Pop OS is a highly customized, x86-64 Linux distribution based on Ubuntu and Elementary OS. It is built on the principle of providing the most powerful and versatile tools possible for developers, makers, and computer science professionals who use their computers as a tool to discover and create.
System 76 an American computer manufacturer based in Denver has developed Pop OS primarily for use on computers built by them. They used the OS in computers, laptops, servers, mini PCs, and other hardware.
Pop OS is a very special Linux distro. It has its own unique place in the desktop Linux world. When it was first launched, many thought it to be just Ubuntu with a different theme. But Pop OS quickly climbed up the distro ranks and now has a large and loyal userbase.
The thing about Pop is, it provides a very premium and polished user experience. And now with Pop OS 21.10 bringing the all-new Application Library, GNOME 40, Linux Kernel 5.15.5, along with the popular COSMIC desktop.
Pop OS is a great operating system for Windows users and especially for those who love to play games on Windows. In addition to games, customization, new features, usability, huge App store, and most importantly, you can add or delete any feature you like at any time.
After using Pop for a fortnight, I was left impressed with this new Cosmic desktop and the overall computing experience I got here. So let’s quickly jump in and see what’s new, what’s changed, the performance, stability, software availability, and why you should consider switching to Pop OS.
A Brief History About Pop OS:
The free and open-source Linux distribution started its journey back in 2017 when system76 looking for developing an OS similar to Ubuntu but with additional features that help users to customize their OS and users have the control to edit each and every setting.
Pop OS is primarily built to be bundled with the computers built by System76, but can also be downloaded and installed on most computers. It provides full support for both AMD and Nvidia GPUs and is regarded as an easy distribution to set up for gaming, mainly due to its built-in GPU support.
The Operating system is maintained primarily by System76, they posted all the source code hosted in a GitHub repository. Unlike many other Linux distributions, it is not community-driven, although outside programmers can contribute, view, and modify the source code.
Earlier system76 used to pre-install the Ubuntu operating system on all their devices. But Ubuntu stopped the development of Unity (Graphical Shell for GNOME) and moved on to the GNOME desktop environment. That’s why System 76 started working on their own operating system and the first Pop OS 17.10 was released in 2017 based on Ubuntu 17.10.
The first clean, fast, and well-optimized version of Pop OS 18.04 was released in 2018, and it’s a Long Term Support (LTS) version just like Ubuntu.
Version 18.10 was also released in the same year. It included a new Linux kernel, graphic stack, theme changes, and updated applications, along with improvements to the Pop Shop software store.
In 2019 with a new customizing window header called “Slim Mode”, a dark mode, and a new icon style Pop OS 19.04 was launched but the OS looks similar to Ubuntu 19.04 so most people overlook it.
The same year system76 also launched an incremental update Pop OS 19.10 with Tensorman a custom TensorFlow toolchain management tool, multilingual support, and a new theme based on Adwaita and praised by the users and developers for its pleasing and superior user experience.
The Pop OS 20.04 LTS released on 30th April 2020 and by that time they created a huge fanbase over the world for such a clean and fast OS. The introduction of Auto-tiling, Extended Keyboard shortcuts, Workspace management makes it a superb choice over other distros.
On 23 October 2020 Pop OS 20.10 launched and this year 29th June 2021 they release Pop OS 21.04 based on Ubuntu 21.04 and according to them, it’s one of their biggest upgrade with a COSMIC (Computer Operating System Main Interface Components) desktop environment.
The most recent incremental version, Pop OS 21.10 released yesterday December 14th and includes GNOME 40, a new “Vertical Overview” extension, a new Applications menu, and support for Raspberry Pi.
System Requirements to Install Pop OS 21.10
The minimum requirements to run the OS is…
- At least 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of internal storage, and a 64-bit compatible processor, access to the internet (optional).
But for Optimal performance, you should need…
- 4 GB of RAM, Intel i3 or AMD ryzen 4-5 type 64-bit processor, SSD minimum 16GB, active internet connection.
Everything is built on the solid base of Ubuntu:
Pop OS is built on a solid Ubuntu base. Ubuntu is very dependable and stable for everybody. It’s well tested and adheres to the highest of standards as it is used in servers across the globe. Therefore its recommended for professionals, businesses, schools and universities, home usage, and everywhere else.
The version that I’m using in this article is Pop OS 21.10 and this is a non-LTS release and will be supported for the next 6 months from today, i.e the date of publishing of this article. And after that, you’ll get a simple version update to the next release.
That’s why no worries about stability, you will always get a brand new OS with all the new features. And if you want to use it for a long time without any change then the LTS version is suitable for you.
Performance of Pop OS 21.10:
Pop OS performance has always been on par with top operating systems, if not better. The last release, that is Pop 20.10 had seen significant performance improvements over 21.04.
The desktop itself is very responsive. Pop OS has its own set of animations and effects which give it a very fluid touch. App opening and switching are smooth. Pop OS is made to deliver the best possible performance at a very foundational level.
