As it happens, my first year Pop! OS roughly coincides with the
software’s six-month release cycle. The new version, 20.04, just
launched this past Thursday. Here are my thoughts on various changes
This is hands down my favorite feature of the bunch. It’s a small thing,
but its quality of life impact is huge.
In previous versions, if an application runs persistently in the
background without generating a window (some elements of the Steam
runtime, or, most prominently, software like Dropbox), that software was
more or less invisible. In these cases, the software could be seen in
the system activity monitor and nowhere else.
Pop! OS 20.04 now contains application indicators for windowless,
background processes. The upgrade is especially relevant for Dropbox,
for which I can now see when it is syncing or paused. I also have easy
access to its settings now, which I can access a menu for by clicking
This is an enormous improvement.
Updated Login Screen
The previous version’s login screen contained a password entry field and
user profile picture on top of a solid black background.
The new login screen uses a blurred version of the desktop background
for the user attempting to log in.
Not exactly a huge leap in usability, but I appreciate the added
Automatic Window Tiling
Pop! OS possesses the primary window management mechanisms you would
expect from a modern operating system. Specifically, when you drag a
window into the top of the screen, it automatically expands to fill the
whole screen. When you drag it into the left or right edge of the
screen, it expands to fill the left or right half. Dragging the border
between windows expanded to fill two halves of the same screen adjust
the size for them both.
This feature is still present in 20.04, but a new feature can be toggled
on instead, automatic window tiling. When this is turned on, application
windows will automatically fill all available space on a screen. New
windows cause a section of the screen to halve, and the new window fills
the gap. Windows can then be rearranged to fill the larger and smaller
sections as ones desires (see System76’s demo video
I’ve played around with this feature a bit. It works perfectly fine for
me (some individuals have reported issues with it on Reddit). However,
organizing my windows isn’t something I typically lose a lot of time to.
In addition, because of the way my workstation is set up, I often want a
window to only fill half of my screen, and for the other half to be
blank. Automatic window tiling is nice feature, for sure, but it’s not
New Command Keys
20.04 introduces some changes to existing command key combinations.
Locking the screen is now Cmd-Esc instead of Cmd-L. Closing a window is
now Cmd-Q instead of Cmd-W. And, most worrisome for me when it was
announced, switching workspaces is now Cmd+Ctrl+↑/↓ instead of just
The new lock screen command key is actually quite nice, as it doesn’t
require reaching awkwardly across the entire keyboard anymore. The new
close window command is fine too. Switching workspaces, however, is
something I do a lot. I typically keep a writing workspace, a
programming workspace, a music workspace, and a gaming workspace, all
set up the way I want them. I was definitely forgetting to include the
ctrl key when attempting to switch workspaces for the first few days,
but I seem to be getting better. I think this one is eventually going to
grow one me, but I’m still somewhat wary of it. I’m also not sure why it
was necessary, as Cmd+↑/↓ doesn’t seem to be used for anything anymore,
at least as per the official
Pop! OS is built on top of an operating system called Ubuntu, which uses
a piece software called GNOME for its desktop environment and window
GNOME is extensible, meaning third-party developers can create
extensions for it, which any other individual can install in use. IDEs
like IntelliJ, Atom, and VSCode contain similar paradigms. In the past,
the only way to see which GNOME extensions you had installed on your
operating system was to visit the GNOME extensions
website. Configuring an extension might
be more of a challenge, and it would depend entirely on how that
extension was built.
20.04 includes a new system application called Extensions, which shows
all the extensions you have installed and provides easy access to their
This one definitely improves usability. I’ve never been quite
comfortable with the idea of a web browser reaching into my operating
system and making changes, even if I more or less trust the people who
run GNOME. I hope the next step is to provide some kind of way to browse
and install extensions within the operating system, alleviating the need
to go to the website completely.
Application Panel Updates
Speaking of extensions, some things that were only available as GNOME
extensions before are now included in the operating system. Two in
particular are important for me: multi-monitor support and application
screen editing. When I upgraded, I had to disable and uninstall the
Fortunately, the multi-monitor support in the operating system overrode
the extension. I was never in a broken state. However, my application
screen would not load, nor could I search for applications, until the
extension was deleted. Not a huge deal, as it was easy enough to figure
out, but mildly irksome nonetheless.
Pop! OS contains some great quality of life improvements, most notably
application indicators. The new login screen and the extensions
application are nice touches as well. I imagine a particular kind of
individual liking window tiling, although this isn’t the feature for me.
Any complaints I have are minor, such as the new workspace switching
command key and my applications panel being broken after update until I
deleted an extension. System76 did a great job
with this one, and I’m looking forward to what 20.10 will bring.