Distrowatch Top 5 Distributions Review: Pop!_OS

Mike Turcotte-McCusker
Nov 20, 2021
Linux
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9

Pop!_OS is rated as number five on the popular rankings site, Distrowatch, based on number of hits to the Distrowatch page for the OS, not based on actual downloads / user-base. You can check out my reviews of the other four top spots by following these links: Linux Mint, Manjaro, EndeavourOS, and MX Linux.

There aren’t many Linux distributions that I haven’t tried...But Pop!_OS is one of them, and so doing this review is literally my first time ever touching the OS...And I both liked it, and had serious issues with it.

For those unfamiliar with Pop!_OS, it’s an Ubuntu based distribution created by System76, a popular manufacturer of Linux-centric prebuilt computers. The distribution is widely regarded as stable, modern, filled with features, and beginner friendly, as well as fairly minimalist in regards to bloat.

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Pop!_OS only comes in a single flavour, GNOME, and the OS is built specifically with that in mind as a result.

My Specs:

  • Ryzen 5 3500X
  • NVIDIA GTX 1660 Super
  • 16GB DDR4 3000Mhz
  • System installed on a SATA SSD

Installation

I wish I could say that I didn’t have issues during installation, as that would make Pop!_OS sound a lot less daunting at the beginning of this article like this...However, such was not the case. First, I opted to install Pop!_OS 20.04 LTS, using their version specific to NVIDIA GPU’s so that I wouldn’t have to have Nouveau mess around; however, upon attempting the installation, I got an installation failure that occurred no matter what I did. Googling the issue did not produce any meaningful or helpful results, either. I made the Live-USB using dd from within another Linux system, so I knew it wasn’t the tool/utility making the USB break things. So, then I decided to try 21.04 (NVIDIA) instead, despite it not being the LTS and therefore having less long term support...And voila! It worked.

The installation utility is one I haven’t seen before, so I assume it’s custom made for Pop!_OS, and I have to say that it was very well designed. It was attractive, organized, easy to understand, and had plenty of options available within it. The installation itself, once I got it going, was painless and very, very fast.

Included Software and Features

This is where PopOS is both minimal, and fully-featured. In terms of included software, there really isn’t all that much...LibreOffice was installed, as well as Firefox and the Geary email client...but that was pretty much it aside from basic utilities, a dock, and the Pop!_Shop (software installation utility). Even proprietary multimedia formats such as MP3 and DVD decoders are not included by default.

This makes Pop!_OS attractive for those seeking a super minimal system to build from the almost ground up...However, don’t mistake this for a lack of features. Pop!_OS does come with Full-disk encryption enabled by default which is very rare (their website claims they are the only Linux distribution to do so, but I can’t confirm this), the ability to perform an OS refresh which reinstalls the OS quickly and easily while preserving your home folder, and is quite clear on their website about their stance on privacy,

Pop!_OS does not collect or store any info from user installations. Minimal OS and hardware data is used—not stored—to provide updates and connectivity verification. Apps packaged through Flatpak require permission to access more than what’s needed to function.”

Another interesting thing to note, was that when I was installing software such as GIMP from the POP!_Shop, I did not need to enter my root password; something I don't think I've ever encountered. Not 100% sure how I feel about that, but it's absolutely worth noting.

Overall, I was impressed with this side of Pop!_OS. I really don’t like GNOME, but this was probably the most well organized and designed GNOME system I have used to date.

Performance

Pop!_OS was a little heavier than I expected. With LibreOffice Writer open and Firefox with four tabs open my CPU averaged 16% usage with 2.9GB of RAM used. I attribute this to GNOME not being very lightweight; but overall I never faced any slowdowns, hiccups, slow-to-start applications, or hung applications. As long as you’re using a semi-modern PC, you’ll be fine.

Final Thoughts

I personally won’t use Pop!_OS because I detest GNOME, but I have to admit, it’s a really attractive OS, with some good features under the hood, a minimalist approach in the sense of bloat, and being based of Ubuntu you can expect plenty of easy to find support. If all of this sounds good, I strongly recommend you check out this distribution, you may love it!

Now you:

Have you tried Pop!_OS? What were your thoughts on it? Let me know in the comments below!

Summary
Distrowatch Top 5 Distributions Review: Pop!_OS
Article Name
Distrowatch Top 5 Distributions Review: Pop!_OS
Description
Mike gives his review of the popular Pop!_OS Linux distribution made by System76.
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Comments

  1. Paul(us) said on November 20, 2021 at 1:06 pm
    Reply

    Thanks Mike for this well reading description of the pro and cons of Pop!_OS.

    The top 5 of your distrowatch articles are all stable (That’s a important thing for me) and not useless because of the large amount of bloatware who coasting a lot of memory.
    Also most of the are user friendly which is an outer big ting for me. This because of the flow when I am working.

  2. Daniel said on November 20, 2021 at 1:42 pm
    Reply

    For what it’s worth, System76 is writing their own desktop environment to replace GNOME, but I don’t know if there’s a timeframe for it

  3. 2022 said on November 20, 2021 at 2:09 pm
    Reply

    System76 are now focusing on their own DE, so Pop is dead in the water. Sure, test it and have a giggle or two but don’t expect to use it as your main OS for years to come. Having said that, it’s a good thing they are carving their own way and I hope they make a good DE for their hardware. Looking forward to that!

  4. ULBoom said on November 20, 2021 at 2:51 pm
    Reply

    Can’t stand gnome either; a weird phone interface imitator. I can’t remember if I’ve tried Pop but every distro I’ve used with Ubuntu underneath has worked well.

    I’ll stick with Ubuntu Budgie for now.

  5. Anonymous said on November 20, 2021 at 3:13 pm
    Reply

    Thank you for the article, Mike.

    1. Clark Kente said on November 24, 2021 at 5:18 pm
      Reply

      Seconded. This review is very informative!

  6. joe said on November 20, 2021 at 5:20 pm
    Reply

    It’s surprising that you didn’t mention one of the major features: the Pop Shell adds tiling window management on top of Gnome. https://github.com/pop-os/shell

    Tiling window managers usually take a little more effort to learn. They tend to require lots of keyboard shortcuts, so they aren’t as easy to point-and-click and get going right away like floating window managers (e.g., Gnome, Plasma, XFCE, Windows). Having the Gnome panel and other features is a nice way to ease users into tiling. They are writing their own DE, however, as Daniel pointed out, because Gnome keeps making changes that break the Pop Shell.

    You can also using window tiling apps with any DE. X-tile has a nice GUI and is completely mouse-friendly but also has hotkeys https://www.giuspen.com/x-tile/. QuickTile is entirely hotkey based, but it’s not working properly for me, probably because of conflicting existing hotkeys http://ssokolow.com/quicktile/

    These articles have been great, and they’ve prompted me to try out some of these Linux distributions in virtual machines. It’s been a quite a few years since I played around with CrunchBang and Ubuntu. The phrase “has come a long way” keeps being an apt description for the Linux desktop experience, though various distros can start out with issues that you have to troubleshoot. I happened on a YouTube video about ArcoLinux, which is an Arch-based distribution that is centered around the idea of making it super easy to try out all of the DEs and Window Managers, and uses Calamares during the installation to install only the software that you choose, making it as minimal or heavy as you like.

    The “awesome” tiling window manager is pretty nice, with some mouse features, a panel, a popup window you can call up to see your keyboard shortcuts while you’re learning, and a right-click menu. I might still prefer a DE with panel applets (XFCE is my favorite) plus x-tile.

  7. Anonymous said on November 21, 2021 at 4:01 am
    Reply

    Currently using Pop and like it so far, it’s actually the only distro I haven’t run into issues with in regards to playing the games I want to play. Linux Mint had issues.. but it could be that I just followed Pop’s instructions on setting it up for steam.

    I am also someone new to Linux and is a lot more comfortable with windows. I’m likely going to use this for most of my low end games and video streaming and to slowly get used to Linux.

  8. Bindere Dundat said on November 30, 2021 at 4:56 pm
    Reply

    Has anyone tried to install this using any sort of custom partitions?
    Seems to be currently impossible. It wants the WHOLE disk or no install.
    That sucks.

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