You download Pop OS ISO files depending on the hardware you have. So that, no matter if you’re rocking an NVIDIA GPU, or an AMD one or an Intel integrated, You’ll be getting the max performance immediately after installation.
Gaming and other demanding tasks like compiling also run very nicely on Pop. Overall, performance-wise, Pop OS will provide you with that nice boosted computing experience.
Usability of Pop OS 21.10:
One area where Pop OS particularly appeals to me. If I recommend Pop OS to a Linux newcomer, I’m sure that that person will not be facing any problems with driver installation, installing software, or customizing the desktop.
They can just install Pop and start using it without having the complexity and fear of Linux. Everything is as simple as it can be made here and you’re gonna love it.
For example, everything can be changed right here in the settings. To do most of these things in stock gnome, You’ll need to install an additional tool called Gnome tweaks. But here, everything is there in settings, where they are expected to be.
Cosmic desktop adds multiple extensions on GNOME40 to give you additional options to modify and the extensions are well integrated into the system and can be customized easily from settings.
The advantage of Cosmic desktop being a collection of extensions on top of GNOME means that they can be turned off individually or all together and you get stock gnome. And since these are extensions, you can just install them on other distros too.
Gaming on Pop OS 21.10:
Pop OS provides one of the best setups for gaming on Linux. The installer files are GPU-oriented, so right after installation, your system is ready to perform at max thrust.
The pop shop has tons of fantastic games available. Then you can also use Steam and Lutris and both give you the choice of tons of games right from the word go.
Steam’s proton feature is what I personally use. With steam play enabled, many windows games are installable and playable on Linux like they are Linux native. You just click on install and the game is ready for play.
Talking about the gaming performance, Pop OS will mostly give a better frame rate on OpenGL and Vulcan games when compared to windows. For DirectX games, windows will perform better but there’s no significant loss in fps on Pop, even when these games are being run through proton.
So for gaming enthusiasts as well as casual gamers, Pop OS will be a great choice, that leaves no room for complaints.
Community Support on Pop OS:
Now Pop has a vast and growing community with a huge user base worldwide. So a Popular OS means many users, developers, and technology enthusiastic are connected with this program and it’s easy to find troubleshooting and self-help guides for it.
For most things, Ubuntu guides should work on Pop and there’s definitely no shortage of those. Now Pop specific guides and articles are also growing significantly online.
Pop Os has a beginner-friendly community and that’s great for newcomers. The pop planet is a great resource if you’re new to the operating system.
Pop Planet is an unofficial forum created specifically for Pop OS users. An all-in-one medium has been created by combining all kinds of news, information, projects, troubleshooting, new launchers, blogs related to Pop OS. It is completely user-centric and has nothing to do with System 76. It is basically a donation-based medium created for helping user who encounters a problem while using Pop OS.
Want to know more about and support Pop planet here.
Some key and new features of Pop OS 21.10
Pop OS has gained huge popularity in a very short period of time and at first, everyone knew it as an Ubuntu clone but nowadays Pop OS has become a self-contained operating system by adding all the awesome features.
Some of the wonderful new features of Pop OS 21.10 are…
COSMIC Desktop Environment:
The biggest change we see in Pop OS 21.10 is the all-new Cosmic (Computer Operating System Main Interface Components) Desktop Environment.
Cosmic desktop introduced in Pop OS 21.04 and based on GNOME 3.38.4 and from top to bottom It’s a super inclusion by the developers. It’s polished, looks stunningly gorgeous, and is so user-friendly and accessible.
The desktop looks familiar and GNOME lineage is apparent everywhere. First off, the dock at the bottom is an edge-to-edge panel by default. Pop OS has always been productivity-oriented and has made the desktop more workable with every corner touched.
Easy app launching and app switching are facilitated here. Of course, this dock has extensive customizability available in the settings and I probably will be using all of these in the future.
The top panel is stock gnome stuff, with a bit of tweaking done. Workspace switcher has been moved to the left side of the screen, which I welcome. As most controls are on the left side of the screen anyway. But if you prefer it on the right side, you can go right ahead and do just that.
The Super button summons a new launcher. This is a fast way to launch applications as well as switch between running apps. It’s very swift and the running apps are highlighted very nicely when you’re using this. It has good keyboard shortcuts and is definitely a great tool for more focused working.
Of course, if you want you can customize the Super button and use it as a launcher, workspaces, or for the application grid.
The whole desktop looks premium and on both laptops and desktops, this looks impressive. What’s even more impressive is just how productivity-enriching this desktop is.
Tiled windows are the way to go for most people who’ll be using multiple windows and once you get used to this, you can’t go back. This whole thing is built to provide an enhanced desktop experience that is fit for software developers and other professionals.
This fast and simple launcher, pop shell along with its tiling window manager, and a high degree of desktop customization that’s made accessible even to Linux newcomers, well, if You want to get some work done, I’ll be recommending this.
