Pop!_OS 21.04 Review

For a little over two years now, I’ve doing all of my writing and programming on a desktop computer made by a company called System76. The operating system it runs is called Pop!_OS, which is itself built on top of Ubuntu, a popular variant of the Linux operating system.

Pop!_OS roughly follows Ubuntu’s release schedule, which is twice a year, in April and October. This time around, System76 took some extra time in order to introduce COSMIC, a collection of new features built on top of the GNOME desktop environment.

One change is noticeable right away: COSMIC introduces a task bar. It has been possible for many years to add a custom task bar extension to GNOME, however, that is no longer necessary, as the functionality now comes built in to the operating system. Minimizing windows to the task bar is now also possible for the first time.

The other big change is that COSMIC makes System76’s launcher the primary launcher. This is the panel that pops up when you hit the super key and lets you start typing text, then shows you applications and files on your system that match the text. The new launcher is extensible so that the savvy engineer could theoretically write launcher plugins to perform all kinds of tasks. I don’t have any use cases for that functionality myself, but it’s nice to know that it’s there.

There is a small furor from some users of Pop!_OS, who don’t like the fact that hitting the super key now only activates the launcher. In the past, the super key took you to the workspace view (a display of all open applications and thumbnails of the contents of other workspaces) with a launcher embedded. The two are now entirely separate. The super key activates the launcher, and super + D activates the workspace view.

I frankly don’t understand what all the fuss is about. I don’t need workspace view particularly often, and even if I did, it’s not as though it’s hard to type super + D instead of just super. There’s no good reason why the launcher needs to be embedded in the workspace view. Apparently some users are willing to butcher their operating system in order to avoid learning some new keystrokes. Weird, but whatever floats your boat, I guess.

COSMIC represents a step forward for the operating system, and as usual, the update is performant and bug free. Congratulations to System76 for another successful Pop!_OS release.