Pop!_OS by System76: A New Hope


#1

Here’s a question for you: Name the PC manufacturers that ship their own operating system?

System76 is a small PC vendor that makes high end personal computers that come with Linux operating system. Historically they have been using Ubuntu, but as Canonical made the decision to ditch Unity, they decided to take matters into their own hands and started developing their own flavor of Linux: Pop!_OS.

A New Hope

While Linux is dominating the server and mobile market, the desktop users have had nothing to cheer about. Canonical’s Ubuntu was the only major distribution with serious consumer desktop focus, but now their strategy has also shifted towards the server/enterprise/IoT -scene. Pop!_OS targeting the desktop market gap and with just the right ingredients to succeed:

  • Business backed
    • Open source and community spirit are cool, but in the end it comes down to financials. System76 is a hardware vendor and Pop!_OS is supporting their UX vision.
  • Ubuntu based
    • As a baseline Ubuntu is battle proven with good compatibility and application ecosystem. Long Term Supported versions are available.
  • Not reinventing the wheel
    • Pop!_OS features a slightly customized Gnome Shell experience with great attention to detail. They have made subtle improvements, perfecting the UX but not reinventing the wheel. I have never understood projects like Cinnamon, Elementary or Budgie that are burning their limited resources for building a new desktop environment from the ground up. We have several reasonably good desktops available that just need a little polishing.

What is Pop!_OS like?

System76 has the best installation and first boot experience that I have seen during my 10+ years with Linux. The operating system delivered as a live bootable media, that comes in two flavors: Intel/AMD and Nvidia. The installation wizard is most user friendly and if you go with the defaults it will encrypt the harddrive (laptops are often lost and stolen). PC’s with UEFI hardware will also get a recovery partition that can be used to reinstall the system from scratch. You can also go with custom partitioning to suit your personal needs.

On first boot the user is greeted with a Gnome wizard for configuring the language, time zone and online accounts. Once done, you encounter possibly the best Gnome Shell experience up to date.

Pop!_OS features:

  • Pop! has fully customized visuals including artwork, fonts and theme. Overall the visuals are rather flat and very pleasing to the eye. The Gnome Shell is treated with small tweaks for usability improvements, but can be customized further at will.
  • The application selection is minimalistic with LibreOffice being the only “large” app.
  • Customized installation and 1st boot experience, with a recovery partition.
  • Pop!_Shop application store (based on Elementary OS)

The end result is a snappy desktop experience with no bloat. They have managed to shave down the memory footprint by some ~200MB in comparison to the equivalent Ubuntu 18.10. The system runs smoothly on my ancient Thinkpad T410 that I am currently using to write this piece and is definitely faster than Ubuntu on the same hardware.

Conclusion

I can’t really find the words to describe why Pop!_OS offers such a pleasing experience as after all it is only a slightly customized version of Ubuntu Gnome. Perhaps it is the great attention detail that is often missing from Linux distributions. I have already installed Pop!_OS on two computers as a daily driver, using their 18.10 version. Pop! also comes as LTS variety and I am currently considering whether I should replace my production desktop’s Ubuntu 18.04 installation with Pop! 18.04. Seriously - it is that good.

I have high hopes for Pop!_OS and I really wish it succeeds in gaining popularity, while being good business for System76. None of the big Linux companies have genuine interest for the casual desktop user, but a hardware manufacturer does.

Now that Pop! is available I have to wonder why this has not happened earlier. After all the very same business model is used on the Android market where all the major mobile vendors ship their own slightly customized versions of the same software.

Read more about Pop!_OS and download the 18.10 or 18.04 LTS version from the System76 websiite: