Last Monday the WordPress.com blog announced that the popular WordPress.com theme Cutline was being replaced with an updated (but very similar) theme with more options called Coraline. The new Coraline theme features theme settings and controls similar to the recently released Twenty Ten theme, also from Automattic.
The theme update was met with praise and excitement by users in the announcement post, although a number were frustrated that the change in theme came with no warning, and in some cases, caused issues with widgets and theme settings.
WordPress.com responded with an FAQ post the day after the complaints started, and seemed to clear up most of the confusion.
Theme Wrangler Lance Willett on the issue:
Our goal was not to alarm you or make you think we don’t care — we do care. Making themes better for WordPress.com is what we do. And, we hear you loud and clear that next time something like this comes up we should do a lot better at notifying everyone well beforehand. (via the FAQ post)
While some questions have arisen over the reason for making this theme change — all of which is speculation at this point — the larger issue seems to be that a number of bloggers had their theme changed without their control, on a platform which champions user control. To those feeling threatened by the changing of their theme without their permission, one alternative is to move from WordPress.com, where themes are limited and controlled, to a self hosted WordPress install, where users can do what they please.
On a side note, the original theme announcement was made by Ian Stewart — of ThemeShaper fame, a recent addition to the Automattic team as Theme Wrangler.