Pop!_OS 21.04 is the latest release of the popular distro built by System76. It features a new Cosmic Desktop built with usability in mind.
Get Up to Date
The first step after a fresh install is to always update the system. Software updates can yield new features but more importantly, updates can have critical bug fixes and security patches. Open a Terminal by pressing Super + T and the copy+paste the following command.
sudo apt update && sudo apt upgrade -y
This is a good time for a reboot.
Updates can also be easily handled in Pop Shop. Open Pop Shop and select Installed at the top.
Customize The Desktop
The biggest change on Pop!_OS is also the visible: the Cosmic Desktop. System76 took note of how its Pop users tended to modify the desktop and decided to apply those directly. The developers added in a Ulauncher style search and app launcher that opens with the super key.
The dock is moved to the bottom of the desktop, a la Dash to Dock or Dash to Panel. Yes, one more thing that doesn’t need done after install. System76, please think of the tech writers!
Options to modify the Dock reside in Settings. The Dock can be moved to the left or the right. It can be hid, icon sizes can be changed, and more. As of the beta release, there are incomplete features here marked with TODO.
Enable Fingerprint Authentication
If your computer has a fingerprint reader, it can be a convenient tool for system wide authentication in Pop!_OS.
Fingerprints can be added under Users in System Settings.
Ubuntu and Pop!_OS can support fingerprint authentication across the system with a quick command.
Enable Fingerprint Authentication and save. Fingerprint authentication will now be prompted in place of password.
The biggest single advantage to choosing Pop!_OS over other distros is the Nvidia and hybrid graphics support.
System76 releases a Pop!_OS ISO with the proprietary Nvidia graphics drivers included. My Thinkpad has a hybrid Intel Nvidia setup called Nvidia Optimus. Pop!_OS recognizes that but defaults to Nvidia. Any of the graphics can be chosen but all require a reboot to take effect.
I can opt for Hybrid Graphics where Intel will handle most of the work and Nvidia is available on demand for heavier applications. I can also choose to use only the Intel (displayed as integrated graphics) to save on power and extend battery life.
Pop!_OS has strong built in power management. In the image above, three options are listed: Battery Life, Balanced, and High Performance. Do not install TLP on Pop!_OS as it will conflict with the built in system.
Flatpak and Snap Support
Pop!_OS natively supports Flatpak so no additional setup is required.
Snap support is not included despite having Ubuntu roots. Snap can be easily installed. Snaps will not display in Pop Shop.
sudo apt update sudo apt install snapd
Ubuntu Restricted Extras is required to play common media files. This package also supports other proprietary or third party drivers
sudo apt install -y ubuntu-restricted-extras
DVD playback is supported with the libdvd package.
sudo apt install -y libdvd-pkg && sudo dpkg-reconfigure libdvd-pkg
Install Apps via Terminal
Most of these applications can be found in the Software Center but, frankly, this is just easier. Open a Terminal with Super + T and Ctrl+Shift+V right into the Terminal. I have added -y to automatically confirm installation. Packages can also be stacked. For example, if you wish to install synaptic and vlc, they can combined into
sudo apt install -y synaptic vlc
I like going a little old school and installing the Synaptic Package Manager. Its not pretty like a software store but every single package available for your system is listed. Tread lightly and if you’re unsure which packages to install or remove, do not use it.
sudo apt install -y synaptic
Gnome Tweak Tool makes it easy to modify the system
sudo apt install -y gnome-tweak-tool
VLC is a popular media player.
sudo apt install -y vlc
sudo apt install -y unzip p7zip unrar
sudo apt install -y gimp
QBittorrent – Bittorrent client
sudo apt install -y qbittorrent
GParted – partition management utility
sudo apt install -y gparted
Audacity – audio editor
sudo apt install -y audacity
Steam – gaming platform. I’m not a gamer but for this is the place to download games.
sudo apt install -y steam
Popular music playing service.
sudo apt install -y spotify-client
YouTube production program. Before installing the obs-studio package, ffmpeg needs to be installed. If you’re unsure if its present, try installing it anyway.
sudo apt install -y ffmpeg
After installing ffmpeg, add the PPA.
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:obsproject/obs-studio
Finally, install the obs-studio package.
sudo apt update && sudo apt install -y obs-studio
Chromium or Google Chrome…
I don’t use Chrome. Or Chromium. Its Firefox all the way. I keep Chrome on my system to check Hacking the Hike for compatibility. There are better, more private, faster browsers available for Linux. I think Firefox works great.
sudo apt install -y chromium
OR if you want to install full blown Google-ized Chrome, download the DEB from Google. If you want to install a different version, change the package from -stable to -beta or -unstable.
Now install the DEB.
sudo apt install ./google-chrome-stable_current_amd64.deb
Install via Pop Shop
Most applications can be installed with Pop Shop, the native app center.
Pop Shop includes all the basics of a modern app store: software categories, a search menu, an update mechanism, and reviews. Many applications are now present in both the Pop!_OS DEB repositories and in Flathub. A drop down menu next to the install button allows users to select the source for each application.
Non Repo Software
AppImageLauncher is an AppImage management utility. It makes it easier to track which AppImages have been installed on your system, helps to integrate them, and allows the user to easily remove them. It is available for download as an AppImage, DEB, RPM, and Tarball.
Bitwarden is an open source password manager akin to LastPass or 1Pass. It integrates nicely on Android and has autofill ability. It syncs passwords across Android, Linux, ,iOS, OS X, and Windows. Bitwarden can be installed through AppImage, DEB, RPM, and Snap. DEB and RPM packages do not auto update. CLI Tools are available along with browser extensions for most browsers.
Simplenote is a free note taking app developed by Automattic (the WordPress people). Simplenote syncs across virtually everything and supports AppImage, DEB, and RPM. Part of the appeal of Simplenote is markdown support but the other cool thing is WordPress support. Simplenote can be tied to a WordPress account for easy posting.
Standard Notes is a lot like Simplenote. Its free. Its open source. Its crazy cross platform. If the Automattic/Wordpress relationship makes you uncomfortable or maybe you just don’t need it, try Standard Notes instead. Standard Notes has one big advantage over Simplenote: extensions. Yes, the extensions do cost but they effectively turn Standard Notes into a mini office suite with support for markdown, rich text, LaTeX, and HTML. Standard Notes has backup support for Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive.
Zoho Notebook has a sticky note in a notebook feel. Create different notebooks, change the cover image, and fill it with text notes, pictures, and links. While Notebook is not open source, Zoho promises to never read your data, sell your data, or show you ads. They even claim to encrypt it. Not bad a free service. Zoho Notebook is available for Linux as a DEB, Android, and Apple devices.
(that’s an affliate link, by the way)
Try a secure email service like Protonmail or Tutanota. Gmail, Outlook, and other free email services offer tons of storage. In exchange, they mine your data to show you ads. Secure email services encrypt your data so they are unable to read it. Tutanota offers a free AppImage desktop client while Protonmail enables IMAP with a paid plan.
PPA or Personal Package Archive is sort of a mini repo for software that for whatever reason isn’t in the official repositories. The software may still be in a beta testing or is a small project just starting. While PPAs can be a convenient means to installing non repo software, be cautious. Too many PPAs can make software updates unreliable. PPAs could, though very unlikely, contain malicious software. I use the Mozilla Team’s official PPA to install Firefox Beta because Mozilla is a trusted source.
Many Gnome applications are available as Flatpaks now. Many titles even default to Flatpak in Pop Shop. Check out the list of Best Flatpaks for more options.
While Pop!_OS is based on Ubuntu, System76 has made a willful decision to exclude out of the box Snap support. Snap has become a popular option for packaging Linux applications though. I’m not a huge gamer but Urban Terror is a great online FPS to test Snap.
I don’t recommend using many Gnome Extensions. They allow easy customization of the desktop but more than a couple may hurt system performance.
GSConnect aka KDE Connect
GSConnect works with the Android counterpart KDE Connect. Before I go any further: Do not install KDE Connect on Gnome. It will interfere with GSConnect. GSConnect is the Gnome implementation of KDE Connect. The Android app works with both.
That said, GSConnect allows notification syncing so that your phone calls, messages, and app notifications will all appear on your desktop. Phone battery life is also displayed. It goes beyond just notifications though.
Text messages can be responded to or even started from the desktop. It also opens up file transfers between devices. While I like Google Messages for RCS and web access, it doesn’t compare to the features GSConnect offers.
The changes to Pop!_OS with the new Cosmic Desktop make setup a little quicker and easier. Expect updates to this article as 21.04 is finalized.
What are your favorite Pop!_OS tweaks? What are your must have applications? Tell us in the comments below.
Updated June 10, 2021 to further warn about the dangers of using beta software. When it doubt, throw it out? Or maybe just wait to upgrade for more stable software.
Updated June 30, 2021 to reflect the release of stable version.