Pop Shop the Software Store:
Pop Shop is the default software store on Pop OS. Opening it up, it’s very simple and clean looking. Firstly we have the editor’s picks and then, all the software here is arranged into categories.
Then there’s this quick search box here. Pop OS uses the Ubuntu software repositories and this brings thousands of latest, well-tested packages to its users.
The software availability on Pop OS is just excellent because of the Ubuntu Lineage. Pop OS also brings in a few software through its own repositories.
Here, we get Flatpaks instead of snaps. It’s interesting that Pop has gone with flatpaks instead of Ubuntu’s homegrown snaps. It should be appreciated that when you’re installing software, you get to choose how you install it. You can choose .deb or flatpak here.
Now that these universal package managers are getting very mainstream, I think all the distros should provide an option like this in their default software stores. Finding and installing software on Pop is really easy and convenient
You can also install software from PPAs on Pop. PPAs are maintained by software developers or reliable sources of maintainers. Using these, you can install software that is not available in the official repositories and also newer versions of the software available in the repositories.
New Application Library:
The full-screen application menu has been replaced by a separate searchable window. Previously when navigating to Applications, a full-screen Application Wall would appear. In Pop OS 21.10, the Application Library opens in a small, searchable window over your current workspace.
For instance, the new application library should enhance the multi-monitor experience by letting you quickly search for an application in the screen you focus, instead of taking up the full screen.
You can quickly filter your search queries and applications and access the application library using the “Applications” button right to the Workspaces, or perform a four-finger swipe right, or press Super + A.
The Pop OS 21.10 uses GNOME 40 instead of version 3.38.4 so it’s an upgrade and you’ll find many native GNOME 40 based core applications and features.
For example, the WiFi sorting features show you the active connection, previous connections, and strength of the signal, to present a useful order of available Wi-Fi networks.
You can also notice auto-completion in Files after you search for something.
Update in Linux kernel and NVIDIA drivers:
New OS features the latest Linux kernel version 5.15.5 and the latest NVIDIA drivers for better compatibility with newer hardware. The new kernel policy gives users a better stable system and only improves their hardware performance.
The System76 hardware lab contains a broad spectrum of chipsets, processors, and components to test for regressions prior to release so customers and the latest kernels will be released once they’ve passed extensive quality assurance tests.
New Refresh Install:
Whenever you installed Pop OS 21.10 from the recovery partition, it lets you choose to opt for “Refresh Install”.
The Refresh OS feature reinstalls your operating system without deleting the files in your Home folder. This allows you to “refresh” your operating system without losing your data, which can come in handy if you accidentally break functionality while experimenting.
It comes in handy if something fails to work, and you cannot troubleshoot it, a re-installation should bring back things to their default state.
Upgrade option Improved:
Want to upgrade your old OS, now you have a better upgrade experience with Pop OS 21.10 as some settings are modified to make things more convenient.
- Automatically disabling the user-added PPAs to avoid upgrade conflicts.
- Now the recovery partition is upgraded before upgrading the distribution to give you a medium to easily re-install if the installation using the restore partition fails in the first attempt.
Tech-Preview for Raspberry Pie 4:
A tech preview of Pop OS 21.10 is now available on the Raspberry Pi, a mini-computer for STEM learning and experimental purpose. It doesn’t receive as much Quality Assurance focus as Pop OS for the desktop but is nonetheless an excellent option for users who want to explore.
As of now, it is entirely an experiment for Raspberry Pi 4 but you can download a tech preview release for the ARM platform and in the future, they even planning to launch a Pop Pi OS.
- Getting started with Pop is really simple. Go over to their site and download the ISO file.
- Now you have two options here. If you have an NVIDIA GPU, choose the NVIDIA If not, choose the other one.
- Flash the ISO onto a USB stick and live boot into it or you can try Pop if you want.
- The installation process is very simple and all the steps are very beginner-friendly. Pop will be installed in around 15 to 20 minutes.
- With Pop, GPU drivers will be already installed so you don’t need to mess around with them.
If you already had Pop!_OS 21.04 installed, you should get an upgrade notification soon and If you want to use the terminal, type in the following commands below.
Note: Back up your system to a storage drive before refreshing, reinstalling, or upgrading your OS. You can use timeshift for backup.
Final thoughts on Pop OS 21.10:
All in all, Pop OS is very easy to get started with, even for Linux beginners. When we look at Pop OS comprehensively as a computing environment, it makes a lot of sense.
It’s dependable, looks impressively stunning, has the best in class software availability, and provides a very premium user experience. It has plenty of good features and modifications to attract a different user base.
Pop OS doesn’t aim to be the most innovative thing there is or the most cutting edge Linux distro. No, it’s meant to be a high-quality operating system for professionals and homes. And it achieves this with flying colors. Definitely check out the Pop OS 21.10 and share your experience with this new release.