those blocks, in practice, there is always the odd header or title or label that uses a slightly different convention to apply the font, and you get some fallback font instead. Thus, it’s not unusual to be forced to apply fonts to all tags — one by one! — in the hope to catch the culprit. And no, it’s not as easy as opening the page in the Code Inspector and see what class it belongs to — often, due to inheritance rules, it’s not immediately obvious what has to be changed and where. And even if it were, it would require a thorough understanding of CSS and how it’s applied to HTML — and if you already know that, why bother with a visual tool anyway? A few searches & replacements are way, way faster than configuring every HTML tag manually & visually…

    In the end, for one particular site I’ve got, where the title font is unique, I had to manually insert an option on the ‘simple’ Font picker (the one that comes with Customizr), because it was so much easier to do so and make sure that I’d covered all possible cases. It’s just one line of code inside a file, deep inside the core of Customizr. Sadly, though, this is the kind of thing that cannot be overridden easily, even in a child theme, or with hooks & filters; doing it manually is faster, but it requires doing it every time a new version of Customizr comes out (about every other month, sometimes even oftener), or else all your lovely fonts will disappear (at least, until the cache gets purged).

    So, sure, Customizr does have its shortfallings, here and there. No theme is ‘perfect’ or bug-free! All that PressCustomizr can offer is continuous support, constant tinkering, and keeping up-to-date both with the environment (WordPress, PHP…) as well as with the wishes and needs of their customers. PressCustomizr is rather good at doing that, and I have no doubt that they will continue to do so, continuing to surprise and delight us along the way — without breaking our carefully crafted content.

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